The holiday season is the biggest money-spinner of the year for many online retailers, but it can be a fraught and stressful period for retailers whose stores can’t accommodate the increased load. If “too many customers” sounds like a problem most retailers would be happy to have, you’re right, but if a WooCommerce store and its hosting platform can’t keep pace with demand, customers are likely to go elsewhere.
Performance issues are a major cause of high bounce rates and abandoned carts. A store that performs perfectly well under moderate load can grind to a halt during the peak hours of Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season. Retailers who take the time to prepare their store in advance are well positioned to make the most of the seasonal rush.
Evaluating Your WooCommerce Store’s Performance
Before making any changes to a WooCommerce store, retailers need to understand how well it performs under average load and under stress. To find out how much time is spent loading the various components of a page, I recommend running several pages through at least one of the following tools:
These tools provide a clear picture how quickly pages load and, if there’s a problem, the likely culprit. Google PageSpeed Insights is particularly useful because it provides concrete advice about the changes that can be made to improve performance. If you follow the links on the Google PageSpeed Insights’ report, you’ll learn what you need to do to get things running smoothly.
In addition to testing the latency and load-times of your store under normal load, you might want to consider stress testing it under heavy load. Chris Lema has written an excellent article about load testing WooCommerce sites, and it’s well worth taking a look at if you want to put a store through its paces.
No amount of front-end optimization will significantly improve performance if the WooCommerce store itself is slow, so I’m going to focus on three things you can do to optimize performance on the server.
Upgrade Your Hosting
The resources available on your WooCommerce store’s hosting account are a hard-limit for performance. Some hosting providers don’t take the time to optimize their servers properly or put too many hosting accounts on the same server. If you suspect hosting is causing the problem, you have a couple of options:
- Stay with the same hosting provider and migrate to a more generous WooCommerce hosting plan.
- Migrate to a hosting provider that offers performance-optimized WooCommerce hosting and can accommodate the needs of your store.
Which option is best for your store depends on a number of different factors, but moving to a different hosting provider isn’t as complex or expensive as you might think (in fact, Nexcess offers free migrations).
Use A Caching Plugin
Caching plugins can significantly decrease latencies and reduce the load on your store. Without caching, WordPress generates pages dynamically, but often that’s not necessary. Some pages and parts of pages don’t change between users, and it’s much quicker to send a pre-generated version than building it fresh with every request. That’s what a good caching plugin will do for you.
There are several caching options for you to choose from, but I’ve had the best results with these:
- WP Rocket is a premium WooCommerce-compatible plugin that provides a friendly low-friction experience without bamboozling users with a million different options.
- W3 Total Cache is free and offers much the same functionality, but if you like lots of options to tinker with, this is the caching plugin for you.
Before installing any caching plugins, check out the WooCommerce docs for advice about how to use them effectively on your eCommerce store.
Consider A Content Distribution Network
A content distribution network distributes your site’s static assets to edge nodes around the globe. Any requests for those assets are redirected to the edge nodes and not to your servers. CDNs provide the double benefit of reducing the load on your servers and ensuring that static assets are loaded as quickly as possible.
A combination of a great WooCommerce host, caching, and a content distribution network will help you provide your customers with the best possible shopping experience in the coming holiday season.