Don’t forget to check your hosting before the high season

If your website is your portal to the world, your hosting is what powers it. It makes sure you can connect with continents full of prospective customers, critical ordering and payment platforms, and your fulfillment partners around the globe. And there is one period of the year where your hosting will be put to the ultimate test. You have to survive the holiday season.

The period in the year between US Thanksgiving and Christmas is when the increasingly frenzied masses of buyers will be descending on the Internet for gifts, discounts, and sales. Analysis by SaleCycle shows that average sales volume by their clients goes up around 60% between Black Friday and Christmas, year after year.

And in 2021, according to eMarketer, online sales ahead of the year-end festivities are expected to go up another 11% over 2020, when they had already surged by 32% over the previous year. So this year, if you have a solid product line and you're confident your supply chain can fulfill your orders, everything is in place for you to win big in the festive bustle, provided your hosting can handle it.

These precautions can save your Holidays

Before that crucial five-week stretch comes around, assess your hosting arrangements in these three areas to increase your chances of surviving the mad dash.

How big a server do you need?

When the crowds come crashing in to try and enter your online store, how big does your server have to be to accommodate them all comfortably? How much CPU and RAM do you need to keep everybody happy? How much bandwidth to make sure they get in at all?

It would help to know how many visitors there will be. You can get there by doing a breakdown, like the following in four steps. You could do this as an exercise: 

Step 1: Assess Your Reach
Think about your outlay in social advertising, comb through your social and email marketing tools to understand your current reach. Use optimistic rates of conversion for your industry on these reach numbers combined with your current traffic numbers to get a baseline # of visitors / week. You can access your historical data from Google Analytics reports. Or if you want to find the information in open sources for a deeper dive, read Invesp for everything about conversion rates.
Step 2: Plan Improvements
Identify improvements that can be done fast in your communications, your positioning, your technology stack. Estimate their cost and ball-park their effect on your reach and your trend-fitting. 

For example, if there are changes that require a shift in promotional campaigns such as product advertising on Google, you can increase or re-allocate your budget. And vice-versa, if the demand becomes overwhelming, you may want to readjust certain advertising traffic channels for the time being.

Step 3: Estimate Hosting Needs
Create an estimate for the peak traffic surge under your most optimistic scenario, where all your initiatives worked. Based on your performance of previous years, estimate the number of visitors on average. If this is your first year, take a look at the competition of similar small businesses to get an accurate reading of what to expect.

At the end of estimations, you will be able to predict the  resources you will need during the promo based on analyzing the resource stat usage. Then you can shop around for deals. 

If the difference between the sales increases implied by the scenarios and the cost of the necessary upgrades is positive, leaving you with a gain in sales volume, then you will know what to do — you already have a blueprint in hand.

Don't forget to check the price of upgrades with your current hosting provider. Try negotiating prices: they do not want to lose you as a customer. They have easy ways of getting in touch with them, so don't be shy. It can't hurt to try.

Status: Message Delivery Failed

Your email hosting also has to be up to the task of surviving the post-Thanksgiving surge. A potential nightmare scenario: just as you are lining up your promotions for the season and your email newsletter is getting traction, your email-opened rates drop and you even get some nastily worded bounces from spam blockers.

In cases like these, there are a few likely explanations:

  • You ran out of storage on your shared server: email started taking up too much space, jamming up the works and even affecting web server operations.
  • You have run into outgoing limits on your free service. They don't let things out, or only at a trickle.
  • The domains or IP blocks you are mailing from have been flagged as spammy. Either your careless over-mailing or the actions of other, less scrupulous users on the service have put you in violation of policies at the major email providers. They quickly blacklist you. This takes months to reverse.

You need to check the terms of your contract. If the email volumes associated with your optimistic scenarios for the holiday season have you hitting your outgoing limits, then you will need to beef up your subscription or change to a host for email that offers more robust packages.

If you do find yourself marked with the scarlet letter for alleged spamminess, the process will be drawn-out and painful. It is best to prevent that from happening at all by moving now to a reputable professional email service that includes smarter quotas and clear guidelines.

Don't sleep on DDoS

The holidays don't bring out the best in everybody. The size of the prize can lure some into questionable or even criminal behavior. One of the tactics unscrupulous merchants use during those make-or-break times of the year is the Distributed Denial of Service attack (DDoS).

Players in the dark web have made it easy to order a DDoS hit in the 100 GB range for a few dozen dollars. A deviously minded company can easily contract out DDoS attacks on selected competitors, timed to coincide with promotions or social mentions. If your online store gets knocked out at the wrong time, you could lose almost all your holiday momentum.

By its very globe-spanning nature, DDoS is a type of attack that is best mitigated if you have a good global overview of activity on the network. Triangulating connection profiles from around the world allows you to identify packets that might be part of a DDoS attack more quickly and to cut them off before they reach your server.

There are many companies offering advanced services in the DDoS protection market. Given the unique position of global hosting companies like Namecheap, they have started leveraging their knowledge of the dynamic state of the network to offer a DDoS shield as part of their cloud offerings or their Content-Distribution Networks (CDN).

Make sure you have the level of protection that is logical for you. Check your hosting plan. The feature might already exist and might just need to be activated. 

Putting it to the test

When you have done your upgrades and tweaked your configurations, wouldn't it be nice to know for sure that you have sized your server correctly and that you didn't miss any resource drains among plug-ins and extensions?

Since you are not the first website owner to wonder what would happen if…, a whole industry has grown around the idea of stress-testing your site. You can find many specialized shops with back-end expertise offering online load simulators for all kinds of different setups. For a few dozen dollars a month, you can get self-managed packages with unlimited test runs simulating thousands of visitors.

If you want to dedicate a bigger budget to this, you can also have their engineers design and execute the tests for you. They will make sure that the tests have the proper coverage for loads of tens or hundreds of thousands of visitors.

The upshot will be a set of actionable analytics. Make sure you have a plan to use them when you get them.

Namecheap hosting plans for e-commerce

Namecheap has been a hosting provider since 2002, and that kind of longevity only happens with reliable hosting. As of 2021, Namecheap is powering over 1.5 million websites of all sizes and budgets. So they know something about keeping sites standing in a gale. 

With Namecheap's uptime guarantees of 99.9% on their Virtual Private Server offerings and 100% on their Shared Server plans, they simply have to deliver, and they have to deliver year-round, or they will face Krampus when the holiday online shopping season comes.

Namecheap's Stellar Business Shared Hosting Plan gives you unmetered bandwidth combined with AutoBackup and Cloud Storage. That frees you from at least two of the dangerous limiting factors discussed above, giving your team some peace of mind when dealing with the other aspects of the festive crunch.

The Featured Hosting Plans for Small Businesses are on sale in the run-up to the season. Grab a Stellar Shared Hosting Plan for 46% off in the first year, or two months of free Email Pro.

In addition to shielding against DDoS, Namecheap's Supersonic CDN will help speed up site delivery by strategically storing your website’s content in globally dispersed data centers that are close to your users around the world. This is especially useful in a surge. By keeping traffic to your main server down to the essentials, it ensures critical connections to your fulfillment chain, your suppliers, your marketing partners, and to your payment systems will keep working.

What to do if you are using WordPress

The calculations you did above also apply if you have your online shop on WordPress, the popular and infinitely extendable content-management system. 

If you are running a WP store and anticipate a surge for the holidays, be particularly mindful of the impact on your plugins. Some have limits of their own and may require an upgrade to serve more requests. Others are known to run into trouble if the load gets too high. This could take the ‘jolly’ out of the holiday season when your system conks out during your key promotion.Namecheap offers two options for hosting WordPress. The cPanel-based Shared Hosting acts not only for WordPress but also emails and other CMS builders running Litespeed with LScache for better performance. Another option is Namecheap’s signature EasyWP, a breeze for all small business owners who want ease of use.

In the WordPress world, there is a cost-effective solution that gets you several benefits from your host being able to do things at scale: Managed WordPress Hosting. The host can embed your WP instance, which you can still customize as you wish, in an optimized, multi-level caching architecture to speed up your site inside the protective cocoon of an advanced firewall.

Namecheap's version of managed WordPress is EasyWP. EasyWP has business-relevant solutions at great prices. If you are running your own WordPress install on your shared or private server plan, you might be missing out on some of the features that could give you an edge during the holidays.

Your EasyWP site can also easily be connected to the Supersonic CDN, which gives you globe-spanning DDoS protection and speeds up the delivery of your content especially at those crucial moments when the surge comes.

Conclusion

If the period between the end of November and the last week of December is vital to your business's prospects for ending the year in the black, then you have to be able to orchestrate that surge without worrying about your servers getting snowed in under the load.

By organizing yourself ahead of time, you can set up stress-resistant hosting that will allow you to focus on your communications and your market analysis to maximize sales and customer satisfaction during this magical time of the year.


Ruth Gonzalez

Ruth Gonzalez

More articles written by Ruth.

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