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“I can’t complete the purchase.” “The page won’t download.” “It’s taking too long.”
It’s not uncommon for me to hear all of these phrases about latency during our daily meetings.
Latency is everywhere. It is basically the time between the customer performing an action (like clicking a button or swiping the screen) and receiving the result created by that action.
Business owners don’t always understand the importance of measuring latency, but if a customer can’t return to the site and use the intended function again, you risk losing them as a user.
When something is slow, it’s not uncommon for a customer to think it’s broken or a feature isn’t working properly. Whether they’re trying to process a payment or order tickets, a customer’s time is precious and should be respected by businesses.
How to measure latency
Latency is the same for websites and mobile apps. Of the 4.5 billion people who used the internet in 2022, 4 billion used their mobile devices. Mobile ownership is 56%, while desktop is 42%. As more and more people use their phones to shop, understanding the impact of latency becomes even more important.
Since there are multiple approaches and metrics to measure speed and latency, let’s look at some common solutions that can help your business.
Ping is a common tool that sends a request to a server and measures the time it takes the server to respond.
A network analyzer monitors network traffic and can be used to measure latency and other performance metrics.
There are several free and effective performance tools that can be used to test a system’s performance.
While these options can be great solutions, it’s often the case that people end up measuring in the wrong places. For example, an important metric to consider is how long it takes for a customer to see the fold of the result on the first page.
Another metric to look out for is how long it takes to open the page you want when you click the link. When dealing with e-commerce, how long does it take for an item to add to cart? This is one of the most important moments for a positive online shopping experience and needs to be as fast as possible to create a smooth experience. Otherwise, the customer may get frustrated or start believing that something is wrong with the website.
If you are measuring the latency of your website, I recommend measuring the latency of 90% of your customers. It can happen that an additional option on the website is only used by 10% of customers. In such a case, focusing more on the 90% will produce more effective results than focusing on the extra 10%.
Finally, for acceptable latency, you should aim for less than 200 milliseconds. While this latency would likely cause issues with gaming performance and other activities that consume more bandwidth, basic online activities like web searches can be performed with ease.
How to improve latency
The first step to improving latency is understanding that you have a problem. Then we can look at some of the obvious solutions like the ones listed below. These include:
• Hardware improvement.
• Purchase of more powerful server machines.
• Use of caching solutions.
• Regular caching.
• Measurement of customer experience along internal processes and locations.
• Measurement from the customer’s perspective (how long it takes to send a request and get the result back).
• Leveraging the expertise of consultancies when you don’t have the resources.
• Use of monitoring tools as mentioned above.
• Understand which server you are working on and from which country.
• Calculate and recalculate everything.
As I mentioned earlier, latency is the time it takes for a customer to take an action and get the first results. This is the most important element to consider when measuring or improving.
It’s also important to clearly define your goals from the start and understand your business priorities. Do you want to develop a new feature only for UI/UX or is it necessary for the whole system? The solution could be a slow process or simple coding.
For example, if you decide to create a new feature on your webpage, it is important to have the latency results with existing features before proceeding. If you find that something needs to be added, Uploading the webpage will take extra time. In such a case, you need to think about what needs tweaking before even adding a new feature.
The main thing is that you prioritize what you want to improve the most instead of trying to improve everything. If you spend too much time improving everything that can be perfected, you risk having less and less noticeable impact on the customer. Instead, try experimenting to improve something and see how it works. You can streamline all workflows on your end, but your customers’ experience won’t change and not everything will impact customer experience.
Improving latency is not a one-off project and should be tackled on a regular basis. You will always see changes, and there will be new deployments that will affect this as well. In general, all mobile and web apps are complex systems with hundreds of services. During the process you could often see unexplained jumps in latency or regressions, so everything should be analyzed.
Ultimately, latency should be a concern for the entire organization, not just the dedicated team. To ensure customers feel respected and have the best experience, latency and overall performance should be part of your organization’s goals for every project it works on.
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