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Implications of the Recent Google Ad Outage

Online Shoppers Waited Upwards of 30 Seconds for Pages to Load

An outage at Google’s DoubleClick division had a significant impact on the retail industry last week. According to data collected at Yottaa, the outage affected almost all eCommerce websites between 3pm and 6pm ET on Tuesday (3-13-18). Any website utilizing Google DoubleClick services on their website (for serving, tracking, re-targeting, etc.) experienced longer than usual page load times. These delays were caused by problems with Google tags connecting with the Google servers.  

Google Latency Costs Hundreds of Millions in Sales

We spoke to several eCommerce teams (not using Yottaa) about their experience, and they reported 20-30 second page load times during this three hour period. Industry research has demonstrated that visitors will leave an eCommerce site after waiting 3 seconds for a page to load, so this is no small problem. In fact, a study by the IR 500 retailer eBags revealed that conversion dropped 20% for every second that  a customer waited beyond 3 seconds. Given that consumers spent over $450 billion online in 2017, that 3 hour window of significant latency cost retailers over $150 million in eCommerce sales yesterday.

Research has found that 79% of customers will never come back to a site that takes too long to load. If that’s the case, the outage may have cost retailers billions.

What did the Slow Down Look Like?

Here is some performance data from one retail eCommerce website during the outage. The first graph shows last byte time, which is the amount of time it took for the last byte of information to be received by the browser.

Last Byte Time  

The second graph shows a 4x change in the number of times when Google services failed to load on this retailer’s site.

Pages Failed to Load


Even websites using asynchronous loading for the Google tags would still have been hit with significant performance degradations.  

Who Was Protected?  

Not all websites experienced the delay. We found that retailers who had optimized their traffic using eCommerce acceleration technology were able to mitigate the Google issue. In the graph below, you can see the comparison between optimized and unoptimized traffic to an affected website. The dark purple line shows the impact on optimized pages (this specific website was using Yottaa acceleration technology). The light purple line demonstrates the impact on unoptimized pages.  

Unoptimized Pages

In this case, which was representative of other websites we analyzed, the visitors to non-optimized pages saw a 3x greater delay relative to visitors on optimized pages. In fact, we found that 95% of websites using similar acceleration technology experienced minimal to zero impact from the outage.  

Behind Every Tag is an Application That Can Fail

We should all pause to take stock of what we can learn from this outage. First, go back to your decision to add 3rd party features to your site. A major selling point was probably how simple it is to add these tags to your website. “Just cut and paste this tag into your tag manager and ‘boom’ - start reaping the benefits” they will tell you. What’s not discussed is the complexity of the application behind this tag that is now operating as a piece of your website.

Once the tag is inserted onto your web page, every customer visit initiates a series of actions required for each feature to load correctly:

  1. Browser loads the tag code
  2. Browser fetches configuration file from 3rd party server
  3. System manipulates the application UI in the browser
  4. Sends data back to 3rd party servers
  5. Repeats as necessary

Today’s eCommerce sites can have as many as 50-100 third party tags loading on their pages to deliver features and capabilities. And each tag requires an average of 15 requests to their 3rd party servers to successfully load. That represents hundreds of potential points of failure related to third party tags every time your page loads. You can see how serious a problem this can become if not monitored and managed correctly.

Controlling 3rd Parties Requires More than Point Optimization

This problem of complex 3rd party tags delaying page load times is common, and frequently solved by stripping tags from the site. But eventually new tags are inserted back onto the site, and each one is just as likely to suffer a failure as the faulty one you removed. If tag problems can impact Google’s DoubleClick services or cause delays on during Prime Day, it can happen to anyone.  

Don’t treat this as a one-off event that just demands a one-off optimization by your eCommerce team. One-off optimizations will only create one-off solutions specific to each 3rd party that will quickly degrade with time. Apply technology that will give you visibility and control over all third parties on your site (even Google), no matter how they are inserted - via tag manager, customer JavaScript, <script src=""></script>, etc. You want a system that can monitor and remove 3rd party tags from the critical rendering path when events like the DoubleClick outage occurs.

Control Your Vulnerability to 3rd Party Problems

Many web teams will throw up their hands on days like this and say “It’s a Google problem.  What can we do?” As if Google is so big that no one can be protected from such a significant failure. But you can control this. Learn from yesterday’s latency and lost sales and be prepared the next time a major 3rd party application impacts the experience on your site. Take steps now to put in place processes and technology, such as Yottaa’s eCommerce Acceleration Platform, which can govern and control these 3rd party applications. Before the next 3 hour outage puts your business in the red.  

About the Author: Bob Buffone is the Chief Technology Officer at Web and mobile optimization service Yottaa.

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