Safeguarding your eCommerce business against third party performance failures

Date: 3rd June 2015
Author: Louise Arnold

How vulnerable is your site?

More often than not, the performance problems we see with a company’s web and mobile eCommerce site are due to issues with content supplied by third parties. I am looking at our top tips for getting the best from those relationships.

To deliver today’s rich content and complexity, eCommerce sites are heavily dependent on multiple third parties to varying degrees; to deliver core functionality such as caching, CDNs, shopping carts and credit card processing, to improve user experience for example personalisation and social integration or for reporting purposes such as ad tracking and analytics.

third-parties-laptopNowadays third party decisions are no longer the domain of the tech team, Digital Marketers want to better understand customers, deliver personalisation and maximise conversions, for them it has become essential to bring third party marketing solutions together to deliver customer experience and insight.

Many of these marketing applications are added to a site using snippets of code (tags) to enable third party tracking, analysis and reporting, examples would be re-marketing, ad tracking, conversion tracking and social integration.

The performance problem with tagging is compounded because the tech team are often not involved with decisions, particularly when using tag management solutions, so they may be unaware of the specific issues. However these tags can slow down pages and leave sites vulnerable to failure if not implemented and managed properly.

It’s commonplace for a large site to be using hundreds of third party solutions within their eCommerce offering and in some cases third party calls can make up more than 50% of page requests. While some solutions deliver relatively inconsequential pieces of content a problem with any one of these can have a large impact on a customer’s digital experience.

There are many instances of high profile failures with third party integration such as with Facebook  most recently in March as well as Google’s Double Click issues last November.

It’s no longer simply third party performance you need to worry about. Tagging also opens sites to issues arising from fourth party calls. These are calls made by third party tags to other unauthorised ‘fourth party’ servers. These can add significant delays to page download times and introduce an even greater loss of control.

User experience will only ever be as good as the weakest link in the chain!

So, here are our Top Tips to safeguarding against third party failures

  1. Carefully select third parties – research them to make sure you’re selecting the best for your business, find out how they manage fourth parties and negotiate service level agreements (SLAs) and regularly review the suppliers performance against the agreed performance metrics.
  2. Defer loading of third party scripts – Ensure that you have deferred loading of external scripts until after the page content has been fully loaded where possible. This means that it will not affect page speed or the critical rendering path of a page’s content. Or consider asynchronous loading, so that third-party scripts load in parallel with page content.
  3. Ensure third party content is optimised in particular ensure JavaScript is minified.
  4. Consider a tag management solution to minimise and manage tags for your site. These services can also employ tag killing; giving allotted times for third party scripts and stopping them if they exceed this time.
  5. Monitor performance of key customer flows 24/7 to identify & repair issues with third party solutions before customers notice and report the fault usually on social media. In particular compare monitoring results before and after a new third party solution is implemented to be sure the benefits outweigh the costs in terms of speed and availability.
  6. Look for monitoring solutions that highlight and report on third party issues separately for quicker and easier resolution and to hold third parties accountable.
  7. Give direct access to third parties you use to your alerting and monitoring results so they can resolve the issues directly whilst keeping your tech team out of the loop.
  8. Adopt a company wide approach to managing performance to encourage shared understanding of performance issues affecting customers, across departments.

A final word of warning; don’t be fooled by suppliers who claim their application ‘requires only one line of code’. Ensure you monitor key journeys after integrating new third party solutions to measure the true impact on end user experience. You may be surprised to find that one line of code results in a significant slow down in page delivery time or worse.

So when deciding whether you need that new widget remember you’ll be letting third and even fourth parties deliver code directly to your end users. Consider exactly how much control you are happy to handover and be sure the benefits will outweigh the potential costs.

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