This was originally posted in March 2019, but has been updated to be more general so every website owner can make use of this guide, and some recommendations have been changed.
Get this in a PDF which you can download to store, at Gumroad.
The first thing is, if you know you are going to have tons of people coming at a specific time then plan ahead of time. Get some or all of these things in place at least 24 hours before, to ensure your website can handle those people. Also be sure to backup your website, to ensure you can move your website somewhere else if you quickly need to do so.
Enable compression however you can, this will compress the files that go into making your website page to be smaller which will be faster for the person going to your website. There are various ways to do this, it depends on your website and the system behind it. The best bet is to contact whoever is running your website and ask them to enable gzip (or any other compression). Varvy.com does do a good job in telling you how to enable gzip if you don’t mind getting your hands a bit dirty. If you want to check to see if compression is enabled then use the GiftOfSpeed checker.
By updating to the newest version of your website software it not only fixes bugs, but may change things so that more people can access your website. So go into your website and look for any updates, if you use a platform like Wix or Shopify then it auto-updates for you.
All websites should also have some sort of cache, which “is a temporary way to store frequently accessed data” which makes it faster for the website visitor to get either the page and the full website. WPMU DEV talks about what web cache is and some of the different types. There are many website systems that can have a cache, from WordPress (affiliate link), to Wix, Joomla, Drupal, Ghost, Magento, and Blogger. Some website system platforms don’t have a cache or don’t offer a way to make it longer, it’s best to talk to whoever is behind your website system to see what they can do to add some form of cache.
If an image is the popular thing that is being viewed then move that image file off your website (but make sure to have the link to it on the website). There are many ways you can do this, by moving it to a free service like Cloudinary (referral link that gets us both extra bandwidth), or a paid option like Cloudimage (affiliate link) or Uploadcare. Don’t go uploading that image to any general image host like Imgur as they will delete your image as soon as it starts getting tons of viewers (the number isn’t specific but any image host company reserves the right to delete your image for any reason and at anytime).
If it is a video that is getting all the attention then move to the video to somewhere that can handle the traffic, like Youtube or Vimeo. There are also many other options as IMPACT has written about. When you have uploaded your video somewhere else just replace it on your website with a embed video (or better yet don’t upload videos directly to your website in the first place).
If you want your website to be faster to everyone around the around (not just those who are close to the server that your website host uses) then a CDN (content delivery network) may help with that. A CDN will take copies of your website and put it on their servers so if someone from the other side of the world visits your website they don’t have to wait to get the contents of your website from your host, instead they get it from the CDN location that is closest to them. If you use analytics then it still records their visit. There are benefits to using a CDN, and there are negatives. If you decide to go down the CDN route you could get confused and overwhelmed with the companies and their options, you want locations that are close to where your target audience is, you want it to be fast so your target audience can see what you have put out, you want it to be reliable so your website doesn’t go down too often, you also want it to be within your price range and there some that are free, finally you want it to be easy for you to use, so you can change settings as you see fit.
Many website I have seen have gone down have been because of the website hosting, it may have not been powerful enough to handle the tons of people, it wasn’t customized to handle the demand, or there are many other reasons. See what upgrade options your website hosting company offers, or consider upgrading to a VPS. Your website hosting company should be able to move your website to the upgrade you want. There are however some hosting company I would strongly advise you to stay away from, Research As A Hobby has a great list of them, if you are currently using one of the companies on that list then switch away from them ASAP.
When people type in your website in their browser a DNS server returns back the IP address of the website. Your website host’s DNS server isn’t as fast as many others are, to ensure your website stays fast you need a better DNS provider (also called managed DNS provider). There are some that you may have heard about like Cloudflare, or Dyn DNS, or even Hurricane Electric DNS, but there are plenty more that are out there. Most people tend to go with the ones that are fastest or have the best uptime but what you really want is like a CDN, locations that are close to your target audience, have good uptime, be within your price range, and easy for you to use. Changing DNS providers doesn’t tell the entire world right away that your website is using a different provider, it may take anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of days for the entire world to know about your websites new DNS provider. ThousandEyes has more details on what is a managed DNS, while DNSMadeEasy talks about why you should use a managed DNS company.
If you are going to be getting tons of people from many places around the world then consider setting up a load balancer, which will be the first thing someone will get when they go to your website. That load balancer will point that browser to the closest server (there are other options you can choose). It isn’t cheap, as you will need at least 2 servers (that have a copy of the website), the load balancer, and anything else needed for configuration. AVI Networks has a good page if you want some history and good details on what load balancing is.
After you have had many people to your website, and hopefully many sales, you may think about undoing everything you just did since you won’t need it anymore. I encourage you to keep a majority of these things in place, you may be able to downgrade the package on your website host, or stop using load balancing, and hopefully you will see many more people to your website soon.