There are three kinds of traffic surge that can affect website performance: planned, unplanned and someone else’s. Planned means traffic that results from a deliberate marketing campaign or a foreseeable seasonal event, such as Christmas. Unforeseen traffic can arise because of unexpected mentions in the media or an outside development, such as the coronavirus pandemic or simply because it is a full moon. The third type only affects you if you are hosted on a shared server, in which case a surge on another site can consume your shared resources and choke your speed and memory access. Whatever the cause, you can optimise your site to avoid problems.
The more traffic you get, the more CPU and RAM access you need to serve your webpages. Too few webmasters ask about these resources when they select their web hosting package, but this is an important question to ask. Popular CMS such as WordPress and WooCommerce have big appetites. Even if your pages keep loading in your visitors’ browsers, you may find that back-office editing and product uploads become impossible. You have two options: increase your resources or optimise your site.
The most effective way to increase resources is to move to a better web hosting package. Cloud hosting means that your access to resources can automatically scale up to meet demand and scale back down so that you don’t keep paying for unused resources. VPS hosting is less flexible but you may still be able to increase your resources with a simple phone call to your service provider.
Another strategy is to relocate demanding content, such as images and videos, to a separate media server. You can buy space from a specialist provider to do this, but it is also possible to operate two or more independent websites yourself and share the load between them. In the latter case, you will probably need an additional domain name for the other site(s) from a provider such as names.co.uk. There are other good reasons to own domain names similar to your own.
Each time you tweak your site to be leaner and faster, you need to check that it still works and measure the improvement. You can do this with online tools such as WebPagetest.
Enable server-side caching, which stores high-demand pages to memory so that they don’t have to be regenerated every time they are called. If you use WordPress, there are plugins to manage this; however, if you really want to optimise your site, don’t build it from WordPress. There are leaner ways to build a website.
Finally, compress and optimise your images so that they consume less bandwidth when transferring. Again, there are free online tools to help.