Real user monitoring (RUM) tracks and measures the end user experience in an application, including how long it takes for elements on a web page to load, whether a page has errors, and how long AJAX and HTTP requests take. You can also use RUM to better understand how your users interact with your websites, giving you valuable insights on how to improve your sites and deliver value to your customers.
RUM is a core feature of application performance monitoring (APM). Real user monitoring is also sometimes known as browser monitoring because the end user experience happens in the browser. While other aspects of application performance monitoring involve measuring server-side performance (the backend), real user monitoring measures client-side performance—the browser where users interact with your application.
Why is real user monitoring important?
Everything in an application—from infrastructure to microservices to browser and mobile experiences—is ultimately built around creating a good experience for your end users. Tools like focus groups, surveys, and A/B testing can provide pieces of the puzzle, but they don’t give you the comprehensive, real-time, and ongoing insights into the user experience that real user monitoring can provide.
Users will abandon a website within seconds if there are slow page loads or other errors. If users have a particularly bad experience with an application, there are further ripple effects. According to one study by Forbes, 12% of users would go as far as to warn others against using a site or application if it doesn’t perform well. Here’s the bottom line: poor user experience negatively impacts not just customer satisfaction but also your brand’s reputation and success. If you wait until your customers are complaining—or worse, quitting your application altogether—it’s already too late. You need the tools to understand the end user experience in real-time.
In addition to avoiding site performance issues, it’s also important to optimize your sites where possible. Improvements in site speed have a strong positive impact on end-user behavior, which significantly benefits the bottom line. According to a study conducted by Deloitte, a 0.1 second improvement in a site’s speed led to an 8.4% increase in conversions with retail consumers. In addition, customer orders increased by 9.2% on average. So even if your site seems to be performing without obvious issues, real user monitoring can still help you improve the user experience by helping you locate and optimize pages that aren’t performing as well as they could.
When end users do have problems, you also need to pinpoint the source of the issue. In order to have full observability into your application, you need to monitor all parts of the stack from the server to the browser.
How does real user monitoring differ from traditional performance monitoring?
Traditional performance monitoring focuses on server-side metrics, while RUM concentrates on the end-user experience. RUM provides insights into load times, page rendering, and user interactions, offering a more user-centric perspective than server-centric metrics.
Modern client-side applications have also become increasingly complex, often combining single-page applications (SPAs) with highly dynamic elements and increased interactivity for end users. In order to increase client-side performance, developers often bundle code that runs in the end user’s browser client and minimizes interaction with servers. That means client-side applications are doing more of the heavy lifting than ever before—and rely on complex asynchronous code working correctly in the browser.
Because errors and performance issues often involve browser code, many user interactions aren't recorded in server-side logs. Software teams have limited visibility into what is actually happening in a user’s browser—unless they’re incorporating real user monitoring.
Real user monitoring benefits
Real user monitoring (RUM) is not just a technical tool; it's a strategic asset that can significantly impact a business's success in the digital landscape. Here's a closer look at the key benefits that organizations can derive from implementing RUM:
1. Improved user experience:
RUM provides unparalleled real-time insights into how users interact with your website or application. Understanding the user experience lets businesses identify pain points, optimize workflows, and enhance overall user satisfaction.
2. Faster issue resolution:
Traditional performance monitoring tools may not capture user issues in real-world scenarios. RUM allows organizations to quickly detect and address performance bottlenecks, errors, and usability issues as they occur, minimizing downtime and improving overall system reliability.
3. Enhanced conversion rates:
In the competitive world of e-commerce and online services, every second counts. RUM helps identify and rectify performance issues that could hinder the user journey, such as slow page loads or checkout process delays. Improving these aspects can lead to higher conversion rates, positively impacting the bottom line.
4. Data-driven decision making:
RUM generates valuable data about user behavior, preferences, and platform performance. This data gives decision-makers actionable insights to make informed choices about feature enhancements, infrastructure investments, and overall digital strategy.
5. Proactive performance optimization:
With RUM, organizations can move from reactive problem-solving to proactive performance optimization. By analyzing user interactions and performance metrics, businesses can identify trends and potential issues before they impact a broader user base, allowing for strategic improvements and resource allocation.
6. Tailored content and features:
RUM provides insights into how users navigate your digital platforms and sheds light on what content and features resonate most with your audience. This information lets organizations personalize user experiences, delivering content and features that align with user preferences.
7. Cost optimization:
By pinpointing performance inefficiencies, RUM helps organizations optimize resources. Whether it's streamlining server usage, optimizing code, or identifying third-party services causing delays, RUM contributes to more efficient resource allocation, reducing infrastructure costs.
What RUM metrics can you monitor with a monitoring solution?
RUM tracks and analyzes client-side performance. A good real user monitoring solution tracks the following:
- Timing and performance measurements: By using the Navigation Timing API and cookies, real user monitoring solutions collect client-side performance data, including the time it takes to load and unload documents, overall web page performance, and browser load operations. These include Google’s Core Web Vitals such as the time it takes to load the first contentful paint and the largest contentful paint.
- Golden signals: It’s important to monitor the four golden signals, which are latency, traffic, errors, and saturation. For instance, New Relic Lookout provides a dashboard that shows deviations in golden signals with no additional configuration required.
- Transaction times: With real user monitoring, you get insights into how long each user transaction is taking, including AJAX and HTTP requests.
- User satisfaction: Apdex measures a user’s satisfaction with the response time of your web applications. You can set your own Apdex thresholds based on your own criteria and KPIs.
- Single-page application (SPA) performance: Track how your SPAs are performing, including initial page load and route change performance details.
- Basic end user information: Details include web browser type and version, device type, operating system, and geographic location based on IP address.
How to set up real user monitoring
Real user monitoring is usually part of an APM or observability solution. You can implement real user monitoring with instrumentation, which is the process of adding or installing an agent in your application code. Ideally, the instrumentation process should be easy to implement and require minimal additional configuration. For example, you can instrument browser monitoring with New Relic in just a few minutes.
Monitoring solutions such as New Relic come with built-in dashboards that display typical metrics related to the user experience such as page load times. You can also build custom dashboards based on the metrics that matter most to you.
Finally, it’s a best practice to set up alerts so your teams are notified when issues arise. For instance, you could set an alert to trigger based on the percentage of transactions that are causing errors or the average HTTP response time.
What is the difference between real user monitoring and synthetic monitoring?
As the name implies, real user monitoring measures how real users are interacting with your website. Synthetic monitoring uses simulated users to measure how your website is performing. As an example, you can use both real user and synthetic monitoring to track the average HTTP request time on your site. While real user monitoring will base its metrics on end user HTTP requests, synthetic monitoring involves using a headless browser to measure how long each HTTP request takes.
Learn more about synthetic monitoring.
Real user monitoring best practices
Implementing real user monitoring (RUM) is a decisive step toward understanding and optimizing the user experience on your digital platforms. To maximize the effectiveness of RUM, consider the following best practices:
1. Define clear objectives:
Start by clearly defining your objectives for implementing RUM. Whether it's reducing page load times, minimizing error rates, or enhancing user satisfaction, having well-defined goals will guide your RUM strategy effectively.
2. Prioritize key user journeys:
Identify and prioritize critical user journeys within your application or website. Concentrate your RUM efforts on monitoring and optimizing the most crucial paths for users, such as registration processes, product searches, or checkout flows.
3. Implement thoughtful instrumentation:
Carefully instrument your web pages or applications with RUM tags. Avoid unnecessary scripts and ensure the instrumentation process aligns with your website's architecture. Use asynchronous loading to minimize any impact on page load times.
4. Regularly review and analyze data:
Schedule regular reviews of RUM data to stay informed about user trends, performance metrics, and potential issues. Consistent analysis enables you to make data-driven decisions and respond proactively to emerging challenges.
5. Monitor third-party services:
Identify and monitor the performance of third-party services, such as analytics tools, ads, or social media integrations. Third-party services can impact overall website performance, and RUM helps you pinpoint and address any issues they may cause.
6. Integrate with APM and logging solutions:
Integrate RUM data with Application Performance Monitoring (APM) tools and logging solutions. This integration provides a holistic view of your digital ecosystem, allowing you to identify and address performance issues comprehensively by combining user-centric and server-side metrics.
Get started with real user monitoring. Try New Relic.
The best way to learn more about real user monitoring and observability is to get hands-on experience with a real user monitoring solution. Sign up for a free New Relic account to get started. Your free account includes 100 GB/month of free data ingest, one free full-access user, and unlimited free basic users. Then check out our browser monitoring page and take a deeper dive into our browser monitoring documentation.
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