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Website Performance Tuning - Part 1

Website Performance Tuning - Part 1

Speed on the web is as important as ever, with figures showing that better performing websites get more business, and that performance may also have an effect on SEO rankings.

Recently, we've been asked by several clients to measure how their site performs, and what could be done to speed it up.

For the first client (a multi-national blue-chip insurance company), they primarily wanted to know how many users their system could support - how many users could use the site in an hour, say?

The first thing we needed here was a program to simulate being a real user. PhantomJS is an excellent tool here, because behind the scenes it's basically the same browser as Google Chrome, but there's no visible front-end - we can "drive" it automatically and measure the results.

So, we produced a PhantomJS script that hit the website, logged in, and performed the operations our client wanted testing. (Measuring all the times as it went.)

We then produced a large queue of those scripts to run, and fired up a whole bunch of Rackspace Cloud servers, and told them to share the queue of jobs - this is to simulate concurrent users, which is very difficult to emulate with a single computer.

We ramped up the simultaneous servers gradually, and found the spot at which we'd hit a limit - meaning that the system couldn't deal with more simultaneous users than we were throwing at it.

Armed with these numbers, we could then dive a little deeper into the figures at certain points of the process, and find some likely candidates for the stages that were specifically slowing things down.

The tools we have available for this kind of work these days are frankly excellent - without PhantomJS (or something similar), our tests would have been significantly less "real", as it wouldn't have used real-life browsers to do the testing. And without Rackspace Cloud, I dread to think of the work involved in actually firing up that many physical servers to perform the tests!

Next time, I'll talk more about what happens next - how web pages can be made faster.

In the meantime, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us if you'd like us to performance-test your website!

Neil Smith
Neil

Created on Tuesday September 17 2013 01:45 PM


Tags: website performance


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Ticketing Systems

Ticketing Systems

We've recently launched a new ticketing system for our friends at Barriers Direct (http://www.barriersdirect.co.uk), and it contains some interesting features, and some close integration with the rest of the back office systems, that I'll briefly outline here.

For those that don't know, a ticketing system is a little like a to-do list that can be shared amongst people, and records status as things change. For instance, if a client enquiry comes in, we can assign it to the most relevant person to deal with it. Perhaps they have to query something with accounts before responding to the client, so they can assign the query there. Accounts respond, and assign it back again -- and so on until the ticket is finally completed and marked as closed.

Every action is time stamped with who said what and when. Unlike email, the entire thread of activity is available to all relevant people at all times - it's not hidden away in people's Inboxes and Sent Items. For instance, there's no more thinking that you sent this task to Bob yesterday, but he's off today, and wondering if he did anything with it - you can check the ticket, and see that Bob forwarded it to accounts. Now, someone else can follow up in his absence.

As people do tend to check email very regularly, however, the ticketing system sends various emails to let them know there are things waiting for them - it emails people when tickets are assigned to them, and emails daily summaries of outstanding tickets, for instance.

The team at Barriers Direct use extensive reporting facilities within Quantum to keep track of their business, and tickets mean they can produce reports of how many requests come in, what the different types of requests are, and how long it takes to respond to them -- and how that all changes over time.

The ticket system is integrated right into Focus's Quantum website administration system, which manages the order system too, and that allows us some tight integration that wouldn't be possible with a 3rd party ticketing solution; lists of orders highlight those with tickets associated with them, for instance, and vice versa, from the ticket you can get to the full details of the order in just one click.

If you're interested in knowing more about a ticketing system, either for an existing or new website - please do give us a ring, or drop us an email and we'd be very happy to talk to you!

Photo copyright Andres Rueda, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Neil Smith
Neil

Created on Thursday January 31 2013 10:18 AM


Tags: website e-commerce web-development


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107m go online shopping on Christmas Day

Experian Hitwise have released some eye watering statistics about eCommerce traffic in the UK for Boxing Day 2012, which broke all previous records - and by some distance.

The Christmas period just passed was the busiest for online retailers - with 84m visits to retail sites on Christmas Eve, 107m on Christmas Day itself and 113m on Boxing Day - increases of 86%, 71% and 17% respectively.

Also up was the share of people using mobile devices to do their shopping - more than 28% of clicks on retail ads came from smartphones and tablets, and overall traffic from these devices accounted for 30.7% of visits, up from 19.8% for the same period in 2011. Data from IBM shows 24.73% of consumers used their mobile device to make a purchase - up 15.93% from 2011. With the number of iPads and other tablets sold over Christmas, these stats are no surprise.

From a search engine viewpoint, interestingly one in every 125 keyword searches included the word 'sale' - with 'Next sale' leading all queries followed by 'Debenhams sale' and 'Marks and Spencer sale'.

Conclusions? Owners of online stores need to review the impact that mobile-based shopping is having on their sites and also need to invest in CRO - conversion rate optimisation - to ensure they take full advantage of the increasing numbers of people shopping online, and to ensure that once once shoppers arrive at their site, there's no barriers to purchase.

 

Simon Newing
Simon

Created on Wednesday January 02 2013 03:03 PM


Tags: website e-commerce smartphones


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Proud re-launch for WECIL

Proud re-launch for WECIL

I caught up with WECIL in the Summer to find out more about their exciting rebrand - how could we apply this to their web site to not only bring it up to date visually, but also bring it more in line with the organisation's needs and objectives? With much of their offline materials already rebranded, WECIL were very keen to get their online presence sorted ASAP!

As a team, we went through the existing site and identified key areas that needed to remain in the new build, and other features to be either removed altogether, or reorganised into different areas.

Suggestions were made for some new features, which were considered against WECIL's available budget. Finally a specification was drawn up and agreed, and we started work on the design. Working with the new WECIL brand guidelines, we soon had page templates created for a home page and inside page templates; along with visuals for new features such as the Events Calendar and YouTube integration. The site needed to be engaging, visually attractive, and accessible. It also needed to provide multiple areas for updated information, to really demonstrate how active WECIL are in their projects and activities.

So as build progressed, the Events Calendar was key - WECIL hold a good number of useful, informative and fun events and needed to demonstrate this to their service users. Users can search by keywords, regions and even different Types of event - all of which WECIL can add to as time goes on. And not only that, but should a particular event be of interest, you can have the calendar email you with a reminder. Handy!

One specific change was the presentation of WECIL's key projects and research work - moving these into a Resources area has meant that although still readily available, the details are not in the way of more current areas of the site such as how to Get Involved, and the Events Calendar.

Feeds from their Twitter and Facebook accounts also feature, with regular updates from WECIL; plus a suite of visual signposts, to reinforce key areas and link directly to them.

WECIL are also benefitting from an upgrade to the latest version of Quantum - our bespoke, Rails based content management and administration system - giving their team a much easier interface to work with including access to the new modules such as the Calendar and Slideshow Feature Box on the homepage.
 They have admin access to update most of the site themselves, which means independance and control for them - but of course we're here to help when they need it!

Over the coming months, we'll keep a close eye on Google Analytics, noting areas of the site which are popular, not so popular, and how users are interacting. We'll work with WECIL to ensure we're getting the most of out the site for them, and make recommendations for updates or additions as they become relevant. Big thanks to the team at WECIL for making this a really smooth and enjoyable project to work on! You can visit the new site here.


"Can I offer our compliments on the site; it looks really good and you have dealt with us with the utmost professionalism and interpreted our requirements perfectly."

Janice Saunders
Resources Manager

WECIL
 

Annette Ryske
Annette

Created on Friday November 23 2012 04:54 PM


Tags: website charity new-web-site youtube analytics quantum launch disability wecil


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Who's Hungry for Reading?

Who's Hungry for Reading?

We're very excited to have launched a charity microsite for MS Ireland and it's been seriously good fun! The site is vibrant and energetic which perfectly reflects the excitement of MS Ireland's upcoming READaTHON.

The month long event kicks off on October 12th 2012 and is their biggest fundraising event. It was 25 years ago that the late, great Roald Dahl launched the first campaign. Ever since then the MS READaTHON has been encouraging young people to read while raising much needed funds for services to those living with Multiple Sclerosis in Ireland. The concept is straightforward; Children are sponsored by family and friends to read as many books as they can in one month, it's simple but extremely effective.

With the design theme focusing on monsters that eat books we've gone back to our childhoods here at Focus and let our imaginations run wild! We threw in scratches, claws and bite marks, adding character and a sense of chaos. We have also emphasized the fun factor and encouraged interaction by embedding videos and games.

The site, just like the event, appeals not only to kids and teenagers but adults too. So, why not enjoy yourself and do a great thing for charity by getting involved? You’ll be glad you did!




Our latest go-live....

Our latest go-live....

The next in a series of projects we've completed over the summer - and it's a big well done to Annette, Steve and Jordana from Team Focus for their work on the new Pace web site, launched in mid August.

Pace are a design consultancy based in Clevedon - managing creative projects for Lloyds TSB, the NHS, Clevedon School and Merlin Housing Society, amongst others.

The new site shows off Pace's refreshed brand and range of design services and also includes a blog that is regularly updated by the entire Pace team. We've also integrated the site with their Twitter profile so that it features latest updates - a nice touch in helping to send traffic both to their social media account and web site.

Nick Cleeve, MD at Pace says:
"We've found Focus to be so easy to work with right through our web site development. They had a professional approach,understanding our business and exactly the direction we wanted to take it forward in. As the business owner I'm not used to being managed, but Annette managed us well, keeping us focused on the end goal and working together as a partnership to achieve the final result.

We've had nothing but positive feedback on our new site since go-live, and I look forward to an ongoing relationship with the team at Focus."

See the new Pace web site at:
http://www.hellopace.com

Simon Newing
Simon

Created on Friday August 24 2012 11:15 AM


Tags: website web-development new-web-site


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Brand new site for MS Ireland

Brand new site for MS Ireland

Thrilled to bits! That's the reaction from our friends at The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland to the launch of their brand new website yesterday!

The Society, one of Ireland's largest charities, work with people with MS, their families and carers, health professionals, students and others who are interested in or concerned about MS. We've been working with MS Ireland since 2007 - not only helping to create their main Society website, but several dedicated campaign microsites too - such as ReadAThon and Tea Party (with McVities). So we were excited to begin working with the Comms team on the structure and design of their brand new site earlier this year.

As well as making sure the web site would be engaging, contemporary and informative, we were briefed that it's key objective was to help create a community of users who could interact with the site and each other through it - providing users and viewers the opportunity to contribute, comment and collaborate on news and views surrounding Multiple Sclerosis.

Through a number of workshops and presentations, the site began to take shape; the creative phase concentrated on site design, navigation and the organisation of information which included introducing 'real life' signposts helping direct visitors to information relevant to them. The administration system that manages the site has been given a complete overhaul to the latest version of Quantum - our bespoke, Rails based content management system. The web site has also benefited from a number of functional improvements  including a brand new and enhanced events calendar, which not only features a far more engaging interface, but also invites users to submit their own events.

The site also includes national and regional blogs updated by geographical editors, five separate blogs with editorial content from the different teams at MSI and user polls - helping get real feedback on important issues from real users.

It's been a brilliant experience working with the team at MSI, and we're so pleased to have this site as part of our portfolio.

Best go and take a look then! www.ms-society.ie

Looking forward to working with the team again on their next campaign site… look out for more on this soon.

"We are thoroughly delighted with our new website. We wanted something brighter, more modern and interactive and which reflected the care and support our organisation provides to people with MS. Focus were wonderful throughout the project, listening to our needs and building on those to give us exactly what we wanted."
Taragh Donohoe
Communications Manager, MS Ireland




Up Up and Away..with the new Bristol Balloons web site

Up Up and Away..with the new Bristol Balloons web site

Last week we had the pleasure of launching (no pun intended) a new web site for our friends at Bristol Balloons. We manage 3 sites for the Balloons team and this year we were approached about providing an updated and refreshed design to the flagship of these 3 sites, Bristol Balloons.

It wasn't just the front end that required an update; we have to undertake a complete bespoke development upgrade of the entire back-end system as well.

We've been working long and hard over the last couple of months on developing a back-end system which will prove to be much more flexible and productive for the team at Bristol Balloons

Design wise we've used the space available in terms of the width and also made key elements available 'above the fold'. The design is centred around striking images that really sell the experience of a balloon flight to users. The new clearer language, navigation and 'call to actions' will have a real positive effect on the conversion rates of the site. 

We've also ensured that the new checkout process follows best practice techniques in order to reduce the number of drop-offs and ensure purchases are completed both quickly and easily. 

In the limited time that the site has been live we've seen a reduction in both Exit and Bounce rates, which is extremely encouraging. Over the next few months we'll be monitoring the key analytics of the site with a view to updating the other two sites; Bath Balloons and Ballooning Network.

So if you're looking for a special treat, that once in a life time experience or just want to see our handy work, why not take a look at what Bristol Balloons has to offer....

Created on Wednesday June 20 2012 03:30 PM


Tags: website e-commerce web-development bristol balloons


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Late Game Change in Cookie Law!

Late Game Change in Cookie Law!

So the Cookie Law was implemented over the weekend and last week we noticed a number of high profile sites implement their solution to this new legalisation, including; The BBC, The Mirror and the Financial Times. 

On Thursday there was also the big announcement from the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) that said website owners can assume that visitors have consented to the use of cookies as long as they were provided with the information. 

This change has watered down the initial legalisation somewhat and ensures that the implementation we have seen over the last few days comply with the new legalisation. 

If you haven't considered on the new cookie legalisation could affect you than please contact us for some advice or take a look at our best practice guide - here

Created on Monday May 28 2012 11:03 AM


Tags: website online-law cookies eu privacy


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Bootstrap Foundations

We blogged a while ago about our use of Twitter's Bootstrap project on some of out internal sites. We're in the middle of a redesign for Bristol Balloons and we've been using Twitter Bootstrap as the CSS foundation for the design of the site. We've found that the process of styling internal pages has sped up considerably whilst still producing excellent results (if we do say so ourselves). We get good looking styling from the get go which can then be customised to fit the design rather than starting with a blank slate. We've also found that we're producing CSS/HTML builds which are rock solid in IE (7 and above) without the need for time consuming debugging and CSS hacks.

Twitter Bootstrap seems to be to internal styling what a grid system is to page scaffolding.

We're still in the process of deciding when we use this approach but it's certainly an interesting one. There is still much for us to explore here, particularly the responsive design elements it provides, so watch this space.

Created on Thursday April 19 2012 12:00 AM


Tags: website blog new-web-site twitter


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