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As a site owner, you might be trying your best to get as much traction on your website as you can. But did you know that too much traffic could actually end up harming your business or blog?
If you’re not ready to handle it, that is.
So, it’s best to prepare yourself for that possibility, and ensure your site is backed by the resources necessary to deal with that extra load.
Luckily, this is exactly what we’re going to help you out with in today’s post. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about traffic spikes, why they occur, why it’s important to be able to handle them, and the best ways to handle them.
6 tips on how to handle traffic spikes
A traffic spike is a sudden and drastic rise in the traffic coming to your website.
This may be because:
But regardless of what the actual cause is, the important thing to know about traffic spikes is that if your website isn’t equipped to handle them, it’s going to cause some serious problems for you.
What kind of problems? Well, during traffic spikes, a lot of people visit your website at the same time. This means (if you haven’t taken any precautionary measures) your website’s hosting server will have to respond to an overwhelming amount of requests from clients all around the world.
What’s more is that if the content of your web pages, i.e., images and videos are too heavy, your server is going to face a lot of load trying to assemble that information for each request.
Even if the traffic spike is relatively small, this will significantly slow down your website’s speed, which is likely going to lose you a lot of visitors and/or potential customers.
And if the traffic spike is large, then it’s likely your server won’t be able to respond to the number of requests it receives and, as a result, your website will crash.
This is analogous to how too many cars using the same street at the same time can either significantly slow the traffic down or block it entirely.
So, to prevent this from happening to your visitors, it is crucial for you to know all of the different measures you can take to gear up your website for any unexpected traffic spikes. And that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about in the next section.
Now that you know what’s at stake when dealing with an unanticipated traffic spike, let’s take a look at some of the most popular techniques and tools you can use to help your site handle high traffic.
Browser caching is an incredibly popular way to reduce the load on your website’s server, and if you’re worried about your website crashing due to high traffic, this is definitely a preventative measure you should take.
But, what exactly is browser caching? And how is it going to help you handle traffic spikes?
Well, the idea behind it is very simple (and clever). When you search for a website for the first time in your life (or the first time using a particular device) the browser sends an HTTP request to the server where that site is hosted.
The server receives the requests, finds, and assembles the required information, and sends it to your device’s IP address.
This is the basic client-server model that forms the basis of the internet.
However, it is not necessary for your browser to request all information from the hosting server every single time you visit a particular page.
This is where browser caching comes in. When enabled, browser caching instructs the user’s browser to store some of the (visited) website’s static pages in its cache storage. This means that the next time the user visits the same page, their browser will fetch the information from its own storage rather than contacting the hosting (or origin) server.
You probably see where we’re going with this.
Since browsers’ cache handle the requests of revisitors, the origin server becomes free to deal with the requests of first-time visitors (or visitors who want non-cacheable content). This reduces the amount of traffic that reaches the origin server and therefore saves the site from a potential crash.
This is called “leverage browser caching,” and you can enable it for your website either by using a WordPress plug-in (if applicable) or by modifying your browser’s .htaccess to include instructions on the kind of content to cache, and an expiration date of the cached files.
This will tell the user’s browser what files to cache, and how long to cache them for. Once you reach the expiration date of those files, the cache will be cleared.
Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) are another great resource you can use to help your website handle large volumes of traffic.
But what are CDNs? And how can they help your site do this?
Let’s start with the first question. A content delivery network is a network of servers that store cached information about the static content of your website. This network of servers is spread across the globe, and the idea here is to give your website several PoPs (or Points of Presence).
So, when a user attempts to visit a certain webpage on your site, the CDN server closest to them (called an edge server) sends cached copies of all static content it has stored about your site thereby avoiding the need to contact the origin server to fetch your content.
CDNs are analogous to franchises of fast food restaurants. If a restaurant only had one branch in the world, anyone who’d want to eat in that restaurant would have to travel there.
This may put too much load on that single branch and render it incapable of handling the orders of every customer who shows up there.
Opening up several branches across the country (or across the world) might help the owner here. This way, whoever wants to eat at the restaurant will simply visit the branch closest to them.
This is the main idea behind CDNs; since proxy servers handle the static content of users near them, the main server hosting your site doesn’t have to deal with all of the traffic.
You can avail of content delivery networks by subscribing to separate services like Cloudflare, or by enabling the cache manager of your web host (they usually use CDNs to cache your site’s content).
Another way to prevent your site from crashing is by optimizing its images and videos so that they are lighter in size, which makes them able to load faster.
The idea here is to ease the burden on your site’s servers so they’re able to handle a higher-than-usual number of requests.
What does image and video optimization involve?
Well for image optimization, the following tips might help:
For video optimization, the following tips might help:
A DDoS attack (or Distributed Denial Of Service) Attack is when hackers flood a network with a huge wave of bot requests to render the server incapable of answering requests.
This is one way your site could get unexpectedly more “traffic” on it, and if you’re not prepared to defend against it, your website will crash.
To prevent a DDoS attack, monitor the kind of requests your server receives, use DDoS attack prevention software, and instruct your IT team to take measures to improve your cybersecurity and come up with a response plan for DDoS attacks.
Still curious? Check our entire article on DDoS attacks.
Most newer sites start out with shared hosting, wherein their website is hosted on the same server with several others. This arrangement works because newer sites don’t take a lot of storage space and they don’t get a lot of traffic, so a single server is able to host multiple sites at once.
This arrangement, however, can be risky as you grow not just because the server may not be able to handle traffic spikes on your website (since it’s also handling the traffic and content of other sites hosted in it), but also because your website becomes prone to traffic spikes faced by other sites as well.
If any site in the shared server puts too much load on the server, all websites hosted by that server will either slow down terribly or crash altogether.
This is where dedicated hosting can come in handy. With dedicated hosting, your website gets sole access to a single server and all of its resources, meaning:
Cloud hosting is another great option you have when it comes to handling large amounts of traffic. It differs from dedicated hosting in that it isn’t restricted to a single physical server. Instead, cloud hosting uses a network of servers to host your data.
If you max out the capacity of one server, it will automatically get another server to handle your website’s load. Many leading web hosts will offer cloud hosting services, and others like Kinsta, only offer cloud hosting.
Load balancing is a costly, but highly effective way to get around traffic related site crashes. The basic idea behind load balancing is this:
As a site owner, you should always work towards getting more traffic on your website. But at the same time, you need to take measures and arrange the resources necessary to help your site handle that flux of traffic.
You don’t have to implement all of the aforementioned solutions at once—assess the future needs of your website, and choose whichever combination of these solutions work best for you!