5 Media Website Optimization Strategies for Managing Seasonal Traffic Spikes
Whether preparing for a peak season like the December holidays or an industry-defining event like New York Fashion Week, magazines in every sector plan strategic campaigns for various reasons with the aim to generate large volumes of traffic. Case in point: Adobe Analytics reported a record $108.2 billion in online sales alone throughout November and December, with $7 billion spent on mobile devices on Black Friday. And that's merely a fraction of the global pool of digital goods. Statista reports an estimated 1.66 billion people who purchased online goods in 2017. The global ecommerce sales also peaked at 2.3 trillion US dollars, with potential to double over the next 3 to 4 years.
As the technical talent behind operating those magazines’ websites effectively during periods of maximum threshold, I can tell you that sparking such a groundswell of interest all at the same time can also have a downside. For example, consider some of the following:
- Payment processing, affiliate systems and marketing automation platforms have to be resilient enough to accommodate for the traffic spikes.
- Your hosting infrastructure should be prepared for loads of additional bandwidth and visits.
- Competitors may sabotage other market leaders with spam bots or distributed attacks.
Here is a five-step checklist that will help you prepare for the problems of sudden and unexpected growth in traffic or revenue:
1. Select the Right Hosting Partner
Media site owners often perceive hosting as an inevitable expense - similar to accounting or legal fees. Picking the right hosting partner is similar to selecting a piece of real estate to invest and operate within for the next 20 years. Location, comfort, accessibility and hundreds of other critical factors are considered during the selection process.
There is a myriad of hosting vendors out there that can fit your particular tech stack, CMS and traffic. Your preferred platform should be one known for its ability to scale. You can simply switch to the so-called “managed hosting providers,” since they offer a custom build setup for stability and security.
Fast and secure sites are the byproduct of professional development, but hosting is no less important in the equation.
2. Don’t Neglect Security
There are two types of security breaches: mass automated attacks and targeted ones. Popular sites often fall victim to both.
Automated attacks usually represent recent exploits across a vast number of online websites. They are usually easier to defend due to their predictability.
Targeted ones, however, are trickier. And during peak traffic periods in an industry or season, bad actors are more inclined to put you at a disadvantage.
Working with the right hosting vendor and a great team is a great first step. Using a web application firewall often helps mitigating the most common scenarios, and two of the well-known choices for media companies currently in the market are Cloudflare and Sucuri.
Don't forget that the majority of the attacks happen due to weak passwords or using the wrong credentials. Relying on basic and simple passwords as well as common usernames like “admin” will make an attacker’s life easier. The same goes for logging in on unsecured wifi networks in a coffee shop, let alone the airport.
3. Plan for Expected Traffic Peaks
Sudden traffic spikes may lead to performance issues and may disappoint your readers. This may happen if, for example, your article ends up on top of Reddit or is shared by a social media influencer.
In most cases, media companies are able to predict large traffic peaks. This is the case before launching a PPC campaign or while preparing for the holiday season or a major industry event.
Prior to a rush, consider upgrading your server infrastructure. Some cloud hosting providers would allow you to temporarily scale and revert back once the peak is over.
Popular cloud hosting providers like Amazon, Google Cloud platform, and Microsoft Azure allow dynamic allocation hosting solutions that scale as you go, shrink when traffic is low, and expand during feeds.
Take a closer look at your campaign. If your promoted page is mostly static, caching would easily take care of the extra bandwidth. Scalability problems may occur for logged-in customers or when serving unique content to every user. Limiting campaigns to mostly static content will help you handle a broader volume of customers.
4. Double-Down on Data-Driven Strategy
Predictability is a friend of planning. Knowing roughly what sort of traffic to expect, where you can expect it and what the implications will be would make everything so much easier.
Talk to other industry experts in the space and consult within your own team. After running several campaigns of the sort, you will be better prepared for the next traffic peak. There are different metrics you can monitor, for example Google Analytics, your marketing automation platform, social media reports, and your revenue breakdown.
5. Allocate Enough Time for Emergencies
Regardless of the level of preparation, blocking some time during the peak season is important. As hardware outages or a problem with your payment gateway may happen, new opportunities may present themselves and you should be able to spot them and address them right away.
Carefully plan the duration of big campaigns. Even during a popular period, your highest peaks may happen over the course of just a couple of hours, or you may be warming up your customers by blasting them with paid ads or an email newsletter.
Make sure everyone is on the same page and same calendar. Coordinate those expected peaks with your development team, marketing staff, the hosting company and your partners. This way you will ensure that everyone is ready to react to unexpected emergencies, if any occur.
For example, I often coordinate seasonal campaigns with a publisher I work with who occasionally triples the traffic during competitions and Olympics games. This helps us plan accordingly and make sure that support staff is in place and often temporarily resize production servers a couple days upfront to accommodate for the traffic peaks.
What priorities do you consider when anticipating an increase in website visitors?
Mario Peshev is the Founder, CEO and WordPress Architect of DevriX, a technical WordPress agency serving high-traffic publications with 100M+ monthly impressions. Mario's background is in software engineering, and he's been a prominent contributor to the WordPress platform - with platform patches, as an open source advocate, event organizer, and more. Peshev has been an adviser to publishers across North America and Europe and leads the technical team at DevriX that has worked on a continuous basis as the extended department of industry-specific magazines such as SwimSwam, Diginomica, and Smart Meetings, among many others. Follow Mario on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.