One of the best things that can happen to your website, and online presence, is a surge in traffic.
However, if you didn’t prepare for it, a swell can bog down performance, or worse, knock it offline. Disruptions can end up costing you a lot of money, especially if they happen during peak hours or a big event, such as a sale.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do behind the scenes to ensure your site is ready and that it keeps on trucking.
Why Are Sudden Traffic Surges a Problem?
Depending on your web host, their servers, and how your site is designed, a traffic spike may create turbulence.
On an ecommerce site, for instance, shopping carts might stop working, order processing can fail, various pages can slow to a crawl or halt loading altogether, or the entire site can experience a major failure and go offline.
That is precisely how DDoS attacks work. Nefarious parties inundate a website, or rather its primary servers, by flooding them with traffic. The systems become overwhelmed by fake packet transfer, connection requests, messages, and similar data-related maneuvers.
Genuine traffic spikes can cause the same problems, especially for small business portals that generally operate from machines or servers with fewer resources. Therefore, it’s important to not only prepare the infrastructure for high traffic flows but also various aspects of the website.
7 Website Optimization Tips for Preparing Your Site for Surges
Here are some of the ways you can deal with surges in traffic:
1. Research Your Web Host.
The weakest link is usually your web host or hosting provider. Poorly designed websites may experience a performance drop, but barring a bad line of code, complete failures are often the result of server issues, which would be up to your web host to fix.
It may or may not have to do with the type of hosting plan you are subscribed to. Shared hosting, although much cheaper, means you are sharing servers with a multitude of other businesses and platforms.
It’s an affordable form of hosting for small businesses, but it also comes with a unique set of complications and limitations. Dedicated hosting would be the opposite of shared, and it tends to provide excellent performance, with faster load times, even during high traffic periods.
It’s also important to understand that some web hosts are inferior to others, and that’s always going to be the case. Just like any other business, there are big players and there are smaller players with fewer resources. The same is true in the web hosting world. As your business grows, alongside your traffic expectations, it may be necessary to move your hosting plan to a more reputable and capable provider.
2. Use Content Delivery Networks.
Content delivery networks (CDNs), like Cloudflare, create a mirrored delivery system for your website.
Usually, when a visitor navigates to your site, the primary web server sends the necessary data or content — so the client’s computer sends a request, the server receives it, and then sends the information. Typically, this is done through a single server, or small group at a single location, which would be the web host’s data center.
With a CDN, however, the service essentially clones your website, storing it on various servers around the world. When a visitor connects through the CDN, it does so through the nearest available server.
This takes the pressure off the primary server, but also allows for greater performance and load times. It also prepares your website for high traffic spikes by offsetting much of the demand to the CDN and its servers.
If and when there’s a server outage or hardware failure, your website is still online because it’s available across several servers, as opposed to one.
3. Use a Cache System.
With a content management system (CMS), like WordPress, you can install various plugins and add-ons to help improve the functionality and performance of your website. One remarkably useful type of plugin is a caching tool.
A cache is essentially a snapshot of a website or app that helps lighten the load on a server. At the same time, it speeds up performance and loading times, because the client just pulls up the cached version of a page or website, as opposed to loading it from scratch.
It’s a win-win because the server does less work, improving stability and performance, but also the client gets a better experience overall.
4. Increase Security.
Cyberattacks can severely hamper servers and websites. Worse yet, when a nefarious actor does acquire access to a website, they can use it to do some rather dastardly things. They might upload a crypto miner to the backend, steal proprietary files or intellectual property, or just wreak havoc on the site and your visitors.
There are many ways to improve security, including following the basics, like using strong passwords, never reusing them, enabling multi-factor authentication, or taking advantage of single sign-on services.
Single sign-on is one of the most beneficial options because it’s convenient yet incredibly secure. This option saves the user time, makes onboarding much easier, and reduces the need to remember a long list of passwords.
5. Optimize Images and Compress Files.
What most people don’t realize when they upload images and similar files to a server, especially through a CMS like WordPress, is that those files can be extremely large.
What this does is increase the load times for clients, because, naturally, it takes longer to send larger file sizes. When there are only a few requests, it just slows the client and bogs down their experience, but when traffic is high, this can overwhelm a server.
One way to remedy the problem is to either shrink or optimize those files so they’re smaller in size and require less time to send and load. Many tools can help with this if you don’t understand the basics.
You can also use image-editing software to shrink the resolution of photos, or even optimize the content in some cases.
If you’re going to be displaying a small wallet-sized image, then you don’t need something with an incredibly high resolution or pixel count. It makes more sense to decrease the resolution of that image to match the smaller size.
6. Watch for Bottlenecks.
A fully functioning and optimized site can still break, and it tends to happen as you update pages with new content or visuals.
Placing dynamic advertisements, adding new photos, or using various forms of code may or may not cause issues. Installing new plugins, changing web hosts, and sometimes broken links or content can also cause performance issues.
You must monitor and assess your site regularly, or find someone to do it for you. If and when a page slowdown is discovered — because it can happen on individual pages too — then it needs to be dealt with.
Websites are never a one-and-done thing, and this is one of the more critical ideas to acknowledge. They must be updated and maintained, consistently, if not only to preserve the user experience then to keep the momentum moving forward and the traffic flowing.
7. Find the Right Developers.
Web design and development is an art. Sure, everyone can take the time to learn, but not everyone has the talent or expertise to create a responsive, user-friendly, and attractive portal.
In fact, this is where most businesses go wrong. Managers are more focused on hiring cheap developers to create something fast, rather than something special.
Besides, you can’t get away with a poorly designed website in today’s landscape. Consumers expect much higher standards, whether they’re browsing on mobile or desktop.
Take the time to find, and work with, a skilled set of developers. If your site is already established, then be sure to hire some help to optimize it, or give it an overhaul. It will be worth it.
Don’t Sleep on These Website Optimization Strategies
Follow these tips and your website will be ready the next time there’s a huge traffic spike. Beyond that, it will function much better during regular usage patterns too, delivering higher performance, faster load times, and overall a much more pleasant experience to visitors.