April 20, 2014 Jordhy Ledesma

Common Mistakes in Website Performance Optimization

Enterprises make a lot of mistakes when testing the performance of their websites. High-speed Internet access and ever more powerful servers, have given a good excuse to many IT managers and web producers to become a little bit lazy when testing and optimizing their websites.

Nevertheless, the benefits of performance testing are unparalleled: speedier website loads, lower hosting costs, more sales, increased equipment durability, happier customers and faster backups are but a few of the many advantages. Even when presented with these attractive gains, most project managers skim on testing to deliver projects on time or to avoid further delays. In this scenario, managers forget to fit performance testing in their projects timelines and then run into all sorts of problems. Here are five mistakes that enterprises make when testing the performance of their websites.

#1: Unrealistic Traffic Estimates
The first mistake is not emulating the real stress their websites will endure by failing to adequately estimate traffic. Adequate capacity planning involves estimating regular traffic conditions as well as predicting traffic spikes during busy days and geographic distribution of traffic and service loads. Some countries and regions will place higher demand on particular sections of your website and thus, contracting CDN services in those regions might make a lot of sense for your organization. However, none of this is possible without an adequate traffic estimation that takes into account seasonalities, regions, online services and timezone differences.

Traffic can be estimated by adding up the expected search engine traffic with the social media referrals and email lists traffic. Several free tools are available online and, along with historic server logs, they should be sufficient to estimate your web traffic adequately.

#2: Not Isolating Database Testing
A big no-no is failing to test your databases separately. Isolation of database components makes for easier and more accurate testing. This is even more important today, because of an ever increasing avalanche of data. You should pay especial attention to batch processes and remote web services because, believe it or not, there are the most expensive processes of most major data stores and are often overlooked by performance tuners.

Sadly, on the quest for the fastest launch possible, most companies skim on database testing and optimization and make their sites slower to read and index. This translates into decreasing traffic charts and slower search engine indexing.

In order to avoid this problem remember to comprehensively test and optimize every query, stored procedure and remote service but do so in isolation using the specialized tools provided by your database vendor.

#3: Uneven Unit Testing
In many companies, unit testing is not part of the daily routine. This is a major blunder, units should be tested and stress tested before making it to production or else! Unit testing makes your team accountable, fosters communication and levels the information technology understanding of your junior programmers.

#4: Neglecting Client-side Testing
Most companies don’t test their websites from a client perspective. They forgo slow Internet connection simulations and the like. But without a realistic idea of how your customers experience your website, little can be done in terms of caching, code optimization and CDN implementation to better customers’ experience.

The swift identification of poor user experience and bottlenecks can save you time and money, as well as improve sales. Furthermore, client-side testing allows to rapidly identify malfunctioning webpages in different browsers, platforms and mobile devices.

#5: Test Environment Differs From Production
Finally, enterprises fall prey to a very basic mistake: forgetting to test on machines comparable to their production servers. While you don’t need to test the on the actual production servers, servers with similar specs and connectivity help to highlight obscure issues related to the OS and hardware of the production environment. Complexity created by operating systems, processors, libraries, connectivity issues and the like make a very strong case to simply replicate your infrastructure for testing purposes. Specially when testing complicated websites, you should be as thorough as possible in simulating real operational conditions to make your tests as accurate as possible. This discipline minimizes surprises and allows making last minute changes to further optimize operations.

Although performance testing requires additional investment, time and discipline, your company will benefit greatly while avoiding many technical pitfalls. Google, Facebook and Amazon created impressive online businesses by “paying attention to the milliseconds” and optimizing their websites as much as they could. If larger scale and increased revenues are on your company’s horizon, give performance testing the attention it deserves. You won’t regret it.

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