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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Measuring site performance over an actual cellular network

As fundamental as it may seem, many site owners don’t alter their approach at all when tackling a mobile site project. Call it “desktop thinking,” or terrestrial, landline, wireline thinking — by any name, it ignores the fundamental reality of the cellular network, which as described above, is inherently slower and riddled with opportunities for performance degradation.

One common desktop tactic that causes issues in mobile is the URL redirect, which instructs the browser to follow a different URL than the one originally requested. There are a number of legitimate reasons to employ this technique — to direct users to your third-party site host; to offer nicknames that provide multiple paths to the main site; or to send users to a site designed specifically for the detected browser.

This is generally a fine practice in the desktop browser world, where redirects usually happen in the blink of an eye and are virtually undetectable to the user. Use the same technique on a mobile site, though, where the big “L” — latency — colors the entire experience, and you end up with users staring and staring at a screen where nothing’s happening.

Surprisingly, even some of the biggest retailers have mobile sites bogged down with URL redirects. The problems become apparent when measuring site performance over an actual cellular network (as opposed to a WiFi connection).

At what point does the user come to the conclusion that the site’s not working, or that it’s not worth the wait? If they’ve just navigated from a well-built mobile site that loaded quickly, there’s a good chance they’re not going to wait eight seconds. How likely is it that they’ll come back again? How likely they’ll tell their friends about the experience? Forget what that means in terms of a lost sale. What does it mean for retailer X’s brand image?

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