As Black Friday approaches, a common question that lurks in ecommerce circles is “Will our site go down right when we need it to be performing at its best?” The most common answer among Magento merchants is a resounding “we don’t know”. The good news is that if you’re a merchant, and you know that you may get a big surge of traffic, you can proactively prepare for it. As with most things in life, an ounce of prevention can easily be worth a pound of cure.
As far as your Magento website is concerned, it doesn’t matter if a burst of traffic comes from a flash sale, advertising campaign, or holidays like Valentine’s Day, Black Friday, or Mother’s Day. What matters is that your site has the resources to support the number of concurrent users that may be shopping simultaneously. If not, your site will slow down and ultimately become unresponsive for users. It’s very similar to how a PC can slow down and become “a brick” when you’re running too many applications… but when your website fails, you risk losing short-term sales AND long-term, since some consumers may take your technical woes (and their subsequent frustrations) as a sign to find a more reliable brand to shop from.
So, what can a Magento merchant do? Here are some recommended steps to help prepare for any surge in traffic:
Take the time to see what your historical traffic peaks look like. For instance, Google Analytics can show you your historical hourly traffic. While that’s not quite “concurrent users” since most ecommerce shoppers stay on a website for minutes at a time, this information can help you to understand what your historical needs have been.
This is also a great time to look at best-practices for your Magento software and your Magento hosting account.
It’s possible to test your site to see how many concurrent users it can handle. This is best scheduled well in advance of any anticipated traffic spikes in order to not only allow enough time for proper testing but to also have ample time to apply improvements based upon the results that come back and re-test to make sure that you’re all clear. Testing results can help you to identify where your weaknesses are. For instance, your hosting platform may come up short on RAM, CPU, or other physical resources, or it could be bottlenecked by an extension or clumsy coding.
Here’s where things get really interesting. There’s a lot that you can do to improve the overall health of your Magento hosting account and your website itself. In working with your Magento Hosting Experts and your developers, you’ll be able to prioritize solutions that will make sense for you.
The best part about this is that you’re not only paying for insurance “just in case”. Many of these solutions will actually speed up your website and improve usability, which will increase your conversion rate, and help you to generate more revenue from the same traffic. It can also be a major win for your marketing efforts since loading speeds and bounce rates can impact everything from organic search engine rankings to page scores in Google AdWords.
Below are potential solutions that can assist in improving the performance and health of your Magento store:
– Content Delivery Network (CDN): A good, properly configured CDN can be tremendously helpful in multiple ways. For instance, it can:
– Store static content on a network of servers all over the world, helping to lessen the burden on your hosting account, and cutting down the distance, or hops, to access some of that static content.
– Automatically optimize images, cutting down their file sizes, and thereby the speed to load your web pages.
– Automatically minify code, such as in CSS and JS files, making them smaller and faster to transmit when a shopper visits your site.
– Leverage HTTP/2 technology to transmit more data in parallel for faster loading speeds.
– Add an additional layer of caching in order to allow users to be able to more quickly call up pages of your site.
– Help block some bad traffic, including some types of DDoS attacks that can otherwise slow down or crash your website by overwhelming your hosting account with malicious traffic.
– Hardware: Whether you need more RAM, CPU, Hard Disk Space (if you run out of hard drive space, your site can come to a screeching halt). Upgraded hardware (like Solid State Drives)will be one of the biggest factors in determining how much traffic your website can handle.
– Load Balancers: Sometimes one server just won’t suffice. Load balancers allow you to spread the load across multiple servers. You might wind up with several web servers for your frontend files, and a separate server for your database. With Magento Commerce 2, you may even wind up splitting into separate databases for order management, product management, and checkout, allowing you to give each its own hosting resources.
– Server Software: New versions of hosting software, like PHP can provide significant improvements to your loading speeds… and a faster hosting account means that you have less of a queue building and can process more users without a bottleneck. Furthermore, server-side caching, like Varnish or Full Page Cache can add tremendous benefits. Keep in mind that this software needs to be optimized to meet the needs of your specific Magento instance.
– Magento Updates: Magento software updates can include performance updates, but more importantly, if your Magento software AND your Magento extensions don’t have all available security patches, you’re at a heightened risk of being hacked. A site that’s been manipulated by bad actors is likely to run less efficiently, and can certainly have much more serious implications as well.
– Magento Instance Loading Speed Optimization: Aside from speeding up your hosting account, you can engage in a mix of tasks aimed at minifying, minimizing, compressing, and optimizing coding and file sizes while limiting the number of requests necessary for a browser to load your website. You can also leverage technology like full page caching by using an extension from a developer like Amasty. Even fixing links that are redirecting (such as from HTTP to HTTPS or to a www. version of a page within your site) can lessen the load on your site and improve page loading speeds.
– Firewall: Your firewall is one of your main lines of defense against intrusion. However, a well-optimized firewall that has the proper settings will be much more helpful at blocking bad traffic that’s wasting your hosting resources. An adaptive firewall will eliminate bad actors before they have a chance to flood your server with malicious traffic and soak up precious server resources.
– SaaS Add-ons: Sometimes trying to rely too heavily on “lite” extensions for features like affiliate programs, site search improvements, reward points, and loyalty programs can do more harm than good. In many cases, while you may pay more for a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution, you’ll likely be getting better features and outcomes, while creating fewer bottlenecks in your website. It’s always best to look at these options in terms of return on investment (ROI).
– Extension Cleanup: You may have installed extensions because they were free, seemed valuable at the time, or perhaps they were useful at one point… but are they still bringing you value? If not, removing this dead weight can certainly be helpful.
– Hard Disk Review: Are you a hoarder? Or better yet, do you not even realize that you’re a hoarder? When auditing a Magento hosting account, it’s not unusual to find huge log files, ancient backups, and email accounts (such as a “catch-all” mailbox) eating up valuable disk space. The bigger risk is that if this goes unchecked, you could run out of disk space. It’s always best to occasionally check for any “dead weight” that you’re carrying around and to generally keep things tidy. Additionally, backing up obsolete and unneeded files takes time and server resources which can visibly impact the speed of the website.
– Errors and Exceptions: If you haven’t enabled logging, reviewed your logs, and fixed your errors and exceptions lately, your shoppers may randomly be running into errors and error pages. This eats up hosting resources and chases away your customers. It’s best to proactively keep an eye on your logs. It’s similarly worthwhile to run reports like W3C LinkChecker for broken links that may be lurking within your website.
– Import / Export: Are you running imports and exports of large flat files, jamming data through Magento by the bucket load instead of using well-throttled API calls? This can easily bottleneck your website’s resources. If you’re moving data between your Magento software and an ERP or Accounting Suite, POS, OMS, WMS, PIM tool, Marketing Suite or CRM, Marketplace, or other software platforms, you should really consider the benefits of leveraging APIs to do the heavy lifting for you. This is especially true given the number of great companies that have already written connectors and help manage these data flows for you.
I know what you’re thinking… this is a lot of stuff! Keep in mind that you may already have many of these solutions and best practices in place. The good news is that a great partner like JetRails can help you with the entire hosting layer, right up until the first line of Magento code. We also work with the best Magento agencies and development teams, SaaS solution providers, and others in the Magento community to bring our clients the results that they need. We’re all about reliability, scalability, security, proactivity, speed, and amazing support. Whether you need a hosting consult, are interested in moving hosting to JetRails, or are looking for advice on Magento Agencies and SaaS solutions to combine with your Magento instance, we’re here to help!