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A Guide to Navigating Black Friday & Cyber Monday Part 5

Holiday season is a busy time for ecommerce. More and more people are turning to online shopping. Less people are willing to face the big crowds and long lines. This gives businesses like yours a unique opportunity to capitalize on. Throughout this guide, Wayne, Alison, and Josh will share their thoughts on commonly asked questions. You will get tips and tricks to help your business to navigate through this busy season. 

Wayne is the Director of Business Development at Optasy, a web development company. Alison is the Marketing Coordinator at Alpha Hosting. Josh Ward is the General Manager at Alpha Hosting. Each brings unique experiences and ideas to help your business be successful. 

How should businesses prepare their site for the increased traffic over these days?

AM: Make sure your website looks good! When people come to your site you want it to immediately draw them in. Whether it’s appearance or loading time, those first few seconds are essential. If you’re a WordPress/WooCommerce user check out our blog on essential plugins to make sure your site is ready:

JW: Load Testing – Load testing is the process of sending large amounts of fake visitors to your site to see how it reacts. What you want from a load test is to see where your site’s page load time spikes, or becomes completely unavailable. Then you know how large a traffic spike your site can handle based on your existing hosting solution. Since the purpose of load testing is to crash your site you’ll want to make sure to schedule it for off peak hours. We recommend working with your hosting provider and developer to setup, run, and interpret the results of a load test. 

Scaling – Scaling doesn’t have to be done on-demand or instantly…but it helps if you can. If your hosting provider doesn’t support on-demand scaling of any kind, and/or you have to go through a painful migration to upgrade, then you’ll want to plan well in advance for the surge in traffic you get during BF/CM. We’d suggest making the change at the beginning of November to allow enough time to work the kinks out of the new environment. In this scenario you’ll also want to make sure to over plan for that surge. Opt for a slightly larger package than you think you’ll need. There’s nothing worse than being dead in the water because of your hosting when your sales start to take-off. 

On the other hand, if you’re with a host that offers on-demand scaling (*cough*…Alpha Hosting…*cough*) you can breathe a little easier. You’ll still want to upgrade and test any scaling capabilities beforehand, but the process should be smoother and less painful. Especially if there’s no migration involved. 

Make sure you don’t overlook this part of your strategy. If you’re on shared hosting, or under powered servers, it will cost you big bucks come BF/CM. Even a second or two of increased page load time can have huge negative consequences to your conversion rates. Don’t let a more expensive hosting solution stand in the way of your hard earned success this holiday season. 

Caching – Caching is going to be the thing that saves your site during a large spike in traffic. It allows the server to handle much more traffic while keeping your page load times fast. Think of it as increasing the capacity of your site. Depending on the application (WordPress, WooCommerce, Magento, etc.), you have several options for caching. Most popular caching plugins (W3Total Cache, others??) for WordPress and WooCommerce can utilize Redis for caching. Magento 1 can use Redis as well. With Magento 2 we’d recommend setting up Varnish for caching since it is natively supported. Your web host and/or developer should be able to recommend and setup the best caching approach for your site. It’s important to get this setup and tested well in advance of any critical sales days. 

One additional caching trick for large sales, like BF/CM, is to turn your most targeted landing pages into static html. Instead of the content being served by your application, it can just existing as an old school static html file and some images.We’d recommend creating these for your home page, BF/CM primary sales landing page(s), and maybe even your top category page(s). This is a short term strategy and won’t help if those pages are intended to change frequently. 

We can help!

Prepping for BF/CM can be overwhelming. I believe strongly you’re the best person to champion your brand. When it comes to the technical stuff, the things outside your wheelhouse, it’s never a bad idea to ask for help. Optasy and Alpha Hosting would love to chat with you about where you’re at heading into this holiday season. We can expand more on what we’ve talking about here and give you guidance on all things development and web hosting. We’re here to help you get the most out of BF/CM. Email [email protected] to setup a meeting.