As companies become more reliant on their online experience to deliver revenue, website speed, availability, and performance matter more than ever. Outages are costly: According to Gartner, companies lose an average of $5,600.00 per minute, or over $300,000.00 per hour when their sites are unavailable—and that was in 2014! Speed matters: BBC found that for each second of increased page load time, 10% of users leave the site. And in general, monitoring, measuring, and improving your digital properties is your key to creating great digital customer experiences—a capability that has a direct impact on your business outcomes.

At surface level, website availability and performance monitoring gives development and operations teams the feedback they need to ensure uptime and performance for their customers. On a deeper level, monitoring websites and end users can help drive long-term improvements in digital experience. With the right kind of monitoring in place, teams can make informed decisions on improving page performance, with the end goal of meeting business needs, like increasing digital revenues.

Application and infrastructure monitoring solutions that focus on server-side performance issues are critical; however, a majority of your users’ time is spent waiting for your pages to render in their web browsers. Therefore, in order to achieve the most widespread and thorough monitoring, and to fully understand how your system impacts your users, you need to leverage both backend and frontend monitoring solutions that allow you to track the necessary relationships between your software, your infrastructure, and your customer experience.

A dedicated, frontend monitoring solution should be part of any effort you make to address website performance issues, or to improve your digital customer experience.

In this post, we’ll explain three things you should know about solving these challenges:

  1. Frontend (end user) monitoring is an essential component to a successful digital business strategy. It’s also absolutely essential to understand your end user experience, and the relationship between website performance and the health of your business.
  2. There are two standard approaches to frontend monitoring: synthetic monitoring and real-user monitoring (RUM). The two are highly complementary; some teams find it useful, and even essential, to use them in tandem.
  3. The best monitoring strategies combine frontend and backend solutions. This approach gives developers a single, holistic framework for improving the digital customer experience through every layer of the stack.

Frontend monitoring: why it’s different—and why it’s essential

Frontend monitoring, commonly referred to as “client side monitoring,” is fundamentally different from monitoring software or infrastructure. It focuses on measuring what happens after the server has sent information to the web browser and your end users. As a result, there is proven value when using a frontend monitoring solution:

  1. Understanding customer experience: The need to answer basic questions about customer experience is critical for a digital business: Can users access our site? Is our site fast enough? Do all the features and components of our site work? After ensuring basic availability, performance and functionality are key themes for site owners.
  2. Gathering lab data and field data: Ultimately, customers will find problems. However, frontend monitoring tools can help teams proactively measure performance in a staging environment, and then observe real user experience from the vast combination of customers, device types, networks, and browser types typically seen in production environments.
  3. Managing inter-reliant technologies: A modern website is complex and delivers experiences through a dynamic collection of frameworks, APIs, images, third-party services, plugins, and content platforms, and more. Part of “job one” for a company is to build a site that satisfies users regardless of location, network, or device. Frontend monitoring can answer, “how are we performing?” amidst hundreds of resources, APIs calls, application transactions, and services being pushed from the server to the browser.
  4. Empowering digital business with customer feedback: Monitoring end user experience can help inform key technology and business decisions. Beyond basic availability, teams are harnessing end user data to help answer questions about how fast they need to be to increase key metrics like the amount of checkouts or ad clicks. Digital businesses that successfully measure end-users data are able to quantify the business impact of slow websites.

RUM vs. synthetic monitoring

There are two industry standards for monitoring, alerting, and improving website performance. The first, referred to as real-user monitoring (RUM), monitors and analyzes the behavior of actual website users. The second approach, known as synthetic monitoring, gathers data by proactively simulating user traffic on a website.

Real-user monitoring (RUM): passive but powerful

Real-user monitoring, as the name suggests, measures actual user interactions with a website or web application. This is commonly referred to as passive frontend monitoring: The solution relies on actual user traffic to collect metrics.

A site owner usually implements a RUM solution by placing a snippet of JavaScript code on a site’s page headers. When a user visits the page, this script captures basic information about the user and their experience:

  • Timing or performance measurements (commonly captured by the navigation timing API)
  • Dimensional details about end users, like the web browser type and version, operating system, device type, their geographic location (based on their IP address)
  • Information on errors (such as JavaScript errors)

In general, real-user monitoring is most effective at helping site owners measure and make informed short term and longer term decisions about their application:

Examples of short-term considerations:

  • Did our latest deployment introduce performance issues to our customers?
  • Which JS errors do we need to fix first?
  • Is our site experience consistent across web browsers, devices, and geographies?

Examples of long-term considerations:

  • How fast does our page need to render to increase order value?
  • How should we design our pages to decrease abandonment?
  • Should we establish a “center of excellence” for our end user experience?

Synthetic monitoring: an online “insurance policy”

Synthetic monitoring, by comparison, is referred to as “active monitoring.” Ideally synthetic monitoring proactively identifies and helps resolve site issues before customers notice. It measures frontend performance by simulating user activity and by tracking and analyzing the results of these simulated interactions.

Synthetic monitoring solutions provide dependable, predictable, and highly consistent tools for monitoring availability, functionality, and performance of your critical endpoints, user pathways, and APIs.

  • Availability monitoring. Synthetic monitoring answers the question, “Is my site up?” If a site is down, you need to know the scope of what’s affected before you can begin to fix the problem.
  • Functionality of page components. For every button, link, and interactive element on a site, synthetic monitoring answers the question, “Does my site function as intended?” Synthetic workflows regularly traverse key user paths, clicks, and interactions, to ensure that users won’t encounter broken, missing, or mislabeled features.
  • Page performance. Synthetic monitoring answers the question, “How fast are we?” Modern synthetic monitoring solutions return full page timing information, including full page load time and performance of all page assets and third parties, across common user pathways.
  • Competitive benchmarking. Synthetic monitoring can also answer the question, “How fast is our competition?” Often, businesses try to optimize site speed and performance; however, as there’s no current method to reduce page speed to 0 seconds, a sound way to establish performance goals is to compare your site speed against your competition.

Holistic monitoring: It’s about making connections—not choices

As both RUM and synthetic monitoring provide insight into the end user experience, it doesn’t serve you well to rely exclusively on one or the other. It’s more about learning to use both approaches to proactively improve and maximize customer and digital business value.

Successful digital businesses provide value (increased uptime, increased customer satisfaction, and increased revenue) by combining frontend, backend, and server-side monitoring. Consider just a few ways that your backend services and infrastructure can impact your website customer experience—and how an integrated set of monitoring tools and capabilities can simplify the process of minimizing these impacts:

  • Monitor application transactions and database calls. Troubleshoot slow-running application transactions or blocked database calls with the greatest impact on your customers for tuning and optimization. Triage these bottlenecks in New Relic APM transactions and databases, respectively, to check overall responsiveness and digital experience.
  • Apply the same approach to infrastructure-focused performance issues. Some of the most disruptive frontend performance issues begin with infrastructure failures and provisioning issues. A tool like New Relic Infrastructure mitigates these risks by ensuring that hosts are responsive; and teams can set up customized alerts for unresponsive, misconfigured, or under-responsive systems.
  • Ensuring the health and availability of backend APIs and microservices. Some backend APIs play an outsized role in your frontend functionality. An integrated approach to monitoring helps you identify key bottlenecks with API monitors—such as the ones available in New Relic Synthetics—to validate that services are available and performing correctly.
  • Check performance of third-party services. Third party-services for data, email, messaging, content, and other functions are useful. But they can also create backend dependencies that raise the risk of degradations or crashes. Tools such as New Relic Integrations and New Relic Synthetics API monitors can simplify the process of monitoring essential third-party services and decoupling them if necessary.

Deliver great digital customer experiences

If you take away one thing from this discussion, it should be this: A comprehensive, and fully integrated, set of monitoring capabilities is one of your most important tools for delivering great digital customer experiences. It’s not a question of choosing between synthetic and real-user frontend monitoring; or deciding whether to focus on frontend or backend monitoring. You need all of these monitoring capabilities working for your team—and the more closely they work together, the more success you’ll have delivering a truly exceptional digital customer experience.

Mat Ball is a product marketing manager at New Relic focused on the impact of frontend web applications to business and customer experience outcomes. Previously, Mat worked for SOASTA, where he marketed their data science product. View posts by .

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