Synthetic Transaction Monitoring Vs. Real User Monitoring: When To Use Each Approach?

Anush GasparyanContent Officer

This article was initially published on Monitis Blog, you can read it here.

When it comes to deciding which approach to website performance monitoring is best for your business, unfortunately, like so many options in life . . . it depends. In this article, we will discuss two major monitoring approaches: Synthetic Transaction and Real User Monitoring.


Let’s break out a few points on each approach before discussing specific scenarios about when it makes sense for a business to deploy them.


Synthetic Transaction Monitoring 

Synthetic Transaction Monitoring is a form of active web monitoring and involves deploying behavioral scripts in a web browser to simulate the path a customer or end-user takes through a website. Synthetic transaction monitoring is especially important for high traffic sites as it allows webmasters to test new applications prior to launch. Synthetic transactions are scripted in advance and then uploaded to the cloud as a transaction test.


Of course, what we really want to know is when it makes most sense to deploy synthetic transaction monitoring in the real world. Here are 5 scenarios when you should be adopting this approach.


Entering a New Market

Before introducing a new application to market you want to have line-of-sight on how real users will interact with that application. Synthetic transaction monitoring provides the ability to simulate the projected real-world load to ensure your application can handle the projected load.


Another benefit of synthetic monitoring is that it helps you simulate what happens when you introduce your application to a new geography. It allows you to test and fix potential issues related to deployments in new regions such as connection speeds (DSL, cable broadband, fiber optics) before real end users arrive.



Troubleshooting Issues Before Customers Find Them

Synthetic monitoring helps you to set up baseline tests in order to measure the way your customers will interact with your websites, APIs, or mobile apps. This type of testing can provide direct feedback on performance degradation or availability issues. It also will help your team locate the root cause, engage the right experts, and fix issues before they impact the end users.


Testing New Features Prior to Deployment 

Synthetic monitoring is important at any stage of development but is especially useful for testing your web, mobile, or cloud-based applications before deploying new features into production. During this stage, synthetic monitoring can provide a set of baselines and thresholds that reveal any potential obstacles customers may encounter in the real world.


Synthetic transaction monitoring would also be most helpful for testing your site to simulate how it performs under peak traffic times. For example, if you’re trying to discover what the website will look like during the holiday shopping rush, then synthetic monitoring is your best bet. 


Comparing Your Performance to Your Competition 

With synthetic transaction monitoring, you can set up benchmark scenarios to see how your applications are performing over time. You can also benchmark your company’s performance against top competitors within a certain historical time frame or within a specific geographical region. This approach can be especially important for establishing your organization’s strategic outlook for the year as well as for preserving a competitive advantage in the marketplace.



Analyzing Your E-Commerce Strategy

If you’re in the ecommerce business, then synthetic transaction monitoring is especially useful for ensuring that your ecommerce strategy is firing on all cylinders. Here’s how one source describes it:

“In the world of e-commerce, a synthetic transaction can be a transaction that continuously tries to place an order and monitors if that order succeeded or not. If it does not succeed, it is an indicator that something is wrong and should get someone’s attention immediately.”


By setting up tests with synthetic monitoring you can get apprised, for instance, about when one of the steps in your website’s online transaction process is no longer working properly. By tracking and analyzing every click and swipe, synthetic transaction monitoring solution can help you to identify problems and prioritize fixes in your website to ensure that customers continue to have the kind of experience they’ve come to expect.

Real User Monitoring

Real User Monitoring, or RUM for short, is a form of passive web monitoring that has become very popular in recent years. In a nutshell, RUM describes exactly how your online visitors are interacting with your website or application by examining every transaction of every user; it does so by looking at everything from page load times to traffic bottlenecks to global DNS resolution delays. This is the kind of monitoring you need for the day to day, which ensures your business website keeps running optimally and that there are no downtime issues impacting your customers.


As with Synthetic Transaction Monitoring, we would also like to know the ideal situations when it makes most sense to adopt Real User Monitoring. Here are 5 scenarios when you should be using this approach.


Discover Hidden Performance Issues

Most people have used similar to Real User Monitoring products without even knowing it, such as Google Analytics. 

GA provides a good job of giving you high-level metrics such as page views, click paths, browser versions, and traffic sources. But professional Real User Monitoring is much more oriented towards performance and actual experience of your end-user. Google Analytics isn’t enough if you want a more granular understanding of who is interacting with your website.


Here are 10 reasons why it is smart to invest in Real User Monitoring.


A more full-featured Real User Monitoring solution will use small bits of JavaScript code to drill deeper and track key metrics across the website and application, including such events as DNS resolution, TCP connect time, SSL encryption negotiation, first-byte transmission, navigation display, page render time, TCP out-of-order segments, and user think time.


These metrics provide you with a more detailed picture of your total performance environment. Real User Monitoring is a way of looking at large amounts of data and slicing and dicing it until patterns begin to emerge. RUM can help you find those underlying performance issues that would otherwise go undetected and come back to bite you. 


See What Devices Your Visitors Are Using

It’s really helpful to know what percentage of your visitors are coming to your website on mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablets, and how many are using traditional desktops. Knowing this information can make a difference in how you customize the user experience.


For example, if you run an eCommerce website and find that at least half the traffic is coming through mobile devices, then you’re going to want to ensure the page load times are as optimal as possible. Expectations are particularly high on mobile sites. In fact, research shows that 57% mobile customers will abandon a site if they have to wait 3 seconds for it to load.


There are thousands of various devices, networks, and operating systems out there. By using Real User Monitoring, you can gather the relevant information on each device type in order to customize a user experience that is extraordinary.


Certain RUM platforms can also collect additional important information, such as network provider, OS, browser version, user location, application version, mobile device specs, connection type, network latency, and available end-to-end bandwidth.



Learn How Visitors Interact With Your Site

Visitors take a variety of paths to get to your website or application. Maybe they found you through some kind of blog or video content, an advertisement, or through social media. Once they land there, Real User Monitoring tells you exactly what they’re doing and how they’re interacting with your brand.


This is why understanding page views and load times, site page build performance, and users’ browser and platform performance – all across various geographical regions – are key metrics for understanding how your visitors are doing. This is critical because it provides a ton of useful data for how to optimize your site. By identifying important entry points, such as your eCommerce shopping cart, Real User Monitoring will help ensure the site can handle higher traffic loads – especially during peak holiday shopping times.


Discover How 3rd Party Scripts Are Performing

Today’s websites increasingly rely on third-party features such as carts, ads, customer reviews, web analytics, social networking, SEO, video and much more to provide outstanding customer experiences. These tools can be very useful but there’s also a downside. If one of the scripts is unoptimized it can keep your webpages from loading correctly. Another more common factor is that slow scripts can delay the load times of your site.


Real User Monitoring can assist in alerting you to potential or real performance degradations and downtime impacts that may result from third party scripts. Being able to monitor the business impact of third party scripts can also provide more line of sight on your service level agreements (SLAs) in order to hold the third-party vendors accountable.



Find Out How Performance Impacts Your Business Bottom-Line

Even with the shift in recent years to focusing on the end-user, there still tends to be an assumption within IT that application runtime metrics are enough to keep things flowing. It is not, and here’s why. Knowing how a single application is behaving at a point in time doesn’t necessarily give a full picture of your infrastructure. We need optics on the quality of the end-user experience across all applications on all devices at all times. It really comes down to this, as one writer has well summarized: “To translate IT metrics into an End-User-Experience that provides value back to the business.”


In other words, there needs to be a clear correlation between web performance and business performance. This is where Real User Monitoring can help. RUM can provide useful insights into the relationship between website load times and sales conversions on key pages so that you can prioritize which pages need to be optimized.


At the end of the day, what really matters is that your visitors are enjoying a great user experience at your site and converting into paying customers. The elegant website, the advertisements, the images and other the bells and whistles are all well and good. But if visitors are leaving your site soon after arriving, then something is amiss. Real User Monitoring can make the difference between a casual visitor and a paying customer.

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