20 Tips for Scaling a WordPress Site When Traffic Soars

20 Tips for Scaling a WordPress Site When Traffic Soars

You never know what might trigger a spike in traffic. And, not only a temporary surge, but a steady flow of higher-than-usual volumes of traffic.

For a blog or news site, a post gone viral could do it.

For an e-commerce site, it could be a rave review from a reputable product review site or a celebrity endorsement.

For a business website, perhaps word has gotten around about all the excellent work done for the local customer set.

Whatever it is that gives your brand and website a major boost, it needs to be able to handle the uptick in traffic and, further, to sustain it. Just a few seconds of wait time could cost you the attention (and business) of impatient visitors. And with a full on website outage? Just look at your analytics to see what the trends say about how many new visitors and sales you could lose for every hour your site remains down.

If your site is taking off (or you can sense that it’s going to happen any day now), it’s time to start scaling your WordPress site to prepare for the increased traffic. This guide will show you how to do this through improved performance, security hardening, as well as by improving the user experience on site overall.

20 Tips for Scaling a WordPress Site When Traffic Soars

Let’s be honest, this is every website owner’s and WordPress developer’s dream: your website is a major hit and the happy fans just keep on rolling in. It must be how people like Kim Kardashian feel when they see their magazine photo shoots “break the Internet.”

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But the breaking of your website will not receive the same kind of notoriety or (mostly) positive reception as a news or fashion site that goes down because of how popular a viral celebrity post or shoot ended up being. A broken website, a sluggish website, a timed-out server–whatever form it takes–is not good for business and it’s definitely not good for brand reputation.

Of course, you’d hope that by using WordPress this wouldn’t be a problem you’d have to deal with. While WordPress is capable of managing high volumes of traffic, everything around it needs to be configured properly to handle a boost in traffic. There are a number of things that could compromise all that amazing traffic coming to your site that you need to be careful about monitoring and managing.

In order to handle major increases in traffic and keep visitor enthusiasm high, your WordPress website must scale or be ready to scale at a moment’s notice. Here are 20 tips that will help you scale your WordPress site and keep it from crumpling under the pressure of heavy volumes of traffic:

1. Get a Hosting Plan with Vertical Scaling

Vertical scaling, when it comes to web servers, typically refers to hosting providers that offer tiered plans that customers can easily upgrade to as needs change. If you’re nervous that your current web host won’t be able to sufficiently handle increasing traffic, check the currently available resources on your plan.

Will bandwidth, storage, or even visitor quantity limits keep your site from confidently handling the traffic? If so, then explore your other hosting plan options. If those won’t do the trick, then it may be that you need a new type of hosting. While shared hosting is great to start, more traffic means you need more access to server resources and only something like VPS hosting or a dedicated server can help with that.

2. Get a Hosting Plan with Horizontal Scaling

Once your site’s traffic is truly booming, you may find that vertical scaling through hosting plans just isn’t enough anymore–especially if one day your traffic is high and then the next it’s out of control. In this case, you’ll want to look at horizontal scaling.

Unlike vertical scaling, which keeps your entire website on a single server, horizontal scaling separates it into various layers. WordPress recommends using a service-oriented architecture to create this. Basically, you’ll separate out your front-end server, database server, proxy layer, and image layer. This will make it easier to scale resources for the parts of the backend that really need it.

3. Use SSD Drives

Do you know what type of storage drives your web hosting plan uses? If you’re currently on one with HDD, or hard disk drives, then that’s a problem. SSD, or solid state drives, are inherently more reliable, secure, and fast than their HDD counterparts.

4. Review Platform Versions

You know how important it is to keep your WordPress software up-to-date. The same goes for server technology and each of the platforms that run on it. So, whether it’s Apache, Linux, PHP, MySQL, or any other platform you rely on to properly manage your site, make sure your host runs and is compatible with the latest stable versions for each.

5. Get Managed WordPress Hosting

If all this seems like too much work for you–scaling resources, managing server configuration–then you may want to offload the work to a dedicated professional. Managed WordPress hosting services are always a viable option. While it will cost more than a standard hosting plan, managed WordPress hosting providers help ease the pressures of scaling a WordPress site while also keeping a close eye on security and performance.

6. Put Limits on MySQL

Even though you can store a lot of data in MySQL, you have to be very careful about how you do so as overextending its limits could compromise site speed. First, put a cap on auto-loading queries. 200 is a good maximum to work with. Also, be mindful of your Options table. Each column of the table can hold up to 4GB, but repeatedly hitting that max limit could also hurt your site’s performance.

There are other ways you can be smarter about managing MySQL performance, too. This article from InfoWorld will point you in the right direction.

7. Adjust MySQL/MariaDB

WordPress suggests making adjustments to MySQL and MariaDB settings to help ease the tension brought about by high traffic and the resulting database requests that come from it. Specifically, MySQL indexing and query caching are recommended.

You can also download the HyperDB plugin from WordPress. This will help with the configuration of your databases, optimizing them for top performance.

8. Use a Caching and Optimization Plugin


Anything you can do to minimize HTTPS server requests on your website is ideal. In doing so, you reduce the number of files that are transmitted between your server and visitors, keeping load times low even as traffic increases. A caching and file optimization plugin like Hummingbird will handle this for you.

9. Add a CDN to Your Server

CDN technology is a great thing to have when you want blazingly fast speeds for your WordPress site. That said, when you’re specifically looking to scale–especially if traffic is coming from all over the globe–then a CDN is an absolute must as it will shorten the distance between your server and your visitors’ browsers.

10. Amp up Hosting Security

Security also plays a big role when scaling a WordPress site since more traffic means more potential threats you have to watch for.

So, the first thing you should do is work with your host to get your server on security lockdown. This includes:

  • Server caching
  • Server-side CDN
  • Firewall
  • Security monitoring and management (especially for DDoS)

11. Use a Security Plugin


Next up, you’ll want a security plugin like Defender to protect your site from any and all threats: malware, spam, DDoS, etc. With built-in scanning and monitoring, as well as protective security measures like two-factor authentication and blacklisting, Defender will ensure that security on the WordPress side of your website is totally covered.

12. Follow Strict Security Practices

Of course, there are other things you should be doing in order to keep your site secure from a security breach. This WordPress security checklist and ultimate WordPress security guide will ensure that you’ve covered all your bases, like changing the wp-admin, removing the admin username, applying an antivirus to your network, and so on.

13. Use a Reliable Payment Gateway

For e-commerce websites, there’s a good likelihood that traffic will one day suddenly explode–which is awesome. More traffic = more $$$.

However, the last thing you want to happen is for your site to stay up through those traffic surges and to defend itself against vulnerabilities… only to have visitors get to checkout and be unable to complete their purchase. Before it ever gets to this point, you should have a reliable, secure, and well-tested payment gateway to ensure that there will be no issues whether one customer or 10,000 customers want to buy your products at any given time.

14. Keep an Eye on WordPress Software


As always, I’m going to remind you to keep close tabs on your WordPress software: the core, plugins, and themes.

  • Delete anything that’s old, no longer supported by the original developer, or that you’re not using.
  • Keep everything that is in use updated. The easiest way to do this is with Automate.
  • Audit your plugins often to see if their size/quality/etc. make an unnecessary impact on load times. (If so, don’t be afraid to swap them out for more lightweight ones.)

15. Only Host Necessary Media

Visual content is a very important part of web design these days. Without it, you’re likely to lose visitor attention quickly.

But you know what else loses their attention? Visual content (or any content really) that takes too long to load. To spare them the trouble of waiting to see any of it, only host files on your site that you absolutely have to. In other words, if you can host videos using services like YouTube and Vimeo and then embed them on your site, do it!

16. Use Lazy Loading

Once you’ve removed the weight of videos from your site, you need to do something about those images. Lazy loading is a good place to start as it will only serve images to visitors once they reach those parts of your web pages, and not a second sooner.

17. Optimize Images

Smush Pro Plugin

Lazy loading will help delay the loading of images, but they won’t stop those server requests from happening altogether. After all, you do want visitors to see that content. For when that does happen, use an image optimization plugin like Smush Pro that will take care of resizing and compressing images for faster loading.

18. Repair Broken Links

Although broken links aren’t a big deal in terms of security and performance, you better believe they’ll hurt the user experience and, consequently, SEO. As your site receives more traffic, you can’t afford to have visitors hit these stumbling blocks, so make sure you have a process in place to check for broken links and fix them on the spot.

19. Automate Scanning and Reporting

WP Checkup

As a WordPress developer, you can’t be everywhere at once. This is why automated website scanning and reporting needs to be in every developer’s arsenal of tools. This will ease the burden of having to monitor security, performance, SEO, and more while also keeping you informed of major changes in real time.

The automated scanning and reporting tools you’ll need are as follows:

  • Google Analytics to know when traffic spikes occur and analyze the sources of the traffic, behaviors of the visitors, and assess the visitor journey on the site.
  • Security scanning to ensure that new vulnerabilities are caught and kicked out as soon as they’re detected.
  • Performance scanning (start with WP Checkup!) to watch for issues with uptime availability, blacklisting in Google, security threats, and more.
  • Speed testing tools to detect when there’s a slowdown on your website.

20. Use a Backup Plugin

Snapshot Pro

Finally, a backup plugin is essential for scaling a WordPress website. No matter how much care and precautionary measures you take to keep your site in line and your server up to snuff, something could happen that makes it all come crashing down. And, when that happens, you’ll need a quick and easy way to restore it. Snapshot Pro is a good one to check out if you don’t have a backup and restore plugin already .

Wrapping Up

This is an exciting time for your WordPress site. In order to preserve those higher volumes, you need to ensure that visitors trust you to provide a high-quality experience at all times. To do this, you need to scale your website alongside this traffic in order to ensure a truly optimized experience in terms of security, performance, and more!

Brenda Barron
Over to you: What is your biggest concern when it comes to scaling a website?