Although consumers tend to associate Black Friday shopping with brick-and-mortar stores, last year, shoppers spent more than $9 billion dollars online on Black Friday.

As Black Friday sales continue to rise year over year, it’s evident that more consumers are choosing to hunt for their bargains online and avoid the in-store rush. 

Because it’s the biggest shopping season of the year, eCommerce retailers can spend endless hours optimizing their sites in an attempt to get more eyes on their products and more customers to convert. 

This sudden seasonal increase in digital purchasing makes it crucial for online store owners to prepare early if they want to attract an influx of holiday shoppers. Black Friday can bring significant revenue to businesses, but to tap into this potential, businesses must ensure a smooth online shopping experience for their customers. 

So, if you’re aiming for better sales this Black Friday, start your preparations now by focusing on the following five areas.

Scalability: Bring Everyone to the Table

The holidays are all about bringing people together, and as a site owner, you want to ensure every potential customer who lands on your site has a seamless experience from start to finish. 

But that can be harder to do as more site visitors arrive, all at once, and put added strain on your server—i.e. during a holiday sale or other high-traffic event. For sites that aren’t set up to perform well at scale, this could translate into anything from slow-loading pages to all-out downtime. 

To that end, it’s important to ensure your site has the needed resources to perform well at scale should you experience a spike in traffic, thus guaranteeing every one of your site visitors has a seat at your digital table.  

To determine where you stand, you can take stock of how your site is performing now and make sure it’s ready for holiday visitors by testing it for high traffic. 

Load testing

While WP Engine offers a free website tester that can provide you with a baseline health report for your WordPress site, load testing is something you can do to determine how many visitors your site is prepared to handle at once. 

Proper load testing will help you assess important aspects of site performance like scaling capabilities, lifecycle hooks, security risks, automatic code deployment, health checks, and target tracking, among other factors.

It’s important to make sure you’re not load testing your live site—instead, use a separate development environment like Local. Then, you can perform the following types of load tests to make sure your site is ready for Black Friday (and beyond):

  • Stress testing: Also known as fatigue testing, this test reveals how the system behaves under highly intense loads. You can simulate “stress” for your site by using a third-party tool to send a set number of concurrent HTTP requests to a website and watch how it responds.
  • Spike testing: This type of stress test evaluates how the site performs when there’s a sudden increase in traffic, also known as a “spike.” This will show you how your site would respond if, for instance, a large percentage of your customers navigate to your site simultaneously after receiving a push notification or email about a seasonal sale.
  • Soak testing: This test is all about the endurance of your site. Sometimes called “longevity testing,” soak testing is similar to stress testing, but focuses more on how the system reacts to a high volume of traffic over an extended period of time.

Experts at BlazeMeter (a load testing platform) suggest that your site is considered “under load” when 80% of your server resources are being used and that you should test your site for at least 20% more than the amount of traffic you actually expect.

Invest in additional server resources

WP Engine’s eCommerce solution is uniquely built to shine in high-traffic stores and events, and if your load tests have shown that your site struggles under the weight of your expected holiday traffic, you also have options to invest in additional resources for the season. 

For sites with an already booming customer base, WP Engine offers the ability to scale up server resources for a pre-set timeframe, which could encompass the holiday sales season if you anticipate surges in traffic.

Find out more about our eCommerce hosting plans here, or speak to a representative about tailor-made solutions for your holiday eCommerce strategy. 

Searchability: Help Site Visitors Find What They Want

A good search experience is critical to the success of an eCommerce site, as it significantly affects user satisfaction and conversions. 

Consider these key points: 

  • 43% of eCommerce visitors head straight to the search bar. 
  • Visitors who use the search function are more than twice as likely to become customers when they find what they’re looking for. 
  • While WordPress offers basic search capabilities out of the box, enhancing your eCommerce site with optimized search solutions presents a competitive advantage.  
  • Our customers see an increase of 18% in sales simply from improving the search experience with Instant Store Search, a custom implementation of ElasticPress that’s included in WP Engine’s WooCommerce hosting solution.

On the other hand, neglecting search can lead to underwhelming results, as customers expect Google-level search experiences across the web.

During peak seasons like Black Friday, your users will demand more comprehensive search functionality to find specific products, and tools like Instant Store Search can help them find what they need.

Powered by ElasticPress, this powerful search optimization can be enabled with one click and provides relevant search results and autocomplete suggestions in real time as users type their queries. That means shoppers can quickly find what they’re looking for, add it to their cart, and proceed to checkout. Check out the video below to find out more!

Instant Store Search is capable of searching large volumes of data quickly and provides scalable search operations for your site, making it especially beneficial during peak shopping seasons when you’re seeing an uptick in traffic. Find out more here.

Performance: Clean House and Get Ready for Guests

Cleaning up your site in anticipation of holiday traffic can encompass a lot of different areas, but the first thing site visitors will notice is how well your site performs. 

As such, it’s important to optimize your eCommerce site for optimal performance at every stage of the buyer’s journey—from fast-loading pages that capture browsing shoppers to seamless cart functionality (regardless of concurrent traffic), all the way through to a swift and secure checkout process.

That’s because subpar performance—such as page elements that load slowly or unresponsive shopping carts—is immediately apparent to anyone who visits your site.

Inversely, a fast-loading, seamless web experience will be almost unnoticeable as users smoothly navigate across your site and find exactly what they’re looking for. 

So, how do you clean up eCommerce site performance ahead of the holiday rush? Here are a few quick ideas that can be accomplished in time for Black Friday: 

Prune back plugins and unnecessary code

Some plugins can significantly slow down your site’s performance. By disabling or removing unnecessary plugins, you can improve the site’s speed and performance. Also, getting rid of unused features and trimming down your code can lead to a more streamlined site with faster loading times. 

Disable cart fragments

Many eCommerce sites use cart fragments, which is a bit of code that updates a user’s cart without refreshing the page. But when that script is present on static posts, pages, custom post types, or feed pages that contain no eCommerce functionality, it can decrease cacheability and slow down your site. By disabling cart fragments and choosing a different tool, like WP Engine Live Cart, you get the functionality of dynamic carts without bogging down site performance.

Focus on cache

While holiday sales are all about the Benjamins, it’s also important to focus on your website cache and the way it may (or may not) be helping your eCommerce store. Implementing a suitable caching system, like our EverCache for WooCommerce, can help you maintain impressive site speed. It knows when to ignore the cookies used by WooCommerce, optimizes cache delivery for static pages, and automatically bypasses cache when it has the potential to break functionality.

On-page optimization

From your product descriptions, content, titles, reviews, meta descriptions, alt text, pricing, links, and all other on-page aspects, every element should be double-checked and optimized to include the keywords your customers may be searching. Check for broken links, outdated pricing, and poor-quality images, and abandonment. You can also compress large media files to keep your site performance high without sacrificing image quality.

A correctly generated site map also ensures easy readability for search engines as they crawl your site for relevancy, and regular backups will ensure any changes made to your site can be reversed if you notice unintended consequences.  

Keep an eye out for other issues

Specialized tools like Application Performance Monitoring and Website Monitoring by WP Engine can act as your secondary site cleanup crew. They’ll help you identify and rectify any site errors by sending you a notification when issues occur to help you avoid any downtime during peak traffic season.

Outreach: Try a New Tradition

The holiday season is often a make-or-break period for many businesses. It’s a time when consumer spending increases drastically, and many businesses rely on this heightened traffic to meet their annual sales goals. 

To maximize profits during this time, many companies use the holiday season as a period to try out new sales strategies. Whether it’s implementing a Buy-One-Get-One (BOGO) offer, lowering prices by a certain percentage, or initiating holiday sales early due to anticipated shipping delays, testing these strategies in the weeks leading up to Black Friday can give you invaluable insights into your customers’ behavior and preferences.

Because shoppers are already in the buying mindset during this period, they are more receptive to sales and discounts. By trying out different sales strategies to see what resonates with your customers before Black Friday, you’re ready to optimize your offerings and maximize your profits when holiday shopping hits.

Prepare for Holiday Traffic with WP Engine

While all of the above suggestions can help you clean up site performance ahead of Black Friday and the holiday rush, they’re only a sample of the extensive work that goes into preparing websites for eCommerce excellence. 

Ensure your site can handle heavy holiday traffic by choosing reliable WordPress hosting with WP Engine. Our team helps keep WordPress sites performant, efficiently delivering your content to customers without buckling under increased Black Friday traffic.

Implement these steps for a smooth and effective holiday sales season, and talk to a WP Engine expert about our plans before the holidays are upon us!