Is your website ready for holiday traffic

When you’re getting your online store ready for the holiday shopping season, there’s a lot to plan, like Black Friday deals, seasonal products, and marketing campaigns. Remember to include the store itself in your holiday prep, too.

For customers to find and buy your holiday deals, your site has to stay up and running—no matter how many shoppers show up. It also has to stand up to hackers who try to sneak in with the holiday crowd.

Here’s how to prepare your site to handle heavier than normal traffic, give your shoppers a great experience, and keep your store secure.

Can Your Site Handle the Traffic Numbers You Expect?

Black Friday isn’t just crowded in brick-and-mortar stores. More than half of US shoppers made at least one purchase on Black Friday in 2017, and the total haul for online Black Friday sales last year was more than $5 billion.

That’s a lot of people going online. If your hosting plan includes monthly limits on how many visits your site can have, you could find your site hitting its traffic limit on the biggest shopping weekend of the year.

And if you can’t quickly scale up your site’s capacity to serve a throng of shoppers, your site could slow to a crawl or even crash.

What to do now: Look for real-time scalability that you can activate with a click to keep your site online and running smoothly even when goods are flying off your virtual shelves. Or look for an upgraded hosting plan that doesn’t cap monthly site visits so you can turn all your attention to your sales over the holidays.

best dedicated server hosting

Are You Protected Against Downtime?

If your site does go offline during holiday sales, shoppers may only come back later if you have products they want and can’t get anywhere else. We’ve blogged about the importance of creating exclusive deals for Black Friday, and we just discussed why hosting scalability matters.

But there’s another thing that can lead to site crashes—hardware failure on the host’s end. It’s not common, because web hosts work hard to maintain their equipment, but it can happen. If it happens during peak shopping times, your business could suffer unless your host has a seamless Plan B.

What to do now: Find out if your hosting plan includes failover capability. Failover means your host is ready and able to switch your site to another server if there are any issues with your current one so your site doesn’t go offline due to issues on their end. Failover switches from one server to another are usually seamless, but some include a brief downtime during the transition. If your plan doesn’t include failover protection, it may be time to upgrade.

How Fast Do Your Store Pages Load?

Page load times are now a real factor in search results, so if you want your store to get found, it needs to get fast. When shoppers arrive, fast page loads can keep them in your store. The Financial Times found that just a one-second increase in page speed boosted engagement by 5%, showing that any improvement in load time is worth the effort.

Some page-speed improvements you can do yourself, like optimizing the images on your WordPress-powered site. When you’re planning page-speed improvements, keep in mind that your product pages will be the first place shoppers land in your store if they find you through product search results. But images and videos—the centerpieces of product pages—are often the slowest elements to load, and 40% of shoppers will simply leave if your page takes more than 3 seconds to load.

How can you optimize your images and videos?

Compress them and adjust their load settings. This is usually a lot easier than it sounds.

Editing tools like Photoshop and DaVinci Resolve include compression tools you can use while you’re creating new images and videos. But if your online store already contains hundreds of images, the best solution is a compression plugin. 

Smush is a popular choice for WordPress users. The free version lets you bulk compress up to 50 images per batch. The paid version gives you unlimited-batch bulk compression.

wordpress smush plugin for optimize images

Set up lazy load. Think of lazy load as just-in-time delivery for the images on your website. If your visitor is only looking at the top of a product page, that page only needs to load the images that appear there. As your visitors scrolls down, other images appear on cue. 

That’s so much faster than holding up the page load until every image on the page is ready to display. And, like compression, it’s pretty easy to set up. The free version of Smush now includes a beta lazy load feature. All you have to do is click the “activate” button. 

If you only want certain types of content to lazy load, or if you only want lazy loading on selected page types, you can make those choices on the menu page that opens after you active. Or you can be lazy and let the global lazy load settings stand. 

Don’t need a compression plugin but do need lazy load capability? Lazy Load is a popular plugin that does what it says on the label. 

After you optimize your images, you can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to check your pages’ performance and get more suggestions for improvements. Your site may need more improvements that can only come from upgraded hosting, like proper cache configuration, top-of-the-line hardware, and optimal server density.

Next, check your online store’s mobile performance. Start with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool to make sure your site meets the basic mobile-friendly requirements for easy use. If it doesn’t, you’ll see a list of problems you can correct. 

Google mobile-friendly test for responsive design

Then, use Google’s Test My Site tool to see how fast your site loads on a smartphone over 4G and 3G networks. Even if your site is mobile-friendly, it may be loading too slowly to be competitive against faster stores. If that’s the case, you’ll be able to generate a custom report that walks you through the steps you need to speed up your page loads.

What to do now: Compress your images and videos. Check your site’s performance on PageSpeed Insights, Mobile-Friendly Test and Test My Site. Use the recommendations Google generates to talk to your hosting service about upgrading for load time improvements.

Do You Have Site Security for Your Online Store?

Shoppers aren’t the only ones who flock to online stores during the holidays. Data thieves and other malicious actors know that during the holidays, merchants are so busy filling orders that they don’t notice or don’t have the resources to deal with data theft attempts and malware attacks.

The last thing you need during peak sales season is a data breach or denial of service attack that throws your business into chaos when it should be racking up sales.

One of the biggest new security threats to eCommerce merchants this year is formjacking. What’s formjacking? It’s the online equivalent of a skimmer on a gas pump credit-card reader—a small piece of code that silently logs your customers’ payment data as they enter it, then sends that information to the data thieves. They can then use your customers’ payment details to do some shopping of their own, or they can sell the data to other criminals on the dark web. 

Meanwhile, the site owner and customers have no idea there’s anything wrong, until fraudulent charges start showing up on card statements. Then, you may lose customers who blame your site for the data theft. If your customers are in the EU, you may also face GDPR-related fines for breach of customer privacy.

You need a plan now to prevent and detect formjackers. Security experts say that regularly scanning your site’s code for injected malware can help spot formjacking snippets so you can remove them. That means all the code on your site, especially third-party apps like chatbots and surveys, which formjackers often target for malware insertion. They also recommend watching your outbound traffic. If you see a marked rise in outgoing data or a new destination for outbound traffic, it could be a formjacker at work.

As with page speed, some site security practices are up to you, like ensuring that you’re running the most up-to-date versions of your store platform, plugins, and related software. The devices you use to work on your store should be updated and fully secured, too. And we all know that it’s important to use secure, unique passwords.

But there are ways your hosting service can help, too.

What to look for: Does your current hosting plan include regular scans to detect and remove malware from your site? Malware scans can help detect formjacking code insertions before they major damage. Is there an upgrade option that protects your store even further by guarding against DoS attacks that could crash your site?

Does Your Host Provide Website Analytics?

Maybe the only thing more important for retailers than strong holiday sales is a serious post-season analysis of holiday sales activity. Much of this will draw on your Google, email, and social media analytics, but some of it should come from your site itself.

Is it easy for you to find and monitor your site’s traffic trends, uptime, page load speed, and other performance data? You’ll need it to see what works during this year’s holidays and to plan how you can improve for next year.

What to do now: Check your dashboard to see what kind of site data is available to you. If you’re not seeing the type of performance data you’ll need to refine your site, talk to your host about upgrade options.

cloud hosting site analytics

Be Prepared with Upgraded Hosting

Make sure your hard work on holiday products and promotions pays off. Get ready now to welcome holiday season shoppers, give them what they want fast, keep your site safe, and gather valuable data.

One easy way to upgrade your online store and get ready for the end-of-year shopping surge is to upgrade your hosting plan now, before the holiday season hits. 

If you’re like most SMB eCommerce shop owners, you probably have a shared-server hosting plan now. Switching to a plan that gives you your own server—virtual or physical—can give you more control over your online store setup, better performance, or both.

A virtual private server (VPS) costs less than a dedicated server but gives you many of the same benefits. That’s because more than one VPS can share the same physical server to keep costs down, but each VPS has its own operating system, software, and other resources. A good VPS plan will include:

  • multi-layered network and physical security to protect your data and your customers.
  • regular site backups so you can quickly restore your site in case of a problem.
  • an excellent uptime record so you don’t have to worry about crashes caused by server outages.
  • bandwidth that scales when you need it, so your store can handle traffic peaks without breaking your budget.
  • extremely fast response times so your pages load fast, before shoppers leave.

For even more performance and security advantages, you may want to consider a dedicated server hosting plan. This type of plan gives you exclusive access to an entire server. Because the hardware or bandwidth is all yours, your store’s pages will load much faster than on a shared server. During the holidays, when shoppers are scrambling to snap up deals fast, faster page loads can give your store a competitive edge.

Dedicated server plans cost more than other types of hosting, and they require more technical skills to set up and maintain. However, with a managed dedicated server plan, your hosting provider handles a lot of the tech tasks. A good managed plan will offer:

  • automatic patching of security vulnerabilities in your site’s containers, network, and host. 
  • continuous monitoring of your network and host.
  • automatic control panel updates.
  • optional offsite backups to protect your site in case of a crash.
  • server optimization to deliver the best possible performance for your store.

Give yourself the gift of an upgraded hosting plan now, before the holiday rush begins. Learn more about HostGator’s Virtual Private Servers (VPS) and dedicated server plans.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance B2B content marketing writer. Her specialty areas include SMB marketing and growth, data security, IoT, and fraud prevention