Should you “stress test” your website?

European Banks Fail the “Stress Test” – would your website pass?

3d people - man, person with words good or bad in balanceEuropean banks have just been “stress tested” to see if they could withstand another financial crisis. Of the 123 banks examined, 24 failed the test with banks in Italy being the worst performers. The poor banks are under notice that they need to improve, just in case the world’s finances take a tumble.

However, if you are going to stress test anything, then the test itself needs to be appropriate. Part of this EU test involved assessing the asset value of the banks – and guess what, many of the banks over-estimated their assets. Indeed, that is partly the problem with the financial crisis which started back in 2008 – the banks generally overestimated how much their asset book was really worth. They do not seem to have learned the lesson.

So if we know that banks can’t value assets properly, testing to see if they do it well is not a good test. Instead, the test needs to be about the training of asset valuation or the employment processes involved in selecting people who do the valuations. In other words, the EU is testing the symptoms, not the cause. That’s rather like your doctor having a test to see if you have a headache, without any kind of test to locate the cause.

Telling us that EU banks cannot value assets properly is not much of a test; we know that. What we need a test for is to find out if the banks have poor employment practices or bad training. If that is tested, then something can be done about it.

What do you test for?

Website “stress testing” is largely about “load testing” – how many people can access your website at any one time and how quickly does the page load for them. When the loads become too high, the website “crashes”. Website stress testing is about how many people can easily view your website at the same time.

But like testing to see if banks accurately measure assets, testing a website for load times is dealing with the symptoms. It is stress testing for the wrong things.

Sure, your website needs to load when lots of people want to view it, but frankly with most web hosting arrangements these days, that is taken into account with resource allocation. If you buy cheap web hosting you stand a risk of your site crashing, but these days most reasonably priced web hosting can cope with floods of visitors. Of course, if you expect a massive interest, due to some TV exposure or a viral campaign you have organised, then clearly you need to put in place some additional support, such as mirror sites. But generally these days most online businesses can cope with the stresses and strains of multiple visitors.

The crucial question is why would you get lots of visitors in the first place?  The web is skewed. Massive online brands like Google or Amazon will get millions of visitors each day. But a typical small business site is only going to get 100 visitors a day, if they are lucky. After all, just how many people each day really want to find an “accountant in Berkshire” or a “car rental service in Edinburgh”…? There just aren’t that many people interested in most businesses…! So 100 visitors a day works out at around four people an hour.  Almost all web servers can cope with that – it doesn’t need “stress testing”.

But what does need “stress testing” is the frustration of the visitors to your website. Can they really find what they want? Does your website actually click with them? Are you making it more annoying to use your site than you ought to? In other words, the real “stress testing” you should undertake for your website is about the human use of it. Far too much online testing is about the technology and numbers. That’s symptomatic results, not causation. Doctors monitor your symptoms, but test for causes.

Your website needs to do the same – check out WHY people do what they do on your website. Find out what works, what doesn’t work and what annoys people. In other words, test the human interaction of your website. Do that, make changes as a result and before you know it you will be getting much more traffic and you’ll need to stress test the load times…!

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