5 tips to prep your e-commerce site for Cyber Monday

Can your Web site handle the demands of a visitor or transaction spike? Here are some suggestions for getting the planning started.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Realistically, any small business hoping to add extra capacity or bandwidth to its web site or e-commerce platform for the Cyber Monday onslaught on Nov. 28, should have taken care of this weeks ago. But if you're the sort of manager who thinks ahead, here are some 5 strategies for formulating those plans as you look forward to significant traffic-generating events in your company's future.

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to credit some of these ideas to Aaron Hollobaugh, vice president of marketing for cloud services and infrastructure provider Hostway, which focuses on cloud capacity needs for small and midsize businesses. We chatted about Cyber Monday, e-commerce traffic trends, and cloud pricing models last week. This list certainly isn't all inclusive, but hopefully it will get your organization thinking the right way for the future.

  1. Plan for traffic to double year-over-year: Hollobaugh said that the annualized growth rate for many web sites is generally 20 percent to 25 percent during the days and weeks following Thanksgiving. So, if a business plans for double that amount, it should be in fairly good shape come Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Frankly, any time an organization that runs a promotion during which more visitors than usual are going to be driven to a specific URL needs to check on capacity before doing so.
  2. Test throughput and consider hosting static content elsewhere for the peak traffic period: Not only is it not cool if your site goes down, it is not cool if it takes too long to load. One way to step around this is to host static content such as product catalogs or case study videos that don't change all that often on a different server than the transaction mechanisms. That way, the bulk of bandwidth can be dedicated to commerce-related activities, Hollobaugh said.
  3. Keep tabs on visitor statistics: By knowing where visitors are located or which promotions might be generating the most response, your organization can respond more specifically this year and next year and beyond. This shouldn't be done on a daily basis, this should be done in as close to real time as possible. Does your cloud provider allow for that sort of visibility, which translates into flexibility?
  4. Don't forget mobile: Even though U.S. consumers are still more likely to buy through their notebook or desktop computer than off their smartphone, this is changing and this year will probably bring far more mobile traffic than the past. Especially as shoppers out in crowded malls check to see if YOUR site has the inventory or price that they can't find on foot. Your organization needs to plan for significantly increased mobile traffic, so that it doesn't create bottlenecks. If you haven't done so, your organization needs to ensure are well-optimized and easily navigable from a teeny, tiny screen.
  5. Find a flexible cloud infrastructure provider: Does the organization hosting your organization's Web site require that you plan for the worst case high-volume scenario (or, actually best, if you think about it) all year around. Look for an organization that is flexible enough to bring on extra capacity during the time it is needed (maybe one or two months per year) -- and that doesn't require your company to overpay for the rest of the year. After all, that is a TRUE cloud pricing model. Capacity on demand, not in reserve.

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