Real User Monitoring (RUM) is a performance monitoring technique for websites. The method involves tracking the actions of each visitor to a site and the delivery of the website elements that those actions request.
This monitoring method isn’t a marketing technique or a system for spying on people. Its focus is on the activities of the webserver to ensure that everything is working properly. It examines whether each service utilized in a website is working and being implemented in a timely manner. The monitoring strategy shows whether a particular service is able to cope with the demand volumes that the site experiences and also that each service is able to interact with other elements in a site to ensure that a typical journey through the website is properly supported.
Real user monitoring will expose issues caused by capacity limits, coding errors, and design faults.
Here is our list of the five best real user monitoring services.
- Pingdom Real User Monitoring EDITOR’S CHOICE A subscription service that identifies the locations that users access a website from and categorizes responses and performance by a range of attributes to enable root cause analysis of performance issues.
- Sematext Experience An alert-based system that notifies operators when performance drops below acceptable levels.
- Datadog Real User Monitoring Delivers a busy dashboard that includes lists of events and live data graphs.
- Dynatrace Digital Experience Monitoring Includes both real user monitoring and synthetic user modeling facilities and feeds through to performance analysis.
- AppDynamics End User Monitoring Focuses on walkthrough graphs for sample users and also includes aggregated data.
Website monitoring strategies
Monitoring the performance of a website can be carried out through two perspectives: checking and testing. The first strategy is the traditional monitoring method of checking the status of each element involved in the delivery of a website. The testing strategy involves a run-through of a website to see what happens – which services get requested and how all of the resources cope with the delivery of each service.
Real user monitoring is one of the methods available for testing a site’s performance. The other is synthetic user modeling.
When any program is under development, it needs to be tested before the job can be signed off as complete. Tests usually include isolation testing, to make sure the program runs all the way through to successful completion, performing all the tasks it was designed for; boundary testing to make sure the program interacts successfully with other parts of the system, and destruction testing to see how the program copes with heavy demand or unexpected inputs.
The acceptance testing strategy can be carried through the lifecycle of a system into production. This will provide performance checks while the suite of software and hardware is operating to deliver a website to the general public. Rather than relying on the inventiveness of a tester, the real user monitor lets site visitors carry out testing. This involves gathering data on the responses of the system to access by a member of the public.
Real user monitoring vs synthetic user modeling
In real user modeling, actions are recorded, anonymized, and aggregated because the tests are not interested in the user as a sales target, but in the resilience and responsiveness of the system. Synthetic user modeling starts with a requirement to test an aspect of a website. The synthetic modeler then generates requests to trigger that service in a specified volume and measures performance.
The difference between real user monitoring and synthetic user modeling is that the actions of the user are made up of the synthetic user modeler but are supplied by real people in real user monitoring.
Synthetic user modeling is useful for testing a website or a new page before it goes live. However, once a site is live, the best way to check whether the system is fit for purpose is to gather statistics on what happens when each visitor accesses the site.
Real user monitoring benefits
The biggest issues website owners are concerned about are site availability, error rates, and response times. Real user monitoring supplies constant checks on these two factors both overall for a site and also for each element in a site individually.
There are many different categories of response time, which is also known as load time. These include the time it takes for the title of the site to be visible, the time it takes for text to appear and for interactive elements, such as links to be active. Also worth measuring are the load times for images on a page and for services, such as a video player to be fully operational.
Once the page has been loaded, the performance of drop-down menus, pick lists, and autocomplete functions can also be measured and the playback performance of a video on a page can also be monitored.
The measurement of error rates can be refined with real user monitoring. It is possible to check whether a load error occurs once, many times, or always. An infrequent load error could be due to services beyond the control of the website’s operator, such as the user’s browser, or an interrupted connection to the webserver. Intermittent errors would be caused by capacity limits or poorly designed interfaces. A constant problem shows that a specific service has failed.
Availability monitoring is built into real user monitoring. However, this is one aspect where synthetic user monitoring is probably a better testing strategy. A performance tester that pings the webserver from different locations in the world is able to check whether content delivery networks and cache servers are operating correctly. Those are generated tests rather than real user monitors.
Real user monitoring services
Real user monitoring systems don’t need to operate on the same server that delivers a website. In fact, as many websites are served by a number of different servers, tracking the performance of one server wouldn’t give the full picture of the site’s performance.
Website monitoring can be performed very proficiently through cloud-based services. SaaS systems have the advantage of combining testing strategies and the software to perform them with a remote location to carry out the checks. A real user monitoring service relies on the expertise of the designers of the monitoring system because the accumulated knowledge of the monitoring company gets added to the analytical engine of the system. It is not enough to gather statistics on every user’s visit to a site – that data needs to be interpreted and linked to each service that delivers a particular element of the site.
While there are many real user monitoring services available today, only a handful are exceptional and worth subscribing to. We have examined the market for real user monitoring services and identified the ones that are really worth the money that they are charging. All of the real user monitors that we recommend here are cloud-based services.
The best real user monitoring services
You can read more about each of these options in the following sections.
Pingdom offers two service plans. One of them is its Real User Monitoring service and the other is a Synthetic Monitoring system. It is possible to take out both plans to get a full set of website performance assessment tools.
The Real User Monitoring service of Pingdom offers insights into the success of marketing campaigns as well as the performance of website services. The main screen of the Pingdom Real User Monitoring dashboard features a map of the world with color-coded traffic volumes shown by country. This map indicates the load times of the site when accessed from different countries. Other key metrics that are instantly available include the number of live connections to the site and the ongoing bounce rate measured over the past 24 hours.
The dashboard is divided into screens for user experience and system performance. The user experience data shows the access device and browser types most frequently used by visitors. The system also tracks satisfaction scores. Performance monitoring checks on load times of different elements on each page and watches which links are followed most by the site’s users.
Facilities in the service include performance thresholds. These will trigger alerts if the response times of a site dip below an acceptable level. These standards are segmented, so you will be able to get notified if, for example, access from mobile devices slows while overall averaged access times remain acceptable.
Performance data gets stored on the Pingdom server, so it available for analysis over time. This is useful for spotting performance issues caused by the addition of new pages or features. It is also a useful tool for marketers because they will be able to see which pages attract more visitors and where those visitors are located.
A report generating module in the Pingdom service enables ad-hoc analysis of performance. Once generated, these reports are delivered in the form of a web page. You can share a link to a report, enabling the recipient to filter and sort data. These reports are useful for tracking SLAs and communicating with customers if your business hosts the sites of other companies.
The Pingdom Real User Monitoring service is charged for by subscription with a rate based on the number of page views that get tracked. You can get a 14-day free trial of both the Real User Monitoring and Synthetic Monitoring services together.
Pingdom Real User Monitoring is the best real user monitoring service we have found because it is very easy to use and presents all of the key information you need about your website. The Pingdom service is designed for those who want to see all performance data at a glance and also need to be able to get on with other tasks. The system has a series of performance thresholds that will send you an alert if performance drops. That means you don’t have to watch the dashboard all the time. Historical data collection and analytical screens allow marketers and site developers to spot the effects of changes to a website. Start 14-day Free Trial: pingdom.com/sign-up/ OS: Cloud-based
Pingdom Real User Monitoring is the best real user monitoring service we have found because it is very easy to use and presents all of the key information you need about your website. The Pingdom service is designed for those who want to see all performance data at a glance and also need to be able to get on with other tasks.
The system has a series of performance thresholds that will send you an alert if performance drops. That means you don’t have to watch the dashboard all the time. Historical data collection and analytical screens allow marketers and site developers to spot the effects of changes to a website.
Start 14-day Free Trial: pingdom.com/sign-up/
The dashboard is very well laid out with quick results on the number of users of a site and recent performance displayed as graphs. The view can quickly be changed to show data by user country, OS, browser type, page, or page group. The time segmentation can also be altered at the push of a button.
These data customization features mean that the same dashboard screen can be used for live data tracking and historical analysis. Users can also switch to view log and event data as lists of records or have those data sources analyzed in graphs.
Sematext offers a very good support service to busy website administrators through its alerting mechanism. This means that administrators don’t have to watch statuses because they will be notified if things go wrong. The performance thresholds that trigger alerts can all be adjusted.
Sematext Experience is a subscription service charged monthly at a rate set per 100,000 page views. You can try out the service on a 14-day free trial.
Datadog monitors load times, error rates, and service dependencies very competently through its Real User Monitoring service and presents performance data in a crowded graphics-packed dashboard.
The real user monitoring service includes performance expectation thresholds and alerts for when those levels drop. So, website administrators will only need to go to the dashboard when notified of potential problems.
Even though the busy data screens of the dashboard can be a lot to take in, their crowding of information removes the need to switch between screens in order to get a full view of a website’s performance. Deep dive screens are less crowded and they offer tools to enable troubleshooting of frequent errors to identify the root cause of delivery problems.
Analysis screens allow the user to view aggregated data by country, device, browser, OS, and session type. This interactive data explorer gives data representation and time horizon options. Actions and events can also be examined.
Datadog Real User Monitoring is charged on a subscription rate per 10,000 page views. You can access it on a 14-day free trial.
The Dynatrace Digital Experience Monitoring service offers a flexible package of synthetic modeling and real user monitoring services plus a session replay function. The user buys a block of credits and then decides which service to use them on.
The Real User Monitoring functions of Dynatrace offers both a run-through trace of an individual user’s actions on a site and aggregated data that identifies the performance of each element of a site. The session recording feature of the Dynatrace service is unique. It lets a technician replay a session once it has completed, watching the screen as though it was a remote desktop view of a user’s live actions.
With both historical data and session run-throughs, a technician can spot exactly which actions resulted in errors. These features are also useful for marketing analysts who need to work out which services attract more user activity.
Dynatrace Digital Experience is a subscription service and you can experience it for yourself on a 15-day free trial.
AppDynamics End User Monitoring registers system events during each user session and aggregates these into full system performance metrics. Standard user experience metrics, such as load times and error rates are all recorded. Along with those standards, code-level transactions get tracked, enabling website designers to see exactly which steps slow down the presentation of a website and the delivery of its services.
The AppDynamics system enables a web developer to see which third-party apps impair the performance of a site. It could well be that none of the performance issues in a website are caused by the site itself but is the result of a poorly performing API that is slow to deliver. In this case, the web designer has the option of removing that library or and looking for an alternative, or leaving out that function altogether.
Analysis of each event can be run end-to-end, following the journey of a user through the site, or on a drill-down basis, looking at each triggered event and then unearthing the services that support it, chaining all the way down to the hardware. By switching between these two views, a website designer can identify the root cause of load errors or slow response times.
AppDynamics End User Monitoring is offered in two plans: Real User Monitoring Pro and Real User Monitoring Peak. Both are subscription services with more customization and analysis features in the Peak plan. You can get a 15-day free trial of Real User Monitoring Pro.