Preparing Your Website for High Traffic Events

September 28, 2020

It’s that time of the year when the busy holiday season is almost upon us. Upcoming eCommerce events to prepare for include Click Frenzy (November 10, Australia), Singles’ Day (November 11, China), Black Friday (November 27, US/worldwide) and Cyber Monday (US/increasingly worldwide), not to mention all the online sale events that will be taking place from now through the end of the year.

The 2020 holiday season will of course be impacted by COVID-19, which has affected consumer behavior in a number of key ways. In a recent report from McKinsey Global Institute, it was reported that there has been a 15-40% growth in online shoppers in most categories and this is likely to continue post-COVID. Thanksgiving and Black Friday hit new records in 2019 and this year is anticipated to be even busier with so much eCommerce behavior having moved online. This is why it’s even more important than ever to prepare for high traffic ahead of time.

traffic spike event
Example of traffic spike where website traffic increased by a factor of 5875% versus normal daily peak over the prior 7 days.

Overview: Preparing for High Traffic

Any outage or slowdown (“the new downtime”) will impact brand reputation and lead to lost revenue at the precise time you are aiming to maximize revenue streams. There are many ways to ensure your website and web applications are ready for a surge of high traffic. We recommend you follow the following three key steps:

Set up a Virtual Waiting Room

Virtual waiting rooms (VWR), also known as online queuing systems, can be used to protect your website or web application during peak traffic events, so that some users can still conduct searches and transactions while others are placed in a ‘waiting room’. Essentially, a VWR is risk insurance. You may never need it, but once it’s in place, you know that you can throw an unlimited amount of traffic at your website and still deliver an acceptable user experience rather than being offline for all users.

We recently re-engineered the logic of Section’s Virtual Waiting Room module to use a modified FIFO model. This allows Section admins to apply more logic to queueing decisions, for instance, we have set thresholds for visitor access allowances and for the size of the head of the queue waiting area. We have also implemented logic to check for a valid session ID before users are placed in the queue to prevent bot activity taking up valuable spots.

Leverage a Smart Caching Strategy

One of the most sensible things to do in advance of the holiday season is to leverage a smart caching strategy. Start by offloading anything you can to the edge, particularly dynamic content, to reduce the number of requests made to your web servers. The decreased load on your origin servers can reduce strain during high load periods, as well as deliver lower hosting costs.

Also consider cache techniques such as hole-punching, which allow large portions of the page to be cached while customization elements like account information are left uncached, enabling eCommerce sites to cache their most important transactional pages, while leaving the website servers clear to effectively handle the critical checkout process.

Properly Scale Infrastructure

Ensure your infrastructure is right sized, pain points are understood and monitored, and you can scale with traffic volume.

Modern edge computing platforms facilitate traditional CDN workloads, such as caching and image optimization, while also offering greater flexibility to move more advanced logic closer to end users. This allows web applications to benefit from lower latency and savings in bandwidth due to fewer requests having to travel back to centralized infrastructure.

Run a Testing and Monitoring Program
  • Before peak events, perform load testing to understand your system’s behavior under normal and peak conditions, uncover any unexpected faults, and correct them ahead of time.
  • Set up a monitoring and/or observability program both before the peak event and during. Section provides this out-of-the-box. Monitoring gives you essential visibility into how your systems are behaving under normal conditions, providing a set of performance baselines, allowing you to prepare an appropriate strategy for scaling.
  • Utilizing performance monitoring during peak events allows you to gather useful information for the next high load period, or worse case scenario, gives you immediate insight into any performance issues, allowing you to intervene as quickly as possible.

Preparing for High Traffic with Section

There are several ways that you can best engage with the Section team to prepare for high traffic events. These include:

  • Let us know when your email campaigns are scheduled to go out. Since this is typically the first event that triggers increased traffic to your site, Section engineers can proactively be prepared to field inbound support requests from your team.
  • As mentioned above, our Virtual Waiting Room solution can offer solid peace of mind during high traffic events and can be implemented in relatively short order. If you feel your traffic increases are bordering on unmanageable, please contact our team to get VWR added to your environments.
  • Although never a desirable place to be in, if your site experiences any sort of outage or issue during spiky traffic events, leverage Section’s maintenance page functionality to ensure the right message is getting to your impacted customers.

Sign up online or contact sales to get started with Section and get ahead of the curve before the holidays hit.