How to Prepare Your Online Store for Increased Holiday Traffic
During the holidays and the few weeks leading up to them, you can expect a higher-than-average number of visitors to your store. This is great, but if your website isn’t ready to handle the increased traffic, it can cost you sales and your online reputation.
Last year, even some of the industry’s giants were caught off guard by the exceptionally heavy traffic. Among a great number of websites that crashed on Black Friday and Cyber Monday were the electronics store Best Buy, the global marketplace Etsy, and the clothing retail giant Zara.
Despite this, ecommerce sales reached $10.84 billion last year making it the biggest Cyber Monday shopping day on record.
You can do a lot to prepare your ecommerce store for the holiday shopping blitz, and the sooner you start, the better. Read on to get tips on website speed optimization and find out how to prepare your website for holiday traffic.
But first—let’s see what website speed is and why it even matters.
Importance of website speed
Page speed refers to how fast the content of your website loads up, and how quickly users are able to see and interact with the content.
Page speed optimization is important for a good user experience and crucial for ecommerce sales. When the website traffic is increased, a badly optimized website will slow down and just a handful of customers will have the patience to stick with you when there are so many other ecommerce websites to explore.
The correlation between website performance and conversion rate (the rate at which users complete a desired action) is measurable. The quicker a page loads, the more likely it is for a visitor to perform an action, e.g. click on a product.
Ideally, you want your website to load in a blink of an eye, which means you have half a second. Anything longer than 2 seconds will end up in lost sales.
In fact, 40% of consumers will wait only three seconds before abandoning a site.
Website speed is something you can test and fix yourself. The first step for your website’s performance optimization is to do a speed test.
How to assess your website speed
When getting ready for the holidays, one of the most important things you can do for increased online traffic is to do a website speed test.
These scores are important to take note of because Google takes page speeds into consideration when ranking them. Here are a few examples of general things you can do to improve your stats:
- Avoid huge website changes
- Remove or compress heavy photo and video files on your website
- Uninstall plugins you’re not using
- Distribute the traffic load to multiple servers by using Content Delivery Network (CDN) or a load balancer
- Enable browser caching
Another big part of page load optimization is checking your website for any updates to ensure an optimal user experience on all devices.
Stock up on inventory and launch the updates
Look at your sales trends from the year before (or if you just launched your store, analyze recent sales) to predict which products will be popular during the holiday season. Stock up on your inventory or reach out to a third-party service for sourcing your products. This will give you a clear picture of your product stock levels.
If you’re planning on introducing an update to your website, such as a website layout change, do it now (preferably before late October), or postpone it until after the holidays. Any big changes to your store during the period of increased traffic can cause unexpected technical problems.
Give a warm welcome to mobile shoppers
Optimizing your website for mobile users is a big part of preparing your website for a large number of visitors.
Mobile commerce (or mcommerce) is growing and mobile sales are projected to reach $3.56 trillion by the end of 2021 in the US.
For online store owners, this means only one thing—adjusting to customer shopping habits to sell more.
Start by making sure your website is mobile-friendly (you can test it with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test). Mobile users need to see more compacted information that’s presented in an easy-to-read format. After that, you can improve mobile customer experience by doing the following:
- Use responsive website design
- Optimize page load time
- Adjust font and button sizes
- Enable mobile payments
- Adjust mobile pop-up sizes
By designing your website’s mobile version first you ensure that your user experience is smooth on any device. Minding functionality, the desktop website is where you can add a little more content and decorations.
Keep your website’s layout the same
It’s good to keep things fresh, but changing up your website’s layout right before the holidays isn’t the best idea. People like consistency, especially in finding products and placing orders. Any drastic change in these processes may cause customer frustration or unexpected technical glitches.
Instead of redesigning your website, shift your focus on presenting your holiday deals in a familiar yet interesting way to your customers. Here are a few ideas you can use in your marketing:
- Create a holiday-specific landing page with all of your best deals in one place
- Put together gift-specific categories, like “gift ideas for dad”
- Add holiday banners to product pages
- Use promo bars or pop-ups to showcase special deals
Here’s an example of a Sephora page that’s nicely wrapped up and ready for the holidays.
The website features a holiday edition of their editors picks. The products are neatly categorized in various price ranges, and each category’s made for a different type of customer. The decorations are fairly simple. Sephora’s website is still recognizable, stays true to their brand image, and reminds their visitors that they value their customer success.
Give yourself time to test the fresh additions to your website. They shouldn’t just be pretty, but functional, too. Ask yourself: do the promotional images lead your customers to the products they’re looking for? If your website decorations are random and don’t add any real value (e.g. highlights a product that’s on sale or leads a customer to a new product offer), consider a different strategy.
Ecommerce store visitors expect to see lots of images when shopping online. Shoppers have become voracious visual readers, and if they see slow loading pages, they’re packing up.
In turn, search engines will notice slow loading visuals and rank down the entire website, favoring those that offer a better experience. Keeping this in mind, one of the best practices for speeding up your website would be to optimize page images.
Examine your website’s image sizes
Any image over 500KB is going to affect page speed. If your image files are too big, it’s best to compress them. Online tools such as JPEG Optimizer or TinyPNG will either remove some of the image pixels or squeeze them together so the file size is optimized.
If you’re working on your ecommerce website, we recommend keeping your image file size below 70KB.
Help search engines understand what your images are about
For this, you need to think about two things: your image file names and alt texts.
File name is used to identify a computer file (for example, “readme.txt”). You can see an image file name when you download it. Creating keyword-rich file names is crucial for image optimization because search engines will use them to understand the image content.
Alt text helps search engines to understand image content. Alt text is also used by vision-impaired technology to read out loud what’s happening in the image.
Another factor that affects your website’s speed just as much as image optimization, are your software additions that add specific features to your website.
Find a reliable hosting provider
Reviewing your hosting provider is one of the website optimization techniques you shouldn’t gloss over. Your website’s host influences your ecommerce site performance—especially when website traffic increases during the holidays.
A website hosting service allows you to publish your website files onto the internet. It also provides all the tools to set up and run an ecommerce website, such as web space, plugins, and security. A great ecommerce hosting service will provide you with necessities such as shopping cart software, payment processing services, transport layer security, database support, and more. If you think your website might perform better with a new hosting provider, it’s best to choose based on the factors you value most.
Review your plugins
Plugins are common and necessary components for every website and they’re fantastic helpers for expanding your site with additional features. They can increase an ecommerce website’s conversion rate, reduce abandoned carts, and create an overall better customer experience.
However, the more plugins you install, the more they’ll weigh down your website. One complex action plugin can lose you half a second (or more) of loading time, and even cause security issues. Check what plugins you currently have and remove the ones that generate many database queries, scripts, and styles. Delete plugins that slow you down and no longer serve you. Those you leave should be up to date for optimal performance and they should serve as important additions that help your website run smoothly.
Cookies are what enables a website to recognize a computer as a return visitor. They can help store your visitor data and preferences such as ZIP code and search info.
Cookies are the reason your visitors don’t have to log in each time they want to make a new purchase. If customers trust a website and shop there frequently, they don’t want to fill in their payment details every time they visit.
Optimize your checkout process
Your holiday marketing campaigns are up and running, your products are ready, and you have customers visiting your store. But can they buy your products without a hitch?
The checkout process in your store should be simple and intuitive. The best way to check it is to go through it yourself. Look out for anything that slows your customer down.
If you have a single-page checkout, make sure the form isn’t cluttered and every field you ask your customers to fill is necessary rather than “good to know.” The advice also applies to a multi-page checkout process.
Pro tip: Add a progress indicator at the top of the page to let the shopper know how far along they are. This can help lower the number of abandoned carts.
Be ready to answer customers’ questions
With more visitors on your website, you can expect more customer inquiries. To get ahead, place the most important content in places where it’s easily noticeable so your customers don’t have to contact you for support.
Make your content understandable and helpful:
- Write informative product descriptions
- Describe what your company offers
- Add calls to action
- Put together clear store policies
- Create an FAQ section
And in case your visitors can’t find the answers on your website, make it easy for them to reach out to you:
- Create a Contact Us page
- Use live chat or enable chatbot
- Include social media handles in the footer in case customer prefers communicating via direct messages
Pro tip: Instead of handling customer questions sporadically, block out a specific time in your calendar and handle questions all at once. This will boost your productivity and reduce stress.
Create a backup plan
It’s better to be safe than sorry. Think of all the problems that might occur during the holidays and come up with multiple plans to tackle any issues that could come your way..
What will you do if your server crashes? How will you handle a data hack? What’s the plan if your products go out of stock? You can’t predict everything, but you can prepare for most scenarios.
Are you ready to start?
Prepare for the increased holiday traffic early. Page speed and mobile site usability are important factors for search engine optimization. To have everything run smoothly:
- Use online tools to get a test report of how each page is performing and start making small changes to see big improvements in your website speed
- Stock up on your inventory and launch all the important updates in a timely manner
- Make your website’s content is clear so your customers find everything that they need
- Concentrate on anything that can cause delays or crashes on your store over the holidays
- Have multiple backup plans for anything that might go wrong
Once you’re sure your website is ready for the increased traffic, it’s time to tackle the rest of the holiday ecommerce preparations. And to make this process easier for you, we’ve put together a content marketing checklist. Download it below to get ahead of the game!
This article was originally published in September 2015; it has since been updated.
Get Your Holiday Prep Checklist
Subscribe to our blog and get a free holiday prep checklist to help you get ready for the biggest shopping season yet.