Guest post: Quick wins to help your website cope with busy booking periods

Guest post: Quick wins to help your website cope with busy booking periods

Alex Painter, web performance consultant at NCC Group, runs through some ‘quick wins’ on how travel sites can cope with extra traffic during busy booking periods or sales.

When you have done all the groundwork in planning every single detail of a summer holiday sale, the last thing you want to suffer is downtime during peaks in traffic. If you found that your website struggled last year during a promotion, you don’t want the same thing to happen again this year.

If you have time, you should be engaged in carefully constructed cycles of website performance testing, optimisation and retesting to understand how your site will behave during the peak.

But maybe you’re too late, and the busy period is already upon you. Or maybe your capacity planning has let you down. If so, there may be a few quick fixes to help you deliver a fast, reliable ecommerce site when you need it the most.

  1. Check for and remove single points of failure (SPOFs)

Even though you may be confident that your website can handle the influx of discount-hungry holidaymakers racing to get the best deals, one of your greatest weaknesses can lie in other people’s content.

The majority of ecommerce sites rely on a range of third parties. Some (for example, payment gateways) may be essential. Others, such as social media feeds or A/B testing services might not be so critical. However, depending on the implementation, even non-critical resources can be single points of failure (SPOFs) – that it to say, if they’re slow or fail to load altogether, they can break your website. These will typically be ‘blocking’ (or synchronous) JavaScript files loaded towards the top of your web page.

  1. Optimise the biggest images on your busiest pages

Sales promotions are often image-heavy, especially when you’re looking to capture holidaymakers with glorious images of hotels, attractions and different destinations. The only problem is that image files for this content are often far bigger than they need to be. As a result, visitors can experience longer loading times just when your website should be at its fastest. The extra traffic at peak times will only make matters worse. Auditing each image may take some time. Therefore, a quick option would be to run through your upcoming promotional ads and hero images to make sure they’re as optimised as they can be.

  1. Make sure static assets have long cache lifetimes

Reducing the number of requests for different resources on your site is one way to minimise the impact of peaks in traffic. And one way to do this is to make sure files that don’t change very often, such as images and style sheets, can be cached. Most of us are aware of the cache on our own web browser, but there are also various other opportunities for your content to be cached between your web server and the end user. Get it right, and visitors will only have to download your summer holiday graphic once.

It’s also worth double checking your cache setting to ensure your content delivery network (CDN) is fully optimised.

  1. Remove non-essential content

Redundant content is a surprisingly common cause of slow and unresponsive websites. New features tend to be added more frequently than unused features are removed, slowing ratcheting up the number of unused scripts and styles. Or code that’s needed on just a handful of pages may be loaded on every page.

When time is limited, a full audit of your site or even just the most important pages will mostly likely be out of the question. However, just a brief check of the source code could reveal large volumes of content that can be removed.

Quick wins

There’s no substitute for testing, optimising and retesting your website weeks (or even months) in advance of a big promotion. But the timing and scale of peaks for travel agents and operators aren’t always completely predictable.

So if you are in need of some quick wins, these tips are the simplest steps you can take to help prevent downtime and make your website faster when you have a sale on.

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