Cloudflare acquires Zaraz to enable cloud loading of third-party tools

Cloudflare acquires Zaraz to enable cloud loading of third-party tools

We are excited to announce the acquisition of Zaraz by Cloudflare, and the launch of Cloudflare Zaraz (beta). What we are releasing today is a beta version of the Zaraz product integrated into Cloudflare’s systems and dashboard. You can use it to manage and load third-party tools on the cloud, and achieve significant speed, privacy and security improvements. We have bet on Workers, and the Cloudflare technology and network from day one, and therefore are particularly excited to be offering Zaraz to all of Cloudflare’s customers today, free of charge. If you are a Cloudflare customer all you need to do is to click the Zaraz icon on the dashboard, and start configuring your third-party stack. No code changes are needed. We plan to keep releasing features in the next couple of months until this beta version is a fully-developed product offering.

It’s time to say goodbye to traditional Tag Managers and Customer Data Platforms. They have done their part, and they have done it well, but as the web evolves they have also created some crucial problems. We are here to solve that.

The problems of third-party bloat

Yo’av and I founded Zaraz after having experienced working on opposite sides of the battle for third-party tools implementation. I was working with marketing and product managers that often asked to implement just one more analytics tool on the website, while Yo’av was a developer trying to push back due to the performance hit and security risks involved.

We started building Zaraz after talking to hundreds of frustrated engineers from all around the world. It all happened when we joined Y Combinator in the winter of 2020. We were then working on a totally different product: QA software for web analytics tools. On every pitch to a new customer, we used to show a list of the tools that were being loaded on that customer’s site. We also presented a list of implementation bugs related to these tools. We kept hearing the same somewhat unrelated questions over and over: “How come we load so many third-party tools? Are these causing a slowdown? Does it affect SEO? How could I protect my users if one of these tools was hacked?” No one really cared about QA. Engineers asked about the ever-increasing performance hit and security risk caused by third-party tools.

We were not sure about the answers to these questions.  But we realized there might be something bigger hidden behind them. So we decided to do some research. We built a bot and scanned the top-visited 5,000 domains in the US. We loaded them with and without third-party tools and compared the results. On average, third-party tools were slowing down the web by 40%. In the midst of the 2010s, a few years after Google released Tag Manager, engineers often asked us if adding Google Tag Manager (GTM) would slow down their website. No one had a clear answer back then. Google’s official answer was that GTM loads asynchronously, and therefore it should not slow the loading of the “user-visible parts” of the page. We have learned, in the meantime, that’s not at all accurate.

Despite the fact that Google is pushing the market to launch faster websites, often their own stack is what is causing bloat. If you ever used Google PageSpeed Insights, you might have noticed Google pointing out their own tools as problematic in the diagnostic section. Even on Google’s Merchandise Store, which uses mostly Google’s stack of tools (GTM, Analytics, ads, DoubleClick, etc.), third-party tools block the main thread for more or less four seconds. GTM itself is responsible for blocking for more than one second. The latest developments in the field, like the invention of Customer Data Platforms, only made it worse, as more third-party code is now being evaluated and run in the browser than ever before.

The median website in 2021 uses 21 third-party solutions on mobile and 23 on desktop, while in the 90th percentile, these numbers climb to a shocking amount of 89 third-party solutions on mobile, and 91 on desktop. The moment you load tens of third-party tools your website is going to be slow. It will damage important metrics like Total Blocking Time, Time to Interactive, and more. It is, in fact, a losing battle.

In an era where everything is happening online, speed becomes a competitive advantage. In today’s digital climate, it is clear that a faster website affects the bottom line and beats the competition. The latest data published by Google and Deloitte showed that a mere 0.1 second change in load time can influence every step of the user journey, ultimately increasing conversion rates by up to 10% across different industries. Furthermore, Google announced Core Web Vitals last year, a set of metrics to measure speed that affect your SEO rankings.

This multiplicity of tools exposes websites to server security and privacy threats as well. Since most tools ask for remote JavaScript resources, customers can’t keep track of what’s being loaded on their website. And if that’s not enough, many third-party tools call other third-party resources, or redirect HTTP requests to endpoints that you never knew existed. This bad practice exposes your users to malicious threats and too often violates privacy ethics. With the adoption of GDPR, CCPA, and other regulations, that is a painful problem to have.

Trends are pointing towards a big change in how we use third-parties today, especially advertising and marketing tools. Mainstream browsers are forcing built-in strict limitations on usage of third-party cookies. The public is raising concerns about privacy and user consent issues. It’s only a matter of time until marketing and advertising tools will be forced to drop usage of third-party cookies. It will only make sense then to open up their APIs and allow cloud loading for customers. And companies will need to adopt an easy-to-use infrastructure to make this shift. Building this infrastructure on the edge only makes sense, as it needs to run as close as possible to the end user to be performant.

Make your website faster, and secure with Zaraz!

Zaraz can significantly boost a website’s performance by optimizing how it loads third-party tools. Every tool we support is a bit different, but the main idea is to run whatever we can on our cloud backend instead of in the browser. Using the dashboard, customers can implement any type of third-party solution: interactive widgets, analytics tools, advertising tools, marketing automation, CRM tools, etc. The beta version includes a library of 18 third-party tools that you can integrate into your website. In a few clicks, you can start loading a tool entirely on the cloud, without any JavaScript running on the browsers of your end-users. You can learn more about our unique technology in a blog post written by Yo’av Moshe, our CTO.

Moving the execution of third-party scripts away from the browser has a significant impact on page loading times, simply because less code is running in the browser. It also creates an extra layer of security and control over Personal Identifiable Information, Protected Health Information, or other sensitive pieces of information that are often unintentionally passed to third-party vendors. And in the case your site does include some third-party resources, Cloudflare will announce just later today PageShield, a solution to protect your website from potential risks. The two products offer a holistic solution to third-party security and privacy threats.

For customers that would like to test more complex integrations, we offer an Events API, and a set of pre-set variables you can use. This way you can measure conversions or any action taken on your website with context. For current Google Tag Manager users, we have good news: Zaraz offers dataLayer backward compatibility out-of-the-box. You can easily switch from GTM to Zaraz, without needing to change anything in your code base. In the near future we will make it easy to import your current GTM configuration into Zaraz as well.

Instacart achieves 0 ms Blocking Time, and increases security with Zaraz

“Leveraging Zaraz Instacart was able to significantly improve performance of our Shopper-specific domains with minimal changes required to the overall site. We had made numerous optimizations to https://shoppers.instacart.com/ but identified third-party tools as the next issue when it came to performance impact. With Zaraz we optimized third-party load times and using Cloudflare Workers we kept the integration on our own subdomain, keeping control of visibility and security.”
Marc Barry, Staff Software Engineer, Cloud Foundations at Instacart

No one is more suitable to speak about the benefits of using Zaraz than our customers. Instacart, the leading online grocery platform in North America, has decided to test Zaraz on their shoppers.instacart.com domain. They had two objectives: to increase security and privacy, and to boost page speed (more specifically to improve Total Blocking Time).

For the security and privacy part, the fact that Zaraz, by default, saves no information whatsoever about the end-user, but merely acts as a pipeline, played an important part in their decision to test it. And by preventing third-party scripts from running directly on the browser, they intended to diminish the security risk involved in using third-party tools. To gain even more control, they have decided to use Cloudflare Workers to proxy all the requests to and from the Zaraz service, through their shoppers.instacart.com sub-domain. This gives them complete visibility and control over the process of sending data to third-parties, including Zaraz itself.

Instacart is one of the most tech-savvy companies in the world, and the Shoppers sub-domain was pretty fast to begin with, compared to other websites. They have done a lot to improve its speed metrics before. But they have reached a point where third-party scripts are the main thing slowing it down.

As presented in the graph above, launching Zaraz significantly improved page speed for mobile devices. Total Blocking Time decreased from 500 ms to 0 ms. Time to Interactive was improved by 63%, decreasing from 11.8 to 4.26 seconds. CPU Time improved by 60%, from 3.62 seconds to 1.45 seconds. And JavaScript weight shrank by 63%, from 448 KB to 165 KB.

We measured significant improvements on the desktop as well. Total Blocking Time decreased from 65 ms to 0 ms. Time to Interactive was improved by 23%, decreasing from 1.64  to 1.26 seconds. CPU Time improved by 55%, from 1.57 seconds to 0.7 seconds. And the JavaScript weight improved by the same amount — from 448 KB to 165 KB.

With more and more industry leaders like Instacart starting to offload tools to the cloud, it’s only a matter of time until most SaaS vendors and startups will start building server-side integrations as complete solutions that run on the edge. Third-party vendors never meant to do harm, they were just lacking the tools to build scalable integrations on the edge. Together with Instacart, we had a chance to connect directly with some vendors, collaborate, and work on finding the most optimized solutions. We are going to put a lot of effort moving forward into collaborating with SaaS companies and vendors, and offer them an easy way to build solutions on the edge. Stay tuned!

The future of Zaraz as a platform

Today marks an important milestone in our company’s life. Our team is happy to join Cloudflare’s office in Portugal where we will keep leading the product development of Zaraz. As part of Cloudflare, we will turn Zaraz into a platform on which third-party vendors can easily build tools and leverage Cloudflare’s global network capabilities. We will lead the entire industry toward adoption of server-side loading of third-party tools and will make it possible for everyone to build better, faster and more secure products easily.

The fact that Zaraz was running entirely on Workers, even before we joined Cloudflare, made the integration simple and fast. As a result, we can quickly move on to building new features until we reach a complete offering and general availability. Cloudflare’s unique, in-house abilities will enable us to make Zaraz even more robust and simplify the onboarding process of new customers. One big improvement we have already achieved is that Cloudflare customers don’t need to make any code changes to use Zaraz. Once it is toggled on, our script will be in-lined directly in the of the HTML. Another exciting point is that the entire service is now running on your own domain.

Furthermore, we are planning to leverage Cloudflare’s expertise to expand our feature set and help our customers deal with more security threats and privacy risks presented by third-party code. One example is adding geolocation triggers, to make it possible to load different tools to end-users who visit your website from different parts of the world. This is needed to stay compliant with different regulations. Another example is the Data Loss Prevention feature, currently used by several of our enterprise customers. The DLP feature scans every request that’s going to a third-party endpoint, to make sure it doesn’t include sensitive information such as names, email addresses, SSN, etc. There are plenty more features in the pipeline.

An influential company like Cloudflare will help us drive positive change in the market, pushing vendors to build on the edge, and companies to adopt cloud loading. We plan to extend our SDK to enable all third-party vendors to build their integrations on our platform and easily run their solutions on the edge, using Workers. Together with Cloudflare, we will play a leading role in the shift to cloud loading of third-party code. It’s time to say goodbye to Tag Managers and Customer Data Platforms. This announcement marks the end of an era. In no time, we are all going to enjoy a browsing experience that’s 40% faster, simply by optimizing how websites load third-party tools.

Offering Zaraz to the millions of Cloudflare’s users from all around the world takes us one step further towards achieving our goal: making the Internet faster and safer, for everyone. We believe that the user experience of any website — small or large — should not be degraded by the use of analytics, chatbots, or any other third-party tool. These tools should improve the user experience, not impair it. And we won’t rest until the entire web shifts to cloud loading of third-party tools, freeing the browser to do what it was initially designed to do: loading websites. We are excited by this future and won’t rest until it’s achieved.

If you would like to explore the free beta version, please click here. If you are an enterprise and have additional/custom requirements, please click here to join the waitlist. To join our Discord channel, click here.

Source:: CloudFlare