Over the years, we’ve spoken with thousands of IT professionals about website monitoring. One of the biggest misconceptions people have had about website monitoring is that it’s a commodity industry — as if one size fits all. The fact is that it’s actually the complete opposite; every monitoring service is custom-developed: What and how the websites are monitored, what errors are detected, what data is gathered, what features the solutions offer — it’s all different.

Because there are so many disparities between website monitoring services, and because the tools can be confusing at first glance, we’ll break each solution into key components below. This guide will give IT professionals the knowledge necessary to evaluate critical monitoring solutions, troubleshoot slow page load times, and compare real browser monitoring vs. simulated browser monitoring.

In the first part of the guide, we’ll focus on the most important difference between tools: whether or not the monitoring service uses a real web browser when testing.

Simulated Browser

“Simulated Browser” website monitoring only simulates one part of a web browser: the initial request for the HTML file. While this is adequate for measuring availability, simulated browsers are limited to only providing performance data up until the first byte of data is received (referred to as the “Time to First Byte,” or TTFB). This means that all objects queued for transfer after the first byte—images, videos, JavaScript—are not being loaded, tested, or measured. The result creates inaccurate performance reports and each of these unloaded items has the potential to severely impact the user’s experience and page load-time.

We’ve created the below graphic to visually showcase the “cut-off point” of a simulated browser — the first byte.

AlertBot TrueBrowser vs. Traditional Monitoring

Real Browser

In contrast to simulated (synthetic) browser monitoring, “Real Browser” monitoring tests a website just like a real user would — by opening up a browser, rendering the page, and executing Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) like AJAX, JavaScript, Silverlight, and Flash.  There is no difference between a real user and how a monitoring service loads a web page, so you’re getting the most accurate and actionable testing and performance data through this solution.

What Simulated Monitoring Sees

HTML-example

What Real Browser Monitoring Sees

AlertBot-Website

Benefits of Real Browser Website Monitoring:

  •  Accurate Load Time Measurements – Unless you are using real browser website monitoring, you aren’t accurately measuring the time it takes to load a page. The alternatives to real browser monitoring fail to load objects like CSS, images, JavaScript, AJAX and videos which represent the majority of the time it takes a web page to load. According to a study by Aberdeen Group, a one-second delay in page load-time results in a 7% conversion loss, 11% fewer pageviews, and a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction. That adds up rapidly and compounds, showing that even a single second matters; it is imperative to have accurate performance data to mitigate this possibility. Real browser monitoring is the only tool that will provide accurate ongoing load-time data, protecting your conversion rate, customer retention, and overall user satisfaction.
  •  Waterfall Report/Object level load-time – By knowing the load-time of each object, you can easily identify the root cause of slowdowns on affected websites. The object load-time is typically broken down by DNS, Connection, Request, and transfer times. This data can be used to directly increase revenue by informing you exactly where performance issues arise.
  •  Multi-Step Transaction Testing – Most monitoring services that offer real browser monitoring also offer multi-step web transaction monitoring.  Web transaction monitoring is used to test multi-step processes, like logging-in or completing a purchase online. Most of the time, multi-step processes require real browser testing if they use AJAX or JavaScript. There also exists multi-step testing that isn’t done with “real browser” monitoring; such multi-step testing is referred to as “sequence URL monitoring.”
  •  Ability to Test Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) – Almost every website today uses RIAs like JavaScript, AJAX, Silverlight, Flash, and Flex. Only real browser monitoring will execute these files. This in mind, if RIAs are throwing an error or loading slowly, you’re not going to know about it without real browser monitoring until a customer tells you. By that time, you’ve already lost customers so it’s too late.
  •  Broken URL Scanning – Since real browser monitoring loads every object, a few monitoring services will also detect broken URLs. This is a great benefit to ensure the quality of the website, especially for websites that are constantly being updated
  • Increase Sales, Protect Your Brand, Give Marketing Piece-of-Mind

For those IT professionals who want real browser monitoring but need to justify it to higher-ups or other departments, this section is for you.

Increase Sales – We have been offering real browser monitoring for a few years. In that time, we have uncovered and resolved a number of site-crippling technical issues for our customers. These customers continue to use the data AlertBot provides to constantly make improvements to their site, further minimizing page load-time. Some customers observed an immediate sales increase from improvements made using AlertBot. We’ve even been told of a few instances where companies doubled or tripled their sales.

Protect Your Brand – Whether the monitored website is a corporate page or an e-commerce website handling product sales, a fast website is important. In fact, search engines like Google include page speed a ranking factor. A fast, functional website shows pride in how your brand is represented online. In addition to that, if there is a problem, real browser monitoring is the most advanced external website monitoring available and will help you pinpoint the exact issue.

Stakeholder Transparency – If your marketing department checks with IT to see if there is a problem with the website because traffic or sales are down, real browser monitoring is the best solution. From an IT standpoint, real browser monitoring provides a complete picture of what users are experiencing. This can help by setting up the marketing folks for alerts or give them access to reports so they know how the website is doing.

Final Word

When searching for a monitoring service, it’s about finding the best tool for the job. Every company today needs to stay on top of page load times. A website can slow down at any time for thousands of reasons; knowing the root cause of slowdowns right away is something only real browser monitoring provides.If you’re unsure what type of browser a website monitoring service is using, feel free to ask in the comments section and we’ll reach out with the answer.

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