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Tech tips for a happy eChristmas

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Christmas is now just weeks away, but don’t panic, there is still plenty of time to make changes to your site and your backend technology that will help increase your productivity over the festive period.

Test your servers

It’s critical that you load test your servers and find the tipping point so you can simulate the impact of traffic spikes. If there are problems, work with your IT team to make improvements, such as adding memory and clearing down redundant data. Look for anything that’s running that you don’t really need, it’s eating up valuable resources. Stopping those services frees up resource your server can better use serving your customers.

Consider extra servers

Extra traffic on your site will affect your server, which will affect your website. It’s one thing to run out of a product, but if customers can’t even get to your site because it’s too slow, you’re in big trouble.

If after testing you find your current server isn’t capable of handling your expected load, you have two options: scale up or scale out (or even both). Scaling up is essentially getting a bigger server. Scaling out is getting another server and then sharing the load across the two. Scaling up is probably the easiest option if you need to do it quickly, but it’s always better to have more than one server in the long run. Or if you’re using virtualisation, spinning up additional virtual servers can be really quick solution.

Run your key webpages through testing tools

The cornerstone of peak traffic planning is rigorously load testing your system ahead of time to identify and correct breakpoints and bottlenecks. Load testing gives you a great insight into how your site will perform when the holiday rush kicks in. Best of all, many testing tools are either free or relatively inexpensive. Google PageSpeed Insights and Pingdom are available from as little as $7 per month. Recommendations are based on general principles of web page performance, including resource caching, data upload and download size, and client-server round-trip times.

Review the user experience of your site on mobile

Gartner predicts that by 2015 50 per cent of all web sales will be mobile, so it’s important you don’t alienate a core section of your audience.

Make sure you test your site and content campaigns on key devices. If your mobile traffic is dominated by iOS, test on both iphones and iPads. Responsive design is no longer a trend. Making sure that your website has an optimal viewing experience across all devices is vital this year. If your mobile website’s performance is not up to scratch remember that Google, and thus a competitor, are just a click away.

Make it easy to buy

If the registration, log-in and check-out processes on your website are too cumbersome, shoppers will simply give up and go and buy from one of your competitors.

Review the core purchase paths in detail and iron out any glitches (don’t assume they’re still working fine). Recent research conducted by our team at Postcode Anywhere revealed that hard to complete forms and complicated registration processes were one of the main bugbears for online shoppers. Make sure you’re not asking too much from your customers and that you’re using good practice techniques like international address look-up.

Optimise your site for faster loading

Consumers at this time of year are increasingly impatient – a slow or crashing website will affect conversion rates. What’s more, lags in page load not only frustrate users, but Google’s search algorithms now also penalize sites for slow loads.

Caching most commonly read or used data will improve loading efficiency. This data memory is the first point of call before checking the main data store. Reading and writing to cache improves access times and enhances the overall performance.
When it comes to static content on any of your webpages I would highly recommend using a content delivery network (CDN). Its main goal is to get the data to the end user as quick as possible with high availability and high performance. 

CDN also reduces the amount of traffic that you need to serve, freeing up your resource on your main server, which is crucial during this busy period. CDN would be provided by a third party vendor which distributes the static data across multiple dispersed servers. These hundreds or thousands of servers make it possible to provide identical data to many users efficiently and reliably even at times of maximum internet traffic or during sudden demand.

It’s not always possible to predict how much website traffic to expect, but by preparing your site as best as you can you can reduce the risk of your customers not being able to order. You’re also ensuring that your marketing efforts aren’t being wasted by a site that takes forever to load or event load at all.

Guy Mucklow is CEO of Postcode Anywhere

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