Seeing an influx of traffic on your website is cause for celebration. More visitors often translates directly to higher revenue – or at the very least, readership. Yet traffic increases aren’t always the result of slow organic growth. What happens if you need to handle a sudden spike in website traffic?
What Causes Sudden Website Traffic Spikes
Traffic spikes to websites can be caused by many reasons. Unfortunately, not all of them are benevolent. For example, a bot attack can lead to metrics showing a large influx of visitor traffic.
On the brighter side of things, it may also be caused by the marketing campaigns you’re running. To handle spokes in traffic correctly, you need to understand the root cause of them.
Some reasons you may see sudden traffic spikes can be:
- Website or brand mentions on social media channels
- Marketing campaigns run off-site
- Prominent links on popular sites
- Bot attacks
How to Handle Website Traffic Spikes
The best way of dealing with a traffic spike is to have the features in place to mitigate them before they actually happen. Spikes can be sudden and for no immediately apparent reasons – to try and fix them at the last minute is usually futile.
Here are some actionable tips you can put into play to prevent traffic spikes from crashing your site.
1. Use a Load Balancing Solution
Some web servers also come equipped with load balancing features (source: Nginx)
Load balancing works by distributing your server load across multiple platforms. This option is generally available as a service. While it is generally used by websites that have high traffic volumes, a load balancing solution in place can also mitigate against potential traffic spikes.
2. Opt for Faster Hosting Storage
In almost all computing devices, storage is often a major service bottleneck. Traditionally, this was due to storage devices being mechanical in nature. Many hosting providers today are beginning to offer SSD storage, which is much faster than traditional drives.
If you aren’t already on a hosting plan that offers SSD drives, consider moving to one that does. The higher speeds of SSD can prove beneficial in serving a higher number of website visitors.
3. Implement Caching
Caching is one of the most powerful ways of increasing website performance. It works by storing executed requests in memory (or some other form of fast storage) so that the page can be served to others instead of generated again each time.
This method of performance improvement can dramatically reduce resource consumption on many websites. The result is a capability to handle a much larger volume of website traffic than if you were not to have caching in place.
4. Optimize Media Content
In many websites, media content like images and video often occupy the bulk of a web page. The larger your media files are, the more resources and time it takes to load the page they are on.
To streamline your website loading, optimize your images. This is most often done by slightly lowering the quality of the content. However, converting them to newer, web-optimized versions like WebP is also beneficial.
5. Consider Using VPS
Virtual Private Server (VPS) plans are popular in part due to the scalability they afford. Resources on VPS can be adjusted at a moment’s notice. Once you adjust a setting, extra resources can be made available within seconds.
Resources on VPS plans are also dedicated to your account, so you won’t need to worry about lack of availability. The always-available nature of dedicated resources means your site can cope with extra traffic at any time.
The scalability of VPS also means there is much better growth potential so you can use it at all stages of your website’s life cycle, even if it grows to significant heights.
6. Make Use of a Content Distribution Network
Content Distribution Networks (CDNs) are one of the most powerful means of improving site performance. They work by caching some parts of your site on global server networks, enabling the content to be sent more quickly to visitors.
One important aspect of many CDNs is the integrated ability to help you combat bot attacks. Cloudflare, for example, has a “Bot Fight Mode” that you can toggle specifically to handle a flood of traffic caused by bad bots.
In addition, you can set up firewall rules to help you filter traffic. Used correctly, you can prevent non-genuine visitor traffic even before it hits your website, potentially saving on precious resources.
7. Streamline WordPress
If you’re using WordPress as the application that drives your website, be aware that its modular nature can sometimes be a disadvantage. The convenience of using plugins has led to many people stacking too many on and affecting resource consumption.
The more sources your WordPress site consumes, the less capable it may be of handling website traffic spikes. Always keep an eye on your WordPress site speed index and keep it as lean as possible.
Even if you aren’t using WordPress, always make sure you have a website housekeeping schedule and stick to it. As sites grow they generally bulk up and consume more resources disproportionately.
8. Deploy Performance Monitoring Services
We’re all human and can’t possibly keep an eye on our websites 24/7. Even dedicated IT teams may not be able to constantly watch a website to see if there are problems. Thankfully, there are many website performance monitoring tools we can use to handle this.
For WordPress site owners, some plugins are available that can fulfill this role. If not, you can use something like Freshping or Solarwind’s website performance monitor. These tools can send you notifications the moment they observe some inconsistencies in your website.
9. Integrate a Dedicated Security Service
Although earlier we mentioned Cloudflare’s ability to handle bots, not all CDNs include that. If you’d prefer not to use an all-in-one solution, consider working with a dedicated security service provider instead.
There are many such solution providers in the market. One such example is Sucuri, which specialized in cybersecurity solutions for websites. Since these often come as services, they can mitigate potential overloads caused by bad actors using their own resources instead of those on your hosting platform.
10. Plan Your Marketing Campaigns
If you know that running certain marketing campaigns will lead to traffic spikes, make sure you plan them well. For instance, running highly targeted campaigns can help limit spikes at any given time as compared to broad campaigns during peak seasons.
This is something that can be planned offsite but needs a fair amount of integration between the technical and marketing teams of your site. If your team is distributed, using a collaboration app like Slack can help control and coordinate your timeline more efficiently.
11. Carry Out Load Testing
Before traffic spikes crash your site, make sure you know exactly what it’s capable of handling. There are numerous ways you can do this, from local applications to online services, load testing is by far the best way of helping you anticipate traffic-related problems.
Not only can it help you with resource provisioning needs, but you can also tell in advance at what moment you will need to implement emergency measures during a spike.
Traffic spikes will happen at some point in the life of your website. The more popular your site is, the higher the chance you will encounter one. Don’t wait till the last moment to panic. Always make sure that aside from mitigation, you have emergency protocols in place for disaster recovery as well.
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