How to Optimize site performance for Black Friday

Black Friday and the weeks leading up to it bring a downpour of traffic to eCommerce websites. Depending on how well prepared you and your website are, this flurry of traffic can either water the seeds that will grow your business, or leave you in the mud.

Take it from Target, Sears, Macy’s and others that nothing ruins an online shopping experience quite like technical issues. And during the holiday season, when demand and supply peaks, the question of performance is especially pertinent. So how can an eCommerce site owner optimize performance to be able to withstand peak traffic without overextending their budget?

Let’s break that preparation process down and see what you and your team can do to get through the season unscathed.

Why so slow?!

There are many culprits to slow website performance. From faulty servers and routing on the website in question, through extreme infrastructure load and other more esoteric reasons, to poor connectivity on the user’s end.

Here are a few budget-friendly approaches we’ve tried and have found successful.

Onsite Optimization

Today’s users are accustomed to a very high standard of user experience. These experiences come at the expense of system resources, with images and videos increasing weight size.

Image compression is a straightforward approach to onsite optimization which makes sure your assets are as lightweight as possible without compromising on image quality. Popular tools for this are Kraken and Smush.

Caching is another popular approach. When you cache a website, you save a version of the website on the user’s local storage, which helps shorten load and processing time without sacrificing experience. Here’s a great article that benchmarks popular caching plugins like WP Super Cache, W3 Total Cache, WP Rocket and others.

If your eCommerce business attracts customers from around the globe, as frankly, it should, chances are you could benefit from using CDN.

Our friends at Airfleet.co described CDN like this:

A CDN is a network of servers that are distributed in different locations around the world. Its purpose is to locally distribute your site’s static files – files that don’t change often (such as images, style sheets, javascript files, etc.), so remote visitors won’t have to “cross the globe” to access your server.

Airfleet Blog

A CDN network greatly improves your sites response time and, more importantly, it creates redundancy helping your site stay afloat even under extreme traffic loads. Popular tools for CDN include Cloudflare and Rackspace who offer dynamic pricing based on traffic, which is particularly relevant if you’re looking to scale specifically for the season and not add additional overhead to your bottom line.

Diverting offsite

You can take your landing pages and place them on 3rd party storage. Services like Unbounce and Pagewiz can host your landing pages instead of your website, alleviating the resource drain they would have had on your servers, without compromising functionality or user experience.

Mailing Blasts

If by some wondrous way you stumble upon an expansive email list, don’t be too quick to plug into your MailChimp or another service. First of all, make sure that you’re not being charged by your contact number. A mistake like this can cost you hundreds of dollars in monthly overhead. Consider using alternatives like Sendgrid whose pricing model is far more lenient.

Onsite chat

Chatbots have been in vogue for a while now, however often they miss their mark, especially when their scripts fail to take into account pesky human behavior. A great solution is to use a chatbot like Chatfuel in tandem with Facebook Messenger, to route conversations to a virtual assistant. Sites like Onlinejobs.ph, Fiverr have VA’s across any price range.

Server \ Hosting Upgrade

This is probably the most effective way to increase performance. The reason I chose to address it last is simple. Server upgrades are not a silver bullet to performance issues and should be performed side by side with other optimization techniques.

In upgrading your hosting, timing and research are important. Unexpected issues arise from time to time and a poorly planned upgrade can end up costing you much more than a monthly overhead fee. Take the time to plan the upgrade, look into load capabilities, compare them with the expected traffic and benchmarks, going so far as testing before the season begins to make sure everything is operational. Here’s a great article on the subject of load testing specifically focused on eCommerce.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the art of optimization is the attempt to keep a high standard of user experience at the lowest possible resource expense. And like in all things in life, there are many different ways to achieve this. The best approach here is to create a process and stick to it.

Lev Kerzhner

Lev Kerzhner does Partnerships and Customer Success for Fixel, a multidisciplinary fellow with a background ranging from government to technology and art.
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