The contentious US presidential election is over and contrary to the expectations of most people, Donald Trump won. Canada was among the first to experience the effects of this decision. About two hours after polls closed in eastern US states and it became apparent that Trump would win, Canada’s main immigration website crashed.
There had been many tongue-in-cheek articles (and a few serious ones) in US newspapers and online discussing how large numbers of Americans would move to Canada if Trump won the election. Also, a Canadian radio host impishly launched a website in February pitching Cape Breton Island, located off Canada’s east coast, as an ideal location for American refugees to make their new home. As it turned out, there was quite a bit of interest in immigration on election night.
Traffic on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website surged from a typical 17,000 visitors to over 200,000 visitors on election night at the time of the crash, with about 50% of the traffic coming from the US. After the crash, visitors to the site saw a message stating, “there is a problem with the resource you are looking for, and it cannot be displayed” and they could not access any content.
Canada’s immigration website was not the only one experiencing an increase in traffic on election night. The Telegraph reported that Google experienced a significant increase in searches for terms like “how to emigrate to Canada” and “emigrate,” and the BBC reported that Immigration New Zealand (INZ) experienced a 2,500% increase in traffic on election day.
Prepare your site to receive heavy traffic
As the recent crash of Canada’s immigration website shows, unforeseen events can cause a surge in traffic, and sometimes increased traffic can do more harm than good. A brief website outage may usually not hurt you very much, but it can tarnish your image badly if it happens during a time of peak traffic. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help prevent your site from crashing if you do receive an unexpectedly large increase in traffic.
Google’s Webmaster Central Blog suggests several best practices you can implement to prepare your site for a traffic surge. Consider preparing a lightweight version of your site that you can switch to if you begin to experience a spike in traffic. Hosting forms on a third-party server can help your server cope with increased traffic loads, and you can lighten your server’s load by using lightweight file formats for content you make available for visitors to download. If you display data in tabular forms on your site, use CVS and XML formats, as these file types are relatively lightweight.
Also, optimise your image files by compressing them and having them automatically adjust to the appropriate size for display on mobile devices. Consider using your server’s cache for static content, as this will help keep your server’s capacity available in high-traffic situations.
You never know when the unexpected will happen, so consider using a website monitoring service that will promptly notify you if your site goes down. The sooner you are aware of a problem, the sooner you can act to fix it.