3-Step Process for Optimizing WordPress for Holiday Traffic
November 13, 2015 | Robert Gibb
The holiday season is drawing near. And for many WordPress sites, this means one thing – more traffic.
Even if you’re a WordPress blogger who isn’t selling anything, it’s important to understand that holiday shoppers are performing more research than ever before. So if you have the best content related to a trending holiday product or holiday activity, an unanticipated number of users could swarm your site.
This is why savvy WordPress admins are optimizing their sites as shoppers begin to perform “gift list research.” These admins know that the holiday traffic spike isn’t just hype. They know it’s real and often the catalyst for huge losses in potential visitors, site exposure and revenue.
Consider the rise in traffic top sites experienced during the holiday season last year:
Graph: Based on 2014 global retail data from Akamai’s Net Usage Index.
Whether you power a blog or online store with WordPress, this graph shows the reality of ravenous holiday behavior online. It also suggests an increased risk of downtime and slower pages during the holidays.
To help you avoid losing out on exposure and revenue this time of year, we’re going to show you three key steps for guaranteeing 100% WordPress uptime and faster pages. These three steps (especially step 2 and 3) provide the most benefit in the least amount of time. But before going over these steps, let’s check the current state of your WordPress site.
Test Your WordPress Site
During the optimization process, we’ll focus on performance and reliability. Performance optimization lets users access your site content more quickly. Reliability ensures that performance doesn’t suffer due to surges in traffic.
The following tables contain tools for testing both performance and reliability. If the results are less than stellar, don’t worry. The optimizations discussed in this post will help you change that.
|Performance Testing Tools|
|WebPageTest||WebPageTest is free and gives a full breakdown of your website’s performance, including grades and recommendations. It allows for options such as global test locations, custom headers, mobile browser emulation, and custom scripts.|
|Pingdom||Pingdom is a comprehensive website profiler. It also offers a free tool that tests the performance of an entire page. The generated results are similar in nature to WebPageTest, but different in appearance.|
|PageSpeed Insights||PageSpeed Insights is a free service that runs your website against a battery of tests including time-to-first-byte, request count, and HTML structure. Since it’s provided by Google, improving your PageSpeed score can also give you an SEO boost.|
|Reliability Testing Tools|
|Load Impact||Load Impact provides automated and on-demand testing with support for up to 1.2 million simulated concurrent users. Their free web-based test simulates 25 users over a period of 5 minutes. Monthly subscriptions start at $89 for 500 users, or you can pay per test.|
|Loadster||Loadster is another load testing solution. In addition to a cloud solution, Loadster can be deployed on your own local hardware using Loadster Engine. Prices are measured on a per-user/per-hour basis, beginning at $79 for 1,000 users.|
|Neustar||Neustar offers comprehensive website monitoring and load testing. In addition to on-demand testing, Neustar also offers full-service testing, where a dedicated engineer works with you to identify potential issues. The service comes with a 30-day trial.|
While performing these tests, you should get a good idea of whether your current site can handle a traffic spike. But just to make sure, also ask yourself the following questions:
- Did my site stand up to last year’s traffic surge without any hiccups?
- Based on my company’s growth over the past year, has my site scaled along with demand?
- Can I consistently deliver my site to visitors in 2 seconds or less?
If you can answer yes to all of these questions, you’re probably ready to face the holiday rush. If you can’t, read on.
Optimize Your WordPress Site (3 Steps)
Now that you know where your WordPress site is lagging, it’s time to take action. We’ll take a three-step approach to optimizing your site. These steps include optimizing content, prepping your origin server, and using a CDN.
Step 1: Slim Down the Size of Your Content
Most people don’t think about diets until after the holiday season. But if you want your site to be fast, you have to trim the fat. This means removing any unnecessary content and sizing down what’s left.
Some of the more popular plugins are listed below:
|Autoptimize||Autoptimize is a WordPress plugin that automatically concatenates, minifies, compresses, and caches scripts and stylesheets. It also adds unique features such as deferred script loading and HTML minification.|
Image optimization is an often-overlooked area of website optimization. Images are one of the web’s largest assets, accounting for almost 1400kB of the average web page (2191kB). As we covered more thoroughly in another post, optimizing images can drastically reduce the size of your website without noticeably affecting the quality of your content.
While going back and optimizing images on your entire website can be a daunting task, for the holiday season, just focus on your most popular pages. Optimize the images on these pages using one of these WordPress optimization tools.
A large number of requests can easily bring a website to a standstill. The more assets a user has to download, the more connections they’ll make to your server. HTTP/2 introduced true multiplexing, where CSS, JS, and image files are downloaded over a single connection rather than over multiple connections. This improves the performance for resource-heavy sites, but it’s not a reason to ignore other improvements.
You can reduce the number of requests by limiting the number of resources downloaded by the user. This means removing any images, stylesheets, and third-party scripts that your website doesn’t absolutely depend on.
Disable any plugins, modules, and features that are unused or unnecessary. You might also consider switching to a more lightweight theme. Detailed themes look beautiful, but they can also be very resource-intensive. A more lightweight theme doesn’t carry the same number of assets and might perform better.
Step 2: Beef Up Your Origin Server
If you’re using a CDN, you’re already protected from the bulk of the holiday traffic. But while your CDN will shield you from most incoming requests, dynamic content will still need to come from your origin server. You should plan for an equally large surge in dynamic traffic to your origin server, even if most of your content is static.
If you host your own WordPress installation, you can optimize your backend and improve the speed of your hosted WordPress install. On the other hand, if you use a hosting provider, there are other options you can take.
WordPress Hosting Platforms
If you use a hosting provider, you might consider upgrading to a plan that supports a larger number of simultaneous users. If your host doesn’t offer a more powerful solution, you might want to move to a different host that does.
Switching hosts isn’t always easy, but switching to a host that gives you room to scale will prepare you for the future. The following table lists several popular WordPress hosts:
|Flywheel||Built for web designers and creative agencies, Flywheel provides free demo sites, site staging, and native CDN support. Plans start at $15/month for one install, 5,000 monthly visits, 5GB of storage, and 250GB of bandwidth.|
|Pagely||Pagely is an AWS-backed WordPress platform focused on enterprises. Pagely promotes their platform as scalable, redundant, and providing enterprise-grade security. Plans start at $399/month for a fully managed dedicated VPS.|
|Pressable||Pressable prides itself on scalability and performance, handling “up to 20x daily traffic at all times.” Plans start at $25/month for 5 sites and 15,000 page views, though you’re free to test the service for 15 days.|
|WP Engine||WP Engine’s claim to fame is their customer service and scalable architecture that can handle surges of up to 15,000 simultaneous users. Plans start at $29/month for 10GB of storage and 25,000 monthly visitors.|
Disclaimer: All of these platforms resell MaxCDN as their content delivery network.
Step 3: Use a CDN
Even if your origin server can handle the holiday traffic, using a CDN will greatly improve the responsiveness and availability of your website. In addition to driving performance, a CDN can also provide an SEO boost that increases your website’s visibility. After implementing a CDN, one of our customers experienced a 433% boost in conversions and 1495% in traffic.
Many WordPress hosts bundle CDN support into their hosting packages. If you’d rather implement your own solution, WordPress lets you easily integrate a CDN through the use of plugins. The following table lists several commonly-used plugins:
|Autoptimize||In addition to being a performance optimization tool, Autoptimize lets you add a CDN of your choice. Autoptimize uses the CDN to cache files that it minifies and compresses.|
|Hyper Cache||Hyper Cache is an aggressive caching plugin designed to maximize performance. In addition to caching almost all static content, it lets you create separate caches for desktop and mobile users, remove the cache from site backups, and compress non-cached pages on-the-fly.|
|WP Super Cache||WP Super Cache generates a static HTML version of every page on your site. Unless the user requests dynamic content, WP Super Cache serves a plain HTML file.|
|W3 Total Cache||Similar to Autoptimize, W3 Total Cache is a performance framework that does asset caching, minification and compression. A unique feature of W3 Total Cache is that it also supports caching in memory for faster retrieval.|
|CDN Linker||CDN Linker modifies links to local asset folders (such as wp-content and wp-includes) to point to a different location such as a CDN.|
|WP Rocket||WP Rocket focuses on simplicity. It enables caching, lazy loading, preloading, minification, and dozens of other features with little to no configuration.|
|WP Performance Pack||WP Performance Pack provides a suite of tools for speeding up localization, image handling (similar to Photon), and CDN support.|
Continue Monitoring and Testing
At this point, your WordPress site should be ready to handle whatever the holiday masses have to throw at it. But don’t relax just yet.
As the holiday season progresses, continue monitoring and testing your website using the performance testing tools listed above. It can help you detect potential issues before they become problems, as well as help you plan for future surges in traffic.
For more insights on optimizing your website, visit MaxCDN One.