Why you need to monitor third-party services

Late on Wednesday 16 November, we noticed something quite strange. Server errors were being returned for objects on a large number of our monitoring customers’ websites. The problem was short-lived but widespread enough for us to investigate.

It turned out that there was an issue with a popular third-party tracking and remarketing service, and the chart below will give you an idea of how many customers were affected.

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Thankfully, the brief nature of the outage, as well as its timing (for UK customers at least), meant that the impact should have been relatively minimal.

Nonetheless, it does highlight the importance of external monitoring to keep track of third-party services, especially those that are dedicated to generating revenue (not to mention regular audits of those third parties). If a service is unavailable, even for a short time, it’s going to have an effect on your business. And that’s something you should know about.

A second, more serious issue?

However, that’s not quite the end of the story. When we were looking into this, we noticed problems with another third-party supplier. This one wasn’t quite as widespread, but the impact was potentially much more serious for those concerned. The first outage was for an object that was loaded in an asynchronous, non-blocking way, which meant there would have been no noticeable impact on user experience. However, this second issue was with a testing service, delivered via a synchronously loaded JavaScript file in the <head> of customer web pages. This meant that browsers would wait for it to load before starting to display the page. We noticed that responses from service were either very slow or timing out altogether. The chart below shows a cluster of high data start times (represented by the black dots) for the object across our customers’ websites.

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The effect would have been that websites would effectively have been unavailable during this time, as browsers waited in vain for the file to load. The result: frustrated visitors, lost revenue and damage to the brand.

Again, this highlights the fact that monitoring this kind of third party is absolutely essential. While testing and optimisation services can deliver huge value when they’re working, if they’re down or unusually slow, you need to know. Because visitors aren’t going to blame the third-party for the apparent outage. They’re going to blame you.

Find out more about NCC Group’s monitoring service and how you can make sure you’re the first to know when key third-party services stop working.

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