3 Reasons Why SaaS Application Performance Matters
Web-based applications that fall under the software-as-a-service (SaaS) umbrella now have a presence in industries where just a few years ago either traditional software models were used, or no digital solution existed. And the broad array of apps delivered in this fashion are widely used worldwide, by hundreds of millions of users.
Arguably, any web site is a web application. But SaaS apps are “special” — presenting a particularly important — and daunting — performance challenge, for several reasons.
1. Longer usage
Unlike a casual website visitor, SaaS app users spend hours interacting with the app, and will be far more prone to web stress. Prolonged web app usage will highlight flaws in site design and navigation (“Why do I have to click THREE TIMES to get to that page?!”), exacerbate the perception of slowness (your visitors will perceive site speed to be 15% slower than it really is), and expose other issues like memory leaks or high memory consumption caused by content caching.
Recent groundbreaking research highlights that web users are forced to concentrate up to 50% more, and exhibit significant agitation and stress, when using badly-performing websites. Performance isn’t simply about speed, but includes other elements that comprise user experience like navigation, image quality, and the overall usability of your application. Consider that 35% of your mobile visitors will prefer to use a full site solution when presented with the option, and then evaluate how your full site loads on a mobile device.
2. “Speed is a feature” – and you are always selling
SaaS software contracts are typically quite short, and users often have fairly low barriers to switching. As a result, you must always be delivering a great user experience, or risk churn. Software that’s slow or difficult to use just won’t be used, or at least not used widely.
Furthermore, agile development practices have made product updates as commonplace as changes in the weather. Because SaaS applications almost completely eliminate the need for app-specific backward compatibility and legacy customer support, companies and their developers can (and often do) iterate far faster to eliminate bugs, add features, and incrementally improve the user experience. So if you’re not working to improve performance, your competitors will likely leave you in the dust, and your customers will leave you, period.
3. SaaS Performance is hard (and so will be poor if not addressed)
SasS performance can be much more difficult to address than for a simpler web site, for the following reasons (and as a result, without a focus on performance, there’s a high likelihood of it being slow).
- Large user base: Once your wildest dreams come true and you have thousands – or millions – of users using your app extensively, the difficulty in scaling the code and infrastructure to meet demand grows exponentially.
- A more complex application stack: SaaS apps are often considerably more complex than a typical web page, in terms of both server-side code, as well as the network infrastructure used to deliver it. Exacerbating this point is the relative youth of the SaaS sector, as a result of which the full ecosystem of tools and standards has not had as much of a chance to evolve.
- A heavy, intricate front end: Today’s SaaS apps are characterized by a rich, complex, and interactive experience, often with hundreds of assets pulled from dozens of domains.
- A complicated application delivery chain: For all the elements and factors we as developers do control, think about just how much about the app’s performance is out of our control – everything from the middle- and last-mile network, to the user’s device, browser, and on-page interaction.
SaaS Performance Case Study: HubSpot
To give a first-hand perspective on what performance means to a leading SaaS vendor, and why it matters, here’s a short video from HubSpot’s Jim O’Neill (CIO) and Mike Volpe (CMO).
HubSpot’s all-in-one marketing software helps more than 10,000 companies in 56 countries attract leads and convert them into customers. With 100,000 users of its software ultimately delivering content to and engaging with millions of visitors, HubSpot has put a great deal of effort into building scale and performance into their app and infrastructure.
Improving Your SaaS App: Next Steps
OK, if you buy that performance matters, here’s a couple recommendations on how to approach improving it:
- Instrument the entire app delivery chain, from the server to the front end, to understand how each element performs, and where there’s bottlenecks (the “what metrics to look at” is the subject of an upcoming blog post). This includes impletementing front end optimization techniques, employing a CDN, and using application sequencing technology.
- Implement performance best practices that address the entire app delivery chain (also the subject of an upcoming post).
- Rinse and repeat! You’re never done with performance.