On Super Bowl Sunday, 84 Lumber learned the hard way what happens if your website isn’t prepared for a sudden spike in web traffic. The company, which sells building materials, saw its marketing campaign site crash when its Super Bowl commercial directed viewers to finish an ad that was deemed too controversial by broadcasting company Fox.
Fox only allowed the first three minutes of the ad to air, prompting 84 Lumber to direct viewers to “finish the journey” on the company’s website. However, when viewers attempted to check out the site, which was unprepared for a massive spike in traffic, they were greeted with a “Service Unavailable” message instead of the video.
Super Bowl ads in 2017 cost $5 million, so this crash was a pretty expensive mistake. It’s unclear who was at fault, but this issue should serve as a lesson for businesses that may experience spikes in traffic whether or not those spikes are expected.
One way to ensure your site is prepared to handle higher traffic volume is to have your web server configured to easily scale horizontally in the event that its typical resource limits are reached.
Horizontal scaling involves adding additional server resources and computing power for your website to draw upon when needed. Using server software, such as Nginx, allows your site to distribute application traffic evenly across several servers to increase the reliability of your site or application during peak traffic use.
Not every website hosting company offers horizontal scaling and load balancing to customers by default, and if you’re not sure if your hosting company offers it, they probably don’t. Amazon Web Services, a cloud hosting platform, offers elastic load balancing on their popular EC2 server instances, but setting up an Amazon EC2 server can be difficult and intimidating if you’re not a tech expert. It may make the most sense to solicit the services of a digital marketing agency with in-house software developers if you need to develop and host a website that expects a lot of traffic.
If you cannot afford to hire professionals and your website is built on the WordPress, hosting company WP Engine offers website hosting with an easy-to-use user interface and 24/7 support. WP Engine’s hosting services are built on the Amazon Web Services backbone, and their support can assist you in making sure your website is prepared for sudden spikes in traffic.
Horizontal scalability and load balancing comes with steeper pricing, so it doesn’t make sense for every company, but as 84 Lumber learned, it can sometimes be more expensive to not be prepared.