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Technology That Helps Small Business Stay Even the Big Players Consumers have little patience when shopping online but no business is too small to afford a high performance site.

By Jay Smith Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

A clear gap is emerging between ecommerce behemoths such as Amazon and eBay and the small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) competing with them. However, new technology services can help SMBs in the ecommerce space identify and measure key business metrics and even begin to gain parity in many important areas.

Technology has always played a significant role in leveling the playing field for American businesses. That opportunity is accelerating in today's online marketplace. As many as one-in-four users will abandon a website if it takes more than four seconds to load. Think about that. In less time than it takes to read this paragraph, as many as one-quarter of your customers could be leaving your site.

Related: How to Do an SEO Audit of Your Website

If you rely on your website for sales, you should carefully monitor the following areas.

Speed index. Many ecommerce businesses rely on measures such as Time to First Byte (TTFB) to ensure that site performance is up-to-par. However, while important for search engine result rankings, TTFB is not the most effective way to measure the user experience of overall site speed.

Business owners should monitor how long it takes the customer to begin engaging with the site. Speed Index, the perceived time it takes the full page to load, is a better means of measuring site speed. Studies confirm that for every second it takes an ecommerce website to load, approximately seven percent of visitors will abandon the site. Business owners can check their speed index online for free at webpagetest.org.

Checkout speed. While most business owners monitor overall site speed through some means, few ecommerce businesses keep tabs specifically on their checkout speed. Once a customer has decided to buy, the process from that point onward should be as quick and simple as possible to prevent checkout abandonment.

The average checkout abandonment rate is already 67 percent. Let's not give customers any additional reasons to abandon SMB checkouts.

Time-outs and outages. When time-outs occur, a website may appear available to some visitors but not others. Site outages occur when a site is completely unavailable to all visitors. As many as 90 percent of the ecommerce sites that we surveyed on one of the most popular ecommerce platforms experienced, on average, 26 timeouts during June 2014.

Put simply, during each one of these timeouts some visitors trying to reach these sites were unable to get in the door. Outages often occur during traffic spikes that can cause server overload or infrastructure failure. These outages often occur at the worst possible time for ecommerce businesses, such as on Cyber Monday or during their Super Bowl Ad.

While large companies have staff dedicated to performance, the average SMB simply does not have the resources to devote to performance. Enter today's web services that can automate much of the necessary infrastructure.

Related: Website Maintenance Musts

I recommend carefully evaluating these areas:

Web hosting. Reducing the probability of timeouts and outages requires asking questions of your web-hosting provider. How does your service scale out when traffic spikes? What controls do they have in place over change to the production servers? How long will it take your business to get back online when a failure does occur? How often do they test and prove that their recovery services work?

Security. Ecommerce sites accounted for nearly 50 percent of all security breach investigations in 2013. Have the necessary security patches been regularly applied to your ecommerce platform? Has the underlying operating system been kept up to date with critical security fixes? This is viatl to your business.

Findability. Can people find your business when they want what you're selling, but have never heard of you? Too many SMBs think that if their site appears on Page 1 of a search when their business name is typed, they've won the war. Chances are, they're not even fighting the right battle.

Fortunately, there are many affordable and easy-to-use services that allow business owners to monitor and manage their ecommerce websites.

Related: Analyzing the Analytics

Jay Smith

Founder and CTO of Lagrange Systems

Jay Smith is the founder and CTO of Lagrange Systems, makers of an application delivery network (ADN) that improves website performance, availability and reliability. He has co-authored more than 30 peer reviewed articles in the area of parallel and distributed computing systems.

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