How to Handle Festive Season Traffic Spikes on WordPress Websites

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How to Handle Festive Season Traffic Spikes on WordPress Websites

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The holiday season is upon us and it’s time to unwind, travel, decorate and of course, celebrate. While office folks can rejoice, my business clients are gearing up for the holiday season sales. And while they draft sales strategies, I need to make sure their websites are ready to handle the mammoth traffic that’s about to hit them.

Every Black Friday or Cyber Monday, many brands experience website crashes costing them millions of dollars in sales. Due to high demand, holiday rush, discounts, and offers, people throng to online stores. And it starts well in November itself!

How to handle festive season traffic spikes on WordPress websites?

Websites operating on WordPress are generally well equipped to handle daily traffic variations on their own. But holiday season flood requires specific tweaks for heavy traffic including right hosting, plugin updates, PHP optimizations, mobile design strategy, theme selection, WooCommerce plan and so much more. Let me take you on an in-depth journey on how to get your WordPress website ready for the holidays.

If you still haven’t planned how to handle the deluge, it’s high time you take immediate steps. Few days are left to bring on your A-game and strike it rich this holiday season. Let’s do ‘Ho-Ho-Ho’!

Evaluate. Analyze. Study.

The first step is to know where your website stands exactly. In order to prepare for the festive season, ask yourself these questions before you embark on any optimization:

  • Are the extensions or plugins performing optimally?
  • Is WordPress updated and running on the latest version?
  • Is PHP coding performing the right functions and in sync with hosting?
  • What is the hosting plan and is it adequate for the season?
  • Are mobile and desktop versions working as desired?
  • What is the speed of the website, loading times etc.?
  • Whether payment gateways are integrated aptly?

Once you are done with the analysis, it’s time to get your feet in the mud. Here are some suggestions to manage holiday spikes.

God Speed – Visitors Don’t Like to Wait

Google clearly mentions that if your web pages take longer to load, be prepared to lose valuable traffic. If a page takes more than 3 seconds to load fully, 53% of visitors will leave it. That’s a huge number! Page loading time directly affects the sales conversion figures. Imagine if your visitor is browsing on a slow public wi-fi in a coffee shop. He will hit the back button within 3 seconds of a white screen.

Here are some quick tips to increase the page speed.

  • First of all, know the page speed. Check it on Google PageSpeed Insights (PSI) tool which will provide you with speed statistics for both desktop and mobile devices.
  • If you have garish animation, GIFs, large size pictures or slow extensions, replace them to increase page speed. Keep image size within 150 KB.
  • Server response time should be optimized as well. It refers to the time taken by the server to reply to a user’s webpage request. It is hosting dependent but you can certainly optimize your WordPress code.
  • Caching is easy in WordPress. You can use WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache to take appropriate measure. Many hosts offer default caching solutions in their hosting packages. Manual interventions result in significant improvements provided you can know what you are doing.
  • WooCommerce or eStores can also take help of content delivery networks to speed up their eShops.
  • Use Google Page Speed Insights recommendations choose or upgrade your hosting service.

Ensure You Are Running Latest PHP7

PHP and WordPress are ideal partners provided they are updated regularly. With PHP 7, the performance jump is exponential. The latest version has bought significant changes to the PHP resulting in a dramatic increase in performance especially when compared to the PHP 5.6.

Some new features introduced in PHP 7 include:

  • Return Type
  • Spaceship Operator
  • Syntax Changes
  • Execute more requests per second
  • Object-oriented exceptions
  • Easy User-land CSPRNG

You can begin by checking your website’s compatibility with PHP 7. You can use WP-Engine’s free PHP compatibility checker plugin for this purpose. In case of managed hosting, get in touch with them to know your current PHP version and further instructions on how to update to PHP 7. Make sure you have a backup before you proceed with upgrades.

Load Testing

Just like electrical utilities do, load testing is a sure shot way to test your website for the holiday rush. Fake the surge so that you can know your website’s capabilities. You will know how it copes with increased traffic even during the production environment. This ensures the server and the host are in sync with one another.

Staging sites are another way to do load testing without incurring any live risks. However, make sure that Google does not index your staging website as it can affect your ranking parameters. For example, you can disable Google Analytics in testing environments, deploy hostname filtering, IP filtering etc. For best results, you should leave it to the experts since stress testing can involve peculiar coding challenges.

Know the Hosting Emergency Measures at Hand

It is always best to start with the hosting plan and see what emergency measures are offered by your current host in case of unexpected traffic.

Here are some measures you can verify before choosing a hosting service:

  • Automatic scaling
  • 24/7 emergency support
  • Daily complete database backups
  • Active monitoring (15-minute ping method)

I make it a point to make sure that my clients know their hosting plan details. Moreover, it’s in my client’s best interest that their WordPress site is compatible with suitable server architecture as well.

Undertake a Plugin Purge.

Plugins can be tempting! My experience has, however, taught me to be careful not to overdo them. Remember, every plugin you add to your website needs resources to run – which ultimately means speed is sacrificed.

No doubt, a plug-in review is the most potent weapon in my arsenal to fight speed demons. Identify and disable any plugin that you believe is not adding any appropriate functionality to your website. Make a list of unworthy plug-ins and get rid of those.

Many times, plugins are the primary cause of speed loss. In order to find the culprit, you have to take the slow route. One by one, start disabling all the plugins. After disabling one, run your website through Google PSI to know its speed with the specific plugin turned off. If the said plugin is important, you should try re-installing it or update it. If that doesn’t work, I am afraid you should look for an alternative.

Content Delivery Networks – Hosting Amplified

Typically, if your visitor is requesting a certain webpage, they will be directed to your hosting service’s central location regardless of their geographical location. In the case of single server hosting, an overload can lead to awfully slow speeds. In CDN setup, however, they are sent a cached version of the same page through the server closest to them geographically. In case of heavy traffic, they can be directed to a new server location, thereby preventing a website crash.

CloudFlare, MaxCDN, and TrueSpeed are some popular choices in the CDN realm.

Check on Your Mobile Friendliness

You can’t ignore the mobile market anymore. Close to 50% of online traffic today comes from mobile devices. Add to this the tablets/mobiles people will receive as gifts this holiday season! You wouldn’t want to miss out on the new customers, right?

Mobile test

Source: StatCounter

All these reasons are enough to make your website mobile friendly. I place huge importance to fluid responsive design that doesn’t compromise on speed.

  • Content has to be prioritized on the mobile versions since you have to make your sales pitch in limited screen space.
  • Employ scalable vector graphics effectively. SVG’s are infinitely scalable, unlike images. This means that graphics will maintain their sharpness irrespective of the device’s resolution.
  • Clickable buttons/areas should be standardized for precise navigation aid. 45 pixels is a general rule of thumb to be followed. This ensures less navigational errors and thus lesser load on the servers.
  • Typography is another factor that influences user stay time. Make sure the content is legible and optimized as per the device. This helps the visitor digest the content easily and take action.

Backup and Recovery Plan

Prepare a recovery plan in advance in case of a worst case scenario. Most likely, your hosting provider offers them as part of the package. Also, check the availability hours of the hosting service support team during the rush season. For those of you who are self-hosting, you need to manage your backups yourself.

What’s crucial is the frequency of backups especially during holidays. Most websites employ daily backups. However, in the holidays you should take hourly backups so that a whole day’s orders are not lost if the website crashes.

What If Your Deals Go Viral

Every year many of my clients discuss their sales strategies with me. While they are exploring growth opportunities, I do also advise them to focus on the structural integrity of their website to hold a sudden surge in traffic. Automated marketing tools like Buffer and CoSchedule plugin are a great relief.

Imagine a scenario where your deal/offer has gone viral and suddenly there are 100 times the normal visitors gate-crashing your website. No wonder your hosting will take a beating. I prefer apt server scaling and load balancing software to prevent any website outage. In case you are constantly testing new sales/offers to counter the competition, ensure that there is appropriate backup to revert fast.

Now Let’s Wrap Up!

  • Optimize your website for speed starting November
  • Verify your site’s mobile capabilities
  • Check your host’s emergency support
  • Cache and clean up your website for smooth performance
  • Increase security to preventing any attacks
  • Prepare and schedule your content
  • Undertake a plugin review
  • Anticipate traffic as per your offers/discounts

If you are still worried about the upcoming holiday season, you can count us for security, backups, updates and more. You can also contact us on Facebook, Twitter or our friendly team DigitalMobz.

Happy Holidays!