Retail websites are complex. Retailers that move their sites to the cloud without optimizing applications and architecture miss out on ways to increase speed and cut costs.

Bill Tepper, CEO, Provaré Technology

Bill Tepper, CEO, Provaré Technology

It’s no secret that slow websites kill sales. Desktop or smartphone, it doesn’t matter. All of your visitors expect fast page loads, just like the biggest and most popular sites give them. If your site doesn’t load quickly, you’re just not as competitive—there’s no way around it.

A regularly cited statistic from Google claims that 53 percent of mobile e-commerce users will abandon a site that takes more than three seconds to load. That same study says that the average existing mobile e-commerce site loads in 19 seconds, meaning that most online retailers could gain a huge competitive edge by investing in the responsiveness of their sites. And the cost and trouble of seizing that edge is less than you think. Fortunately, page load speeds, transaction speeds and traffic capacity can all be improved through a program of testing and optimization followed up by diligent monitoring.

To gain this competitive advantage, you only need to add three straightforward items to your To-Do List:

1. Test your web site’s performance and capacity

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2. Optimize it for its new home on the cloud.

3. Put in place a program of 24/7 monitoring to ensure that it stays optimized.

Let’s look at each of these tasks:

  1. Your website could use a good tune-up.

The time-wasters are everywhere. A lot of articles and free online test tools will alert you to large photo files or other visual elements, and you certainly want to fix those problems when you identify them. For online retailers, though, the real trouble—and the real opportunity—is usually under the hood.

If you haven’t tested for and remediated bottlenecks, your only choice is to throw hardware at the problem.

In a nutshell, a site’s speed flows from its complexity. Because they rely on extensive databases to power their sites, retailers have some of the most complex sites on the internet. Reducing complexity—making the site lighter through testing and optimization—improves download and transaction speeds.

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This is especially true when the user count goes up—around holiday sales, for instance, or the release of a hot new product. As more people try to access your content through a complex system, the strain on the site goes up, often slowing the site to a crawl—or worse—with far fewer simultaneous users than you expected.

Cloud features like elastic scaling can keep your site responsive, but if your site is poorly optimized, you can be overspending significantly for this feature—by up to a factor of 20 more often than not. Professionally tested and well-optimized sites use fewer cloud resources, which can translate to huge savings on hosting costs.

  1. “Lift and Shift” to the cloud is never that simple.Legacy applications, databases and websites were not designed to be deployed on the cloud. As a consequence they don’t run as efficiently as they could when they are simply shifted over. This is a common mistake and usually results in poor cloud performance.

In all likelihood, your legacy software was reconfigured for the cloud when it was moved over, in the sense that you cloud provider made sure the applications and databases were deployed properly, using appropriate hardware architecture, virtualization, OS, and so forth. And with the cloud, you can get that all-important elastic scaling, a feature that is somewhere between difficult and impossible with on-premise solutions. But the benefits of cloud hosting and elastic scaling are so big and so impressive that almost no one takes that next, relatively easy step of truly optimizing their site’s architecture that offers a significant improvement in performance and will keep you out-performing your competitors, at least until they catch up again.

Optimal architectures consider often-missed details like database queries, content caching, predictive fetches, and similar functions. They balance bandwidth with CPU horsepower and storage space on your web server, your application server, your database server and on your load balancers and replication servers—as well as the bandwidth between them. These are your site’s bottlenecks, the places where data traffic slows down and backs up.

If you haven’t tested for and remediated these bottlenecks, then your only choice is to throw hardware at the problem across the board— which is what elastic scaling does. It’s like buying a semi because your current car doesn’t have space for your golf clubs. It’s a solution, for sure, but you can do better.

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  1. Generic monitoring tools give generic results. Cloud-based web hosting companies usually offer a suite of black box monitoring tools that meet a broad set of needs. But because these tools don’t see into the internal workings of your architecture, they can’t identify and alert you to exact locations and root causes of your bottlenecks.

Moreover, they often can’t see a problem coming. They can only alert you based on external measurements, and then offer elastic scaling as a generic overkill solution, risking one of two outcomes: chronically poor visitor experiences or unpredictable, budget-busting hosting fees.

The solution lies in thoughtful use of white box tools that monitor all of your system’s potential points of failure, both internal and external. Only in this way can you predict when, where, and how your site will reach its capacity and add only the hardware or bandwidth required to continue to meet your customers’ expectations, making both unhappy visitors and surprise hosting charges a thing of the past.

Then, as you continue to develop and improve your site, as your inventory and offerings grow, and as your customer base grows, you can be sure that none of the new functionality or traffic breaks or degrades your performance or capacity If you haven’t tested for and remediated these bottlenecks, then your only choice is to throw hardware at the problem across the board or your budget.

Online retailing is a complex business. It relies on speed, good processes and an effective web-based relationship with customers. Getting it right and getting it fast are critical to success in a tough business. For retailers on the slower end, investments in speed and user capacity can help boost business and build lasting relationships with customers.

Provaré Technology provides hosting services for websites, applications and databases along with optimization services and service-level agreements that guarantee uptime, capacity and performance.

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