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Why Website Monitoring is Vital For SMEs

“Website monitoring? But that’s just for big eCommerce sites, isn’t it?”

Having recently heard how Dynamic User Journey monitoring and continuous website testing is vital to the ongoing success of Tesco, the biggest grocery website in the world, it’s time to look at how the core principles underlying the activity are equally, if not more, important to smaller online stores.
At Internet Retailing on March 23rd Luke Fairless of Tesco said “The idea is to reduce the unknowns and protect sales, of course, but having an unreliable website or app is a reputational risk, too. In this business you simply can’t afford to give the impression you can’t cope.”

That’s an issue to which everyone can relate, no matter the size of the business. In fact there are many situations where an unexpected problem will cause more harm to a smaller business in terms of lost sales or brand damage than to a bigger company, which has large enough margins to weather the temporary storm..

How much should I look to spend on website monitoring?

Like all good questions, the answer is: it depends!

If your eCommerce site is only responsible for a small percentage of your revenue, your web presence is only seen by a small number of visitors, or the online channels are not a main channel of communication for your brand and customers, you won’t want to spend thousands on monitoring.

On the other hand, if your site is vital because your customers, who do spend lots with you, online or offline, depend on the site and the features and information there, or because the web, and mobile web, is an equalizer that allows you to compete effectively with bigger organisation with larger marketing budgets, then in depth dynamic monitoring would make sense.

This means it’s not possible to give a simple equation, that says for every £1M of online sales you should spend £1K on monitoring or anything like that. It’s about measuring the value of your website in all its aspects and the opportunity cost of problems which will be very different for each organisation.

So overall, whether you should spend £5,000 or £50,000 a year on dynamic users Journeys, will depend on a number of factors.

What’s the ROI of dynamic user journeys?”

To look at it another way, what is a happy customer worth? For a start, it’s well known that happy customers spend more, more often are more open to up-selling, and add to their value by bringing in new customers through recommendations.

On the other hand, what is the value of lost sales, leads, visibility or the opportunity cost of brand erosion?

We commonly see at the start of a monitoring project, that there are a number of online bugs that come to light, that may only occur for 1 user in 50, but that can add up to a big lost sales bill. Just in the last month we have seen things like the price of a product changing between selection and when added to the Basket, product’s that can be searched for and found, but have a missing ‘Buy Now’ button, shopping trips that end up with an unreadable Basket page because the total price shown has 10 decimal points, eg £120.00000000009.

That’s just the “direct lost sales” of course. How many people went on to tell others not to shop on these sites because of their experience? How many people posted about the problem on forums or social media where that information will sit long after you may have fixed the issue?

Why take these risks when so many of them can easily and effectively managed and controlled?

What’s the difference between dynamic users journeys and traditional static URL monitoring?”

When monitoring or testing website performance it is important that the software behaves like a user, not a program. Instead of merely checking availability of single pages it needs to take the same actions, in the same way, as real users, experiencing your unique combination of code and applications that occur throughout the interactive journey.

With traditional “static” or simple page monitoring, that most all sites use, an eCommerce store will have a monitor hit the homepage at regular intervals, and ring an alarm if the web server does not respond.

All this can tell you, though, is whether the homepage is working. Unfortunately, whether the homepage works has very little bearing on the performance of the rest of the site It’s very common for some deeper part of the website to be broken which prevent sales being taken, but the home page is still working and your monitoring shows Green OK !

Instead of simply knowing if a URL is “up”, or “visible to the outside world” you need to be able to track the real multi-page routes used as a customer interacts with all aspects of your site on their “user journey” – and this where the value of dynamic monitoring is seen.

An improvement is to monitor more than just the home page. A lot of sites will have a list of 5 or 10 URLs that are monitored, aiming to cover different parts of the site. This is better, but is still giving a limited, and potentially dangerously incomplete, picture of what real users experience.

By contrast Dynamic User Journey Monitoring tests with a series of different journeys that emulate how a customer would interact with the site, to complete certain key goals. Journeys such as Add_To_Basket_via)Search, Add_to_Basket_via_Navigation, CheckOut. The journeys vary to reflect the vital different paths used and cover general browsing and search as well as the navigation through the site to the check out. If a problem occurs, an alert is issued.

A very common problem with CheckOut journeys on eCommerce websites, is a “jump-back” to the homepage: the user is in the middle of finding and buying a product, maybe 5 or 8 pages in, and suddenly he is confronted with the homepage again. Maybe a user has been browsing on the site for a while and suddenly his basket is empty. Such errors can occur sporadically on a site, occuring for a small statistical sample of users, only when certain conditions of load, traffic type and etc occur.

You lose sales with such problems, so it’s vital that your monitoring finds them – multi-page, randomised, dynamic user journeys that do what a user would do: looks into the page, finds the desired link or button, and “clicks” for the next page will find them quickly. Static URL monitoring never will.

Does the need for Dynamic user journey monitoring depend on how my website is built?”

Websites have changed a great deal in the last few years. The way companies monitor those sites has not. As customers become ever more demanding, the world becomes more connected, and online properties ever more complex, with AJAX features:, use of 3rd-parties to provide product videos or 3D images; customer forums and reviews etc: “business as usual” is no longer enough.

Many websites are no longer being built around a “static” basic URL architecture (e.g. one URL for a specific product category, or one URL for a specific search).

Interestingly, in fact, many SMEs have been able to steal a march on larger, slower organisations to take advantage of evolving technology so their needs for an equally advanced sort of monitoring are ahead of those of the bigger competition.

The danger is that as the site evolves the site and improves the route real users take when clicking live links, it diverges from a list of URLs you jotted down in the past; but your monitoring software is still checking and reporting on that list of static URLs. It is not seeing what the users see. Real users may experience painful slowdown on say a recently upgraded search feature you put in, but your monitoring says it’s OK, because it is still checking the old search URL: that none of the links on your current site use anymore!

In any case, users themselves are becoming more sophisticated in how they use the web-  they behave like people, people who browse, consider, check, at each point they select from choices on the page: they don’t behave like traditional monitor software. They click buttons in a sequence of pages, or use multiple interactive components within the same page and the flow of pages is important.

As websites become more functionally complex and possible user actions become more varied, fluid and dynamic it is imperative that your monitoring of them does, too.

“This all sounds pretty technical, though, and we don’t have a big technical team”

Online performance is no longer the preserve of the IT department. It is imperative that everyone in a business understands both the tactical and strategic implications of technical performance on the bottom line.
It’s not the technology that’s important, it’s making sure you know that the technology is delivering good customer experience: particularly important in an SME where employees may wear several hats.

Business focused website monitoring provides a Common Language, centred around user journeys and online interactions This allows departments, partners, clients and suppliers to talk to each other with confidence, secure in the knowledge that everyone is working from the same data.

With everyone in the organisation able to see the same intuitive information, making informed decisions when budgeting, planning or dealing with issues becomes easier, faster and more effective

I outsource the running of my website. Do I still need to consider monitoring?”

Many SMEs outsource their eCommerce sites, or parts of them, for a large number of practical reasons.

However an outsourced site, while easier to manage in many respects, has some specific monitoring considerations.

If the website your online sales depends on, is designed, coded and hosted by a 3rd-party you have less visibility of performance. While you can easily see the quality of their design work every time you visit your site, it’s harder to know just what kind of a job they are doing in terms of delivery and how that might be affecting user experience 24/7.

Would you know if:

  • Your supplier’s hardware was overloaded, due to one of their other clients having a huge traffic storm?
  • Your site was moved to smaller hardware for a day or two as part of routine maintenance?
  • A new version of the software that runs your site was released and an undiagnosed problem made your site 30% slower, or prevented transactions or communications taking place, until the problem was identified?

More importantly, would you know if users were likely to have a consistently bad experience that lost you not only this sale, but future sales, and the valuable brand equity you’ve invested so much in as they go on to share those experiences with friends and family.

Equally importantly monitoring can help you effectively assess and manage your SLAs by providing a common source of information for both client and provider – a neutral and transparent ground to talk about performance and capacity issues.

If your supplier provides monitoring services and reports to you, it is still worth checking with them if they use static or dynamic monitoring on your site.

But doesn’t it cost huge amounts of money?”

Of course, our big clients like Tesco and Dixons do pay more for their website monitoring than our smaller ones do, but then they spend more on everything, on chairs or electricity or web help: it’s the Return on Investment that counts.
As dynamic user journey monitoring works around what your users actually do on site, and evolves with your site structure as it develops, the monitoring is configured to your specific needs. This means you will never waste money on monitoring “invisible” journeys no longer available to users, or find your team alerted because your site is having routine maintenance performed.

Dynamic User Journey monitoring is about protecting sales, customer loyalty and reputation.

The benefit of knowing immediately about such lost sales opportunities is clear and by having a supplier like thinkTRIBE provide such dynamic monitoring on your site, confidence will grow in your user experience and brand internally, with partners and with customers