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By Lindsay Haskell

For online businesses, more web traffic generally equals more profits. However, if you’re a small business and aren’t prepared for seasonal spikes in traffic, your seasonal profit may be in jeopardy. When there’s a surge in traffic over a short period of time, like on Black Friday or the weeks leading up to Christmas, your server may be in for more than it can handle. If that’s the case, new visitors and old customers can experience long loading times or error messages when trying to use your website.

Luckily, there are ways you can prepare that will ensure you have a smooth and profitable holiday traffic spike. Here are five ways to deal with those seasonal upswings:

1. Add a Caching Plugin

Loading your website content requires a communication process, which slows down when your traffic is surging. Page caching allows your website to skip the communication process by storing temporary static HTML versions of each page. This is what a caching plugin, such as WP Super Cache, is able to do for you. Instead of “talking” with a database, your site will serve up the cached pages, which takes a lot less loading time. This allows your server to perform faster when there’s a burst in traffic.

2. Use a Content Delivery Network

A content delivery network (CDN) is another way to unburden your server and speed up loading times during traffic spikes. Whereas a typical website has one web server serving up content, a CDN allows the website to load from different servers around the world, so that no individual server is overtaxed. Each user loads your website from the nearest CDN location, which speeds up loading time. If any server has an outage, your website won’t go down, because the website will simply load from the next nearest server location. To get ready for seasonal traffic surges, you can try a CDN solution like CloudflareAkamai or Fastly.

3. Upgrade Your Web Hosting Plan

The web hosting plan you choose does affect the performance of your website. It provides you with an allotment of space and bandwidth, and when you max out those resources, you hit performance problems that affect your success. When you’re expecting an uptick in traffic, you may want to look at upsizing your hosting plan. You also want to ensure you get web security included, as the holiday season also brings about an increase in cybercrimes. As the season nears, it may be worth changing to a more powerful hosting plan that gives you more resources and ensures good performance at higher traffic levels. One feature to look for in a plan is auto-scaling, which automatically increases your resources during unexpected traffic spikes.

4. Forecast Your Traffic

To help you understand exactly what resources you’ll need to cope with holiday traffic, you can take some measures to predict what your traffic will be like. You want to chart your historical traffic data, which many analytics tools can do for you. Looking at a graph, you can find spikes that represent atypical traffic bursts. These spikes are what you want to account for in your future forecast when it comes to preparing for traffic surges.

5. Cloud Bursting

Cloud bursting is a type of cloud hosting that allows you to run your website from a private cloud which will “burst” into a public cloud when traffic spikes higher than it can handle. This is particularly beneficial for businesses in sectors that experience regular seasonal spikes, like retailers. Using a public cloud during a traffic burst lowers the cost of owning storage and resources to handle high traffic levels. If higher traffic only occurs during specific short times during the year, the public cloud serves to handle the over-capacity periods so that you’re not over-provisioning your website during the regular business year.

Getting Started

The holiday season is a bitter-sweet time for online retailers and other businesses that can reap the rewards of this high-spending period. If you aren’t prepared, handling a spike in web traffic can be extremely stressful, causing you to scramble to set up new servers or experience a website crash that hurts your business. Forecasting your traffic, deploying tools like caching plugins and improving your hosting setup can ensure you’re prepared to benefit from increased traffic.

Lindsay Haskell is a content writer specializing in health, beauty, fitness, and alternative medicine. She maintains a blog about mindfulness, meditation, and spirituality called Magnetic Mama.

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