9 Things To Check Before a Big Traffic Event on Your Ecommerce Site (Part I)

Expecting a large influx of website traffic to your online store? Are your products being featured on a TV show like The Today Show or Good Morning America?

Odds are unless you’re already a big company, your hosting account is probably not ready for this burst of heavy traffic. Not being prepared will likely result in your website crashing and being down for this important event. That’s not a good thing.

Fortunately, we’ve helped many small ecommerce clients survive and thrive for big traffic events, and have learned a few things along the way.

Here are 9 things you should do to prepare for the national spotlight:

0. Move out of shared/VPS hosting for the event

Before we start on the 9 things, if your account is using shared or VPS hosting, you will want to get it to a dedicated server. Your website *needs* to have full use of all the resources, and cannot share these resources with others.

Shared and VPS hosting will almost always be overwhelmed, which can force a web hosting provider to shut off your site to protect the other sites on the server or node.

We’ve found that going to a dedicated server is the best way to handle these events.

IMPORTANT – Make sure you tell your web host *PRIOR* to the event. Even better, give them as much advanced notice as you can. Hopefully your web host has experience with these type of scenarios and can offer you advice and a solution to weather the storm.

1. Leverage a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

This can have a huge impact on how well your site performs. A CDN allows you to put static resources (like images, CSS, and JavaScript code) on a global network that not only makes your website load faster around the world, but off-loads a ton of traffic from your server for these files.

Make sure you get *every* static file on the CDN. Every image, every CSS link, every JavaScript file. The less your main server has to do, the better.

Not sure if you got ’em all? View the source code of your pages and search the URLs. Or use a browser plugin like Firebug that will show you every file loaded on a web page.

2. Static content as much as possible

Dynamic content (i.e. php code, ASP code, Perl) is a sure-fire way to bring your website down quickly under heavy traffic. Dynamically generated code uses a lot of memory and CPU. When thousands of visitors hit your site at the same time, this can crush even the most powerful server or servers.

The best thing you can is either eliminate or greatly reduce the amount of dynamic content on your site. This is particularly important on the landing page and the popular product pages. Unless you’re checking real-time inventory, you can often get away with no dynamic content without sacrificing functionality. (Note that JavaScript and css are not considered server-side dynamic content, so use them as much as you’d like.)

Another trick we learned – If you need a quick way to convert dynamic content into a static page, simply view your dynamic page on the web, view the html source code, and copy and paste that as your new static page. Or, simply load the dynamic page on the CDN, and the CDN will cache the static version of this dynamic page.

3. Never enough RAM

RAM in a server is like money – You can never have too much of it.

If your server runs out of RAM, things will go downhill quite fast. We often add 12 GB or more of RAM for large events to handle the initial onslaught of visitors. RAM is vital for any dynamic content, and even static content will use up large amounts of RAM under heavy traffic.

4. WordPress Blog? Use WP Super Cache

If you have a WordPress blog on your site, these can become a large drain on resources if they receive a lot of traffic. We’ve seen a blog gobble up 12 GB of RAM during a Good Morning America segment within seconds.

This doesn’t mean you can’t keep your blog. The best thing to do is install and configure the WP Super Cache plugin. This plugin basically converts your blog into a static blog, only updating content when things change (edited post, new comment, etc…).

WP Super cache is the number one way to traffic-proof your blog.

5. Use the right shopping cart

You can make all the preparations in the world, but if your cart cannot hold up under multiple orders per second, or consumes resources like Cookie Monster with a plate of Chips Ahoy, your goal of selling thousands of widgets will not be achieved.

Ideally, your cart should use very little resources, load quickly, and be able to handle multiple orders per second without delay or order corruption. You’d be surprised how many carts can’t do this very well (*cough* Magento *cough*).

We’ve found that the ShopSite ecommerce platform does exceedingly well in high traffic situations. It’s compiled C code, meaning it’s ultra lightweight when it comes to consuming resources, and can handle 10 or more orders per second without any issues. Some of our most successful clients have achieved thousands of orders in a few short hours using ShopSite as their ecommerce application.

Whatever ecommerce platform you do use, make sure it’s been tested under heavy load so you can work the kinks out before it’s too late.

This should be enough to get you started in preparation for your upcoming big event.

Next week we’ll finish the list with items 6 through 9, which include some technical tips and one super way to knock it out of the park.

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