Web analytic data can only go so far when it comes to seeing exactly how a user interacts with your site or application. These limitations can leave blind spots in your application management and overall site growth. In this article, we’ll look at a few different ways you can deploy real user monitoring, and review a few tools that help simplify the entire process.
What exactly is real user monitoring?
Real User Monitoring (RUM) is a method of performance monitoring that measures metrics such as load time, transaction path, and behavior automatically on a per user basis. This form of performance monitoring goes beyond what you can see in traditional tools such as Google Analytics or event logs and helps give you immediate feedback on issues that impact users.
Unlike feedback surveys, Real User Monitoring, or RUM, is a passive system that runs in the background. Rather than have developers or administrators comb through log files, RUM continuously monitors the application or site for problems, anomalous user behavior, and more. Additionally, you can configure your user monitoring alert when specific conditions are met, or thresholds are reached.
When you deploy real user monitoring you’re measuring real sessions with real humans behind them. This is in direct contrast to a similar form of performance monitoring called synthetic monitoring. Synthetic monitoring relies on scripts that mimic user behavior, but this is often ineffective as real users continuously find new and creative ways to get lost, stuck, or simplify find existing bugs.
In addition to finding bugs, real user monitoring can be used to collect data on exactly how your visitors interact with the site, what features they use the most, and what platforms they use to connect. This is useful not just for troubleshooting, but UX design as well. Neglected features from a site or app can be trimmed while places, where users are getting stuck, can be simplified and improved.
Why is real user monitoring important?
By using real user monitoring vs synthetic monitoring you’re leveraging real data generated from your actual users to identify issues and make improvements. By highlighting issues your users are facing in real-time you can quickly resolve issues and make changes that help avoid downtime and website bounces.
Looking through the lens of a webmaster, real user monitoring helps shine a light on not just visitor behavior, but also how search intent is met. As the main ranking factor, ensuring your site is meeting search intent is critical to ranking for keywords and topics.
Having the ability to see beyond just basic metrics gives you the upper hand in resolving issues faster, and creating a better user experience for your visitors than your competitors. Over time this can ultimately result in better ranking for the site, and even more sales when applied to landing pages.
If you’re responsible for meeting specific SLAs for your app or site, enabling a form of real user monitoring can help keep you ahead of the curve and give you the ability to avoid unexpected downtime by seeing problematic patterns before they cause bigger issues.
How does real user monitoring work?
A small lightweight script is embedded in each page of the site, or backend of the application. This script tracks and records behavior and metrics as the user moves through the site. As this data is collected it is reported back to the server for further analysis where this data can either automatically trigger an alert, be grouped together, or visualized across other data points.
As information pours in from each new user, the backend dashboard of the system will usually give at-a-glance insights into critical metrics such as page speeds, bounce rate, number of requests, and number of error codes generated. This data can come in waves, and the size of the information captured is closely related to the number of visitors your site receives, and how many metrics you currently track.
To better understand and act on real user monitoring data, information is often consolidated and put into charts, graphs, and other visualizations. This is key to understanding patterns like correlating specific traffic cycles and tracking issues across certain times of the day. Regardless if you spend time analyzing these patterns most real user monitoring tools have some form of automated alerts that will keep you informed of serious issues.
Some RUM tools offer in-depth data capture and replay, meaning you can recreate the session exactly as the user experienced it. This helps you go beyond just the data and actually experience the problems firsthand.
Challenges with real user monitoring
RUM isn’t an end-all solution for site management but is a great option to have in conjunction with your overall application management strategy. With that said, there are some limitations with real user monitoring you should be aware of, so you know exactly what it does, and doesn’t do.
- Real user monitoring is more effective with established sites. The more traffic it can analyze the larger of a set of data you have to work with. New websites that aren’t getting much traffic will likely not see the real benefits of RUM until a steady flow of visitors starts coming in. In this case, using synthetic monitoring in the early stages of your site would be a good idea. Alternatively, you could use paid advertising to drive traffic early while your RUM is in place to get a more accurate dataset early on.
- RUM does not give you insights into your competitors. Real user monitoring is strictly a reflective look at your site and its performance. There is no way to run these tests on competitors’ sites because they rely on tracking user behavior through scripts that are installed on the webpage themselves. SEMRush and Ahrefs have options where you can crawl a competitor’s site and view information such as error rate, page speed, and site structure.
- Real user monitoring requires large amounts of data. RUM is constantly pulling in site information every time a visitor visits a page or takes an action. While this amount of this information is necessary, it can overwhelm organizations that aren’t ready to store it and visualize it properly. For most RUM tools you’ll need to utilize flexible cloud storage to house the data or have a server on-premises with adequate drive space.
Using the right real user monitoring tools can make a huge difference. Since there are so much data collection and interpretation involved in a RUM tool, picking the right one is key for quick and painless deployment. Let’s review a few of the best real user monitoring tools on the market today.
Real user monitoring solutions
Pingdom uses a combination of real user monitoring and synthetic transaction monitoring to give you a holistic view of your site performance both through insights and visual heatmaps. To aid with clients’ side problems Pingdom uses a simple yet intuitive centralized dashboard to give administrators an at-a-glance view of the health of their website based on real user metrics.
Active sessions, load times, bounce rates, and apdex score changes all populations live through customizable widgets that allow you to cycle through and view whatever metrics are important to you. For websites with a wide global audience, Pingdom maps out each country and can easily show which regions are struggling to load pages, view content, or perform specific actions.
Deployment of Pingdom is simple and starts with adding a small snippet of code to the header of your website. Within just a few minutes data will begin populating into your dashboard for instant feedback. As more data populates, Pingdom advanced filtering can take you from a top-level perspective to a drilled-down detailed report of exactly what elements impacting performance.
On top of built-in troubleshooting tools, Pingdom allows its users to create SLAs for specific metrics across your site. You can set targets as broad as page load times or as detailed as measuring the time it takes for the first element to load. This range in flexibility makes Pingdom a great option for both those who run smaller sites, as well as established sites with teams of developers.
You can easily track the long-term performance of your assets on a monthly or yearly basis through the Experience Monitoring tab. This helps give you both visual and quantitative feedback on how your page speed, traffic, and bounce rates have improved over time. You can also start to identify emerging trends such as traffic sources from different geographical areas, and trends in which browsers are being used the most.
Whether you use Pingdom to provide a managed service, or just use it internally, the software features a host of different reports that can benefit everyone from C-level and down. Reports can be customized much like the central console, and feature nested menus that can help shed light on the performance of multiple websites as a whole.
Pingdom offers their RUM service and Synthetic Monitoring as two separate packages both starting at $10.00 (£7.31) per month. Pingdom offers a free 30-day trial before purchase.
- Flexible pricing
- RUM and synthetic monitoring
- SLA monitoring
2. AppDynamics Browser RUM
AppDynamics Browser RUM provides a simplified way to visualize visitor information without stripping away any of the deep technical detail that is important to administrators. The software service uses a combination of visual charts and chronological logs to get a split view of visitor insights as they happen.
Sessions can easily be displayed with a corresponding historical graph that shows the ebb and flow of site traffic along with the correlating browsers, operating systems, and regions. AppDynamics does one of the best jobs at providing a single pane of glass to track the customer journey throughout its time on your site.
When combined with AppDynamics APM, development teams will be able to automatically view transactions and tie them directly to back-end scripts and code. This process helps reduce the time spent on bug hunting by identifying exactly which line of code triggers a specific delay or event.
Alert templates play a huge role in the success of your RUM deployment, and AppDynamics knows this. Alerting is highly customizable and features dynamic baselines that use percentiles to keep your notifications consistent, even as traffic fluctuates. Lastly, to combat alert fatigue and false positives AppDynamics Browser RUM have built-in anomaly direction and intelligent alerting.
AppDynamics features two versions of real user monitoring products, RUM Pro and RUM Peak. With RUM Peak you’ll gain access to AppDynamics Query Language (ADQL) for quicker data analysis, better visualizations, and deeper business performance correlation.
Currently, pricing is only available upon request. A free 15-day trial of AppDynamics Browser RUM is available before purchase.
- Dynamic baselining
- Transaction correlation
- Backend and frontend monitoring
3. Dynatrace RUM
Dynatrace Real User Monitoring provides a comprehensive look at the visitor’s experience on both the front and back end. Using a minimalistic design, Dynatrace brings key performance indicators and alerts directly to you or your team’s attention without distraction or noise. Much of the platform is positioned to tie performance metrics and relate them to business outcomes and IT objectives, making this a solid tool for well-established companies.
One of the standout features in Dynatrace is its root cause analysis. Leveraging artificial intelligence, the platform is able to analyze problems and identify exactly where devs should start looking to solve an issue. This, in turn, generates fewer alerts and gives technicians a clear picture as to what the impact was, and where to start looking for a resolution.
Another excellent feature is the ability to turn on proactive outreach. If your service or site begins to experience issues, you can have Dynatrace proactively contact customers and let them know there are issues that are being worked on. This helps keep communication transparent and helps eliminate poor reviews.
Outside of top-level insights, Dynatrace has an in-depth waterfall analysis report that breaks downtime on page, time to first byte, session time, and other vital information that helps paint the picture of how your site is performing. This is done primarily through a visually complete timeline that shows exactly when a visitor initiated a session when elements loaded, and every action that was taken along the way. This helps not only solve technical issues but can help influence UX design decisions for future changes.
Pricing starts at $11.00 a month when billed annually and gives you 10,000 Digital Experience Monitoring Units. These units are essentially credits that get used as you track KPIs across your traffic. You can get started with Dynatrace through a free 15-day trial.
- Root cause analysis
- Intelligent alerting
- Proactive outreach
4. Retrace RUM
Retrace offers a suite of monitoring technologies, including a real user monitoring tool that enables developers to capture behavior on both the front and back ends of the transaction. The platform is designed to offer a more complete Application Performance Monitoring (APM) package of tools, with real user monitoring being a newer part of that.
The dashboard favors a more technical perspective as it uses fewer visualizations and more direct statistics. This is good news for developers who would prefer more detail over a cleaner-looking interface. Every transaction that is captured shows both the front and back ends of the visitor’s journey.
The traffic capture sections make it easy to cycle through and review metrics like server requests, tracked functions, and view every individual GET request and server response along the way. Metrics captured can be quickly segmented based on locations, device type, and browser, to help plan out avenues for optimization and even map out ideal places for new CDN hosts.
The platform really looks to combine the RUM and APM toolsets under one roof with Retrace, which makes this an easy winner if you’re already in the market for additional APM tools. Even with this being a hybrid tool you’ll still have full control with customizable dashboards, detailed alerting, and flexible error logs and reporting.
Retrace comes in three pricing tiers, starting with Essentials at $99.00 (£72.86) per month. Each additional tier offers a higher amount of traces, logs, servers, and a deeper level of data retention. You can save 20% through annual billing and a full 14-day trial of Retrace is available prior to purchase.
- Combined RUM and APM
- Breakdown of each request
- Front and back end visibility
Which Real User Monitoring tool is right for you?
We’ve narrowed it down to four tools, but which one is best for your environment? AppDynamics strikes a great balance between being user-friendly and offering deep troubleshooting tools, and would likely be best for most situations.
Pingdom is extremely lightweight and offers flexible pricing, which makes it a great fit for smaller devteams or simply site owners who want to provide a better experience for their users.
Lastly for larger companies, Dynatrace utilizes machine learning and other advanced features to help resolve page speed issues and has features that allow it to quickly grow with enterprise-level traffic.