How to Handle Spikes in Web Traffic
Dealing with sudden online traffic bursts has its ups…and its downs.
Emily McDowell was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 24. A lot of her friends disappeared. The ones who stayed said all the wrong things, like, “Hey, you know, we had a family friend who died of cancer this week. So I was thinking about you.”
Ten years later, Emily decided to leave her job at an advertising agency to design her own greeting cards. She felt inspired to create what she calls “empathy cards:” cards that help people have really difficult conversations about sickness and loss. Emily already had a small following, so she posted a process sketch of one of her empathy cards on Instagram. The image went viral and got picked up and retweeted by self-help guru Brené Brown, who has nearly 250,000 Twitter followers.
Then, reporters started calling her. Her story was featured on NBC News. Suddenly, Emily sold the same number of cards in one week that she’d sold in six months the previous year, and she had to hire 10 people to meet with demand. Her e-commerce site couldn’t keep up with order volume. That was the downside of popularity.
You never know when your website, like Emily’s, will become an overnight sensation. The best time to plan for big traffic spikes is now, before they catch you by surprise.
Choose the Right Cloud Hosting Provider
If you’re hosting your website with a small host, then you’re asking for trouble when your traffic ramps up. You need a cloud host that has the capacity to scale to meet high demand.
Big public cloud providers like AWS, Google Compute, and Azure can quickly allocate extra capacity for your traffic spikes. You can host your site on your own by signing up for an account with one of these providers, or you can co-locate your own servers in a datacenter.
These solutions require a good deal of IT knowledge, and they’re only right for you if you or someone you work with can provision and monitor your resources for you. Most people choose a managed hosting plan with a service provider that can deliver big capacity when needed — without requiring them to manually provision new resources and maintain the site’s backend.
Review your service-level agreement thoroughly to ensure your provider can and will allocate more bandwidth to your site when needed, preferably from a content delivery network. It’s a good idea to do some load testing to see how much stress your site can take, but notify your hosting provider before you do it so they can anticipate the increase in traffic.
When your host does provision extra capacity for your site, find out how much that will cost you. Finally, make sure your hosting provider has strong cloud security protections in place to prevent data breaches and other attacks.
Avoid Slow Loading Times
You’re celebrating because you’ve gotten a publicity burst — but why haven’t you gotten more sales or downloads? If people are navigating to your website, but it’s loading incredibly slowly, they’re probably not feeling patient enough to stay, review your products, and make a purchase.
These tips, in addition to great hosting, will keep your website running fast:
- Use compressed but vibrant graphics. Use a site like TinyPNG to compress and optimize the graphics on your pages. They’ll still look great, but the smaller file sizes won’t drag down your page speed.
- Take advantage of browser caching. Browser caching saves static content so that computers can load it quickly from local discs instead of calling for your website from the host all of the time. If you use WordPress, a plugin called W3 Total Cache can enables caching and makes your page load more quickly.
You’re Now Ready to Be Famous
Like Emily McDowell, you’re one tweet away from overnight success. It’s time to believe in your best-case scenario. Start making your traffic spike contingency plans today.
Featured image credit: ShutterStock