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You Only Control One-Third of Your Page Load Performance!

You can’t rely on big third-party providers to always deliver high performance

You don't agree with that? Have you ever looked at the details of your page load time and analyzed what really impacts Page Load Time? Let me show you with a real life example and let me explain that in most cases you only control 1/3 of the time required to load a page as the rest is consumed by third-party content that you do not have under control.

Be Aware of Third-Party Content
When analyzing web page load times we can use tools such as dynaTrace, Firebug or PageSpeed. The following two screenshots show timeline views from dynaTrace AJAX Edition. The timelines show all network downloads, rendering activities and JavaScript executions that happen when loading almost exactly the same page. The question is: Where does the huge difference come from?

Timeline of web page with and without third-party content showing a difference of 8 seconds in total page load time

The two screenshots below show these two pages as rendered by the browser. From your own application perspective it is the exact same page - the only difference is the additional third-party content. The screenshot on the left side refers to the first timeline, the screenshot on the right to the second timeline. To make the differences easier to see I have marked them with red boxes.

Screenshot of the page without and with highlighted third-Party content

The left screenshot shows the page with content delivered by your application. That's all the business-relevant content you want to deliver to your users, e.g., information about travel offers. Over time this page got enriched with third-party content such as Tracking Pixels, Ads, Facebook Connect, Twitter and Google Maps. These third-party components make the difference between the two page loads. Everyone can easily see that this "enrichment" has an impact on page load performance and therefore affects the user experience. The super-fast page that finishes the download of all necessary resources after a little over two seconds is slowed down by eight seconds. Table 1 shows five KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that represent the impact of the third-party content.


# of Domains

# of Resources

Total Bytes

DNS [ms]

Connect [ms]

With Third Party Content

26

176

2856 Kb

1286,82

1176,09

Without Third Party Content

2

59

897 Kb

0,91

22,25

Table 1: Comparison of KPIs with and without third-party content

Four Typical Problems with Third-Party Content
Let me explain four typical problems that come with adding third-party content and why this impacts page load time.

Problem 1: Number of Resources
With every new third-party "feature" we are adding new resources that have to be downloaded by the browser. In this example the number of resources increased by 117. Let's compare it with the SpeedOfTheWeb baseline for the shopping industry. The best shopping page loads at least 72 resources. If we would stick with our original page we would be the leader in this category with just 59 resources.

In addition to 117 roundtrips to download these resources, it also means that the total download size of the page grows significantly. To download the extra ~2 Mb from the servers of the third-party content provider your customer will need extra time. Depending on the bandwidth and latency the download time can vary and, if you think of downloading the data via a mobile connection, it really can be time-consuming.

Problem 2: Connection Usage
Domain sharding is a good way to enable older browsers to download resources in parallel. Looking at current modern websites, domain sharding is often used too aggressively. But, how can you do too much domain sharding? Table 2 shows us all the domains from which we only download on or two resources. There are 17 domains for downloading 23 resources - domain sharding at its best!

What about connection management overhead? For each domain we have to make a DNS look-up so that we know to which server to connect. The setup of a connection also needs time. Our example needed 1286 ms for DNS lookup and another 1176 ms for establishing the connections to the server. As almost every domain refers to third-party content you have no control over them and you can't reduce them.

URL

Count

www.facebook.com

2

plusone.google.com

2

www.everestjs.net

2

pixel2823.everesttech.net

2

pixel.everesttech.net

2

metrics.tiscover.com

2

connect.facebook.net

1

apis.google.com

1

maps.google.com

1

api-read.facebook.com

1

secure.tiscover.com

1

www.googleadservices.com

1

googleads.g.doubleclick.net

1

ad-dc2.adtech.de

1

csi.gstatic.com

1

ad.yieldmanager.com

1

ssl.hurra.com

1

Table 2: Download Domains from which less than three resources are downloaded

Problem 3: Not Minified Resources
You are trying to reduce the download size of your page as much as possible. You have put a lot of effort into your CI process to automatically minify your JavaScript, CSS and Images and then you are forced to put ads on your pages, for example. On our example page we can find an ad provider that does not minify JavaScript. The screenshot below shows part of the uncompressed JavaScript file.

Uncompressed JavaScript code of third-party content provider

I have put the whole file content into a compressor tool and the size can be reduced by 20%. Again you can't do anything about it.

Problem 4: Awareness of Bad Response Times of Third-Party Content Provider
Within your datacenter you monitor the response times for incoming requests. You will be alerted if the performance of the response time is decreasing. Within your data center you will know when something is going wrong and you can do something about it. What about third-party content? Do Facebook, Google, etc., send you alerts if they are experiencing bad performance? You will now say that these big providers will never have bad response times, but take a look at the following two examples.

Timeline with slow Facebook request

This timeline shows us a very long running resource request. You will never see this 10698 ms lasting request in your datacenter monitoring environment as the resources are provided by Facebook one of the third-party content providers of this page.

Timeline with slow Facebook and Google+ requests

The second example shows the timeline of a different page but with the same problem. On this page not only Facebook is slow but also Google+. The slow requests have durations from 1.6 sec to 3.5 sec. and have a big impact on the experience of your user. The problem with the user experience is that the bad experience is not related to the third-party content provider but to YOU!

Conclusion
What we have seen is that third-party content has a big impact on user experience. You can't rely on big third-party providers to always deliver high performance. You should be aware of the problems that can occur if you put third-party content on your page and you really have to take action. In this article I have highlighted several issues you are facing with third-party content. What should be done to prevent these types of problems will be discussed in my next blog -Third Party Content Management!

More Stories By Klaus Enzenhofer

Klaus Enzenhofer has several years of experience and expertise in the field of Web Performance Optimization and User Experience Management. He works as Technical Strategist in the Center of Excellence Team at dynaTrace Software. In this role he influences the development of the dynaTrace Application Performance Management Solution and the Web Performance Optimization Tool dynaTrace AJAX Edition. He mainly gathered his experience in web and performance by developing and running large-scale web portals at Tiscover GmbH.

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