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With over 450 million installations, WordPress is the single most popular way to create a website today. However, many people have the impression that WordPress is just for blogs or smaller websites that don’t get a lot of traffic. But is this statement accurate? Can WordPress sites scale for larger amounts of visitors, too?
In this post, we will address a simple question: does WordPress scale? The short answer: yes! WordPress is very scalable, as long as you make smart decisions as your site grows. We’ll also discuss why you should prepare your site for scaling, even if you don’t anticipate a ton of traffic.
Let’s get scaling!
As we mentioned in the intro, the short answer is that WordPress can definitely scale. There is no doubt about it. Every day, thousands of sites running WordPress manage heavy loads without any issues.
However, it’s important to note that WordPress is sometimes not scalable out of the box. It depends on your particular theme, plugins, web host, and many other factors. For certain types of sites, a default, unoptimized version of WordPress will struggle to scale.
That said, it’s fairly easy to make WordPress scalable, so it’s not a limiting factor in any way. It’s also essential for any site, as the failure to scale can result in a ruined reputation and lost customers. Thankfully, using an auto scaling solution like Convesio makes scaling effortless.
How can you make WordPress scalable? We’ll get to that in one minute. But first, let’s briefly talk about when you might need to prepare your site for scalability.
When will you need to scale a WordPress site? In more situations than you think! Here are some of the most common scenarios that will bring a ton of traffic to your site in a short period of time.
Perhaps the most common scenario for scaling is a large sales event that is limited to a specific time period. Virtually every online business runs special offers on certain days of the year, including Black Friday / Cyber Monday, Easter, Christmas, and the Fourth of July.
Black Friday / Cyber Monday (BFCM), for example, is a 3-day long sales event that happens every November. Sales during BFCM make up a huge percentage of a company’s annual revenues – often 20% or even 30% of their total annual revenue!
As such, customers have come to expect sales on these days – which means that traffic goes up dramatically during these times. In 2021, for example, the Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend increased traffic by roughly 90% in comparison to October.
These are similar to Big Sales events, except they are only for your individual business, rather than being society-wide like Black Friday or Christmas.
For example, you may have a 7-day countdown discount for a newly launched product. As the deadline approaches, your traffic will increase at a manageable rate. But when the last hours and minutes approach, it will spike as customers try to grab the deal before it expires. No one wants to miss out on a big discount!
If you didn’t prepare for this, your site will likely slow to a crawl – or not work at all! This is a double disaster, as you lose both the immediate sale and you give a bad impression to the potential customer, scaring them off and losing future sales. First impressions matter, especially when it comes to selling products online.
The reverse scenario of having a countdown to launch a new product is also common. If you sell an item with a limited quantity (for example, a concert ticket) many people will rush to your site at the last minute to try and get one. This is how auctions work, like in the image above (which uses the YITH WooCommerce Auctions plugin.)
It’s difficult to predict what will go viral on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok. Sometimes, the post you thought would get attention fell flat, while another post unexpectedly blew up. The cause could be a celebrity mentioning your product, an international news story, or simply a hashtag that spreads on Twitter.
For this reason, you should always be prepared for any sudden influxes of traffic coming from social media sites, especially if your content relates to current events.
When you send out a large amount of emails at once, you’ll also get a large burst of traffic on your website. Even if you’re just sending a newsletter, you’ll still get web traffic, as some subscribers prefer to read articles on your blog, rather than in their email client.
However, this is even more relevant if your email blast is a sales or discount offer – especially if the deal is only for a limited time. When subscribers see a discount email, they’ll immediately rush to your site. Most email marketing providers can send emails in a short period of time (e.g. thousands of emails within an hour), which means you’ll get a ton of traffic all at once!
If you aren’t prepared for scaling and your site crashes under the load, you could lose both sales and email subscribers. Subscribers may unsubscribe from your email list in frustration. After all, no one likes to almost get a great deal!
Being featured on traditional media formats like a television show or newspaper article will also bring a huge amount of traffic to your site in a short period of time.
For example, if you are featured on a television show like Shark Tank, your business’s website will quickly get 10-100x as much traffic in a matter of minutes. If you aren’t prepared for it, you’ll give a very bad impression to millions of viewers. This can be disastrous, especially if people start complaining about it on social media. Not being prepared is a sure way to ruin your reputation.
Contests and giveaways will bring a ton of new people to your site that aren’t regular visitors. Indeed, this is one of their primary advantages as a marketing method.
However, this also means that you need to be prepared for a huge influx of traffic, most of which will come to the contest page – and not to other pages on your site that normally get traffic from “regular” visitors.
Finally, e-learning sites need to handle a large amount of students accessing their sites at the same time, usually during a live course. The most successful e-learning sites have hundreds of thousands of users, so it’s important that every student is able to easily access the learning materials.
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Now we know when you might need to scale your site. But how can you do it?
Let’s briefly discuss some of the different methods and tactics you can use to scale your WordPress website. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s an excellent starting point for any WordPress user that wants to prepare their site for large amounts of traffic.
When it comes to scaling your site, the single most important thing is choosing a good host. If you’re short on time or money and can’t implement the other methods, at least do this one.
How can you pick a good host? It’s a complex question, but unless you are a technical expert, you should go for a managed host. The word managed means that the host will handle most of the technical details for you, allowing you to focus on creating awesome content and products. Otherwise, you’ll need to tweak and configure all of the minor technical settings yourself.
What putsConvesio above the Managed WordPress Hosting providers is that our infrastructure scales automatically and is based on containers.
In simpler terms, Convesio’s servers handle spikes in traffic by automatically upscaling and downscaling. This allows you, the website owner, to handle large amounts of traffic without crashing your site.
Vertical scaling means the ability to add more resources to your server. This means more CPU power, more RAM, and other elements that can help you handle high levels of traffic.
Horizontal scaling refers to running more than one server, so that you can balance the traffic load horizontally, or across multiple servers. This is often a more effective method for handling traffic, as it doesn’t limit you to a single dedicated server.
An effective scaling strategy includes both vertical and horizontal scaling. Many scaling-optimized web hosts (like Convesio) implement both scaling methods to manage traffic efficiently.
Caching is a must for any scaling effort. A cache is simply a saved version of your website that is delivered to users, avoiding the need to dynamically load a new version for every visitor.
The more traffic you get, the more security threats you’ll face – threats that can slow down your site or take it offline entirely. As such, it’s important to also boost your security in preparation for scaling.
If you use a managed host like Convesio, your site will be very secure, as the host's security team can implement things like DDOS protection, malware scanning, data security, and other organizational-level features. We use Cloudflare Enterprise to protect our customers' websites against a variety of threats.
As with any piece of software, the quality of the code itself will affect how well it performs under stress. Inefficient and poorly written code will make your site slower and less scalable.
If you are just a regular WordPress user, you most likely don’t write any custom code yourself. However, you still likely use third-party plugins or themes, which means that their code quality directly affects your site.
As such, it is important to only use reputable, high-quality plugins and themes from experienced developers. If you aren’t using a plugin, deactivate it and delete it. And always be sure to keep everything updated to the latest version!
CDN stands for Content Delivery Network. A CDN works by saving copies of your website in different geographical locations around the world. These locations are called Points of Presence, or PoPs.
When a visitor comes to your site, he or she is sent the content from the closest available PoP (as in the right image above) and not from a central server (as in the left image above.). For example, if the visitor is in Germany, the CDN will send a copy of the site from a PoP in Europe. This cuts down the amount of time it takes for the website to load in the user’s browser.
CDNs are very effective in helping to scale your WordPress site for high traffic, especially if the traffic is coming from more than one region in the world.
WordPress has a built-in search feature. While it works fine in most situations, it can really slow down your site if a large number of users run searches.
To avoid this from happening, consider using a separate search functionality like ElasticSearch.
Images take up a huge percentage of a website’s size, which means that you should aim to use the absolute minimum amount of them as possible. Likewise, if you do use images, be sure to optimize them by using a service like TinyPNG.com.
Finally, it is always good to be cognizant of the number of external integrations and connections that your site is making. This includes everything from Google Fonts requests to accessing APIs. As a general rule for scaling, the less external connections you have, the better.
Now you know that WordPress can scale! While it often is perceived as being “only for small sites”, WordPress is absolutely capable of handling high levels of traffic – especially if you use a managed host like Convesio.
In this post, we covered two important aspects of scaling: when you should prepare for scaling your site and how you can do so. You might not expect to suddenly receive large amounts of traffic, but as we said above, it is essential to prepare for any scenario. If you don’t, you run the risk of losing out on tons of potential sales and customers.
What have your experiences been with scaling a WordPress site? Did you run into issues, and if so, how did you solve them? Let us know below!