Third party applications: friend or foe for retailers?
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Dan Matthews
4th February 2013
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More thought should go into third-party applications

Many online retailers fail to consider the impact of integrating third party applications – such as network-delivered ads, social media feeds or externally hosted shopping carts – on their websites. When this is combined with minimal website testing and monitoring, retailers often have no idea of the experience potential customers are facing as a result of these third party applications.

By Robert Castley, performance management expert at Keynote

It is important to remember that internet users won’t realise that a site is slow because of a third party application, and it will be the retailer that takes the blame for an unresponsive site.  Crucially, it does not matter how quick a website was before third party content was added, if the end result performs badly, customers will not tolerate it for long.

It also impacts a site’s Google Quality Score, and therefore where it appears in searches, and the visibility a site gets in front of potential customers.  Speed is vitally important online – especially with the rise in popularity of convenience shopping on smartphones and tablets.  Therefore, if a website is performing badly, customers will move to a competitor, which could be hugely detrimental to sales.

This is not to say that retailers should remove third party applications from their websites however.  In some cases, targeted adverts and applications are a draw for customers and a benefit for website owners as they can learn more about shopping behaviour.  It is simply a case of managing the third party site content in the right way.  Below are four top tips to ensuring third party applications are utilised in the best way possible, while not impinging on the user experience:

1.    Get the architecture right – retailers have complete control over the architecture of a website, and should use this to ensure the page is working at an optimal level before third party applications are added.  This will mean that third-party content has as little impact on the website performance as possible.

2.    Pick well – while some third-party components can add huge value to a site, others do not, and retailers need to assess what is worth the cost in performance.  A good way of evaluating third party elements is to look at those which satisfy business objectives; whether that be in terms of revenue, building reputation or cost savings.

3.    Monitor continuously – it is not enough to only test a website when it is launched.  Websites are changing frequently to keep up to date, and with every change that is made, there could be an impact on performance of which the retailer needs to be aware.  Retailers need to emulate the user’s experience from the field with real browsers and mobile devices to truly get a grasp on visitor pain points.  Add to this the ability to isolate any issues that are impacting performance, and retailers can take further action – whether that be invoking SLAs, negotiating a fix with the vendor, or eliminating the problem component completely.

4.    Maintain good site hygiene – campaigns often only run for a limited period of time and when they are over, so should be their website presence.  Third party tags that are not working towards business objectives are simply clogging websites and only serve to slow sites down.

Following these steps will put retailers well on their way to a site that quickly delivers a rich experience to users.  For some retailers, it will provide a competitive advantage as the website offers more features and is faster to load than rivals.  For others, it will level the playing field with the larger vendors.  Fundamentally, third party applications should enhance a website, rather than undermine the user experience they seek to enrich, in order to encourage purchases and repeat custom.

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Author: Dan Matthews
Dan Matthews is a business journalist and author with more than 10 years’ experience writing in print and online. He is also experienced in online marketing and web project development, having created and grown several successful websites.
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