The Oprah Effect: How to Prepare Your Website for a Traffic Surge

We’re no strangers to bumps in website traffic – the web can be unpredictable and figuring out who will end up on a website is a challenge. This time, however, it was very different.

Oprah-and-PanacheWe’re very excited and honored to have worked with our longtime friend and client, Panache Desai, to prepare his website for what will be the start of amazing web exposure. A thought leader in the transformative power of energy, Panache was a guest featured on Oprah Winfrey’s (yes, the real Oprah) Emmy© Award-winning series, Super Soul Sunday.

We’ve worked with Panache for many years and have developed a robust website, complete with a membership section, custom store, and custom shopping cart. Panache is able to spread his thoughts and ideas to people across the globe through free membership on his website that allows members to access live & archived webcasts, CDs and DVDs, and access to special guest teachers.

To be featured on one of the biggest shows in the country and interviewed by one of the most influential people in the world means having a website than can handle the enormous amount of traffic that is sure to come from that exposure. Every effort and resource available must be put into supporting the website and ensuring that it doesn’t go down.

To explain just how much effort goes into this, we’ll go into a little bit of detail about what makes websites go down and how we made sure it didn’t happen for Panache.

What Goes Into Preparing a Website for Oprah?

Websites are hosted on servers and their capacity is measured by connections. The amount of connections a server can handle is measured by a combination of a few things:

  • Hardware (how many and how fast)
  • Website (coding: JavaScript, CSS, images)

A smaller website can typically handle everything on one server, but as a website and its traffic grows, these duties need to split up into different servers. For example, one server is dedicated to handling a database for files, while another is used for applications. When there are multiple servers operating a website, a load balancer will direct users to a server that has free resources to support their activities on the site.

When preparing a website for an event such as this, it comes down to reconfiguring all the elements that play into the amount of connections a website can handlethat’s how we knew we had to begin preparation months ahead of time.

How We Handled Panache’s Oprah Appearance

We were informed of Panache’s appearance with Oprah in September 2012, and website preparation followed immediately in Octoberalmost 3 months prior to Panache even filming. It required a great deal of time, patience, and expertise from our developers to get the website ready for what was sure to be the busiest day for the website so far.

super-soul-sundayHere’s what we did to prepare for possibly the largest amount of traffic ever seen by Panache’s website:

  • Optimized the website hardware.
  • Optimized the website’s code.
    • PHP
    • Database
    • Assets (Images, Files, MP3s, etc.)
    • Content Delivery Network Signup (CDN)

Increasing Website Hardware

Servers are at the core of a website’s performance, and upping the servers for Panache was a must. Based on our estimates, we didn’t have nearly 1/10 of the server capacity needed to support the impending spike in traffic. Ensuring that the proper infrastructure is in place to meet our clients’ needs is our highest priority – with or without an Oprah appearance.

Content Delivery Network Signup

A content delivery network is a service that offloads certain elements of the website (HTML, CSS, images) onto a separate server so a page can load quickly. When a user visits a website, they can typically download only 2 things at a time. A CDN will analyze where a user is and pull specific elements from the closest server to them, leading to quicker load times and a faster website.

Estimating Traffic from Oprah

The real question, however, was this: how would we know what kind of traffic to prepare for? When a third party (Oprah) has any effect on your website, it can be difficult to estimate and measure the exact effect it will have.

To estimate traffic we could see from Oprah, we turned to two Google tools: AdWords and Trends. In the few days after Panache’s Super Soul Sunday PREVIEW, we saw a massive jump in searches for Panache’s name (almost 10x the normal amount), which was a clear indicator that we could expect to see the large amount of traffic we had anticipated.

Measuring Traffic With Real-Time Analytics

Another way we used to estimate the load on the server was through real-time analytics. During the broadcast, visitors and pageviews increased at astonishing percentages. Active visitors and pageviews were roughly 7x higher than normal, which is what we had prepared the site for.

To illustrate just how much of a traffic increase Panache’s website saw, take a look at a few percentages (week post-airing versus week pre-show airing):

157% Increase in Visits

166% Increase in Pageviews

163% Increase in Overall Goal Completions

 And most importantly, on the actual day of the event:

Traffic spiked to nearly 30x (3,000%) the normal amount – or 60x (60,000%) what we were seeing in the same period last year.

Website Optimization & Preparation Success

Preparing a website for any sort of event, whether it’s a national television appearance with Oprah Winfrey or a local news broadcast, can make or break an event’s success. In this case, we kept our eye on the ball from day 1 to ensure a huge success for Panache and his message.

Had we not taken these necessary steps in the months prior to Panache’s appearance on Super Soul Sunday, the site would have likely gone down. For a contemporary thought leader like Panache, the ability to connect to worldwide audience comes down to having a great website.

We would also like to extend congratulations to Panache and his team! For more information, visit www.PanacheDesai.com.

Kristen Bachmeier
Kristen Bachmeier
Kristen Bachmeier is Atilus' Client Services Manager and has worked at Atilus for nearly 5 years. She is a Google AdWords Certified Professional, is proficient in SEO and online marketing, and survives daily on excessive amounts of coffee. Day-to-day, she interacts directly with clients and the team to ensure that projects are executed with only our clients' end goals (and happiness) in mind.

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