Ensuring your website can handle increased traffic after a promotion

traffic at night

The internet is renowned for throwing curveballs at businesses when it comes to dealing with traffic – and that’s what happened with our Cyber Monday sale.

As the web’s number one marketplace for buying and selling websites, we know how to keep our site up and running. It’s always pretty busy, and the internet is renowned for throwing curveballs at businesses when it comes to dealing with traffic – and that’s what happened with our Cyber Monday sale.

We decided to get involved in this usually US dominated online sale phenomenon for the first time this year. A large percentage of our customers are in the US so it made sense for us to do something they understand, and it’s always fun to be able to give your customers something for free! Or in this case, for half price – all our listings were 50 percent off for a day.

Hoping the sale would run relatively smoothly and go off without a hitch, I knew that I needed to make sure our infrastructure could handle a spike in traffic. The man in charge of this is Lucas, our systems administrator – now called a “Devops“ guy – who has been with us since Flippa first started. He told me not to worry so much. Why? Because of the cloud.

Usually when I hear that I groan a little – as we all probably do now that it’s 2012 and businesses everywhere have already discovered that the cloud is cool – but coming from Lucas, this statement has a bit more substance to it. He’s had websites running on the cloud since 2007; using a fairly early version of Amazon Web Services. Five years later, after a few hiccups and learning experiences along the way, the Flippa team is well and truly cloud-native.

This is good for a number of reasons, but mainly because it means that our infrastructure auto-scales. When everything is running along nicely, we’ll be using three, maybe five main servers. Then if something good happens and people flood the site, it automatically – without anyone pressing a button – spins up a few more servers.

This happened during the US election campaign, when we had a listing for the domain name RomneyRyan.com. A clever speculator had purchased it early in the primaries, and he’d hit the jackpot when Paul Ryan was picked as Mitt Romney’s running mate. He listed it on Flippa, and then appeared on Fox News. Needless to say, it was a busy time for us. This spike in traffic happened again with our Cyber Monday sale. Both times, our infrastructure handled it with aplomb.

Despite the importance of having a rock solid infrastructure set up, ensuring your website can handle increased traffic after a promotion is about more than this. It’s important, but once you start making sales and getting an increase in traffic, you’re going to start asking questions. Where is all this traffic coming from? Who are these people? What are the conversion rates compared to usual? What sort of retention rate are we getting from them? And so on and so forth.

In business, the questions are endless, and to answer these, you need to make sure that you have all your ducks in a row on the analytics front. Early during Flippa’s life, we just weren’t capturing enough data, so when good things happened to us we were largely blind to why they were. Now we use Google Analytics, as many businesses do, and it gives us an invaluable treasure trove of data. We also make sure our website itself is capturing as much information as possible. My programming background means I’m not averse to diving into the database myself and pulling some data, but that doesn’t mean I can always answer every question – after all, the other theme of 2012 was the tricky nature of Big Data and nowhere is that more obvious than on a busy website! Because we’ve got a bit of experience with this now, we can get a lot of useful insights with some well-placed queries.

My closing words would be to always be prepared. But also, when something happens in a less than optimal fashion, make sure you learn from it. Business is going to throw a lot of challenges at you; you’ll be judged by how well you recover from them.

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