Whether it’s a celebrity interview, a particular show, or a major news event, we all have a good idea when everyone wants to tune in to your station simultaneously. But is your website ready to handle a similar rush? Today, we’ll discuss ways to prepare your website for a high-traffic event to ensure visitors have a seamless online experience.
Imagine your radio station’s website as a big party venue. Most days, you have a comfortable number of guests (visitors) coming and going. But what happens when you throw a big event and a major celebrity shows up? Now suddenly, everyone wants to join the party at once. Your venue (website) needs to be ready to handle this crowd to ensure everyone has a good time.
If you’re not a technical person, you might not consider that not all websites have the same number of resources. Sites like Facebook, Netflix, ESPN, and the Weather Channel can see high traffic spikes daily. So, they require multiple servers spread across numerous locations dedicated to their websites. The cost of that just isn’t justifiable for radio stations. This means that the possibility of a major news story breaking and your website being unable to handle the influx of traffic will likely result in many visitors seeing an error message. Fortunately, there are things we can do to minimize those timeouts.
What is a High Traffic Event?
A high-traffic event is a situation where your website gets many visitors simultaneously. What counts as “a lot” can vary from website to website. A few hundred simultaneous visitors for a smaller website might be a lot. Larger, more robust websites might take a few thousand visitors simultaneously to be considered a high-traffic event.
A high-traffic event can be unpredictable. A national news event might pick up one of your news posts and link back to you as the source – an effect called “slashdotting.” Or a post shared on social media becomes viral. While some high-traffic events are unexpected, if you expect a significant increase in traffic, you should do everything you can to prepare. If you don’t, your site will probably slow down or go down.
Preparing for a High-Traffic Event
Here are some things you can do to prepare your website for a high-traffic event.
1. Analyze Your Website Speed
It’s a good idea to see how well your website performs regularly – before it’s under heavy traffic. Here are some tools to analyze your site speed.
- Pingdom tests the load time of that page, analyzes it, and finds bottlenecks.
- Google PageSpeed insights analyzes the content of a web page, then generates suggestions to make that page faster.
- WebPageTest uses real browsers at consumer connection speeds and provides optimization recommendations.
- GTMetrix analyzes the performance of your website and provide you with a list of actionable recommendations to improve it.
Each of these tools provides a score on how your website is doing but look past those into how fast your site is and what might slow it down. Each tool looks at your website differently and from different geographical locations, so your website might perform better or worse on one than the other. If you are given the option, choose the geographic location closest to your audience. Use the recommendations they provide to optimize your website experience.
2. Optimize Your Website Content
Optimizing your website’s content can significantly reduce the load on your servers. This can involve compressing images and possibly turning off things that slow your website down.
Large images can slow your website down on a slow traffic day. Under a high-traffic event, images alone can overwork a server. Optimized images reduce the amount of data that the server must process. So, ensure your images are the smallest file size possible to reduce the risk of someone seeing an error message.
Also, look at extra functionality on your pages that could be disabled for short periods. For example, do you have a widget that pulls information from an external website like a Facebook widget, RSS feed, or ScoreStream? These widgets pull information from another website, and yours may only fully load once this information is visible. Consider disabling these ahead of the high-traffic event and re-enabling them later. It’s better to remove them and have your page load quickly than not at all.
You might also look at converting dynamic content into static content. For example, rather than a homepage slider with multiple images, convert it to a single static image with the highest ticket item to reduce the number of additional images the page must load.
3. Activate a Statically Cached Page/Website
Every website should use a caching system. This is where unprocessed bits of the website are stored as processed bits to reduce server strain. In simple terms, let’s say you want to list the top 5 most requested songs from your polling tool.
The page or widget might have to go to where the list is stored and tabulate the list based on votes. Making this computation each time someone visits the page could be more efficient. Caching the information means the computation part is bypassed, and only the results show. This can be delivered to a browser much quicker because fewer resources are required. The cache can be updated occasionally, so the information is relatively current. Every website should already have some caching like this that helps it load faster.
When you use a content delivery network (CDN) service like Cloudflare, you can extend the regular cache to cover not just one section but an entire page or website. Essentially, the service will take a snapshot of your website and serve that from its multiple servers across numerous locations. When this happens, the load on your server goes down significantly.
The drawback is that the computational things you might want to happen won’t. Increasing impressions in your banner ad management tool might not work. If you display the weather or the current on-air show, they will not update until you disable the cached page/site. These are essentially disabled because the cached version is not communicating with your host server.
While there are disadvantages to serving a cached version of a page or entire website, it’s much better than overworking your server and not being able to serve your visitors.
A high-traffic event that could be a game-changer for your radio station and website. But if you’re not ready, instead of a “win,” you might face a crash, losing potential listeners and advertisers. Plan for your big day now.
If you host your station website yourself, there are other things you can do, like increasing the number of resources on your hosting plan or looking into scalable hosting that increases server resources on the fly based on load. This means you’ll pay more with each spike (sometimes much more than you’re comfortable with). Look into load testing services that also test your website under thousands of visitors over a short period to see where your baseline is so you can determine the resources, you’ll need in case a high-traffic event occurs. We recommend optimizing everything before load-testing or investing more in resources.
If you’re using a partner service for your station’s website, reach out to them before any expected high-traffic event so they can guide you in or perform the tweaks needed to ensure your visitors have a smooth experience.