As the holiday season approaches, eCommerce businesses should anticipate an influx of online shoppers—beginning just after Thanksgiving and extending through Christmas.
This period is by far the busiest time of year for eCommerce, and it can also be the most lucrative, especially if your digital storefront is ready for the impending rush. Sites that head into the holiday season optimized and ready for an influx of traffic—including sudden spikes in traffic—are well-positioned to capture their share of what is expected to be more than $280 billion in holiday sales this year alone.
To make the most of the holiday season and capitalize on increased eCommerce activity, you must prepare your website for higher traffic and a better holiday shopping experience for your customers.
Not sure where to start? No need to worry; here’s what we’ll cover in this comprehensive holiday traffic guide:
Why Prepare for Holiday Traffic?
It’s hardly news that the holiday season is pivotal for eCommerce businesses, but why is there an emphasis on preparation for this surge in holiday traffic?
For starters, historical data has repeatedly shown that consumers increasingly turn to online shopping during the holidays, driven by a combination of promotional events, convenience, and a broad array of choices at their fingertips.
As a result, many websites—not just eCommerce sites— experience a significant uptick in user traffic, and if they’re unprepared for it, it could lead to site outages or slowdowns.
The implications of an ill-prepared and poorly-performing website during peak shopping days are many. For one, potential sales—and customer trust—could be lost. A slow-loading or unresponsive site can quickly deter the modern consumer, who expects seamless online experiences.
Moreover, first-time visitors—enticed by holiday promotions or word-of-mouth recommendations—might form a negative first impression, impacting brand perception and reducing the likelihood of repeat visits.
Beyond immediate sales (and beyond the holiday season), inadequate site performance can also affect search engine rankings. Search engines, which aim to provide searchers with optimal user experiences, can penalize websites with slow load times or frequent outages. In a landscape as competitive as eCommerce, maintaining prime visibility is crucial year-round, but even more so in November and December.
So, while the holiday season offers vast opportunities for increased revenue, it also demands meticulous preparation from eCommerce businesses to ensure a stable, responsive, and reliable multi-channel experience during the busiest time of the year.
How to Prepare Your eCommerce Site for Holiday Traffic
Ensuring your website can handle the holiday rush requires a comprehensive approach. Here are a few key optimizations that can help your site load fast and run smoothly, even as it takes on more traffic.
Make sure your servers are ready to scale
Making sure you have adequate server resources for expected (and even unexpected) traffic is perhaps the most important optimization you can make in advance of the holiday sales season.
Although it may represent a higher cost, having scalable server resources in place could be your silver bullet on the day of a big sale or another viral product moment.
To find out where your site stands and what it may need, test your current server capacity to better understand how your site performs under stress. Use the findings to fix bottlenecks.
If you’re not already doing so, consider leveraging cloud hosting to scale resources based on traffic needs. Platforms like Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure offer dynamic resource allocation, which adapts seamlessly to traffic demands.
For eCommerce sites built on WordPress, WP Engine helps with holiday traffic prep, providing customers on annual plans the option of Smart Scale for scaling resources through high traffic events.
Combined with additional eCommerce-specific optimizations for a faster store and more sales, a digital storefront backed by scalable servers is in prime position to handle more traffic and record more conversions this holiday season.
Cache rules everything around you
Once you’ve determined that you have adequate server resources for the holiday rush, you can take additional steps to maximize those resources, and caching sits at the top of the list.
Caching is indispensable during high-traffic periods (and for many websites, year-round), as without it, every user request necessitates a full fetch from your database, a process that, when multiplied by thousands or millions of users, can strain servers and slow down response times.
Caching mitigates this by storing frequently accessed data in a “ready-to-serve” state, drastically reducing the need to access the primary database repeatedly. The result? Significantly faster load times and reduced server load, optimizing both user experience and the server resources you’ve provisioned.
A diagram showing the different layers of cache and how they apply depending on high vs. low latency
While there are different types and layers of caching there are also numerous caching solutions available, from managed, server-level caching to DIY plugins. WP Engine makes caching a cinch with its EverCache® proprietary front-end system that makes our customers’ sites incredibly fast and ridiculously scalable. It even has smart rules to help navigate the caching nuances of WooCommerce.
Amid the high stakes of holiday shopping, where every millisecond can influence a customer’s decision to stay or go, caching offers a competitive advantage by ensuring efficient, swift, and reliable site performance even under the weight of increased traffic.
Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
Another essential high-traffic tool to consider (if you’re not already using one) is a Content Delivery Network (CDN).
Why is a CDN so crucial? Simply put, a CDN is like a global team of helpers, ready to present your website’s content to visitors from the closest possible location. Instead of relying on a single server—which could be continents away from a shopper—a CDN stores cached versions of your website on multiple servers worldwide.
The benefit? Dramatically faster loading times and a reduced risk of site crashes, both of which are critical for the user experience and potential sales.
Imagine a customer in London accessing a US-based store. Without a CDN, they might experience lag as data traverses the Atlantic. With a CDN, they’re likely receiving data from a European server, ensuring smooth browsing and swift checkouts.
For eCommerce sites, where every second counts and even minor delays can deter shoppers, CDNs aren’t just invaluable, they can be a game-changer.
While the above suggestions can help as you provision and maximize server resources, there are additional ways to ensure consistent performance and avoid server overloads. Load balancing is chief among them.
Load balancing acts as a traffic director, distributing incoming user requests across multiple servers. By ensuring no single server bears an excessive load, it prevents potential bottlenecks and system failures. This seamless distribution results in faster response times and an optimized user experience, both of which are vital during peak shopping periods.
A load balancer helps direct traffic, distributing incoming user requests across multiple servers to ensure no single user bears an excessive load
With load balancing in place, eCommerce stores can maintain stability, ensuring each visitor experiences the site as intended, regardless of the traffic volume. For eCommerce businesses eyeing robust performance solutions during the holiday rush, implementing load balancing should be considered an essential part of the toolkit.
Optimize Your Code, Images, and Database
The impending holiday shopping surge demands that eCommerce platforms be in their best form. At the heart of readiness is a holistic approach to website optimization.
Streamlining code, particularly by emphasizing asynchronous loading, ensures the immediate delivery of primary content while secondary elements load in the background. By leveraging HTTP/2 and deferring non-critical scripts, the efficiency of content and code delivery reaches new heights, providing a seamless user experience.
The magic of content compression, through tools like Gzip, reduces data transfer sizes, making site interactions brisk and smooth. Image optimization plays a dual role: compressed images ensure a visually captivating site that loads swiftly, and techniques like lazy loading further enhance the initial browsing experience.
A robust, efficiently indexed database becomes the backbone of the site, facilitating rapid data retrieval without lags. But it’s equally vital to exercise caution with third-party scripts; while they may offer functionality, excessive external scripts can hinder optimal loading times.
In the bustling holiday eCommerce environment, these strategic optimizations are the difference between a thriving business and one lost in the holiday noise. That said, making them all can be time-consuming and technically intensive.
At WP Engine, we provide our customers with an all-in-one solution for front-end performance optimizations—Page Speed Boost, which includes 30+ front-end optimizations that automatically clean up your code and speed up your site, with optimized Core Web Vitals to show for it.
View Security as a High-traffic Enabler
For eCommerce sites bracing for the rush of holiday traffic, robust security isn’t just a priority—it’s a necessity.
DDoS protection is paramount, shielding platforms from high-volume attacks that can cripple site functionality at critical moments. Coupled with vigilant monitoring and real-time alerts, businesses stay informed about server performance, swiftly identifying and addressing potential threats.
Strong security protection isn’t just a priority for eCommerce websites heading into the holiday shopping season—it’s a necessity
The unpredictability of traffic spikes underscores the need for failover and redundancy mechanisms. These systems ensure that in the face of unexpected surges, backup infrastructure takes the lead, offering uninterrupted service to every shopper.
Furthermore, a comprehensive backup and recovery strategy safeguards valuable data, ensuring quick restoration after any disruptions. In the dynamic landscape of holiday eCommerce, such security layers not only protect business interests but also cultivate trust among consumers.
Preparing for Holiday Traffic Spikes
While the above considerations will bolster your website’s performance during the holiday rush, sudden traffic surges present unique challenges. The following suggestions offer different ways you can prepare:
In the world of digital, every second counts. Real-time alerts are your first responders, immediately detecting sharp increases in traffic or performance anomalies. By signaling these changes instantly, they offer businesses the critical window needed to implement responsive measures.
WP Engine has long provided Application Performance Monitoring, with advanced, high-traffic requirements. We’ve also expanded our proactive, always-on monitoring capabilities with Site Monitoring, which provides critical visibility into outages, uptime, and average response times across your portfolio of websites, as well as the ability to link to site-specific access logs when an outage is detected.
As noted above, modern cloud platforms offer auto-scaling solutions designed to dynamically adjust resources based on real-time demands. WP Engine’s Smart Scale, for example, automatically increases server capacities when a spike occurs, ensuring the site remains agile and responsive. Post-spike, serve resources are also scaled down, ensuring cost-effectiveness.
High-traffic Caching Strategies
One of the most effective ways to manage high traffic is to serve cached content, which drastically reduces server load. By retaining frequently accessed data in a “ready-to-serve” state, sites can deliver content faster during high-traffic periods.
However, successful caching also demands strategic planning. For example, not all content holds equal importance. During traffic surges, it’s crucial to prioritize the delivery of essential assets. Whether it’s product images, checkout buttons, or promotional banners, ensuring these elements load first can make the difference between a sale and a lost customer.
Rate Limiting and Load Shedding
Rate limiting and load shedding are both mechanisms that can act as traffic controllers. By limiting the number of requests a user or IP can make during a surge, they ensure an even distribution of server resources.
This balanced approach ensures that while everyone gets access, no single user hogs resources, maintaining equilibrium during peak times.
Traffic Management and Queueing
Just like a bustling store, traffic management and queueing systems in eCommerce platforms ensure order during chaos. By intelligently prioritizing requests, these systems ensure that crucial transactions, like checkouts and payments, get processed without delays, even during the heaviest traffic moments.
For WooCommerce stores, this often begins (and sometimes ends) with Cart Fragments, which provide needed cart functionality, including the critical “add to cart” action customers use when selecting an item on your site, but which are also AJAX requests that can quickly pile up and slow your site down.
Cart Fragments can be particularly thorny when it comes to site stability during high-traffic events, even when that’s 50 or more concurrent shoppers.
While many WooCommerce users have disabled Cart Fragments out of frustration, this too presents challenges as it sacrifices needed shopping cart functionality.
To solve this dilemma, WP Engine created Live Cart, a proprietary performance feature included with WP Engine’s eCommerce hosting plans that optimizes the WooCommerce Cart Fragments requests that make your cart dynamic, so they only run when they’re needed.
This provides you with the best of both worlds—page speed AND dynamic cart functionality for a higher number of concurrent users.
Preparing for Holiday eCommerce Sales With WP Engine
Whether you’re gearing up for planned seasonal traffic increases or bracing for unexpected surges, the goal remains: deliver a seamless and responsive user experience to your site visitors.
By implementing these technical measures and strategies, eCommerce businesses can ensure their website remains robust, efficient, and customer-friendly during the most lucrative time of the year.
Want to learn more about preparing your site for better eCommerce performance? Visit WP Engine to learn more about our WooCommerce-optimized hosting or use coupon code WooReady23 for 4 months free with the purchase of a new WP Engine eCommerce plan!