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November 2012 Archives

Now that Cyber Monday has passed, we've left the most daunting of the 2012 traffic peaks behind us.  US retailers were largely stable and available this year, with few catastrophic site failures.  In general, retailers are much more mature with their readiness planning, starting earlier, and conducting load tests and simulations right before peak.  


For those of you tracking our Net Retail Traffic Index this past weekend, you may have noticed an odd spike of 11.5 million page views on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.   A few savvy observers asked the very logical question - what's that spike?  The biggest online retailers all engaged in "best case" load testing this past weekend.  


Load testing is our number one recommendation for being prepared - you have to know your vulnerabilities.  While this may seem obvious to many of you, it is surprising to hear the number of retailers who still attempt to squeak by without load testing before the holidays or peak events.


Load Testing 1a.png


An Interview with Akamai's Load Testing Expert


Who better to speak with about Load Testing then Akamai's Load Testing expert, Paul Korenevsky.  Fortunately Paul spoke with me last week, before he spent the entire weekend sleepless, onsite with his customer, watching the traffic and orders fly in.  This is Paul (looking a lot more awake than he is this week).


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[Lelah] Paul thanks for talking with me today as I know it's a particularly crazy time of year.  Can you share what you do for Akamai?

[Paul] My primary responsibility is an Engagement Manager, which makes me the owner of the professional services team for our premium clients.  My secondary responsibility is a SME [subject matter expert] for load testing best practices.  We have defined such practices for load testing providers SOASTA and Keynote, and I am working to optimize those practices and expand the list of providers.


[Lelah] When a retailer runs load test, what are their primary goals?

[Paul] There are two goals.  First they are trying to identify potential bottlenecks early.  They will stress tests their obvious bottlenecks to understand how they will perform under load during their holiday peaks, and to tune where possible.  Secondly they want to evaluate the performance degradation under load.  The reality is that most retailers historically only got through to #1 but more and more they are starting to get to #2.


[Lelah] Which load testing providers does Akamai most commonly work with?  How are they optimized to work with the Akamai cloud?

Most of the larger ecommerce companies offload not just static content but application processing onto Akamai. If they load test direct to origin, without Akamai, the traffic will not represent the load under real conditions.


Akamai initially didn't allow our customers to conduct load testing on our platform, without express consent of the Akamai Performance team, because of potential adverse impact to their end users, or to other customers.  Before we formalized the load testing framework with SOASTA and Keynote, the load tests would require a good amount of preparation and each test would be subject to approval by the performance team.  We ensure load testing providers are not firing all traffic from one or a limited number of locations to represent accurate traffic patterns from a wide variety of geographies.  This ensure "real to life" caching and offload metrics, and performance measurement with Akamai's ability to route around internet latency.


SOASTA more recently has become prevalent in many of our larger retail customers.  Last year we worked closely with them to make sure we trained their team and vice versa.  They even made changes to their platform to ensure they could work well with us.  The Akamai Performance team then signed off on a framework that is "pre-approved" for working with SOASTA and Akamai.  The framework ensures full visibility with monitoring and reports on the Akamai side.  


[Lelah] The click stream that is tested is essential for a valid load test.  How do retailers identify the clickstreams through their site?  How many are tested and how often?

[Paul] Retailers typically leverage analytics tools to identify common paths.  They also identify high-risk problem areas based on data from previous performance monitoring tests.  For example, features of checkout or checking out directly from a wish list.  They then take these common and high-risk paths and then schedule them for load tests.  


Pre-holiday they do testing with each release in lower environments.  They start production testing in August and do it regularly up until holiday.  Those who do it regularly and properly end up conducting between 8 and 20 tests. 

The intention is to not take down the site.  Scheduling the tests during consistently low traffic times is least likely to impact their end users.  They include the real user traffic numbers in their load testing generator targets.


[Lelah] How do retailers set those load testing targets?

[Paul] Usually they take Thanksgiving night, Black Friday morning or Cyber Monday best case projections from the business.  This year retailers were testing with the expectation of 40 - 60% traffic growth at peak. If they can exceed forecasted load then they stay up for the holidays. The hard part is sustaining traffic without performance degradation.  The page performance targets under load are driven by their business team.  They have alerts that fire if performance drops below a certain level.


[Lelah] What are the most common vulnerabilities found through load testing?

Normally its database and application server issues. We'll then work with them to see if we can provide offload for those vulnerable areas on Akamai. It also helps them determine how well their load-balancing infrastructure is working.  We'll double check that their disaster recovery center (or other failover scenario) is operating appropriately.  Often times a SPA [Shopper Prioritization Application - Akamai's traffic throttling solution] test is paired with a load test to evaluate when SPA should be used and how they can maintain optimal load and performance in their environment.


Retailers considering load tests through Akamai should make sure to contact their account rep to see if their load tests comfort with the pre-approved framework.

Reaching a unique cookie conversion rate of 5.1% at the 11PM hour

Morning show broadcasts reported on the hottest Cyber Monday deals at the 9AM EST hour along with many online publications doing the same yesterday morning. But most online consumers didn't need any encouragement to get shopping - most continued with their clicking exercises right through the morning commute.  Early browsing behaviors mirrored those of Black Friday quite closely.  The only clear difference is that consumers chose sleep over shopping as illustrated by the 25% decrease in browsing activities at 12AM.  Additionally, average page views dropped from  14.1 to 11, a decrease of 22% early Monday morning (12AM -4AM). 

While browsing activity is a perfect metric for sales predictions, assuming consumers are researching deals, the shift in purchasing behavior is what puts dollars in online retailer's pockets.  Most retailers utilize Cyber Monday to bring their offline promotions online -a whopping 85% reported by NRF.

Looking at purchasing behavior in the ADS Data Platform, the shift from a predominately off-line shopping day, Black Friday, to one of the largest online shopping days of the year, Cyber Monday is clearly illustrated in the graph below.


ADS CM 2a.png


Midnight purchasing behavior was 12.5% below Black Friday's post off-line shopping sprees.  The shift in Cyber Monday's favor came at 6AM EST at a 32% increase in online purchases as we returned to our post-holiday weekend lives. Lelah also noted that the 6AM hour was the turning point for exponential growth in peak page views.   A slowdown in that growth occurred at 8AM EST hour and resumed at a 32% growth at the 9AM hour.  The short slow-down can be attributed to morning commutes and some tired pointer fingers. (Full disclosure:  I purchase new pair of boots at 8:30AM, the morning commute certainly did not slow me down! )

That slight decrease in purchase activity was the exception to the norm yesterday.  In fact, from 3PM to 11PM, online spending activities were consistently 50% higher than those observed on Black Friday.   Purchasing activity peaked at 9pm, 104% higher than Black Friday at the same hour. 

What time did you make your Cyber Monday purchase?  We'd like to hear more please email helloads@akamai.com, tweet @lyss3b, or add your comments below.  

Elyssa Duboys is a Senior Marketing Specialist at Akamai

9PM Purchasing Peak 104% Above Black Friday


Yesterday, I projected Cyber Monday's purchasing activity to be 150% higher than an average fall day, the verdict: 193% increase

In addition, my projection was that Cyber Monday purchasing activity will trump Black Friday by 25%, the results are in and the Akamai ADS Data Platform saw a 49% increase in online purchases take place yesterday.

 

ADS CM 1 a.png


Stay tuned for a post on hourly trends seen on the ADS Data Platform throughout Cyber Monday.


Elyssa Duboys is a Senior Marketing Specialist at Akamai

Cyber Monday Breaks New Traffic Records

Before we call it a night after a long but exciting day watching the Retail Net Usage Index, I owe you the final details.  Cyber Monday traffic first began to climb early this morning, at 6:00 AM ET, and steadily grew to an early record peak at 11:00 AM.  Traffic held steady at these levels until about 2:00 PM - a much stronger midday than in previous years.  Then shoppers turned away to get some work done before the day's end, headed home from work, and then eventually started coming back online at 7:00 PM.  We then peaked after dinner tonight just before 9:00 PM, with another record-breaking 8,516,582 million page views per minute.  Traffic levels will slowly climb down through the remainder of the evening.


While we expect Cyber Monday to drive the most revenue based on the 3 previous years weekend tallies, what wasn't expected was that this 8.5 mm+ peak would be the highest retail traffic peak in history - 13% higher than Thanksgiving - or that it would drive more volume throughout the day - 16% higher than Black Friday.


Cyber Monday final 1a.png


Given that Cyber Monday is the online day - higher revenues, higher conversions, and now higher traffic too - it is set to be a record breaking Cyber Monday in sales as well, likely exceeding initial projections of 20% revenue growth.  All indicators are strong.  Elyssa reported on the high purchasing activity today - forecasting 25% higher than Black Friday.  IBM also reported early results midday showing a 24.1% jump in sales over last year.  


Now that the peaks have passed, and retail sites can expect to hum along for the rest of the season, the fun begins. Tomorrow we'll wrap up the traffic highlights of the holiday weekend and more shopping behavior insights from our ADS Data Platform. Stay with this blog as we move through to the last free shipping day of the year.  We'll continue to report on traffic trends, but we will also share insider information and best practices from the online retailers who were successful this holiday weekend.  


We'd love to hear your story from this weekend.  Email me at lmanz@akamai.com, tweet @lelahm, or add your comments to this blog post below.


Cyber Monday Purchase Behavior Projections

ComScore expects Cyber Monday sales to be up 20% from 2011.  They predict consumers to spend upwards of $1.5 billion today, the Monday following Black Friday & the Thanksgiving holiday.  But what trends can we identify in online consumers' behavior leading up to Cyber Monday in the ADS Data Platform?


Before we dive into 2012 Cyber predictions, let's review the days leading up to Black Friday, a predominantly off-line shopping day.  Those coming online Thanksgiving Day were in Black Friday planning mode.  A 98% growth (compared to an average 2012 fall day) in carting behaviors suggests consumers were coming online in masses to research Black Friday promotions.  A 97% growth in purchasing activities on Black Friday suggests that once consumers exhausted in-store offers they came online to score more goods.  Lelah Manz's Another Hockey Stick Thanksgiving looks deeper into the traffic seen by the Akamai Net Usage Index.


ComScore reported this Black Friday as the first to reach $1.04 billion in online sales, piggy backing the 97% growth in purchasing behaviors.  Projections for Cyber Monday are looking equally promising based on the growth trends seen in the Akamai Data Platform.


Leading up to Cyber Monday, Saturday and Sunday purchasing behavior growth is the most exciting metric to follow.  If patterns identified in 2011 are any indication of what's in store for Cyber Monday, we're expecting to see a record number of purchases in the ADS Data Platform today.  Purchasing growth will most likely exceed 150% (and that's conservative).  The result will be a 25% increase from Black Friday in purchasing activity.


ADS New 1a.png

*Average Fall day consists of September & October averages


In addition to shopping behaviors, our Commerce Strategist, Lelah Manz, is reporting an 11:00AM EST peak in traffic, higher than any other point over the holiday weekend at 7,758,804 page views per minute. In Cyber Monday Set To Be Biggest Test Yet, Manz goes into a deeper dive on what Akamai is seeing on its Net Usage Index and the implications for Retailer sites on what is expected to be the largest online sales day of 2012.  

As reported in my post last week, Turkey or Shopping?, browsing activity spiked on November 7th, a day before the largest spending day in the first half of November.  The growth in browsing behaviors on Sunday, at 44% will surely be a tell-tale sign of reaching, or possibly exceeding ComScore's 20% growth projections in 2012.  


Elyssa Duboys is a Senior Marketing Specialist at Akamai

Cyber Monday Set to Be Biggest Test Yet

While Cyber Monday typically drives the most revenue during the holiday weekend, in 2011 it fell short in driving either the most traffic, or the highest traffic peaks. Thanksgiving and Black Friday took those honors.  This is somewhat expected; Black Friday and Thanksgiving are historically marketed as offline shopping days and therefore traffic on those days is in some part an indicator of offline purchase research.  However Cyber Monday is an online only day and therefore conversions tend to be much higher.


As of 11:00AM ET, Cyber Monday is surging ahead in both peak traffic and volume.  We're already peaking higher than at any other point this holiday weekend at 7,758,804 page views per minute.


In the chart below, you can see the hourly trends for Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday traffic.  Black Friday has an atypical traffic pattern, peaking midday, versus Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday (and every other day for that matter) which tend to peak around 9:00 PM.  This morning we're trending high like Black Friday - our highest volume day - and still have a late peak to come tonight - like Thanksgiving.   I've marked out the projections based on previous years hourly growth trends for every hour past 11:00 AM.


Cyber Monday 1a.png



If we're expecting our highest traffic peaks and volumes yet, with higher conversion rates, then it's time to buckle our seatbelts.  In my last blog post, I talked about higher conversion rates creating more strain on ecommerce site architecture (see 2nd paragraph of post).  One thing is clear this morning, retail sites still have their biggest test - and opportunities - ahead.



Huge Traffic Volumes on Black Friday

It was a strong Black Friday online by all accounts.  IBM is reporting that sales on the day grew nearly 20% over last year. Black Friday also drove huge volumes of traffic, averaging over 6.3 million page views from 10AM Eastern through to the end of the night.   As expected, peak traffic levels hit at approximately 11am ET, but there was no lull in the high volumes of traffic until the midnight hour.  In the graph below we can see this is comparable to the traffic patterns from years prior.  (A reminder that we cannot compare overall volumes year over year in this graph, as Akamai is tracking a much larger set of retailers and sites this year than in years past).  


Black Friday Peaks 1a.png


Black Friday Drives 25% More Traffic than Thanksgiving

So far the 2011 trend is holding true for the 2012 holiday shopping weekend - Thanksgiving drives the biggest peaks, Black Friday drives the most volume.   The difference in volume between Thanksgiving and Black Friday is well illustrated in the graph below.  With similar peaks, Black Friday's average traffic levels are 25% higher.


Nov Holiday Traffic 1a.png


Mobile Continues its Break-out Year

Mobile purchases are also up with over 24% of visits coming from a mobile device, and mobile sales exceeding 16%. Anecdotally many retailers also reported mobile traffic peaks around 9 and 10:00 PM Eastern.

Retail Site Availability and Conversions - An Operations Point of View

The peaks are of course a concern to retailers, but it's also the nature of those peaks that matter as well.  If most of that activity is browsing, then it's usually easier (particularly for Akamai customers doing Dynamic Page Caching of Homepage, Category, and Product Detail pages with Dynamic Site Accelerator Premier) on application server and database processing, the most vulnerable tiers of a site.  If conversions are higher, then it can put additional strain on the site - and the shopping cart in particular - even with lower traffic volumes.  And in fact in our ADS Data Platform, purchase rates were 47% higher on Black Friday than Thanksgiving. 

This explains why our Shopper Prioritization Application, a traffic throttling solution, was in use more yesterday than Thanksgiving by Akamai customers. 

(Elyssa Duboys will be posting more interesting insights on shopping behavior from the ADS Data Platform on Monday.)

A Look Ahead to Cyber Monday

Last year Cyber Monday was behind Thanksgiving for peak traffic, and behind Black Friday for overall volumes, but drove the highest conversion rates (see Akamai's Holiday Conversion Index from 2011).    While surprising given that Cyber Monday is meant to be the online shopping day, I imagine it will hold true again this year.  With mobile devices accounting for over 25% of traffic and visits, traffic on Black Friday is evidence of the digitally assisted offline sale.  Shoppers are in the stores and using their phones.  With the growth of mobile, Black Friday will continue to become a bigger and bigger day on the online retail holiday season calendar.


Lelah Manz is Chief Strategist, Retail & Commerce, at Akamai.


Strong Start to Black Friday

In years past, Black Friday is the only day to reach its peak early in the day, with all other days peaking at 9 or 10:00 PM in the evening.  Last year on Black Friday we reached peak by 11:00 AM ET, and in 2010 we hit peak by 1:00 PM ET.  As I mentioned in the previous post, Black Friday may drive higher volumes all day but its peak was less than Thanksgiving night in 2011.  


Black Friday tends to drive much higher peaks earlier in the day because of research activity for offline shopping in the morning hours.  The overall volume on Black Friday has been higher the last year - despite the newly emerged Thanksgiving peaks - as traffic rates stay relatively high all day long.  This is largely in part to mobile devices giving consumers access to content while out shopping during the day.


Black Friday 1a.png



If this typical Black Friday pattern holds true this year, we are going through peak now at 7,099,644 page views per minute (at the time of this writing at 11:00 AM).  This is just shy of the Thanksgiving peak from yesterday at 7,411,734 page views per minute.  


Black Friday NUI 1a.png


Will the traffic patterns remain the same this year?   I'll report back at the end of the day with the final Black Friday stats.


Happy Shopping!

Another Hockey Stick Thanksgiving

Last year Thanksgiving Day was our biggest traffic growth day, growing 70% over the year prior, and driving our highest peak traffic of the Holiday weekend - beating out even CyberMonday - at 9:00 PM Eastern.  


With the early doorbusters once again causing controversy, we all expected another breakout year for shopping on Thanksgiving Day.   By all accounts, Thanksgiving was a blow out traffic day.   With an early peak of 4,910,674 page views per minute at noon eastern, the day finished up with a peak of 7,411,734 PV/Min at 10:00 PM, much higher than the early day projections of ~6.2 million page views per minute.  


Internet Retailer has a great article summarizing all the trends from the day, including IBM's projections that Thanksgiving sales rose 17.4% over last year.  IBM is also reporting that 25.3% of the traffic came from smartphones and tablets and mobile devices accounted for 18.3% of sales.  An unbelievable statistic.


In the chart below - looking at peaks and averages over the month of November - the hockey stick marks Thanksgiving at 10:00 PM ET.  That traffic spike is nearly 2x normal traffic levels at the beginning of November!  Note that the averages are also starting to really pick up, indicating that the days are driving much more consistent volume versus sales-driven traffic spikes.


Thanksgiving Traffic 1a.png



Thanksgiving is also starting to follow a fairly predictable traffic pattern with early peaks at Noon Eastern, and evening peaks at 10:00 PM Eastern.  The graph below shows a fairly predictable growth trend throughout the day.  Shoppers come online in the morning from 7:00 AM through 9:00 AM, for early morning doorbusters then come online again in numbers at 7:00 PM to start their research for that evenings online and offline sales, finally peaking at 10:00 PM.  (Note that you cannot compare traffic volumes year over year as we are tracking a much larger set of customers and customer sites this year than in years past).


Thanksgiving Traffic 2a.png


Does this graph look like your Thanksgiving traffic?  Did you also see traffic levels at more than 2.5 x normal levels?  


While mentions of the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock have been few and far between, one thing's for sure, I cannot even begin to count the number of times I've heard "online shopping data," "peak traffic," "Black Friday" or "Cyber Monday" over the past few weeks.  


In addition to site traffic patterns from Lelah Manz, Akamai's Advertising Decision Solutions (ADS) has access to a cornucopia of behavioral shopping data.  In fact, we process 7TB of data each day to help inform the ADS-Data-Driven Online Marketing products.  The Hadoop-based Data Platform will allow us to deliver insights across our set of eCommerce sites ranging from browsing, carting & purchase behavior to social influencers.  


If early November activity is any indication, the ADS Data Platform saw weekday over weekday growth of browsing activity spike on Wednesday, November 7th.  Alongside browsing activities, Facebook influenced browsing behaviors also showed a 44% increase in weekday over weekday growth on Tuesday, November 6th.  The WoW increase of Facebook driven browsing behavior continues through Saturday, November 10th with a spike in growth on Wednesday at 58%.  These social growth rates correlate to ComScore's findings of a $10.1 billion online spending total the first 18 days of November, reporting an online holiday spending spike of $829 million on the 8th of this month.


ADS graph 2.jpg

*According to Facebook traffic referral growth, social growth is trending to be a big player in this holiday season.



As the turkey cools down our pointer fingers are just beginning to warm up.  The pumpkin pie feels like a forgotten stepchild this year while Thanksgiving dinners end early to accommodate the major retailers opening their doors starting at 8PM. And things are most certainly about to get interesting.


But do the brick and mortar door buster deals impact online behaviors?


While cyber Thanksgiving shoppers avoid the long lines and their pepper spraying peers, they are certainly exercising their clicking muscles.  Proof is in the numbers, so here we go. In comparison to Monday, 11/19, at 12 midnight, Thanksgiving morning showed a 22% increase in browsing activity.  In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, browsing behaviors peaked twice throughout the day, the first around 12Noon EST and the second hovering around the 8PM hour.  The key for retailers is that purchase behaviors normally peak once around the 12Noon hour and trail off at 3PM.  In my opinion the 12AM growth seen on Thanksgiving Day is an indication that the data will be unpredictable in the key online shopping days ahead.  I'll be keeping tabs on hourly behaviors and overall trends and ultimately decide if the Turkey was sidelined this holiday or not. 


But now it's time to eat a slice of that pumpkin cheesecake.  Happy Thanksgiving!


Elyssa Duboys is a Senior Marketing Specialist at Akamai

On this very calm Thanksgiving Eve, it's a perfect time to share with you all a "behind the scenes" look at how Akamai's commerce experts are engaging with retailers in preparation for this weekend.   As Akamai is working with 96 of the IR100, we have broad visibility into holiday readiness preparations and what retailers are really expecting this season.  To get a sense of what's to come this weekend, who better to talk with than Jim Stathopoulos, who manages the Akamai's Commerce Services Engaged team.  This is Jim (and it is likely the only time you will see him in a suit):

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[Lelah] Can you tell us what you do at Akamai, and give us some insight into your team?

[Jim] I am the manager of the professional services teams for Commerce Premium accounts in North America. While my team covers Retail in addition to Travel and Hospitality, we work specifically with 23 retailers and brands that have asked for a higher level of engagement with Akamai.  My team includes Engagement Managers and Project Managers who are highly consultative and work as part of an Integrated Account Team at Akamai throughout the year with these customers. They are closely aligned with Account Executives in the sales organization, Technical Support Engineers in Customer Care, and Solution Architects.  As it's a fully aligned and engaged team, it's a much more of partnership versus vendor relationship.

[Lelah] Holiday readiness doesn't happen overnight.  When does your team start engaging with retailers on holiday readiness with Retailers?  

[Jim] It starts early in Q1.  We give recommendations on holiday readiness initiatives as part of our quarterly reviews in Q1, and ensure that we are planning for resources throughout the year on both sides.  The actual technical work beings in June and July with an extreme ramp up period in September and October, ending in a lock down in early November.  It's typically a 3 - 6 month cycle.

It's not easy to identify a specific "holiday" these days.  In the US, Holiday is now, and then shipping days end around 15th or 18th of December.   In Canada it is Boxing Day.  In Europe the January sales.  For office suppliers it is back to school and for B to B, the new fiscal year.   

[Lelah] So what is your team specifically working on with Retailers?  What are the goals and the most important activities?

[Jim] We have four key architecture goals - performance, offload, security, and visibility.  To create plans around each of these goals we have to start with an understanding of the marketing events.  What are the biggest marketing events?  What are the key clickstreams?  Will visitors be coming from mobile emails to the desktop?  Are they entering through doorbuster microsites?  What are the year over year traffic patterns and traffic projections?

For offload and performance, we can then create a holiday caching strategy that targets these events and patterns.  Every retailer we work with has a specialized, more aggressive caching strategy than their normal day to day operations.  The goal is to let Akamai's platform serve as much of their content as possible - microsites, homepages, product pages, mobile pages, redirects, etc.  We also need to understand their security concerns.  Then we work with them to load test, identify bottlenecks, and see what else we can do.

The operations of the day are very important too.  We always recommend they plan for the unplanned.  We can do all the planning and coding and testing but it's impossible to have everything entirely known.  Especially these last two years with attack traffic.  So we dig into failover strategies, disaster recovery environments, our traffic throttling application called Shopper Prioritization.  Then we'll run simulations - what happens if your database goes down?  Or your whole site?  We'll practice using SPA [Shopper Prioritization Application] to throttle end users in a worst case scenario.  

We also want to make sure we're fully partnered not just with the customer but with their other vendors and partners as well.  If you're on a conference bridge at 2am then its good to know who everyone is and what their roles and responsibilities are.

[Lelah] What Akamai products are most commonly leveraged for Holiday?

[Jim] We tend to be the team that thinks solutions rather than products but most of the capabilities we are leveraging for caching and performance are provided by DSA [Dynamic Site Accelerator] and Mobile Accelerator, or AQUA Ion for those that have our newest platform launched last month.  SPA [Shopper Prioritization Application] is one of the most critical applications our customers use.  It's an application run on Akamai only when you need it with a "waiting room" page that ensures you keep your customers engaged if something unexpected happens, while throttling end users on the back end.  They are all also using the KONA Security Solutions to handle attack traffic. For B to B sites and store applications it's TERRA Alta. And of course, Services and Support.

[Lelah] I know we haven't forgotten the attacks from CyberMonday 2010, and the exponential increase in attacks on retailers since then.  Has the increase in attack traffic changed how you engage for Holiday Readiness?

[Jim] Honestly we had to go back to school. These attacks started two years ago and took most of us by surprise.  We had to go out and become the experts.  It really rejuvenated the team as it was a new challenge.  We are now a Security company and my team has invested a huge amount of time in not just having the best security products but having the best security experts as well.   This won't be the first time something emerges out of nowhere, and my team is smart enough to take that head on too.

[Lelah] Mobile didn't exactly come out of nowhere, but has definitely emerged exponentially over the last two years as well.  How has that changed holiday readiness?

[Jim] Most importantly we want to apply everything that's happening on .com for mobile.  There needs to be a mobile caching strategy, as well as load testing and performance testing of mobile sites.  If they share the same backend then they have the same point of failure, so they need to be tested concurrently.

[Lelah] I know you're the guy who knows everything.  And while I'm sure you're not going to tell me who is going to go down, I bet you know that too.  Based on what you can share, what do you expect this weekend?  Will most of your customers stay up?  
 
[Jim] I have been doing holiday readiness at Akamai for 3 years and this is the easiest holiday season so far because of maturity of our customers and our solutions, and the depth of our relationships.   That being said, a few customers have transitioned to new platforms for either .com or mobile that are less mature and tested, and there is always the attack risk. So like any year, there will be an unknown component.

[Lelah] What should a retailer do if they are experiencing issues this weekend?  What if they are not a current customer?

[Jim] If it's during Thanksgiving football, call my boss not me.  Or even better, call your sales rep.  If you are not an Akamai customer don't worry about it, our sales rep will find you if you are having issues.

[Lelah] Now, seriously.  What should they do?

[Jim] We do focus on escalations and each customer has pre-defined holiday escalation paths.  Common across all of them is to contact customer care immediately and our Holiday Tiger team processes will kick in.  If you are not a customer then you can go to www.akamai.com for a live chat to put you in contact with the right person, or call 1.877.425.2624. 
 

The Case for Imagination

My daughter's favorite TV show is "SpongeBob SquarePants." She loves it. Nothing else even comes close. Because she's such a fan, I downloaded the top 100 episodes on the family iPad and we watched one in bed last Sunday.

In the episode, titular character SpongeBob and his pal Patrick claim that all you need to have fun is an empty cardboard box. When their friend Squidward asks why they're interested in just the box and not the TV it used to hold, SpongeBob replies, "We don't need television, as long as we have our...imagination."

spongebob.png

Even though he's just a cartoon character, SpongeBob's insights are very valuable. What if you applied his wisdom to your online marketing strategy? If you were more imaginative, could you make magic happen this holiday season?

Ask yourself these questions:
First off, do you use your imagination when it comes to cross-channel engagement?
 Because each form of media (display, video, mobile, social) is unique, you need to come up with an original approach for each in order to have a successful online marketing campaign. That is, every platform is a unique cardboard box. Play around with them individually and come up with something different. Your game plan for display isn't going to fit into your social media strategy. Your approaches, however, shouldn't be too disparate--remember to maintain a common theme across all channels.

Second, how inspired is your creative? 
I have seen far too many banners that are just plain bland, and their mobile counterparts are merely shrunken versions of them. Also, many in-stream video ads are simply repurposed from TV ads. We've already established that you need to tailor your strategy to the platform, so make sure your creative makes the most of each medium. Have some fun--that cardboard box could be a spaceship, and that other one could be a teleporter or time machine.

Third, do you think creatively when it comes to your data? 
I've written before about the need to use fresh and current data--in light of the explosion of technological platforms, it is crucial to know how to glean the most important information from the vast sea of available data. It takes some original thinking to determine which data sets are truly valuable and worthwhile to you. If you use the most relevant and enlightening data to inform your creative efforts, you're on the right track toward an innovative campaign.

Finally, are you thinking outside the box when you define your goals for success?
 If you've read my previous blog posts, I may sound like a broken record here: if you're stuck with the tunnel-vision view that last-click attribution is an accurate method of gauging marketing success, then you're not really seeing if your strategy is working or whether your dollars are well spent. You should stop zoning out in front of the TV--get off the couch and start using your mind. What about running campaigns to drive new site traffic instead of merely retargeting to your current ones? How about targeting lapsed users? To do so, it's time to align the right attribution model with your marketing goals. It's time to think up that interstellar spaceship.

I never thought I would learn anything from watching a cartoon with my daughter, but it makes sense that I could be inspired by a quirky children's show. Children and their beloved cartoon characters aren't burdened by rules, convention and routine. You don't need to be either. You have your imagination.

Avi Spivack is Product Marketing Strategist for Akamai

What a DDoS attack may be trying to hide

Earlier this month,  Akamai held its second annual Financial Services Security Roundtable in London. The session was hosted by one of our global banking customers, and attended by numerous banks from London and Ireland.

The meeting was held under Chatham House Rule, a well-known format in the UK, but not as well known in the U.S. and other regions.  Under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker or participants may be revealed.   The rule allows people to speak as individuals and encourages free discussion. As a result some very interesting information was shared.

One workshop attendee reported that their organization is under nearly continuous DDoS attack. This attendee estimated that 97 percent of the attacks against the bank are volumetric DDoS, while only three percent are logic attacks attempting to do something more malicious. This percentage of 'easy' attacks at first seemed surprisingly high to the others in the room, and that three percent seemed quite a reasonable number to handle. But when asked if the bank experiences attempted fraudulent money movement masked by the volumetric attacks, their answer was 'yes'. We hear frequently of such patterns by industry analysts and the publications covering the space. To hear it directly from a security executive at a bank is much more impactful.

Security information sharing within the banking industry is especially important. There are many established industry associations which allow this information sharing between the banks. But security vendors such as Akamai also have much to share, and those channels are not nearly as well developed. The channels between the vendor and banks must extend beyond the banks directly to the regulators. Regulators should open up to vendors to understand how the latest security innovations may help protect the banking industry.

Based on the success of our London event, Akamai is planning Financial Services Security Roundtables in cities across the U.S. and around the globe. If you are interested in attending or hosting one of our roundtables please let me (ribolstr@akamai.com) know. I look forward to meeting you there.

Rich Bolstridge is Akamai's Chief Strategist for the financial services industry

End-Users' Web Experience Expectations Just Keep Getting Higher

People have high expectations. Web performance is no different. End-users expect fast and engaging web experiences. It doesn't matter if they use a PC, smartphone or tablet to interact with your web application. According to recent end-user research 89 percent of tablet, 59 percent of smartphone and 83 percent of PC users expect a website to load in 3 seconds or less. Now if we compare web performance expectations to the latest aggregate web page load times across smartphones and PCs it's not a pretty picture.

In addition just like we expect every new iPhone to be better, and every new Ferrari to be faster, our expectations for web performance just keep getting higher. In 2011, 71% of mobile users expected web pages to be as fast or faster than on a desktop -- up from 58% in 2009.

Philip Tellis summed up this rise in expectations nicely during a recent Velocity conference: "What delighted users a few years ago is now an expected baseline, the absence of which will frustrate."

To find out if web application delivery professionals also perceived this rise in end-user expectations Akamai commissioned Forrester Consulting to survey 210 US IT professionals across various industries. The resulting report entitled "Shifting Performance Strategies And Solutions For Mobile And Web Delivery" can be found here.

This is the second (the first - Is Web and Mobile Application Performance A Business Issue? You bet it is.) in a series of posts where we will take a deeper look at the key findings from the report.

When we asked IT professionals whether end-user's expectations were higher than three years ago the resounding answer was yes. It seems like expectations are rising for both internal and external audiences. Enterprise users are no longer willing to suffer through subpar and slow applications that might not function across the latest browsers and mobile devices. In addition both internal and external audiences not only expect faster web applications, but also richer experiences that evolve more often.

  • 74 percent of external and 73 percent of internal end-users expect faster web applications

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  • 76 percent of external and 64 percent of internal end-users expect richer web applications

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  • 61 percent of external and 60 percent of internal users expect web applications that are updated more frequently
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So what do these stats tell us?
External and internal users continue to expect richer and richer web applications that are constantly evolving. This usually equals more features, which equals more payload to deliver to the end-user's browser. But not only do end-users want richer more up to date experiences - they want apps that are fast - blazing fast.

In our next post we will cover why delivering quality experiences and blazing fast applications has become so difficult. In the meantime if you are interested in learning more download the report "Shifting Performance Strategies And Solutions For Mobile And Web Delivery" here.

Lorenz Jakober is a senior product marketing manager at Akamai

Let the Holiday Shopping Season Begin

And so it begins! In the US, we can now expect the Holiday carols to beam through every store audio system and the early bird holiday sales to begin in full force. Akamai's Commerce team has been hard at work these last 9 months, side by side with many of our global Commerce customers preparing for another online holiday shopping season. As we inch closer to various online holiday shopping-related deadlines I'm excited to watch the results of all of our collective efforts to provide the best possible customer experiences.
 
This past weekend the traffic really started to pick up in the US, with 13% higher traffic at peak than the first weekend of November.  Our estimation is that Hurricane Sandy had a short but noticeable impact on retailers, and on the start of the holiday shopping season in particular.

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Despite this initial delay, this holiday shopping season is full of positive projections across all channels.  Anecdotally many of you have shared with me that you're expecting another blockbuster year. More generally, retail sales in the US are expected to grow overall by 4% (NRF), online sales projections continue in the double digits at 17% (Forrester), and sales via mobile devices are forecasted to double (eMarketer). Digital touch points continue to influence offline purchases at a growing rate, driving even higher online traffic growth.

Last year on this blog I shared US online traffic patterns across online, mobile, and social from Thanksgiving through to the last pre-Christmas shipping day of the year.  This year I'm expanding the data we're sharing by starting our tracking earlier, when the US shopping really starts (today), and following all the way through to the post-Christmas sales in Europe during the first two weeks of January. 
 
I hope you'll find it insightful to compare your site's traffic to the aggregate of 1000s of retail sites in the US and Europe.  Here are the stats you can expect to find:

 
In addition to the data, I'll also be sharing insight into Akamai's Holiday Tiger team, Akamai's products and solutions available to solve scale and performance problems, and stories and anecdotes from Akamai customer base, and industry news.
 
Any other data you'd like for me to cover?  Let me know by commenting below.  
 
I would love to have you join me and share your own stories and data comparisons on this blog.  Subscribe to this blog feed, or follow #AkamaiHoliday, @lelahm (me) and @Akamai on Twitter to stay in touch.
At this point it's well documented that no one likes to wait for webpages to load. On top of it organizations across industries understand that web performance impacts the bottom line.The problem is delivering fast, rich, engaging web experiences across an increasing variety of browsers, mobile devices, networks and locations is not easy. To find out more about the challenges of delivering quality web and mobile experiences in this complex environment Akamai commissioned Forrester Consulting to survey 210 US IT professionals across various industries. The resulting Forrester Consulting report, "Shifting Performance Strategies And Solutions For Mobile And Web Delivery," can be found here.

This is the first in a series of posts where we will take a deeper look at the key findings from the report and provide best practices on how to overcome the web and mobile performance challenges of today - and tomorrow. As mentioned above the majority of organizations realize web performance impacts the bottom line. Yet Forrester found that the minority of organizations measure the impact of web application performance on the business.
 
  • Only 20 percent of respondents currently quantify or capture the business impact of slow loading web or mobile applications
  • 42 percent don't currently track the impact of performance on the business but plan to do so in the next 12 months
  • 38 percent don't have any plans to do this within the next 12 months 


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Does it matter that we have no insight into the impact of web performance on the business?

Yes. Yes; it does. In an era of where doing more with less has become a corporate mandate IT organizations and the LoB require a viable business case for web and mobile performance optimization. Little to no visibility into the business impact of web performance can result in a lack of business case, budget and resources for web performance optimization.

  • Only 22 percent of respondents have been able to adapt the web performance optimization techniques and technologies they need
  • Close to 70 percent know that they need to optimize web performance but are left without the business case for the required resources

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So what can we do about this?

There are various solutions that enable you to show the business impact of web performance. These solutions range from very limited and free to full featured and expensive. There are plenty of organizations that have highlighted the fact that web performance is a business issue and have reaped the associated benefits. Walmart for example has shared some of their findings on how to measure the impact of web performance on the business (more information and full presentation available here). You can learn from their example.

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The fact remains - no visibility into the business impact of web performance - equals no business case for optimization - which often equals no budget.

In our next post we will cover rising business and end-user web experience expectations and why delivering quality experiences has become so difficult. In the meantime if you are interested in learning more download the report "Shifting Performance Strategies And Solutions For Mobile And Web Delivery" here.

Lorenz Jakober is a senior product marketing manager at Akamai

New Video Quality Study Examines Causes of Viewer Behavior

Online video viewers are willing to wait two seconds for a file to load before they start abandoning the content for something else. This is according to a new study of online video stream quality that analyzed an unprecedented 23 million views from 6.7 million unique viewers across the Akamai network.

The study, "Video Stream Quality Impacts Viewer Behavior: Inferring Causality using Quasi-Experimental Designs," takes a scientific look at how changes in video quality can cause online video viewers to change their behavior, going beyond just identifying correlating factors that may or may not be directly related to differences in behaviors. Jointly conducted by Ramesh Sitaraman, an Akamai fellow and professor of computer science at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, and S. Shunmuga Krishan, a senior system software engineer at Akamai, this is the first study to show a causal relationship between video quality and viewer behavior.

In the following video, Ramesh sheds light on the unique background on the unique nature of the study along with some of its salient points.

   

Are You Hunting or Farming?

If you want your online business to keep pace, you need to find new customers and retain existing ones.

According to Internet Retailer, Amazon grew its business 40.6% last year. If we're being honest about the world of e-commerce, the reality is that there's Amazon, and then there's everyone else. Amazon sets the standard.

But let's ignore Amazon's $48 billion in revenue and focus instead on its growth number: Did your business (or your client's) also grow 40% last year? If so, congratulations--you're killing it. If not, let's talk about why. Maybe you're farming without hunting.

The old adage is that there are two types of salespeople: hunters and farmers. The hunter goes after new deals, always on the prowl, and the farmer is more comfortable tilling the soil of customer relationships to cultivate continued business. 

It turns out that these two approaches don't just apply to salespeople--they apply to a company's online marketing strategy, too. To generate substantial growth like Amazon, your company needs to be both the hunter AND the farmer. That is, you need to hunt for new and lapsed customers, while farming your relationship with existing ones.

Does your current online marketing strategy devote the right dollars and incentives to obtaining new or lapsed customers WHILE retaining existing ones, or are you stuck merely feeding off the bottom of the sales funnel? 

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