An Event Apart: Third-Party Software

by October 28, 2019

In his Third-Party Software and the Fate of the Web presentation at An Event Apart in Denver, Trent Walton talked through the impact of third party scripts on Web sites and how to ensure they don't degrade performance and user experience. Here's my notes from his talk:

  • With most client work, no one is paying attention to the impact of third parties on Web sites.
  • Third parties are requests on a Web page coming from an external URL. Examples: TypeKit, Google Analytics, etc. People use third parties to get data to make product decisions, earn income (ads, marketing), add content (videos, fonts), add functionality (comments, chat, etc.).
  • But third parties can also create issues. Loading scripts and files can really slow things down or provide an inconsistent UI and create privacy issues based on how they handle user data.
  • If you care about the final deliverable for a Web site, you need to be aware of the impact of third parties on your product. All the work we do on optimizing images, code, and designs can be quickly outweighed by the addition of third party scripts to a site.
  • Starting with the categories of 3rd party scripts helps you get a good sense of why people are using them: Advertising, A/B testing Tools, Analytics, Social Media, CDN, Customer Interaction, Comments, Essential.
  • Looking at the top third party requests across the Alexa top 46 sites in the United States shows 213 different domain sources. The average site has 22 different domains. News sites have the most third party domains.
  • Several tools can help you understand what's happening with third party scripts on a site. Request Map Generator can help you create a visualization of the different third parties on your Web site to help create awareness of what's happening on your site. Chrome's Lighthouse tool has a similar set of capabilities.
  • How do third parties impact end users? Does your site depend on third parties to function? As more people block these components, will it break? Re-marketing can create creepy experiences as content begins "follow" you online.
  • Web builders are on the front lines. We can advocate for the right approaches to privacy and data management. Though some of these conversations may be hard, it's our responsibility to end users.
  • Web browsers now have tools to help you manage third party scripts like cookies and cross-site tracking. But most people are likely not turing on the stricter versions of these features.
  • If you control a site, you can decide what third parties you want to include. But what about sites you don't control? Consider the perspective of your clients/companies and present data that explains the impact of third party on conversion and user experience.
  • Establish some standards for third party integrations: determine the value, avoid redundant services, work with a performance budget, comply with privacy policies.
  • Audit the third parties on your site and include data that illustrates how they perform against your standards. Compare this audit to competitors in order to set benchmarks or comparisons.
  • Get specific insights: there's usually a few instances of third parties that have become redundant, unnecessary, or are blocking page rendering. These wins create credibility and illustrate impact.
  • Maintain ongoing conversations with teams to make effective decisions about third parties on your sites.