We work with some household name British comedians. When we launched a recent tour, we expected a large volume of traffic, and we got it – more than a million hits over a single weekend.
It’s the kind of response that can quickly make a website fall over. Ordinary servers are often unable to cope with such a sudden high volume of traffic. Our choice, WP Engine Premium hosting, does not have this struggle. We kept a careful eye on things along the way. But, as expected, everything held firm despite massive traffic spikes.
So how do the best website design and WordPress development agencies deal with potential website traffic surges? And do we have any tips to pass on about how we optimise the Avada Framework and the best WordPress development practices we adopt?
Website development 101 – About traffic spikes
Sadly very few site owners need to worry about traffic spikes. Most of us have to work pretty hard to achieve average visitor volumes, never mind spikes. You might think lots of traffic is always a good thing, but it can lead to problems if it makes your server fall over. A poor visitor experience at exactly the wrong time can wreak havoc with your reputation, diminish your brand and can even see your website taken offline by your host because the surge is messing with the other sites on the server.
Now and again something happens that inspires thousands or even millions of people to visit a site, all at the same time. It might be an amazing piece of publicity on prime time TV, a successful marketing campaign or even content went viral. Whatever the reason, a traffic spike is usually sudden, and it’s a mixed blessing unless you’re prepared. Here’s how.
How to prepare a WordPress site for traffic spikes
Choose quality server services in the first place – Every great website deserves an excellent server. Shared hosting is fine if you don’t get much traffic or your site is correctly optimised. But a bigger memory, better systems and dedicated resources in the shape of a VPS or dedicated server are the best way to ensure safety. Cloud hosting is good too since it often lets you increase server resource instantly at the flick of a switch.
The latest WordPress platform version
You should always update your site to the most recent iteration of the WordPress platform. Updates will help protect you against unexpected resource issues.
Update your plugins
Just like WordPress, this is critical. It’s vital you are in the latest versions of any software powering your site. Not only does it keep the site working well, but it also mitigates security risks. Be proactive in updating your site. If you manage multiple sites, consider a service like ManageWP to allow you to stay on top of these updates. You would head into a big presentation without doing some preparation. Don’t head into traffic spikes sat on old software. It’s been updated for a reason.
Deactivate unnecessary plugins
We use some premium plugins to help manage content. We are a particular fan of Admin Columns Pro. It makes managing large sites and regular content updates much easier. However, in high traffic spikes, the chances are you won’t be updating lots of content. So we turn all these things off, get back to what is needed to power the site and serve up web pages and deactivate the rest. We switch them all back on again when the traffic subsides, and we need to manage content again, but it’s good practice to differentiate between the two. Content management and optimal performance are usually required at different points in a website’s traffic cycle.
Optimise, optimise, optimise
Apart from being an important ranking factor for organic website visibility, human visitors appreciate fast-loading pages. There’s plenty of guidance online about optimising your site for load speed. Just restricting the number of plugins, turning off those you don’t need and cutting the size of images and graphics to the bone helps you avoid server.
Content delivery networks
Think about using a content delivery network – Does your site have loads of static resources? If so, using a CDN to distribute files means they’re served up to the visitor from a local hub, saving your server from having to do the work. Alternatively, you can condense web page content and deliver it zipped to the visitor’s browser, with the added advantage that it provides content faster. WpEngine offers their CDN as an additional extra. It makes a big difference. We also recommend CloudFlare as an extra performance tier on very high traffic sites.
Intelligent server-side caching
Every time someone requests a web page, your server has to serve it up. You don’t want your site to time-out when it’s busy, preventing users from accessing it. Cache plugins and extensions stash pre-built page content for a short time, so the server doesn’t need to go through the whole page build process for every request. Caching increases the load speed of your website and helps prevent resource issues.
Cache plugins are simple to install and can be very effective. We firmly recommend WPRocket. But even this can be complicated to use set up, test and use well. We prefer to avoid them. WP Engine does the job for us and doesn’t allow even the most popular cache plugins. If you think there’s any danger of traffic spikes, find a host that manages caching plugins for you. If you can avoid them, do – they’re horrible things.
Intelligent server-side caching
We work in close partnership with the Theme-Fusion team who publish the Avada Theme Framework. We develop all our client sites in the Avada Theme Framework. The Avada system is perfect for high-traffic WordPress sites. Their live demo receives millions upon millions of visits every month and is still responsive, fast to load and performs wonderfully. If using avada on a high traffic site or preparing for a traffic spike, we recommend the following:
Optimise all your images
This is crucial. There are plenty of plugins available that will crunch the size of your images and still retain sufficient quality not to diminish the look and feel of your site. Most are free. We like JPEG mini, or review a list of the 10 best Image optimization plugins. Optimising images will have a dramatic effect on load times and the how the site performs under heavy traffic.
WordPress specific web hosting
No website will cope with high spikes in traffic if it’s on awful web hosting. In most cases, you get what you pay for with hosting. The £2.99 hosting offered to you when you registered your domain, isn’t up to much. We use WpEngine for all our hosting, and we recommend it to anyone running any WordPress site. It’s particularly effective in conjunction with Avada, and we’ve used both with great success to achieve millions of visits to some client sites.
Avoid the use of sliders
Sliders look great and have their place. Avada’s Fusion Slider is quick, simple to use and looks great. You traditionally find them on home pages, but Avada lets you use them all over the place. We like to limit the use of them to impactful landing pages and the home page. It’s quicker and more efficient to load one great image and a compelling call to action than a range of them. Sliders slow things down, so use them only where you want maximum impact. If you are anticipating a spike in traffic, perhaps look at swapping them out and replacing them with Fusion Builder containers.
Update, update, update
One of the advantages of working in Avada is the on-going development Theme-Fusion do. New updates and patches are regularly released, and these help keep your site modern, up to date and performing well. Keep on top of these updates and make sure you stay up to date. If preparing for a traffic spike always make sure you’re on the latest version of the framework. Chances are they’ve encountered any issues before you even know it’s even there. They also offer new features and allow you to do more from your sites. Updates are a good thing – be proactive.
Don’t load what you don’t need
Since Avada 5.0, we’ve been able to switch off things we don’t use in Avada. It’s a big system, and you’ll need different parts of it on various sites. However, rarely will you need it all. Before we launch any Avada site, we run through and switch off anything we’re not using and don’t think the client will need to manage their site. We can turn it back on in a couple of clicks, but if it’s not necessary, why load it. In high traffic sites, this can make a big difference. It lets you stay as lean as you need to be.
Pick a WordPress development partner who understands traffic spikes
The moral of the story is this: never assume that your website will never attract a traffic spike. It can and does happen, and when it does you want it to be a positive experience rather than a total nightmare. Be prepared. It’s no accident high traffic sites stay live, and those that perform well can be extremely profitable. You need a WordPress development partner who knows how to create a surge-ready website and provide spike-friendly hosting from the offset.