Is Your Website Ready for the Holiday Traffic Rush?

If there’s one activity that people from all over the globe enjoy doing than most any other, it’s shopping. With the busiest shopping season approaching, you need to make sure your website is using tech like CDN, SSL and load-balancing, to make the most out of the holiday boom.

This year, it is projected that Americans will spend over $600 billion, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the world’s largest retail trade association. And as the NRF’s Holiday Consumer Spending Survey (conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics) revealed, “average consumers say 46% of their shopping (both browsing and buying) this holiday season will be conducted online.”

Things don’t look too different across the pond either. Adobe Digital Index 2014 Online Holiday Shopping Forecast, shows that online and, most importantly, mobile shopping in Europe is on the rise. In fact, 19.3% of online sales in Europe in 2014 happened during Christmas, resulting in 1.67 billion Euros being spent during peak online shopping days.

What this means is that online retailers must be ready to have shoppers knocking on their doors; unless they want them to impatiently turn away and purchase the item they’re after elsewhere or not at all. Making your website fast and accessible is critical to retaining customers and increasing sales, as a page load delay of just one second can increase your bounce rate by 10%!

Here are 10 things you should do right now to make sure your website/store/app is prepared for the Holiday season:

1. Leverage memory caching

Both popular memory caching solutions used by web administrators worldwide—Memcached and Redis—can increase the performance by orders of magnitude. Best of all, it takes just a few minutes to implement these data management solutions, which keep all data in RAM.Out of the two, Redis is the younger one and also currently the more popular one. You can find a handy comparison table of system properties of Memcached and Redis here. The table should help you decide which solution is the best for you.

2. Use a Content Delivery Network

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a globally distributed network of servers spread across multiple regions. Clients use CDNs, such as BelugaCDN, to increase the availability of their content, reduce latency, and shave seconds off page load times — for a fraction of what it would cost to deploy an in-house infrastructure of similar capacity.

3. Minify HTML, CSS and JavaScript

Humans don’t write source code the same way computers read it. To make things legible, developers include white space characters, new line characters, comments, and sometimes block delimiters, which serve no other purpose other than to increase the clarity of the code. Minification removes these useless tidbits, making the code leaner. Try using a tool like Minifier.org.

4. Optimize images

In the mobile-first era we live in today, you can’t afford to have large images of several MB on the front page of your website, sucking the mobile data allocation from your visitors. Learn the difference between various image formats and cautiously apply compression to minimize their size without ruining their quality.

5. Use GZIP compression

GZIP is a method of compressing files that allows your web server to provide smaller file sizes, thus reducing load times, leading to reduced bounce rate and more satisfied customers. BelugaCDN applies GZIP compression automatically, on-the-fly. Fast asset delivery = fast website = happy customer!

6. Use server load balancing

It’s a good idea to use server load balancing to distribute traffic across a number of servers. This way, your primary server won’t be overburdened by a sudden rush of traffic. Experts advocate N+2 redundancy as a reliable way to deal with high traffic spikes. Think of the “N” as your exact server needs and the number as how many more you have ready to handle any unexpected surprises.

7. Test and Optimize for different screen sizes

Simulate mobile devices to see how your users are perceiving your website, and use media queries to optimize for different devices. You can either use an online tool, such as MobileTest.me, or use Chrome DevTools’ Device Mode. The Chrome DevTools’ Device Mode allows you to emulate various screen sizes and resolutions, inspect CSS media queries, and even simulate device input for touch events. No more un-clickable menus preventing mobile shoppers from finalizing their purchases!

8. Apply Server Side caching

The 80/20 rule also applies to data traffic. Therefore it makes sense to cache commonly used data from your databases, avoiding higher server loads every time the data is required from a database. These days, administrators either use an accelerator focused entirely on HTTP, like Varnish, or they go a full-page caching solution, most commonly Nginx’s fastcgi_cache.

9. Utilize SSL

Today, SSL encryption is a must. Not only does Google favor sites with HTTPS/SSL, rewarding them with higher search rankings, but web browsers like Google Chrome will soon warn users and mark all non-SSL (HTTP) websites as “potentially dangerous”. Furthermore, improper SSL certificates, weak certificates, and ciphers can also affect your SEO, making you disappear from the search engine results pages (SERPs) of all major search engines. BelugaCDN allows you to leverage advanced SSL/TLS extensions (HTTP/2, OCSP Stapling, Dynamic Record Sizing, ALPN, Perfect Forward Secrecy) to improve performance and gain the upper hand over your competition. Feel free to perform a deep analysis of the configuration of your web server using an online SSL server test site.

10. Deploy IPv6

Mobile phone networks in the USA have deployed IPv6 for almost their entire customer base, and IPv6 will outperform IPv4 in that environment (IPv4 connections will go through a proxy, introducing delays, whereas IPv6 will go directly to the website). Numerous studies have shown that even a minor decrease in page load time can lead to a significant increase in sales. BelugaCDN is the first network to support IPv6 by default and assign every customer both A and AAAA records automatically — making it the easiest way to enhance your website with IPv6.

Be ready in time

We know that all the tips mentioned above about how to get your website ready for the holiday traffic rush take some time to implement, so make sure everything is ready by early November. Once the holiday shopping season starts, any outages or lack of preparedness will be costly. Happy Holidays and good luck!