What to do if your ecommerce site keeps crashing
Third in a series looking at how well online stores are prepared for the holidays. See the first post here and the second post here.
Every retailer with a website knows that it’s best to avoid site crashes. In this post I’ll offer some tips for making sure your site doesn’t crash, but first, I think it’s important to define a crash. A crash can be a total outage like Best Buy experienced on Black Friday (link), but it can also be a server down or a slowdown that make your service essentially unavailable. If your stack cannot service requests, it’s a crash. If your site is moving so slowly that shoppers are abandoning their carts, it’s a crash for all practical purposes.
These problems can be difficult to analyze and isolate but if you’ve been having any of these issues repeatedly, here are some of the things you can do to help ensure smooth service during the holiday shopping season.
- Test: Early, often, always.
The best way to fix a problem is to avoid it in the first place and the more you know about how your site will perform under heavy traffic, the more likely your site is it perform well when that heavy traffic hits. You should test for a variety of scenarios and measure performance from under different traffic models, from different devices and different geo-locations, so you can understand how your applications behave in the cloud, and how your customers experience your site.
Leading-edge performance testing solutions work by creating millions of virtual users, geographically dispersed in the cloud, generating highly controlled traffic, executing real-life scenarios. The load is repeatable, and you can test when you like it and where you like it. Your goal should be to detect issues before it's too late. A good rule of thumb: the more you test, the more you know.
- Configure your ecommerce software properly.
If you use Magento, Bigcommerce, Demandware or one of the other ecommerce platforms, make sure it is configured properly for optimum performance. These platforms offer multiple advantages such as the flexibility, capacity and the reliability of professional ecommerce software, but they don’t come configured for individual store needs out of the box. You may need to configure the software to enable caching, remove unnecessary modules from your configuration, enable flat catalog from smaller shops and tune the cache. But while literature abounds on how to increase performance on a Magento store, these details are often overlooked. If you are taking the time to invest in a software tool that will help streamline your store, go all the way and take the time to ensure performance is optimized as much as possible.
- Optimize your images. All images. Always.
Many images contain a ton of metadata, and many designers fail to compress their images, so this is something that easily overlooked. You can run a .png or jpeg optimizer on your images, without sacrificing quality. Always make your image the desired size, before you upload it to the server. If you let the browser resize your images, it will likely download the large image first and slow down the response time unnecessarily.
- Use a CDN.
A CDN is a high-performance network of servers across the globe that replicate the static assets of your website or web application and serve them to visitors from the closest point. This is a powerful tool that can turbocharge your performance by deploying your content across multiple, geographically dispersed servers. As your target audience grows and becomes more global, a CDN is a necessary step to achieve fast response times.