Mark Fitzsimmons
Mark Fitzsimmons 30 October 2018

How to get your website prepared for the onslaught of Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Make sure your back-end website infrastructure can cope with peaks in users

For many UK marketers it seems easy to forget that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are recent imports from the US, rather than long established dates in the marketing calendar.

Yet, Black Friday has not only caught on with marketers, but also the British public, with this day alone generating around £7 billion in online sales in the UK in 2017. It’s also becoming a worldwide phenomenon, being embraced by retailers and consumers across Europe, Asia and beyond.

However, some marketers risk losing out on this retail frenzy, because they have not considered how their ecommerce offering might cope with the resulting spikes in demanding e-consumers to their website.

When it comes to investment in their ecommerce sites too many marketers are focused on creating a standout, user friendly and engaging front-end that’s easy to navigate and checkout, but neglect investing in the website’s back-end infrastructure. Without the appropriate attention and investment in the back-end, as well as the front-end, brands are left with a website that will deliver a poor performance or could even crash during the peak periods Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This will have a negative impact on their sales at this vital time of year, and risk damaging their reputation.

Strong server performance is key

A smooth functioning server during peak times is what every ecommerce offering requires, so it’s critical that marketers have an understanding of their web server’s available resource. They must ask themselves are they aware of the current load levels on their site? And what is the free resource above possible spikes in users?

However, it’s important not be fooled by ‘average load’ levels on the website. For example, your site might have an average load of 40%, so in theory you will have 60% resource spare. But in busy times your users and ecommerce processes can cause spikes of up to 90% of the server’s resource. Anything over 90% capacity and process queueing starts and the website generally slows up. While small load peaks can be absorbed, during busy periods, such as Black Friday, these spikes can be continuous and potentially take down the website.

How to improve server performance

A variety of options are available to reduce the impact of load spikes and aid server performance. Ironing out clunky application processes and fixing software errors is a good start. Also, review, and where appropriate, effectively tune and configure the server stack, which can save thousands of pounds in excessive hosting costs, and improve website speeds and reliability during high load times.

Intelligent website caching can help reduce server load by as much as 50%. Caching services are offered by companies such as CloudFlare and the content delivery network KeyCDN, which are fairly straightforward to implement.

For those with a good back-end system that can’t cope with peaks in users on one or two days of the year, it’s worth investing in a queueing system. This is ideally suited to those brands who sell products or services that can’t be purchased elsewhere, so the customer is usually happy to wait.

If you operate on a shared server it’s much harder to manage issues associated with peaks, but there are tools available that help provide website caching and bot blocking to mitigate issues during spikes in users. A good web development agency will be able to advise and deliver on all these aspects of improving server performance.

With the issues caused by spikes it can be worth considering upgrading your server to enable your website to cope better, but bear in mind you will be committed to the upgrade for at least a 12-month period. With server specifications continuously improving it’s important to avoid signing up for long term contracts.   

Also, don’t think that just because you have a server in the cloud that your site won’t go down. The chances are that your cloud hosting resource is limited in the same way as a physical server.

Spread out marketing campaigns / reporting

It might seem obvious to focus your marketing efforts on driving consumers to make an online purchase on Black Friday. However, this is bound to cause spikes on your website that can slow or take the site offline. To relieve the pressure on your website, consider spreading your marketing campaigns and promotions across longer periods to lighten those loads.

Also, don’t unnecessarily add to the burden on your website around peak times with heavy reporting and big application code changes. It never ends well.

Ensure emergency support 24/7

It’s vital that if your website crashes, or encounters other serious issues, that you have the correct contact details of the web developers and the server hosting company; and have the appropriate agreement that means you can, for example, wake them at 3am to fix a major problem. Usually this means having a service level agreement for your website application which is usually separate to hosting support. Make sure you have both elements covered.

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday fast approaching this is the final opportunity for marketers to ensure that their back-end infrastructure is ready and can successfully cope with the peaks in users and exceptional revenue opportunities that these two days provide.

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