Synthetic Monitoring vs. Real User Monitoring: Which One Is Right for Your Project?

By Staff Contributor on February 4, 2020

In this article, we look in-depth at both synthetic and real user monitoring and pit these two monitoring methods against each other. We discuss what you can expect to test and track, what insights you can expect to glean, and how you can use this knowledge to improve the performance of your website.

After reading, you should have a good understanding of the differences between synthetic and real user monitoring (RUM), and you’ll be ready to set up monitoring for your site. We will cover the following topics:

1. Synthetic Monitoring vs. Real User Monitoring: An Introduction

2. The Benefits of Synthetic Monitoring on Performance

3. The Benefits of Real User Monitoring on Performance

4. Synthetic Monitoring vs. Real User Monitoring: Which One Is Right for Your Project?

Synthetic Monitoring vs. Real User Monitoring: An Introduction

The emphasis of synthetic monitoring is based on automatic testing, whereas RUM tracks real users and how they behave on, and engage with, your website. Synthetic monitoring is best for diagnosing short-term performance related issues, and RUM helps you understand more long-term UX problems and trends.

Synthetic Monitoring

SolarWinds® Pingdom® synthetic monitoring involves servers automatically testing your website at intervals, to check all aspects of your site work correctly. By simulating user interactions on your site, synthetic monitoring gives you a clear idea of any problems your visitors may encounter.

Synthetic monitoring can test overall site performance, as well as specific on-site transactional steps. Monitoring options include:

• Downtime
• Page speed
• Logins
• Signups
• Searches
• User account registrations
• Shopping cart checkouts

If problems arise during the test, Pingdom will immediately alert you, enabling you to respond quickly and ensuring your website suffers minimal disruption. By using synthetic monitoring, you can rest assured your website is up and running and performing at its optimal level.

Real User Monitoring

Real user monitoring provides data on real-life users who visit your website. RUM tracks users’ behavior, enabling you to understand more about your visitors and how they interact with your site and its content.

RUM works by collecting real performance data on your users and presenting it in comprehensive reports, enabling you to understand how your site’s performance is affecting your visitor’s experience. With RUM you can monitor:

• Page views
• Page loading times
• Bounce rates
• Page load times
• Devices used
• Browser performance
• Geographical performance

With RUM, you can learn how your users experience your website and how this experience may differ depending on the device or browser they use, or their geographical location. You can also identify specific page performance issues that may be hindering how your audience interacts with your site. This information can help you make informed decisions on UX improvements.

The Benefits of Synthetic Monitoring on Performance

It’s important to understand how each tool can be best used, and how the insights gained can help improve your business.

Fix Problems and Baseline Performance

At its most basic level, synthetic monitoring tracks your website’s uptime and loading times 24/7, and then alerts you if your website goes down. This helps you to find and fix issues before they impact on your site’s user experience.

However, synthetic monitoring will also give insight into your website’s speed and performance over time, which gives you a baseline for your site’s performance.

This information can then be used to help identify any key issues and develop strategies to improve performance. For example, Google recommends loading times of under two seconds, so if you aren’t achieving this on a regular basis, you should look to address this issue.

Test Transactions

With Pingdom synthetic monitoring, all transactions on your website can be tested. You can monitor every link, button, interactive element, and transactional flow, so you can be certain your site is functioning as it should be.

For websites that take payments online, synthetically testing transactions is a must. For example, e-commerce stores need the checkout process to be glitch-free at all times, or risk a drop in revenue. By setting up transactional tests, you can be immediately alerted to any problems, keeping customer disruption and lost sales to a minimum.

Equally, business and service sites reliant on lead generation, or membership sites needing a smooth login process for their subscribers, can monitor these transactional flows on their sites to ensure all interactions are running smoothly.

Test Alterations in a Staging Environment

If you’ve made major changes to your website, synthetic monitoring lets you make sure your site is still functioning correctly. Synthetic tests ensure transactional flows and other interactive elements are working, so when you push the changes to your live site, you won’t get any surprises.

The Benefits of Real User Monitoring on Performance

Monitor Traffic and Page Performance

By using data based on real users, you can get a detailed understanding of traffic numbers to your site, and how well your content is engaging with these visitors. You can track which pages have been visited, actual page load times, bounce rates, and more.

This enables you to identify what content is connecting with your visitors and what content isn’t working, helping inform your future content strategy. It can also flag up potential UX problems on particular pages for further investigation.

Find Out What Devices Your Visitors Use

RUM tracks the devices your visitors use to access your site. This is important data, since the user experience often differs depending on the device or browser used.

Using Pingdom RUM, you can filter the data to find out if metrics like load times and bounce rates differ depending on a user’s device. You may, for example, find your bounce rates are higher when people access your site via their mobile devices. You can then act on this information to enhance the user experience for mobile users, altering the design layout, images, menu positioning, or other numerous UX features.

Understand Geographical Performance

Lastly, RUM can track and filter geographical data, giving you insight into how your website performs in countries and regions worldwide.

This feature is particularly useful for global companies as it helps you understand where the bulk of your visitors are located, as well as how page load times fluctuate in different areas of the world.

By identifying where your most valued customers are located, you can optimize your site’s performance specifically for those who are most important to your business. This could include changing hosting providers or using a CDN with servers positioned close to your target audience, helping improve site speed times.

Synthetic Monitoring vs. Real User Monitoring: Which One Is Right for Your Project?

Both synthetic and RUM have much to offer. Although they’re both monitoring tools, they track very different metrics and give insight into different areas of performance on your website, which is why we recommend using synthetic monitoring AND RUM to track your website.

Using synthetic in conjunction with RUM gives you a detailed overview of how your site is performing across the board. You can then use this information to ensure your website is constantly functioning at its optimal level. So, are you ready to start monitoring your website?

Synthetic monitoring vs. RUM—any questions? Please ask away in the comments below.

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