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Gearing Up for Online Holiday Traffic: A Checklist

10.25.2012
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We're exactly a month away from the start of the busiest time of year for the ecommerce industry, and there's a great possibility that in 2012 more money will be processed via online cash registers than in 2011. According to Internet Retailer, Online holiday sales will increase 12% this year to $92-96 billion.

Many of you have spent the past year gearing up for the 2012 shopping season. I wanted to take this opportunity to share some insights, tips, and tricks to ensure easy sailing as the looming deadline rapidly approaches. After last year’s season we published this post which is still valid: WPO Resolution for 2012.

Infrastructure:

  • Capacity, Capacity, Capacity: from network, to network gear, to servers, load balancers… there is no secret to achieve greater performance.
  • Have a secondary site, even if it’s just a bunch of Apache servers on Amazon EC2 to host the error or maintenance pages that you can activate via DNS.

DNS:

  • Adjust your TTLs. Remember great performance starts with DNS. Find the right balance between speed and your ability to change DNS quickly (5 to 15 minutes).
  • NO LAME delegation, make sure you verify your zones!
  • Make sure you are able to modify your DNS if your primary location or facility is not available.

Web:

  • Slim down pages!!! I know how we all get stuffed after Thanksgiving, but your web pages should skip the gravy.
  • GZIP any text-based files (HTML, JavaScript, CSS). Fastest way to slim weight by 5x or more.
  • Persistent Connection or keep alives.
  • Do you really need those 20 fonts?
  • Have a home page that is static, try to keep database connections for checkouts. Or at least, have it ready in case your regular site can not handle the extra traffic or if the backend becomes the bottleneck.
  • Remove any non-essential third parties or move them to post-document complete. Do you really widgets, ads, and retargeting on this peak time? Keep the must have like analytics and affiliate tracking tags. Double check any blocking object (use the amazing SPOF-O-MATIC or Catchpoint to understand their impact).
  • Make sure you have a short and efficient checkout process. Try not to have 10 steps to checkout!
  • Fix any 404 you have been pushing under the carpet.
  • Cache static files, saves user a lot of time when browsing from page to page. Use Redbot to audit your cache-ability.

CDNs:

  • Audit your CDN settings, cache controls…
  • Make sure your origin server(s) has also plenty of capacity.
  • Verify your Cnames & TTL.
  • Make sure your CDN has gzip and keep alive on.
  • Maybe a backup? Those fail too, you know.

Mobile Sites:

  • Gzip and Keep alives! Many Mobile Sites do not have that. TCP is not optimized for mobile so closing those connections is very expensive on a network with high latency / high packet loss.
  • Do you really need all those 3rd parties that you imported from your desktop version?
  • Slim down images (Jpeg mini is your friend)
  • Your page is not for mobile browser if it is above 50 kb, 50 objects, and 20 http connections…. SLIM IT DOWN!
  • Make it easy for people to switch from Desktop to Mobile version, on Wifi I sure prefer the “Desktop” version of a site.
  • Pigeons for backup.

Error Pages / Failures:

  • Make those error pages useful and cool, have an email address, phone number so your customers have alternative ways reach you.
  • If you do fail – offer some incentive for your customers to come back and revisit the site once it’s back up. It is an extra safety measure to ensure that your 25% “failure discount” will keep that customer from immediately going to a competing site to purchase that power drill they intended on buying from you.

Third Parties:

  • Reduce the non-essential third parties.
  • Ensure their infrastructure can handle your traffic and those of other clients. Some sites experience a 50X increase in traffic – and third-party might not be able to handle it.
  • Third parties used for check-out and recommendation shopping, have a chat with them to make sure they are ready for your traffic spike.
  • Stop any page optimizations during Black Friday/Cyber Monday as they impact performance (especially if JavaScript based). Did you really gain much from it last Holiday Season? You should have figured out by now what headline/text/color/layout works and what does not.
  • Eliminate any product recommendations systems that impact performance. Most buyers already know what they want, whatever is the promotions you are pushing.
  • Follow our 10 Golden Rules for 3rd Parties

Monitoring:

  • Make sure you have both internal and external monitoring solutions in place. Relying on your own internal monitoring is like saying that all your users are living in the same rack as your ecommerce site.
  • Monitor some key infrastructure pieces: Search, Shopping cart, Checkout system, Credit Card verification system…
  • Worry about what you have in control: Datacenter, Routers, Servers, Application, ISP Links. Don’t worry about ATT wireless in NYC having an outage – you cannot fix their network even if you had the time and skills to do so

Processes:

  • Setup a war room, review data daily (business metrics, monitoring metrics, capacity metrics, Analytics, Bandwidth, Load balancers …).
  • Have clear escalation policies and procedures (who is going to turn on the maintenance page, when , why, how to purge a CDN…).
  • Phone number & Contact info for all the companies used to run your site (CDNs, Hosting, Noc, ISPs, Key 3rd parties…).

Good luck preparing, strategizing, and implementing!

 

Published at DZone with permission of Mehdi Daoudi, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)