Digital marketing… we all love to hate it. It’s time-consuming, costly and almost impossible to get perfectly right. Yet we still hold out for that holy grail of online marketing success, the viral campaign.

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    How many of us have ever stopped to ask ourselves whether we’re ready for it? Many-a small business has been caught off-guard by a sudden viral victory and suffered the consequences. The punishment? Anything from an inability to fill orders, to bad reviews and a total breakdown of company infrastructure. Yeash!

    One of the most common outcomes of a lack of planning is unexpected website downtime. Having your site fail mid-surge can leave your once thriving campaign dead in the water, sinking your reputation and SEO along with it.

    In this blog, I’ll explain the how and why of viral disaster, and describe four actions you can take to avoid common pitfalls and prep your website for success.

    Viral campaigns and website downtime, a match made in hell

    Viral campaigns drive vast amounts of unexpected traffic to your website. The sudden appearance of hundreds of thousands of eager users on a site that usually sees a few hundred per day is a major issue. To understand why, we need to discuss how a website exists at all.

    A website is just a bunch of organised data. To make it available at the click of a link, that data has to be stored somewhere, like a server. For most of us, that server is owned by an external web host provider.

    When you signed up for a web hosting plan, they’ll have asked you how much bandwidth and disc space you need. Disc space is the total amount of server space your website’s data takes up and bandwidth determines how much of that data can be served to a browser at any given time.

    How much data needs to be served per user depends on how much each page of your website holds (how much text, images, complex code, videos etc.). And this, plus the number of active users you have at once, determines server demand.

    If you’re a small online business with low traffic, you probably choose a free web hosting plan. But these plans come with limits (even if they say they don’t) and, when traffic to your website increases, the amount of data your host has to serve will rise.

    When a web host can’t keep up with this demand, your site will exceed its bandwidth allowance and go offline. This, right here, is what we experience as website downtime.

    Overestimate your web hosting needs

    All of this is simple enough to understand, but what can you actually do about it? The most impactful action you can take is to overestimate your web hosting needs from the start.

    You should always calculate your bandwidth and disc space requirements before signing up to a plan. But, it’s good practice to leave 30-40 percent leeway between what the plan offers and what your website currently needs.

    With more room in your plan to stretch out, you should avoid losing your website during periods of unexpected popularity.

    We hosting is a very complex subject, but you can learn more about hosting here.

    Streamline your data

    Unfortunately, addressing your hosting plan won’t eliminate the problem entirely. Your host will have an easier job of serving the data for your site if it is more streamlined overall.

    The more efficient your site, the better it will cope when things heat up during a viral campaign.

    Compress everything

    It’s common for modern landing pages to contain multiple forms of media. Text, images, videos, GIFs etc. are worked into designs and essential to creating good content. But the more data a browser needs to fetch from a server, the slower that page will load.

    You can reduce the amount of data different features take up by compressing the files used to make them. Use a tool like, or which, between them, can smoosh pretty much all formats.

    Minify your code

    I know most small business owners and solopreneurs are reluctant to mess with code. And, it’s true that there are a lot of ways to ruin your website by doing something weird to it. But, is pretty fool-proof. And you can get the job done by simply copy and pasting sections of code into the on-site box, clicking a button to minify and then copy and pasting it back to your site.

    All minifying does is remove the non-functional bits of code that build up over the lifetime of a website, so there’s really not too much room for error.

    Reduce multiple HTTP requests

    When a web browser sends a request to a web server for information about a webpage, it’s called an HTTP request. More requests mean a slower load and a lot of unhappy customers come times of high traffic.

    Think about it like this, if I’m trying to erect a tent that comes in many pieces and, to get each set of components I have to complete a form, lodge it to the correct authorities and wait for a response, it’s going to take me a lot longer to get the whole thing together than if I had all the pieces at once.

    Fewer HTTP requests mean a faster load time and greater efficiency.

    To cut the number of HTTP requests on your website, your web developer should combine individual elements on each page into fewer files, e.g. using a JavaScript file. But, be aware that file size is also an issue when loading pages, so avoid making them too big.

    To sum things up…

    Few marketers would turn down the opportunity to ‘go viral’. But, it can actually do far more harm and good. Unless a business is are prepared for the extra attention, they end up filled with regret. But not you, because you’ll put these tips into action before it’s too late. You never know when it might be your business’s turn to go viral.

    Have your products and services gone viral? Tell us what it was like for you in the comments below.

    Author bio: “Jodie is a professional writer and editor. She translates dense topics into accessible information to help everyone from small and niche business owners to budding web masters to reach their goals. She explores design, brand psychology, marketing and tech. You can connect with Jodie through LinkedIn.”

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