Running a high traffic website is never easy. When hundreds of thousands or
even millions of visitors come to your site, things can start to go wrong in a hurry.
And as that traffic scales, the chance of a small problem turning into a massive
issue increase. In the best case scenario, you’ve already engineered your
website to handle high loads of traffic. But far too often we see clients that see
too late an issue with site performance under load, causing them to lose out on
important attention and revenue.
So what’s to be done? The cold hard truth is that high-traffic websites require
tuning, tweaking, testing, and monitoring to ensure they perform their best when
faced with a high quantity of visitors or users. But absent a skilled engineering
team or an unlimited infrastructure budget, here are a few suggested best
practices for how to handle high traffic events for your news or publishing
Make Use of a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a network of globally distributed physical
servers. This geographically distributed mechanism allows a CDN to deliver
information faster to each visitor according to their proximity to one of its servers.
In short, the website your news or media company has put online doesn’t reside
on just one server but on a larger network of servers (called “pops”) that serve
the traffic closest to them.
This method is achieved by caching website data, using physical infrastructure,
and employing mapped proxy servers that are built on the idea of faster data
For instance, if someone in Asia is trying to access a website that is located in
South America, they won’t have to wait for the data to come from a server
located on another continent. Instead, the Asian visitor may access the site
through a pop in Hong Kong or Australia, reducing the distance of transmission
between the browser and the site itself.
As an additional benefit, proper use of a CDN decreases the load on your own
physical infrastructure. Decreased load means your servers can perform better
and your overall infrastructure cost should be lower – much lower – than if you
were simply adding more and more webheads to try and solve any issues
caused by high traffic.
In summary, using a CDN allows you to work towards increasing your news site’s
traffic with the assurance that you can meet the high demands that come with
your website’s expansion. It is a low latency, a high-performance mechanism that
ensures your website’s wellbeing in the long run and helps deliver an excellent
Choose to Utilize the Functionality of Caching
Caching is an effective method to reduce your site’s load time, and in turn, a very
efficacious way to manage the demands of high traffic. In addition to caching
found in the use of a CDN above, you can actually cache your site’s static
content in a number of other ways as well. First and foremost would be caching
content like text, images, and even video on your own infrastructure. This means
that each time a visitor comes to your server, the server doesn’t generate a
completely new version of the website for that visitor. Instead, it takes the stored
components – the cached items – and presents them quickly and cleanly without
taxing the server.
To make it simpler to understand, caching allows your website to store data that
was accessed recently so that it can be delivered quickly through the next access
Any requests to deliver that data are not catered by your web server, but through
local aspects such as CDNs, cloud load balancers, or web browser functions.
This optimizes the website load time while also reducing the load time on your
For high traffic websites, using caching to decrease the server load and the
website low time is crucial to their success. It is established that site load time is
correlated to a website’s user retention: famous news network BBC’s website lost
an additional 10 percent of its visitors for each second it took to load information
on its page.
If your website uses a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress,
then caching could be as easy as installing a simple caching or CDN plugin. If
not, then you can use alternate methods such as signing up with a CDN or cloud
server. You can also use these options together for optimal caching and greater
For high traffic new and media sites or publishers, caching is of critical
importance because it is likely that many visitors are not experiencing your site
for the first time. This means that elements like your logos, menus, and bylines
are able to be cached and served quickly to returning visitors.
Optimize Your Images
Many news websites provide relevant images, especially if they have to visually
appeal to their audience. But an onset of thumbnails and images on each page
can drastically increase a site’s load time, which in turn decreases its
performance as traffic scales. We’ve seen some people suggest that fewer
images are the answer, but with web users more and more interested in the
visual aesthetic of their online experience, we don’t see that as a viable or
To avoid going down this path, you need to ensure that you are optimizing your
images. You can reduce image size through compression or optimization plugins,
serve the images from a faster web server, or even streaming them from the
cloud rather than your own, physical web server.
These actions go a long way into making sure that your website could cater to
the high traffic and the demands that it brings along with it. This way, not only do
your visitors have a greater experience in terms of load time, but your server also
doesn’t have to deal with additional demands in terms of resources.
Additionally, Lazy Loaders now exist that help sites only load images on the page
that are viewable in the browser. So if your web pages feature images
below-the-fold, those images won’t load until the user begins to scroll further
down the page. The combination of image optimization and lazy load tools can
deliver fast image loading without sacrificing resolution and quality.
Choose a Reliable Hosting Provider
One of the easiest yet one of the most important ways to ensure that your site is
equipped to deal with high traffic is to make sure you’ve chosen a reliable and
high-quality hosting provider.
You can take all the measures in the world to optimize your website’s speed,
performance, and content delivery but if your hosting isn’t equipped to handle the
challenges of high traffic, then all of those efforts essentially are in vain. Imagine
building a beautiful car with the safest tires and great sound system…but a
broken down engine under the hood. None of the other parts matter much if the
vehicle won’t start!
And while there are many quality hosting partners to choose from, we highly
recommend putting high-traffic sites either on the cloud or (at a minimum) a
cluster of dedicated servers. Trying to serve tens or hundreds of thousands of
visitors with a VPS or, even worse, shared hosting is an absolutely awful idea.
One other suggestion when it comes to your hosting provider of choice: even
though it may seem like a burden on your busy schedule, regularly speaking with
your Account Manager or technical contact at your host on a regular basis is not
only a great way to ensure they are focused on helping you be successful, it’s
also a great way to learn what new technology they offer that can make your site
perform even better.
Do Not Compromise on Security
You’ve likely heard the saying, “Why do people rob banks? Because that’s where
the money is.” High traffic websites can be high-value targets for hackers and
other nefarious parties for the same reason: that’s where most visitors are.
Whether they intend to steal user data (like credit cards or personal information)
or simply want to deface your site and steal your traffic, media and publishing
web properties have always attracted hackers.
Having tools such as a web application firewall (WAF) help your website’s server
and infrastructure from being compromised by automatic attacks. Having
additional mechanisms such as Transport Layer Security (TLS) ensure that your
visitors’ information is not compromised. We also recommend having regular
malware scans to protect against scripting attacks or SQL injections.
It’s also a great idea for new and media sites to utilize monitoring tools over the
website and its traffic logs to ensure sniff out repeated visits from suspicious IP
addresses. If detected, you can block such IP addresses from accessing the site
before they are able to do it harm.
Similarly, you can also do periodic safety checks and tune-ups on your website to
make sure that it is up to par with industry standards in terms of security.
When managing high traffic websites that push out a lot of content and serve a
large number of visitors, you have to walk a fine line between managing user
expectations and your website’s own health and well-being. The good news is
that the best practices and recommendations above can help optimize your site
for a heavy load without compromising on critical aspects like speed and
security. By working in concert, each of these suggestions can help play a crucial
role in delivering a great experience for thousands or even millions of users
without opening up the door to hackers or downtime.
That said, managing a high-traffic media, news, or publishing site is not for the
weak of heart. When every happy visitor can result in greater sales, ad revenue,
or ongoing engagement it is crucial that your site is engineered properly and
maintained appropriately. As such, if you have any questions or concerns that
you want to discuss with a professional, do not hesitate to reach out to our reliable,
professional and experienced development team today. We have years of
experience managing some of the most complicated and highest-trafficked sites
on the internet and would welcome the opportunity to help you take it to the limit.