Can your website handle a heavy surge of activity?: “The Dragons’ Den Effect”

Dragons Den IrelandI must confess, I am a big fan of TV show the Dragons’ Den, first on BBC and then also on RTE when it made it to Ireland.  Over the past couple seasons that the show has run in Ireland, I’ve watched and tweeted along to the show. Until this year, most of the websites crashed under the surge in traffic that came while the business owner appeared on the show.  What a waste of the 5 or so minutes of fame that the business and website could have. It seemed that in preparing to appear on the show, nearly every business failed to ensure that the website would not crash during the show.

So you are going to be on Dragons’ Den?

When the opportunity came up to work with one of this year’s contestants, I jumped at the chance — and the challenge to keep the site online during the broadcast. I was recommended to Jason and Anjanette O’Reilly, owners of the then Silicon Team Watches.  When Jason rang he told me the entire story about how well his pitch had gone, that he got investment from two Dragons, and that he and one of the Dragons started crying.  The producers were saying that this was going to be TV gold! That, and a few other big announcements coming up for the business, would ensure that the website would see heavy traffic on the night and over the weeks that followed!

Technical Points to Consider

Pride Watch Website

We wouldn’t have time for complete redevelopment of the site, but needed to do as much as possible in the few weeks until the show would air.  Straight away I contacted Conor Moran of Irish Domains, the web hosting company that I’ve used for the past 12 years. They have provided a top class service during that time and I knew we could rely on them to take over the hosting of the website. The following were his recommendations:

  • Move the site off of shared hosting, which most small business sites use, to VPS hosting, also known as Cloud hosting. There is a significant difference in cost, but it is necessary to ensure that the site will be able to handle the kind of traffic we were expecting.
  • Make sure that the application running the site and all plugins are running the most up to date version of the software and working correctly. (If we had time we would have moved to a different application for the site and shopping cart that would be more reliable and efficient.)
  • Move the media files (images, logos, videos, etc.) to a Content Distribution Network (CDN) that is set up to load the files quickly and efficiently. This will reduce the load on your own server.
  • Install a plugin that will cache the pages of the website so that they can be held and served to visitors more quickly than if pages had to be dynamically generated each time.
  • Stress test the site using an application that will replicate a huge amount of traffic and purchases to the website.
  • Advise the payment processor of the upcoming event and check that they can handle the traffic.  Using one of the major companies to handle this, like Realex or PayPal, will ensure that you can handle a large number payments.

New Branding

Pride Watch New PackagingWhile we were moving the site and Irish Domains handling the technical details of the above list, Silicon Team Watches had become Pride Watches.  I was involved in some of the conversations regarding a new name and logo,  including registration of a number of potential domain names, but it was Ciarán Flanagan, Managing Director of IDEA, and his team that came up with the great new branding. Again, we wouldn’t have time for a complete redesign, but could move to a new domain name, include the new logo and change the colour scheme to better suit the new logo (yippee for themes with colour scheme selection).

We would have loved a complete new look to suit the new branding and package, but just couldn’t do it in time.

Other Online Marketing Considerations

Pride Watch on FacebookAs well as having the site ready, these days social media is very important, especially when you are getting coverage in the media.  People may not want to make a purchase on the night of the show, but if they can connect with you on your social media channels you then have a chance to make a sale in the future.  We also made sure that we had a mailing list sign up on the site to capture details also for future marketing efforts.

Besides making sure that your website has obvious links to your social media channels and mailing list sign up form, be sure to have coverage on your social media channels during the show.  If you are busy with other things during the show get someone with some experience in social media to monitor your channels.  Use this chance to get more followers, likes and subscribers by interacting with the others online during the show.  The Pride Watch Facebook Page went from 2 to 225 likes in about 5 minutes!

It’s Showtime!

After all the frantic moving, testing and updating of the site we had to have the site ready a few days before the air date as one of the other big announcements was to hit — the official endorsement by the GAA! We had all the social media channels set up with the new branding and coverage on the night to manage Twitter and Facebook, as well as monitoring activity on the website.

Gavin Duffy Dragon in TearsAs expected, the number of visits to the website soared as Jason gave his pitch.  His natural charm and sound business idea won over not only all the Dragons but to a huge number of web users on the night. On Twitter, we made sure to direct people to the website and to the Facebook Page. The site stayed up the whole time, but there were a couple of hiccups.  A cache of a mobile version of some pages was coming up for non-mobile users and there were a couple issues with the shopping cart.  These issues were down to the application used, which we didn’t have time to change; but with the time and budget we had the online marketing was a huge success.

We used this strategy for the appearances Jason made over the next week, including the Saturday Night Show, which brought even more visitors to the site than during the Dragons’ Den episode.  By that night we had sorted the issues with the caching and shopping cart.

If you are going to do one thing, what should you do?

Get a web developer that you can trust that really knows his or her stuff, or an online marketing consultant that does and can connect you with the right people to get your website and other online marketing channels ready to make the most of this exposure.  I provided the same advice to a few other Dragons’ Den contestants and some didn’t make the necessary upgrades and did not keep the website up during the broadcast. Too many website owners blindly trust their web developers, some rightly so; but it’s important that you do a reality check and if your web developer has not managed a site under these circumstances, it’s possible that he doesn’t know what needs to be done.

The Biggest Mistake

Many businesses don’t make the move to VPS hosting, but that is the biggest mistake. You may not feel that you can afford the additional cost for the hosting and support required, but the truth is, you cannot afford to NOT make that move.

You may not get another chance to get this amount of traffic, so make sure you make the most of it!

Pride Watches are available in most SuperValu & Centra shops around Ireland and online at www.pridewatches.com.  Connect with them on Twitter @pridewatches and Facebook.com/PrideWatches.