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What is digital experience monitoring and why is it important?

Defining digital experience monitoring and real user monitoring

Digital Experience Monitoring, or DEM, is a well known technology used by DevOps that oversees the I&O in their organization. DEM tools evolved from the need to improve the experience of customers across company websites and mobile applications. DevOps are typically interested in the site’s performance and availability, meaning managing the site responsiveness in terms of page load time and server request errors. DEM and its main component of Real User Monitoring (RUM) came into play to provide the additional dimension of user experience. This is used for judging the site performance not only from the server and network, but also from the end user’s experience perspective.

This requirement gained additional importance with the introduction of the core web vitals (CWV) as a key influencer on-page ranking in Google search engine in May 2021. Users today are jumping between apps and sites faster than ever. They do this not only if the site is not performing as expected in terms of load time, but also if they are unable to immediately find exactly what they are looking for. Why invest time looking for something in one site when you can so easily switch to another?

As mentioned above, the key component of DEM is RUM, which is used to determine the actual service-level quality delivered to end-users and to detect errors or performance problems on websites and native mobile apps. The data may also be used to determine if website changes have the intended effect or cause errors. RUM can be very helpful in identifying issues and understanding exactly what happens on your site. When it comes to synthetic vs. real user monitoring, RUM differs from synthetic monitoring in that it relies on actual users interacting with the page to take measurements rather than automated tests. RUM tells site owners what real users are experiencing on their website or app.

Defining the critical capabilities of a RUM platform

In general, a RUM solution incorporates the following critical capabilities:

  • Real-time, high-level performance analytics: Performance data is captured and made accessible immediately, enabling instant insights to adjust errors and capitalize on identified opportunities right away.
  • Page resource performance: In-page analytics explore how each resource on your page is performing so you can pinpoint and correct issues in a timely fashion.
  • Core web vitals: Increase the pace, impact and depth of the page experience by optimizing CWV. Show how site changes impact your CWV immediately (or for any time range) so you can address problems before they affect Google’s CWV score — and the search rankings of your site.

These capabilities of DEM are not enough though, and here are the typical limitations you need to be aware of:

  • Challenge in reconstructing issues: The challenge with RUM is you see the data around the technical issues but don’t see the actual user session. It’s therefore hard to understand the full experience impact on the user’s side. For example, imagine trying to experience a basketball game via a box score. You may know the results but you are not experiencing the game.
  • The full extent of experience: RUM looks at page-level issues and provides insights on page load times, HTTP requests, and load times of specific resources. Technical issues, however, don’t tell the entire story of the experience. A site may be working perfectly from a technical perspective, but the user’s experience may still be poor. For example, imagine a site is working fine, but users can’t find a form they’re seeking. This is an experience issue even though there is no technical issue.
  • Experience in context: RUM cannot put a page experience in the context of a complete journey, meaning how an error at one stage affects the user at a later stage. Think of a user going back and forth between pages and eventually abandoning the session while on a random page with no problem due to difficulties encountered in a previous page. The page-level view will not provide the actual user experience at the journey level and what caused the abandonment.
  • Prioritizing based on business impact: Websites always have errors. The question is what to take care of first. RUM can not quantify errors in terms of revenue impact or urgency. For example, RUM won’t tell you how many times a specific error occurred and how many users abandoned their sessions due to it. Therefore, you can’t prioritize based on what issues have the most significant business impact and need to be fixed first.
  • Core web vitals (CWV) on mobile devices: CWV is meant to measure the quality of a user’s experience on a mobile device, but many sites aren’t optimized for different mobile visitors. The user population of each site differs, and some users may be using older devices, slower networks, and so on. The challenge is to slice and dice those indicators easily and accurately to understand the different user experiences based on device, browser, and operating system.

These challenges are the powering force behind DevOps looking for solutions that are more than just Real User Monitoring. This is exactly where Real User Experience solutions are coming into place, but that’s a topic for a separate post.

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