No, not hosting a party over the holidays, we're talking about website hosting silly. There’s so much to think about when creating a website, from the overall design aesthetic, the user experience, your target audience, your brands story, coding the frontend and backend. It’s no wonder that hosting often feels like an afterthought when compared to all the decisions going into a website. But hosting can make or break your site when the traffic hits...i.e. Often about this time of year when online shopping and charitable giving around the holidays’ peaks. Are you ready?
First, what is website hosting?
Like our bodies are a bunch of cells that make up our organs, limbs, hair, etc., websites are a bunch of code that make up different files. These website files are stored on a server (a computer for managing resources) called a host. The host is typically managed by a hosting company that specializes in managing servers or data centers. Beyond the actual computer server, your hosting company is responsible for keeping the machines operating effectively with appropriate backup power, security measures, massive air conditioners, staff available 24/7, and so on. All of this results in your organization paying a certain monthly or annual fee for having your website hosted by a reputable hosting company.
I have hosting, so I’m good right?
Maybe. Is your website loading quickly, running smoothly, and experiencing little-to-no downtime? Great! Are you managing your website and making sure everything is up-to-date, either by your internal IT team or by your website company? Wonderful. So far you’re on the right track and that’s awesome.
The last thing to consider is that with the holidays approaching, do you expect your traffic to remain consistent or are you planning some amazing marketing or promotions in hopes of a huge spike? If you’re leaning towards the latter, right now is a spectacular time to review your hosting plan and be sure you have enough dedicated resources to minimize your risk of downtime. Remember Amazon’s first “Prime Day” that resulted in millions of people seeing a dog instead of the product page they hoped to reach?
(Don’t let this be you ?)
How do I prepare?
First, if you’re using Google Analytics or any other sort of traffic monitoring, take a look at your historical data. Did you see a spike in traffic last year? If you have multiple years of data, do you see an increasing trend? What does that look like compared to your regular traffic on off-peak months? There are great tools like New Relic that can send you alerts if there is a spike in traffic on your website causing server resources like CPU and Memory to be maxed out which is what often causes a site to crash. They aren’t foolproof but it helps you keep an eye on what’s happening.
Once you have insight into your traffic, think about what you’ve been doing for marketing and growth. Are you doing a big email promotion? Do you have social media posts in the queue? Are you anticipating a bigger response this year? Is your reach growing geographically?
Review your hosting plan with your website company or hosting company. Here are some things to discuss:
Are you on a shared plan or dedicated plan? A shared plan could be trouble this time of year, especially if you all are experiencing more traffic on a limited, shared network. A dedicated plan is a far safer bet to ensure minimal downtime.
Does your plan have enough resources to handle your anticipated increase in traffic? If not, can you temporarily increase your server storage for the holiday season?
Are you using a CDN (content delivery network) for quickly delivering data across the country/globe? If your geographical reach is growing, it may be time to consider how a CDN will improve your site’s load time from further away.
Is there a support person available in case downtime does happen? Knowing what procedures are already in place (i.e. downtime monitoring) and steps to take if your site did go down before the season starts will help get everything back up as quickly as possible.
The holidays can be an incredible time for boosting your nonprofit’s charitable giving and your store’s online revenue through your website. Make sure you’re in a good place before the big days ahead by understanding and reviewing your hosting situation.