Serenity Digital Ltd - web design & web development specialists based in Portsmouth, Hampshire

Managing a huge spike in web traffic in a cost effective way for Baggers Originals.

How to stay online when you enter the Dragons' Den

Date: 05-02-2015
Author: James Gunn

Appearing on Dragons’ Den is a great opportunity to gain exposure for any business but you need to be prepared - and not just for a grilling from the Dragons. Appearing on the show can cause a massive spike in web traffic that will crash most company websites.

When our client, Baggers Originals, told us that they would be on the show we knew that we needed extra contingencies to keep them online.

The problem

With a regular content managed website there’s a lot going on behind the scenes with dynamic code, database connections and requests for all of the assets like images, stylesheets and javascript files. With all that happening there is a lot that can cause problems for the web server.

Under normal circumstances all of that activity isn’t a problem and we can manage traffic without any problems. But in this case we were told to expect a very intense period of high volume traffic that we would need to prepare for.

The solution

Baggers Originals temporary web page

There are many options available to help mitigate against the problems caused by high traffic. We looked at the gains to be had in further optimising delivery of content through our CMS, reducing the number of database calls needed to deliver a web page and using load balancers to spread traffic across multiple web servers.

In the end, because this was a one-off event, we opted for a simple and cost effective solution – minimising the website to a single static page whilst spreading the traffic load across multiple resources.

Whilst reducing the website to a single page meant that Baggers Originals were unable to take any sales on the night, having discussed all the potential risks with the client we decided that the priority was to keep some kind of presence online. In particular we wanted to avoid any possibility that the website could crash mid-sale as this would have had a negative impact on the brand.

Spreading the load

The 4 steps we took were:

1. Static webpage – for the day of the show we reduced the website to a single static webpage with messaging for the Dragons’ Den viewers. Removing the database and dynamic content drastically reduced the strain on the web server.

The page included a newsletter sign-up form to capture user data and a special discount code to encourage visitors to return to the full site when it was back to normal. We were also able to create a richer user experience without creating extra work for our own servers by utilising their social media presence, using Twitter and Facebook plugins and an embedded YouTube video.

2. Dedicated web server - the static page was hosted on its own specifically configured web server. Not only did this help to speed up the delivery of content on the night but also protected our other client websites from the expected traffic volumes. We kept everything on the server to a bare minimum, employing web server software specifically designed to deal with high traffic and removing unnecessary modules to reduce overheads. The server was benchmarked and tested to ensure that it could handle the traffic.

3. Content Delivery Network (CDN) - CDNs are used to distribute common web page content like images, fonts and javascript files and are designed to deal with high levels of traffic. We use a CDN to deliver content for all of our websites so all we had to do was ensure that all the assets for this webpage were included on the CDN. This meant that only a single HTML file needed to be stored on our own web server.

4. Website accelerator service - as part of the strategy to spread the load we used a website accelerator service to help manage the delivery of content. The service acts as another layer between the user and our own web server, optimising page load speed, caching files, adding extra levels of security and providing analytics data at a server level.

How did it go on the night?

The team were all avidly watching the real time analytics to see what would happen. The second after Baggers Originals were mentioned on the programme we could see the hits on the website shoot up. The number of users peaked at around 15,000 on the site at one time with 28,000 visitors on the night, mostly within the space of 15 minutes.

We were certainly glad of the preparation that we had put in as all of the other websites that were mentioned during the show that evening appeared to crash at one point or another.

Baggers Originals have continued to see increased traffic to their website, and more importantly sales, in the days since appearing on the show with smaller peaks during the following the evening. Newsletter sign ups also increased as did social media likes and follows.

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