Ten things every marketer should know about web performance no. 3: traffic affects performance
More traffic is a good thing. It means you’re doing something right. You’re driving people to your website. The more visitors you get, the bigger your pool of potential customers.
But an increase in traffic also presents a danger. Your website could start to slow down. Visitors become frustrated, annoyed. Suddenly, far fewer of them are interested in buying from you. Ultimately, your website could fail altogether. No website means no sales.
Online retailers – as well as other organisations – do get caught out in this way from time to time. The Black Friday sale. The new product launch. The social media sensation.
A sudden spike in visitor numbers (or even a more gradual rise) can put systems under pressure to the extent that your business and your brand suffer.
As a marketer, you probably don’t need to know the technical details. But you do need to know how to minimise the risk that your website will fail when you need it most.
Also remember that any new imagery on the website as part of the promotion could exacerbate the effect of traffic on its performance.
The first step might seem obvious but it can get neglected: communicate. Speak to the people responsible for keeping the website up and running well ahead (ideally, months in advance) of any big campaigns. Make sure they know it’s happening and when. Crucially, try to get an estimate of visitor numbers and, if you can, some sense of the parts of the website they’re most likely to be hitting. If it’s more than you’ve seen before, they’ll no doubt want to load test the site to see how it behaves when subjected to that kind of pressure.
The commercial perspective
Once the testing has been carried out, it’s important for marketing and ecommerce to be kept very much in the loop. This is partly because, if you’re working in one of these areas, you more than anyone are likely to have an understanding of the extent to which any slowdown will affect your sales.
For example, your IT or operations department might be carrying out the testing. They might foresee a slowdown but remain confident that the website will remain up and running.
But what’s really needed is a sense of the commercial implications of any slowdown. You know performance is linked to online revenue. So if it slows down, how will conversions suffer? By how much? What’s the cost in lost revenue? How might it damage the brand?
These are questions that are best answered by those responsible for making money from the website. Whatever the options – doing nothing, investing in more infrastructure, optimising the site (for example, cutting content) to make it more resilient, changing CDN provider or implementing a queuing system – it has to be one that you, as a marketer, are comfortable with.
Plan for the worst… just in case
Finally, no amount of testing and remediation can guarantee that things will go according to plan. So have a contingency. Be prepared – campaigns might need to be paused at short notice. Alternatives arranged. Experts in crisis management PR called in.
Hopefully not, though. Hopefully, you’ll have forecast, tested and remediated where necessary. So, when visitor numbers go through the roof, you can relax, confident that your website is more than up to it – and that we’re back where we started: more traffic is a good thing.
Also in this series:
Ten things every marketer should know about web performance…
Published date:  17 October 2016
Written by:  Alex Painter