The Web's Dirty Little Secret: Ad Services Can Kill Your Traffic

It's a dirty secret that ad providers want you to ignore: The vast majority of website failures are caused by online-advertising services. They're choking the very sites from which they're trying to generate revenue.

This is a symptom of the distributed Web with which we work. Sites today depend on a sheet of services - like social media, security and advertising - to bring the full Web experience to their users.

And the problem is growing even more complex with cloud-based services. Naturally, sites can be impacted by data-center outages, but problems with the services themselves can also slow or bring down your own site. And it doesn't take a natural disaster to create the first tear that rips apart other connections, either. Sometimes it's just one service getting hammered that starts a chain reaction that knocks your site off the Web.

Catch-22 In Action

Compuware, which monitors cloud and site performance, says the No. 1 culprit is ad services. 

The graph below highlights errors found in Compuware-monitored sites over 24 hours in early October. As Stephen Pierzchala, APM Technology Strategist, explained, the failures signify any event that returned an HTTP error or reflected a serious timeout period, caused by either an application failure or slow down, or connectivity problem.

Ad services were the prime cause of failures, according to the survey, followed by Web-analytic and Web-page component services. What's telling about these errors is that both categories are ubiquitous for any site trying to generate revenue through ads. Analytics can be even more pervasive, because even admins not dealing with ads need to understand their traffic.

For something that seems to comprise such a large portion of third-party failures, there is little anecdotal evidence of ad-service problems reported on the Internet. Some quick searches reveal little first-page information on various search engines. This would seem to suggest that either the problem is not as big an issue as the Compuware data would suggest, or there may be some active reputation management going on.

Reasons For Problem Vary

The causes of the third-party errors can vary: a failed server, lost connectivity, or even a bad script that wreaks havoc on the client's initial load of the site. Front-end optimization vendor Strangeloop surveyed third-party scripts that affect the top 200 Internet retail sites and found an average of 6.7 third-party scripts on each. That's 6.7 ways a site can be slowed to a crawl or stopped altogether.

Strangeloop's report includes some telling video demonstrations about how some sites do better than others with third-party scripting.

While completely avoiding ad services isn't an option for most websites, site administrators should use this data to more closely examine the terms of the service-level agreements they sign with each of their service providers. If you rely heavily on ad services and analytics, make sure your site is designed to work around slowsdowns and breakdowns - and that the vendor in question has its own work-arounds.

Site delivery is increasingly about supply chain management, where the supply is content. Website owners need to make sure their chains are as strong as possible.

Title image courtesy of Shutterstock.