South African organisations that use the Internet to communicate and interact with their customers can expect an increasing number of complaints about the performance of their sites as more consumers opt for low-cost, local-access-only or free local-access top-up broadband packages.
And if web site providers don’t take steps to accommodate this growing band of Internet users, they could find their customers clicking over to competitors’ sites which do take cognisance of the growing local-access trend.
This is according to Allen Brown, performance services consultant at Qualica Technologies, who warns that the scramble by ISPs to offer bargain-basement Internet access packages is changing the landscape in South Africa.
“Consumers are tired of paying high prices for Internet access and growing numbers will find it hard to resist packages that offer 1Gb broadband access for only R16.00 per month or 10Gb free local access once they’ve used up their 1Gb, 3Gb or 5Gb international cap," he says.
“What many of these consumers – and indeed many local businesses with web sites – don’t realise, is that very few local web sites are truly, 100% local. The reality of a truly connected world on the Internet means that sites use services and content from all over the world to deliver value to customers. A truly local only site is rare in the B2C environment and hence a full understanding of the impact of this on performance is critical.”
According to Brown, most local web sites incorporate international content – data that is served from overseas such as banners, links or RSS feeds.
International content could even be invisible to the user – for example, if a web site uses international analytic providers (such as Google analytics) to measure and monitor usage of the site, that’s “international content” and it could make the site inaccessible to customers with local-only access.
All this translates into an extremely poor Internet experience for “local-only access” users with apparently local pages timing out, loading incorrectly or with gaps, or simply not downloading at all.
A test conducted by Qualica for a provider of a popular local consumer site revealed that the site was 600% slower for users with local-only access compared to consumers with international Internet access.
Another issue for organisations that use their websites to generate revenue from advertising on their sites is that these advertisements are usually hosted internationally.
“However, the ads won’t download for the local-access only consumer, and the click-throughs on which revenue is calculated won’t work,” he adds.
In order to avoid becoming an inadvertent victim of local-only internet access, Brown recommends that every business with a locally hosted site conduct a thorough analysis of their site.
“Don’t presume that there isn’t international content on your web site – it could be hidden in any number of ways. Check how much international content there actually is on the site and either eliminate it, or look for local alternatives. At the very least it is important to understand your customers and what they purchase for broadband, and then to build your site accordingly."