Organisations must improve Web performance in 2011

Organisations need to prepare carefully for new website launches in 2011 to avoid damaging outages after they go live.

In recent years, a number of high-profile launch day crashes by some of the world’s biggest brands have caused damage to both their finances and reputations. Giants such as Nokia, Apple, Nectar and the French and UK governments have all experienced major problems and lengthy periods of downtime soon after their websites went live – highlighting the risks of poor preparation.

Many factors were to blame in the failure of these websites, including poor website monitoring, sluggish download speeds and insubstantial load capacity. In addition to these issues, organisations need to be aware of the importance of ongoing website performance. Research by the Aberdeen Group has shown a one second delay in download speeds results in 11 per cent fewer page views, a 16 per cent decrease in customer satisfaction and a seven per cent loss in conversions.

Customer service also requires careful preparation, as consumers often switch to rival brands if they are unsatisfied. The recent snow caused major problems for retailers such as Amazon, as customers experienced long call waiting times following delays in deliveries.

Companies looking to capitalise on sales through a high-profile website launch need to protect their financial interests as well as their reputation. This process is complex, and preparation and planning should be meticulous.

With the risk of cyber attack now at an all-time high following the recent campaign against Wikileaks, it is more important than ever for companies to ensure they are protected before they launch. For example, DDoS attacks, which flood websites with page requests beyond their capacities, crashed the websites of giants Mastercard and PayPal, and highlight the importance of having a flexible, scalable architecture that can handle high levels of traffic.

Comprehensive load testing is therefore essential before the launch of any website, as firewalls and software protection are useless in this scenario.

A list of 2010’s biggest website crashes:

1. In May, the Labour Party’s website crashed for long periods following record membership applications. Users were greeted with a holding page asking them to return to the site at a later date.

2. HMV’s music download site crashed on the morning of its launch in July, with spokesmen for the retailer blaming high user volume for the problems.

3. Apple’s website went down when the company began taking pre-orders for the iPhone 4 in June.

4. The launch of the Take That comeback tour sensationally crashed a number of the UK’s largest ticketing websites in October, as band members frantically attempted to reassure fans via Twitter.

5. In December, the Mastercard and PayPal websites buckled as hackers flooded their websites with page requests. The attacks followed outrage at the companies’ involvement in facilitating donations to the controversial Wikileaks website.

Bob Dowson is responsible for the operational management and development of NCC Group's Performance and Load Testing business. Bob joined the company in 2002 from Forrester Research.