The site was based on WordPress, heavily customized. WordPress ain’t bad, but knowing what we know today, we would probably have went with a custom site from scratch if we had to do it all over again (projects have a tendency to get bigger and bigger) – but there was one good thing about WordPress which we would soon learn what was…
As the site was launched and press releases published and local media started picking it up, writing about it in newspapers and featuring it on local TV news, more and more people obviously came to the site to see what it was all about. Visitors on your site is good for business, many visitors is very good – but so many visitors that each pageload takes minutes, is very bad.
We quickly decided to move the site from VPS hosting to a dedicated server elsewhere – that helped a lot. But still, during peak, it could take up to 30 seconds for a page to load, which was of course unacceptable for visitors.
Short of having to re-code a lot of stuff, the main developer on the project decided to go with a WordPress cache plugin. Research revealed that we would probably be best of going with “WP Super Cache” as the best cache plugin for WordPress, unfortunately that plugin caused some problems with out site, so we went with “W3 Total Cache” which worked well (and is actually also being used here on TechPatio.com now!).
Wow, what a difference! Being able to cache the pages made the site work as if it wasn’t under peak load at all – that’s how big a difference caching did. The downside is, the visitors we had already lost due to the site being slow, or not working at all, were probably lost once and for all, probably never going to return. None of us had thought that the site would get so much traffic like it did, during peak, but of course we knew that it would get some but we figured it wouldn’t be a problem.
Big mistake. You should always prepare by doing load testing, if there’s any chance that media or something else “big” can take up your site and drive a lot of traffic to you – there’s nothing worse than wasting your 15 minutes of fame on downtime and not being able to convert new visitors into users or customers.
We did, in fact, perform load testing after installing the cache plugin and it was a huge difference. Unfortunately I do not remember the before/after numbers as this all happened last year. But it was definitely worth it!
Now, of course you can’t install a cache plugin on all websites, luckily WordPress have a few plugins that does a good job at it and I’m sure other CMS systems etc. probably also have something like it, otherwise you might want to look into a service like CloudFlare or some kind of load balancing software, depending on what server and web-software you’re running.
Bottom line – and moral of the story is: Do your load testing before it’s too late!