High web traffic is a major goal for every online retailer. But what happens when you're bombarded with more traffic than expected? From site slowdowns to total outages, the results can be disastrous. And in severe cases in which these slipups persist, brand reputation and customer loyalty are in jeopardy.
During unexpected traffic spikes, your company’s web and IT teams can be your greatest asset. Companies should work with their web teams to proactively develop policies to manage these unanticipated peaks. This involves two key steps: one, outlining short-term modifications to address spikes on the fly and two, developing a long-term disaster recovery plan that outlines immediate actions to take if a slowdown or outage does occur. Let’s explore both.
Troubleshooting Immediately With a Short-Term Fix
If your e-commerce site is experiencing major unexpected traffic, and you don’t yet have a fully baked disaster recovery plan in place, don’t panic. A reliable short-term fix is caching. Caching is an affordable form of storage that's easy to scale.
To cache effectively, start by identifying the pages that have the greatest influence on conversion and a low cache (activity storage) ratio. These pages should be prioritized to meet high traffic in the short term. Low-priority pages, images and anything else that will remain static should be immediately cached.
Developing a Disaster Recovery Plan for the Long Haul
Once your web team has taken this short-term measure, it’s time to develop a comprehensive website disaster prevention strategy. While there are many steps to be considered for a formal disaster recovery plan, these three steps can serve as initial, top-of-mind priorities for your IT and web teams:
- Cache as much as possible. Companies should cache everything they can and continually review what's not being cached. This enables your website infrastructure to focus on dynamic, revenue-oriented tasks, such as the shopping cart and checkout process. Your web and IT teams should also consider using a content delivery network that can scale to meet the demand of large traffic spikes or web attacks, while reducing the amount of human intervention needed.
- Focus on revenue-impacting functions of your website. This step should start with the following question: What's the most important function of your business? For retailers, the main priority is ensuring customers can find and purchase products. Make sure low-priority pages, like your company’s About Us page, aren't taking resources away from the ones that impact revenue-making functions, like individual product pages and reviews. If the most important pages aren’t prioritized, they may become slower to load or lead to an error message during a traffic overload.
- Simplify product searches. Modern website search functions are complex and use many resources to execute. However, they can be converted into what's known as a “redirect page” to save resources during peak traffic. This means when a user types keywords into a search box, they're redirected to a pre-defined result vs. a resource-heavy process of searching every page for the keyword and delivering an exhaustive list. This step should be temporary, as you'll want to revert back to your optimized search to maintain optimal user experiences.
If your site isn’t prepared for peak traffic events, revenue could be lost and, even worse, your brand could be damaged. The process for developing a disaster recovery plan doesn’t need to be painfully drawn out. It’s best to evaluate all options with your team, including using a service provider that can help to optimize your site. There are many solutions out there. The important thing is to identify and implement the right one for your company before a disaster occurs.
Manuel Alvarez is an enterprise architect at Akamai Technologies, a content delivery network and cloud services provider.
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