Having your e-commerce site go down for even a few hours during the holiday shopping season can be disastrous. This is why many business owners and their web design team have a “code freeze” during the busiest days of the year. While you can make some minor changes to your site during the holidays, any major changes to the code could result in expensive errors and a lengthy downtime. Here is a look at some tips that you can use to prep your website for the upcoming code freeze and make the most out of what could be a record-breaking holiday shopping season.
Do I Need a Code Freeze?
When it comes to the busiest shopping days of the year, it is always wise to err on the side of a caution. The vast majority of e-commerce sales are made between November and January, and this means that even a few hours of downtime could result in thousands of dollars in lost revenue. Matt Folly, a contributor for Search Engine Watch, states that even brick-and-mortar stores will benefit from a website revamp followed by a code freeze just before the holidays. The reason for this is the fact that over 90 percent of in-store purchases are researched online beforehand. With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the steps that you can take to prepare your website for a surge in traffic.
Update Your High Traffic Pages
The first thing that you and your marketing team will need to do is think about which pages are going to get a surge of traffic in the coming weeks. While your product pages will no doubt get quite a bit of traffic, visitors will also be looking for your shipping information, return policy, order tracking, and payment options. If this information has been buried deep in an FAQ or generic ‘About Us’ page, then you should consider giving them their own URL. Each of these pages should also list your company’s contact information in a clearly visible manner near the top. As always, be sure that you double-check all of this information to avoid any headaches with unsatisfied customers.
Bring Your Sales and Promotions to the Front
Many business owners worry about creating last-minute pages for specific holiday sales because Google and other search engines will not have adequate time to rank them. While this is a valid concern, Google will actually give an edge to promotional pages during the shopping season. Ideally, every e-commerce site should have dedicated pages for all of the biggest shopping days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. After creating sales pages for this year, simply leave them active for next year and update them as needed.
Test Your Site’s Speed
There are few things that are as aggravating for a consumer as waiting on a slow website. In fact, a delay of just a few seconds could significantly increase your site’s bounce rates. Some of the most common causes of a slow website include database issues, third-party plugins, large media files, and server strain due to an influx of visitors. As long as there are no connection issues on the user’s end, most business owners will want to have their pages load within 2 to 3 seconds. Nearly 44 percent of shoppers will abandon a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load.
Prepare for Mobile Visitors
Mobile Internet usage continues to climb with some studies suggesting that 90 percent of Internet users will access online content through their phone by 2017. For business owners that run an e-commerce site, the importance of having mobile-friendly pages cannot be overstated. If you do not plan on creating a second mobile website for your business, then you will want to ensure that your main website scales correctly to smaller screens and loads quickly on a wireless network. Mobile optimization has become a vital tool for improving SEO, reducing bounce rates, and increasing conversion rates. Those that plan on doing an email campaign during the holidays should make sure that the emails are formatted for small devices as the vast majority of customers will first check their emails on their phones.
Customize Your Error Pages
Quite a few visitors are going to abandon a website when they hit an error page, but you can recoup at least some of your losses by infusing a little humor or personality into your error pages. This is especially effective during the holidays when you can add humor that is specific to this time of year. A lighthearted joke followed by a suggestion to head to a sales page could stop at least some of the traffic from leaving your site.
Test All Links
While you should still be able to alter some links after the code freeze, it is better to test them well before the holidays. Luckily, this job is relatively simple and does not take much time. In addition to ensuring that the links do not lead to error pages, you also want to make sure that they direct visitors to useful pages. Using clickbait links that reroute visitors to spam-ridden pages is a surefire way to reduce your conversion rates and potentially even harm your SERP rankings. If a link promises a specific product, then it should only lead to that product’s page and nowhere else.
Test Your Checkout Paths
There is a good chance that visitors are going to attempt to make purchases in a few different ways. Some might try to connect to PayPal through their smartphone while others will pay with a credit card and promo code. Testing all of these paths is another simple step that could save you from a large headache down the road. You should also try to change your payment preferences, billing address, and any other variables that could result in an error.
Collect and Analyze Your Data
The final step in this process is to begin the code freeze, collect data, and see what you can do differently next year. No matter how well you do over the next few weeks, having data such as conversion rates and the origins of your traffic will allow you to make effective changes to your marketing campaign. You and your team will be able to build on your success and continue drawing in high-quality traffic.