As every business depends significantly on its websites and applications for continuous operations, monitoring their health and performance is critical. Traditionally, uptime monitoring tools helped organizations check whether their webpages were loading smoothly and provided alerts whenever the pages failed to load. Though these uptime checks are still useful, organizations need more information about their online workflows or transactions. For instance, every e-commerce website has multiple internal and third-party components, which enable signups, searches, recommendations, comments, payments, and more. A customer should be able to easily search for a product, choose attributes like color and quantity, provide a delivery address, and choose between different payment options to make a purchase. Long delays or errors in any of the steps can negatively impact the buying journey and lead to cart abandonment. This is where synthetic transaction monitoring can help businesses.
Synthetic transaction monitoring is a website monitoring technique designed to run simulated tests or checks to track critical transactions or workflows involving multiple steps on a website. Administrators can set up a wide range of checks to track transactions like user registrations, logins, searches, comments, form fills, shopping cart checkouts, and more. Traditionally, developers had to write short scripts to simulate the steps or user journey in a transaction check. But with modern synthetic transaction monitoring tools, it’s possible to set up transaction checks without writing a single line of code.
Benefits of Synthetic Transaction Monitoring
Synthetic transaction monitoring allows businesses to check their website performance periodically in the live environment. The results from these automated checks provide a more accurate picture of the website performance as the website experiences different workloads, traffic, and network latencies at different time intervals.
Furthermore, transaction monitoring provides several useful pieces of information to developers and website administrators. They can capture the overall success rate of transactions over a period and how long each transaction takes to complete. They can also identify the steps within each transaction taking more time. By monitoring these trends over a period, teams can determine the normal processing times for transactions, assess performance during peak traffic, and make necessary optimizations in the back-end infrastructure and services to speed up their transaction processing times. Sometimes, slight changes in database queries and API calls can bring significant improvement in transactions.
With synthetic monitoring tools, it’s also possible to set up alerts for certain keyword matches on critical pages. This can help administrators detect known error messages or missed values. Additionally, they can ensure a URL is redirecting to the correct page.
Businesses can also use transaction monitoring to test their new websites or features. Despite multiple rounds of testing, bugs or defects are sometimes released to the live environment, which can lead to poor performance or break the customer experience. For instance, many users may start receiving 500 errors. To troubleshoot the issue, businesses can set up transaction checks from different locations to identify problematic regions. They can drill down further to get to the root cause of the failed tests. Transaction monitoring tools like SolarWinds® Pingdom® offer detailed root cause analysis for failed tests. These test results help identify at which step a transaction failed and the error was triggered.
In this way, transaction monitoring can guide developers in the right direction for troubleshooting issues. As today’s websites are built using several third-party components—which enhance page design, performance, and functionality—transaction monitoring checks provide an easy way to keep track of every component in an automated manner. They also make it easier to identify problematic components and reduce troubleshooting efforts. Though transaction monitoring helps developers identify areas of concern, they may still need logs and traces to drill down and resolve issues. This is where advanced application performance management (APM) tools supporting logs, metrics, and distributed tracing offer a way forward.
How to Make the Most of Synthetic Transaction Monitoring
Fine-Tune Alerts: Defining thresholds for different performance and availability metrics isn’t a one-time job. Teams often get numerous false alarms because their alert thresholds aren’t optimized, and this can lead to alert fatigue. Businesses need to monitor trends over a period to assess what is “normal” and adjust their alert thresholds accordingly. With synthetic transaction monitoring, they can separate alert thresholds for global and local regions. Moreover, it’s possible to define different types of alerts based on their severity. Teams can receive critical alerts via SMS or their preferred collaboration apps—such as Slack and PagerDuty—and less severe alerts can be sent via email.
Use Role-Based Access Controls (RBAC): At times, businesses have transaction monitoring scripts to capture sensitive data. Businesses under highly regulated industries can choose role-based access controls to regulate exposure to such transaction data and prevent intentional or unintentional misuse of synthetic transaction libraries. Furthermore, businesses can choose to route alerts to certain groups based on their roles. For example, there could be different team members to monitor CDN alerts, API alerts, and so on.
Leverage Dedicated Website Monitoring Tools: Though it’s possible to create a synthetic monitoring setup using open-source tools, it can take significant time and effort. On the other hand, commercial options offer quick setup and provide better results, with options to integrate real user monitoring (RUM) and synthetic monitoring. The SolarWinds Pingdom help tool, for example, can help set up transaction checks without writing any scripts by using its web transaction recorder. The recorder helps administrators click and browse through the website to replicate a workflow and automatically create a transaction check. Non-IT teams such as marketing and sales can make the most of such features to test their campaign pages.
Understand Different Reports: Individually, web transaction reports, performance reports, and uptime reports can only convey so much. Though RUM data provides a foundation to monitor a website’s performance over a period, businesses need synthetic transaction monitoring reports for rigorous real-time assessments. This is why teams need to combine RUM and synthetic monitoring data to get the most out of their website monitoring tools.
Synthetic transaction monitoring provides an easy approach for approximating the end-user journey and real-world performance issues. To get hands-on experience or learn more about synthetic transaction monitoring, we recommend a 30-day free trial of Pingdom, which is a leading provider of RUM and synthetic monitoring tools.