Taking the Strain: How to Cope with Data Security and Growing Web Traffic

The current pandemic has caused many everyday activities to shift. From grocery shopping to going to the movies, stay-at-home orders have caused day-to-day activities to move online. This has resulted in a boom in website traffic to a range of e-commerce sites, streaming platforms, and any other online platforms that can offer a digital alternative to in-person activities. In some cases, the sudden shift in demand was so high, it caused various retail websites to crash.

We’ve also seen states’ unemployment and online schooling websites crash due to high traffic, and given this way of life seems to be the new norm for the foreseeable future, organizations across private and public sectors need to be able to better withstand the increased demand

This is important because websites unable to handle traffic spikes can immediately lose out on sales or fall short in their duty to provide vital public services that people can’t currently use in person.

Poor online performance also negatively impacts reputation and disappoints users who, in the case of retail brands, might have otherwise become regular customers. So, optimizing your website to accommodate more traffic is a sound goal for both the short and long term.

From utilizing higher-performing tools to fast-track load times to encrypting information, there is a range of steps you can take to help the world carry on with as much normalcy as possible.

Here are three simple but solid strategies to keep in mind for meeting sudden spikes in demand:

1. Improve Website Load Times

Research has shown that people expect websites to load within two seconds and will often abandon using a site after waiting just three seconds. This may seem trivial, but the impact of poor load times is serious: Of those who find load times lagging, 79 percent will avoid returning to the site, and 44 percent will warn off a friend.

In addition, retail e-commerce websites must also direct traffic — especially mobile traffic — to the information users seek as efficiently as possible. Tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insightsor GTmetrix are useful for testing the speed of a site and provide tips for accelerating load times that help organizations optimize performance.

For public sector sites where there are no alternatives, slow load times only add to the stress of the wider situation and reflect badly on government authorities who are under pressure to deliver effective online services.

2. Minimize Downtime

Sites that run on shared servers are more vulnerable to both contention and security issues, so it’s critically important to pay attention to these during this busy period. When sites that are tapping into the same collection of resources become overstretched, they quickly drain their shared pool dry. Even if a website is coping with current demand, it could still be compromised by issues affecting another website on the same server.

Instead, allocating extra budget for a dedicated server is a sound investment — if you know how much extra traffic your website needs to handle. If requirements are more fluid, cloud hosting is another smart solution as it enables resources to be customized based on changing needs to make sure performance remains at its peak. Instead of dealing with downtime, your website can effortlessly accommodate spikes in traffic

For organizations that have high availability and performance as their number one priority, a content delivery network (CDN) is another option and a highly beneficial tool to include in your strategy for handling peak traffic. By investing in a CDN service, websites can benefit from huge increases in speed, scalability, resilience, and security, as well as take advantage of significant savings on bandwidth cost, while reducing the load on web servers.

3. Maximize Security

In the retail context, consumers will quickly search for an alternative if they believe it’s unsafe to shop on a specific website. Considering the regularity of high-profile data breaches, the advantages offered by retailers can be quickly outweighed by obvious security concerns.

Among the variety of options open to retailers to improve security, switching your site to HTTPS is a relatively easy and low-cost solution. Unlike traditional HTTP sites, information routed through HTTPS is encrypted. Moving to a more protected platform reassures customers, encourages more conversions, and helps prevent the catastrophic consequences of a data breach. In addition, having an HTTPS ensures your website is ranked higher than HTTP-only sites on Google and other search engines

In broad terms, justifying these various performance upgrades is a relatively easy equation. Simply calculate the cost of any new hardware, software, or services that you plan to put in place; then compare that to the cost of 1,000, 100, or even just 10 foregone sales transactions. When conducting such cost-benefit analysis, many organizations quickly find that improving website infrastructure is an extremely wise investment.

The three simple yet powerful strategies outlined above are useful considerations at any time but are especially relevant at the moment, given the increased societal reliance on commercial and public sector websites. And as our communities continue to battle COVID-19 and future crises, websites that can guarantee performance at the busiest of times will be better placed to deliver the best user experiences.

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