Synthetic Monitoring vs. Real User Monitoring

Synthetic monitoring and real user monitoring (RUM) are two extremely different approaches that can be used to measure how your site is performing. While synthetic monitoring relies on automatic simulated tests, RUM records the behavior of actual visitors on your site. Both are quite valuable monitoring capabilities, and can help ensure your site is performing at optimal level.

In this article, we’re going to look in detail at synthetic monitoring vs. RUM and establish what exactly these tools do and how they work. We’ll then consider the pros and cons of each, how they compare, and the importance of using both in conjunction with the other to gain the best results.

What is Synthetic Monitoring? (And How Does it Work?)

Synthetic monitoring is a way of actively monitoring your website, as well as checking that it’s working and performing at its optimal level. Synthetic monitoring doesn’t track actual users on your website. Instead, it commissions servers (probes) to simulate user activity to help determine any issues that may have arisen.

SolarWinds® Pingdom® provides a wide assortment of synthetic monitoring options, including uptime, page speed, and transaction monitors. The transaction monitors help ensure every transaction on your website, from simple to complex transactions, are running smoothly.

Potential transactions you may want to monitor on your website include:

  • New Customer Signup
  • Membership Login
  • Shopping Cart
  • Checkout
  • Form Submission
  • URL Hijacking

 

Once set up, Pingdom will automatically test your website from servers around the globe, simulating complete end user journeys to help ensure your website is not only online, but also fully functional.

If during the course of these tests Pingdom detects an issue, it will immediately alert you to the problem. Alerts can be sent via email, SMS, push notification to your Android or iOS device. There are simple, easy-to-setup integrations between Pingdom and many of the popular notification systems, like Slack, PagerDuty, VictorOps, and more.

Half the battle is having visibility into any issues with your web application. Once you or a team member has received an alert, they can quickly start to work on a resolution to the problem and then use Pingdom to validate it’s been fixed, this means your web application performance or downtime is minimized along with disruption to your users. With a strong alerting strategy and a good team, you may well be able to have your website back up and running at its optimal performance level before your user experience has even been affected.

What is Real User Monitoring? (And How Does it Work?)

Real user monitoring (RUM) takes an opposing approach to synthetic monitoring, in that it passively monitors how real users interact with a website, instead of actively tracking a site’s performance.

RUM works by recording your users’ experience on your site, from the moment they connect with it, which consequently provides you with real performance-related data. This will help you understand exactly what happens on your site, and what performance issues affect the experience of your users.

Pingdom offers an advanced real user monitoring platform, which is quick and easy to set up. Simply add a small snippet of JavaScript to your site’s pages, and then let Pingdom monitor and report on the data produced.

Unlike synthetic monitoring, you don’t have to specify what transactions you’d like monitored. Instead, RUM will record all use cases from all visitors. These include:

  • Real-time visitsTrack page loads as they happen.
  • Load times – View actual page loading times that each user has experienced on your site, and then monitor these results over time.
  • Geographical performance – Understand how user experience differs depending on visitor location.
  • Device performance – Find out which devices your visitors are using to access your website and how this affects user experience.
  • Browsers – Learn which browsers your visitors are using to view your website, and how page speed varies between browsers.

 

Pingdom produces comprehensive visual reports, helping you break down and understand the data, identifying where your site’s performance is affecting the user experience. These insights can then be used to make informed decisions on future performance-related improvements.

Synthetic Monitoring vs. RUM: The Pros and Cons

There are many benefits and drawbacks to using synthetic and real time monitoring. We’ll now consider the pros and cons of both performance monitoring approaches, as well as how they compare.

Synthetic Monitoring

Pros:

  • Proactive approach – Synthetic monitoring provides a more proactive approach to performance monitoring in comparison to RUM, by constantly checking for issues, instead of waiting for problems to be identified. By setting up automated tests, based on simulated user activity, any performance-related issues reported can be immediately addressed before real users encounter them. In many situations, this can help to retain users, and prevent loss of on-site revenue.
  • Transaction monitoring – One of the key benefits of SolarWinds Pingdom synthetic monitoring is its transactional monitoring. By monitoring specific transactions on your site, like the checkout process of an e-commerce store or a new customer registration form, you can drill right down and pinpoint specific areas negatively affecting your site’s performance. This makes improving performance-related user experience issues much easier to identify and fix.

 

Cons:

  • Not based on real people – In stark contrast to RUM, synthetic monitoring is based on simulated users, so the data doesn’t truly reflect the user experience real-life people are receiving on your website.
  • Can only answer questions – Synthetic monitoring can only answer the questions you have already asked it, such as “is my website up?” or “is the membership login function working?”. This differs from RUM in that synthetic monitoring only produces data to answer your questions; there’s no extra data that may help raise new important questions, or give you further insight into your site’s performance.

Real User Monitoring

Pros:

  • Based on real users – Data collected reflects real user interactions on your site, giving you a much greater understanding of how your audience is actually accessing your website and what their experience is like in real life.
  • Tracks everything – Instead of setting specific metrics to be tracked, RUM monitors all users’ interactions on your site from start to finish. This information can then be filtered and used to examine performance on specific pages, browsers, devices, within geographic locations, and more. It is this data that’ll help you identify problems and bottlenecks you weren’t anticipating or were yet to notice, which, as a result, may be costing you revenue.

 

Cons:

  • Requires traffic – RUM data is based solely on real users. Therefore, to collect high-quality data that’ll help you break down and understand your website’s performance, you need to already be receiving a substantial amount of traffic.
  • Big data – RUM produces high volumes of data that can be hard to decipher. Luckily Pingdom visitor insights break the data down for you and deliver it in clear, decipherable reports.

Synthetic Monitoring vs. RUM: Which One Should You Use?

Evidently, both synthetic and real user monitoring produce extremely valuable results, and are best used in conjunction with each other.

Real user monitoring can be used to track and identify long-term performance trends, whereas synthetic monitoring will help you to diagnose and solve any short-term issues needing immediate attention.

RUM results can also influence the metrics you track via synthetic monitoring. By using RUM data as a foundation for your monitoring strategy, you can identify abnormalities in load speed across your site, as well as performance-related issues across variants like geographical location, device, and browser. You can then set up focused synthetic tests to monitor specific pages, locations, and multiple other factors, to help ensure your site is performing at its optimal level across the board.

Are you ready to set up synthetic and real user monitoring? Start our 14-day free trial now.

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