Peak performance is a boon and bane for online retailers. It’s the time when the coveted traffic spike hits a site and brutally tests its performance leaving the CTOs lose their sleep over 404. What do you do during the peak performance hours? Read on to find out your best plan of action for that sweet 12 hours.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the two days online retailers love and dread at the same time. Yes, we counted you. Considering the coveted traffic surge and wishing to convert your site visitor to buyers, you have put your team to tasks. But in the wake of the hour, your platform fails to accommodate the traffic, even worse, due to the outage, it shows 404 instead of a product or checkout or order confirmation page. In scenarios as such, one outcome is assured. Besides the loss you’d incur for not making the sales, your customers will silently punish you by walking into your competitors’ sites.
The solution to avoid the ephialtes is simple. Maintain and optimize your site to prime it for a traffic surge. Although it’s going to happen for only 12 hours in a year, testing the site across the 12 months is a task you must take up. That’s only the beginning. Here is a list of the scheduled tasks, categorised under two phases, that should precede your site traffic management plan.
The tasks under this phase help you prep your site up for any event that calls for a traffic surge.
Assess the level of strain your site can absorb. Simulate real-time user access from multiple geo locations to find out how much traffic your site can hold and what point it breaks. The tests, at varying loads, will reveal the strength of your infrastructure and bandwidth. It’ll also tell you how your site reacts to surges at defined levels of use. The market comprises you and your competitors. Hence, you got to benchmark your performance with your competitors to understand how vulnerable you are.
Get vetted traffic report
When it comes to your site performance, you can’t make a decision based on guesswork. You need data vetted by internal stakeholders. Get information from your marketing, finance, and warehouse maintenance team on their plan and estimates. Know early if there are any special campaign planned, get a rundown on any new partnership, collect the inventory influx plan. These reports will help you chalk out your estimation on the spike.
The show runs on your infrastructure. Check the strength of your application servers, run a test to find out its breaking point and what needs to be fixed. Detect how powerful your firewall is and what its threshold limit. Mend it if the limit is below your test load. Run a check at each and every point, down to the internet connection speed. You cannot leave anything for a chance here.
Invest in CDN
A CDN is possibly the best solution to offload the traffic from your site servers. When you’re sure that the traffic will rise, it’s better to shift your content to a delivery network and free your internal servers from the heavy lifting. If you find the right CDN, you may also mitigate the risk of DDoS attack that swells your traffic flow with a malicious intent.
Provision for cloud
This is particularly critical for small to medium-sized retailers. Fresh investment on infrastructure may not be on cards, but you’re sure about the spike. This is where introduce the cloud strategies. Light on the budget, your cloud servers will help you distribute the load on your physical servers and allow for a stutter-free site performance.
Prepare a contingency plan
Your site may have some of the best functionalities, but that comes at a cost - lots of processing power. At a time when allowing traffic is the prime focus, you need to turn off those functionalities. Additionally, you need to turn off dynamically displayed content, as that too hogs bandwidth.
Caching dynamic content
You can’t put off some dynamic content such as content on the checkout page. This has to come from your origin server. This is where you introduce caching other types of dynamic content. If you cache content, not only your site will perform better with lesser load, it won’t stop functioning during peak hours.
When you gain a clear visibility on site peaks, you should keep all your maintenance at bay. Peak performance hours are not the time for routine maintenance and critical code change. Get them done in advance and simply freeze all code changes and maintenance works during peak traffic.
Peak Performance Phase
The tasks under this phase will help you monitor and take on-time action during peak performance.
When the peak traffic hits your site, you need to constantly monitor it from multiple points across the globe. You need to keep an eye on the uptime, performance of non-transactional websites outside the firewall, availability of applications, proper functioning of transactions, web services and mash-up implementations.
Traffic legitimacy monitoring
During peak performance hours your site is susceptible to malicious DDoS attacks that may prevent legitimate users from transacting over the site. Therefore, you should be absolutely sure that the traffic hitting your site is 100% true.
Control search engine bot traffic
You may have to trade off search engine optimization for traffic during peak hours. During a peak site traffic hours, you’ll surely prioritize users over bots to perform actions on your site. So it’s advisable that you adjust the number of times search engine bots visit your site. It’s ok to take a small hit on your site SEO than asking a user to wait for a few minutes.
Identify referral source
At a time when you want your users to take full advantage of the site, you may want to limit the number of referral visits. If you find a sudden spike from a social media platform, you may want to call that bot traffic and limit their visit. This will keep the flow of direct visits steady without creating any hurdle for direct visitors from using the site features.
When the choice is between performance and aesthetics, you may want to prioritize performance. If your monitoring reveals that turning off applications such as “Show all”, or “Hover pop up” will balance out the load, then it’s better to turn them off. Even, modifying the number of characters and time before look up helps you saving critical capacity that you may turn towards managing the spike.
Remember the first point, monitoring traffic load. In case you find your site in a situation where the allowed load limit is at the breaking point, you may want to implement a traffic throttle. Keep in mind, this is an ultimate fall back option. In such a situation, you need to be super sensitive to the users who are waiting for your site to download and find an error page. Get your in-house copywriters to craft an appealing and empathetic apology note. Talk to your marketing team to find out if the current discount can be extended to users who leave their email id. Or simply, request your users to wait and assure them that the page will load shortly.
Although Target Lilly Pulitzer launch incident is old and will grow in years with time, the incident will remain as the classic case of peak performance failure. To prevent a fate as horrendous, it’s natural that you’ll plan to manage peak site traffic well in advance. On the other hand, your vibrant business and site will disrupt the plan introducing new changes every month. Hence, the plan and actions to manage peak site traffic shouldn’t be considered as a one-time event. They should rather be taken as the cogs in the wheel of maintenance that is on a never-ending roll.