Fine-Tuning Your Website for Holiday 2010

Merchants typically reap the majority of their revenue during the holiday season. But many leave themselves vulnerable to significant e-commerce site failure –and the corresponding lost revenue – because they don’t execute fundamental performance management best practices throughout the year.

Holiday 2010 is closer than you think, so here are eight things you can do to fine-tune your e-commerce site:

1. Improve site reliability
Best practices indicate pages should load in less than 2 seconds, and order flow should take a maximum of 3 to 5 seconds. Here’s what to evaluate: the weight of the page, how many bytes of info are presented, that the raw HTML is under 75K, how many images are loading, and how many actual requests are going back to the server. Addressing any one of these can improve the speed and reliability of your site.

2. Perform regular backups
Taking regular backups of your site is crucial in preparing for the peak holiday season. Do you have the critical components backed up so that there is enough redundancy? Is a failover or redundancy in place for the servers so that the system can handle peak load even if one of the servers goes down?

3. Enable monitoring
Having monitors on the system helps merchants take a proactive approach to small problems that may quickly escalate into something catastrophic. For example, if CPU use creeps from 10% to 20% after a code release, you know that something isn’t right and should be investigated. Many tools enable a merchant to set parameters for alerts, so that rather than having to go in and check, the system informs the site managers of changes that may indicate impending issues.

4. Test functionality and performance
You should test the critical functionality on your applications or systems in the environment. It’s highly likely many changes may have taken place throughout the year or prior to your previous testing that may have affected the functionality or performance of the site.

5. Minimize problem determination time
If problems do occur, make sure that you have the right tools and processes in place to quickly debug and resolve the problems so as to minimize potential business impact. Before restarting servers, know what debugging information needs to be captured. It’s possible to extract past log files from the system to anticipate what problems may occur and how best to solve them.

6. Understand capacity needs ahead of time
It’s essential to anticipate and validate the appropriate load on the site. Some retailers operate on information from years past, not taking into account such factors as potential growth, new promotions, and higher search visibility. Once the true expected load has been validated, you should build in a “fudge factor” – testing and preparing the site for a percentage over what is expected.

7. Database maintenance
Many merchants forgo regular clean ups of abandoned carts, old guest users and the like. This is a mistake. Abandoned carts, for example, should be cleaned out after 90 days, according to best practices. This type of clutter, when left unattended, starts to slowly bog down the site.

8. Make sure your customers can find you
Eighty percent of shopping trips start with the search box, and that percentage increases dramatically during the holidays. It’s important to think ahead to the intended areas of growth, and be sure that pages are being indexed now on those terms.

Darl Crick is chief technology officer at crosschannel platform provider CrossView.

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