It’s that time of year again, the holidays are soon approaching and you – the online merchant – are preparing promotions and marketing for the unofficial kick off to the Holiday Season – Black Friday Week. One of the concerns you likely have leading up to the holidays is how your site will perform when handling large volumes of traffic. Will your site experience slow load performance or downtime on Black Friday or during the week of Cyber Monday?  This is indeed a valid concern since slow performance, or even worse yet, site down time, can be very costly, both literally in terms of lost sales and, as importantly, from an overall brand perspective. Many times users abandon their shopping activities on sites that are running slow or timing out.  As well, performance issues or site downtime cause major damage to brand reputation as many users never return to sites that have failed during their shopping experience – and may tell their friends about the poor experience.

While you may have prepared your site for traffic peaks with auto scaling and other enhancements, there is no way to tell how much traffic and order volume your site can take without performance load testing.

Website performance load testing is a process that utilizes technology tools (bots) to simulate traffic, usage and orders on your site so you can measure the performance page speed and response of your site under different volumes of traffic.  Performance testing should be setup and performed on a site-by-site basis because every website has different usage patterns and behavior. So the first step in successful load testing is to review Google Analytics data and see how users are engaging with the site to make a purchase.  Then the load testing bots can be programmed to simulate the site usage of the actual site users. Once all the simulations have been created, the testing bot is sent to browse a replica of the production site like an actual user, browsing products, adding items to the cart, applying coupons, using the wishlist and checking out, etc.  (A replica site is used because you wouldn’t want to sack your production site with thousands of fake transactions.) The bot is set to mimic as many usage patterns as needed and programmed to maintain certain levels of activity that replicate different volumes of user traffic.

When we run load tests for our clients, we are able to measure the site page speed and errors at various simulated levels of traffic and ultimately ascertain the level of traffic a site can serve before breaking down. After successfully load testing a site we are able to – with a high degree of confidence – tell exactly how much traffic a website can safely serve at any given time.

That’s all well and good you might say, but is it really worth the investment?  For sites expecting high traffic volume promotions or for sites with deals that go viral on social media, we absolutely see the payoff.  Knowing how much traffic your site can handle before performance starts to degrade is critical for promotion planning. If you know the peak number of shoppers per hour your site can handle without performance degradation then you can be very strategic about how you schedule email promotions and social announcements so that you avoid pushing to many users to the site with a marketing blast.  For example, we’ve had merchant clients go through the performance testing process and develop an understanding of their safety threshold for max traffic. This allows them to change their marketing strategy to promote discounts and sales days ahead of time, or days after Black Friday, to reduce the risk of getting too much traffic at one time.

While load testing does require some investment in time and money it can prove a very wise method for maximizing revenue by avoiding performance related issues that negatively affect conversion and site reputation.  For more information on how we can help you determine your peak traffic threshold, optimize performance and help you better prepare for the biggest retail time of the year, please contact us.