How 12 Seconds On The NBC Today Show Blew Up Sales And How We Prepared For The Traffic

12 seconds….That’s all it took… 12 minuscule seconds of being on television and the traffic and order volume for our online store completely blew up!

This past week, our online store Bumblebee Linens was featured on NBC’s Today Show and it was quite possibly the most exhilarating 12 seconds that I’ve ever experienced as long as we’ve been running our business.

The Today Show Clip



At first my wife and I weren’t sure exactly how many visitors we were going to get from being on television. In fact, I was quite skeptical that being on tv was going to generate any significant traffic at all. After all, a viewer not only has to remember your store name but they also have to physically go to a computer and place an order.

What I didn’t realize is that many things have changed in the past decade in terms of technology. For one thing, Google allows you to find any business almost instantly. And two, the advent of smart phones and tablets means that most people are by a computer practically 24/7.

Anyways to play it safe, we battened down the hatches and made extra preparations just in case our traffic and order volume blew up.

Watch the clip above and tell me what you think and read on to find out what we did to prepare for our first television appearance. At the end of the post, I’ll have some numbers to share with you.

We Prepared Our Site For The Extra Traffic

today show stats

You’ve probably heard horror stories about sites going down due to excessive press coverage right? Well I was determined that this was not going to happen to us.

If you look at the Today Show viewership data, they are averaging about 1.74M viewers per day. If we assume a generous click through rate (or Google search rate) of .5%, that would bring about 8700 visitors to our site in a very short period of time.

How did I come up with this number? I took the CTR that I’ve been getting for Facebook ads and divided that number in half. Obviously this is not an accurate estimate but I needed to make some sort of assumption about what traffic to expect.

Anyways if 8700 visitors were to hammer our website within a matter of minutes, I’m pretty sure that our site would go down in its current state so something needed to be done. But here’s what was tricky about our situation.

We weren’t really 100% sure that we were going to even get on TV until several days before. And given that I still work a full time job, I had very little time to prepare our site. Overall, I weighed several options and here were my choices…

  • Set up an upgraded server just for this one day. My current setup is limited in the RAM department especially. Some more CPUs would help too
  • Speed up our site by having our web host enable PHP/SQL caching on the server. ie. enable APC, XCache etc… This would probably require some source code changes as well.
  • Reduce the number of MySQL and PHP queries by caching the site myself. In other words, generate static pre-rendered versions of my pages.
  • Use a CDN. Services like MaxCDN, Amazon Cloudfront etc…are reasonably priced and can drastically speed up image downloads.

Given the time constraints, I decided that I didn’t want to risk moving the site to an upgraded server. In fact, I was reluctant to do anything drastic or out of the ordinary that was outside of my control.

After all, it took me quite a while to configure my existing server when I first launched and I’ve found that whenever I try to add anything new in a short period of time, I always seem to f— something up.

Being in 100% control was the key. If I went the upgraded server route and the server performed poorly, then I would have to depend on a sysadmin to fix the problem which could take hours. But if I made my own optimizations to the site, then I could easily revert to an old version in case of any problems.

Therefore I opted for the third option above which was to optimize the site myself to reduce server load. Option 3 was actually an extension of something that I had already implemented in my last site redesign

In fact, option 3 ended up being the only thing that I had time to implement and test in time for the big tv mention.

We Locked Everything Down On Our Website

In a nutshell, I decided to statically cache the entire website except for the webpages related to the checkout process. Basically, I wrote a script that generated pre-rendered copies of every single page of my online store and saved them away on the server for extremely quick access.

While this made my site lightning fast, it did have the following disadvantage. Since I was saving away static copies of my site, the dynamic elements on the page would no longer work.

So for example, the picture below shows that we have less than 5 left of this particular handkerchief.

dynamic text

However, if we were to sell out of this product, it would still show the same old message. But overall, it was worth the sacrifice for the extra speed.

The second thing that I did was to statically cache all of the configuration parameters for the store. Most online stores have to load up hundreds of configuration parameters from the database whenever a page is loaded up.

For example every time a customer visits a page, my shopping cart needs to know the name of the store, how to display the products, the size of the category images etc… in order to render the page properly.

But loading up all of these parameters from the database takes both time and server resources. Therefore, I simply dumped all of these configuration parameters into a file and essentially hard coded them on our site. While this made configuration changes inconvenient, it made our server that much faster.

With the 2 changes above, each page load required only a tiny bit of PHP code to manage the session and zero accesses to the SQL database. In other words, it was like loading up a static hard coded HTML page.

How Did Our Server Deal With The Traffic?

In short, our site held up like a champ. Even though I was extremely nervous and second guessed myself whether I should have upgraded our server, it was all good. Traffic started pouring in at around 7am PST (Note: The server clock in the graph below is in a different time zone).

Note: For context, our front page is only 250Kb in size and due to browser caching, repeated loads are only about 16Kb.

Bandwidth

And if you look at our server load during that time, it held up just fine.

Server-Load

We Improved Our Checkout Form For Email Signups

For the longest time, we only allowed newsletter signups for “registered” customers on our site. While this sounds lame, allowing signups for “non-registered” users was not supported by our shopping cart out of the box.

On our site, a “registered” customer is someone who opts to create an account during checkout. By creating an account, we store their address info so that they can order again in the future without having to re-enter their information.

However, the problem is that most customers don’t want to create an account. And as a result, we’ve been losing out on a lot of email newsletter signups from customers who don’t register.

checkout

Anyways, I finally got off of my butt and decided to program in the ability to acquire emails through our express checkout feature. If NBC was going to send a ton of traffic, I absolutely wanted to collect their email addresses for the future.

The other thing that I did was I made the newsletter optin button “checked” by default as shown below.

newsletter

The upshot of all this is that we managed to collect over 150 new email addresses that day. Note: These were from customers who opted for the “guest” checkout.

The Results

today show
Before we knew for sure that we were going to get this opportunity, my wife went ahead and pre-ordered more inventory just in case. We actually had it air shipped which made it very costly but we wanted to be prepared just in case.

As it turns out, my wife called it correctly. Here were the results that day.

  • We had 7 times the average daily order volume. There was a point in the morning where orders were coming in faster than my wife could print out the invoices.
  • Our traffic was over 3 times higher than average. The traffic graph above is a bit deceiving because most of it was heavily clustered around 7am PST when the show aired. When I first checked our traffic, there were over 200 people simultaneously hammering our website.
  • Revenues were roughly 5-6 times higher than average.


Order Volume

Here’s the breakdown in terms of platform

  • 61% of traffic came from desktop/laptop users which resulted in 79% of the orders
  • 21% of traffic came from tablet users which resulted in 16% of the orders
  • 18% of traffic came from smart phone users which resulted in 5% of the orders

Note: I forgot to add that I also locked down our entire mobile website as well so the smart phone experience was lightning fast.

Here are some numbers related to the Nielsen ratings. Unfortunately, I don’t fully comprehend what these numbers exactly mean but perhaps someone in the audience can clarify:)

  • Nielsen Audience: 2,036,955
  • Calculated Ad Equivalency: $158,933
  • Calculated Publicity Value: $476,799
  • 30-Second Ad Equivalency: $16,000

Overall

Overall, our first television was a big time success. The only thing that we could not address quickly was the increased call volume. To get someone trained up and knowledgeable about our products takes some time so we had to make due with the few operators that we had.

I even did a stint answering the phones at noon so that my wife could grab some lunch. But all in all, it was a fantastic day. Just for fun, the photo below very accurately describes our emotions that day.

today show

A Special Thanks To Robyn Spizman And A Special Offer

robyn SpizmanI just want to thank Robin Spizman for providing us with this amazing opportunity.

Robyn is a New York Times Bestselling Author, Consumer Advocate and Television Personality. In fact, she is well known as one of the country’s leading gift-giving and how-to experts and she’s a regular guest on the NBC Today Show. You can check out her bio here.

Anyways, you are probably wondering how Robyn and I crossed paths. And the answer was pure luck. Out of the blue, Robyn contacted us about being featured on the Today Show and naturally we jumped at the opportunity.

As I’ve mentioned countless times on this blog, luck always plays a part in any successful business. Sometimes you just have to stick with it long enough and good things will happen.

After working with Robyn, I can tell you that she’s extremely friendly, easy to talk to and she loves helping small business owners. She’s definitely someone who I plan on keeping in touch with in the future and we owe her big time.

In any case, to show our gratitude I’m going to be giving away 3 copies of her award winning book “Make It Memorable: An A-Z Guide to Making Any Event, Gift or
Occasion….Dazzling!”
to 3 lucky MyWifeQuitHerJob.com readers.

Simply leave a comment below this post and I’ll do a random drawing for 3 lucky winners!

Note: MyWifeQuitHerJob.com is not affiliated with Robyn Spizman in any way. So why am I doing this? I figure that if she was kind enough to send millions of eyeballs our way that I could at least send her 100K. Thank you Robyn!

Don’t forget to leave a comment below in order to enter the drawing for Robyn’s book! Thanks for reading.

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76 thoughts on “How 12 Seconds On The NBC Today Show Blew Up Sales And How We Prepared For The Traffic”

  1. Farry says:

    nice warm story of how ‘luck’ works. you have been at it for a long time, so luck is also is happy to be your companion.

  2. Exciting opportunity! I would a copy of the book as I am a horrible gift giver :)

    1. Absolutely. I will do the drawing sometime next week.

  3. maureen says:

    Congratulations on the TV appearance of your linens line. And thank-you for sharing the results. Will be opening an online store soon and have been reading/subscribed to your blog for quite some time. Best advice anywhere on the net! Robyn’s book looks fabulous, btw!

    1. Thanks Maureen,
      Let me know your URL when you launch!

  4. Dejha says:

    This is great! I have been reading all your newsletter, and they have helped me a lot. I even purchased a domain name on cyber Monday on Blue host because of you. All the options that you mentioned to make your site faster was foreign language to me. Is this something you teach in your course? Once again thanks for all the good information!

    1. Hi Dejha,
      Yes, I do go over all of this stuff in the course. But in general, you won’t have to worry about a lot of this stuff. Take care!

  5. I’m very happy for the amount of sales you’ve received on that day. You both deserve it! Thanks for helping small business owners like me.

  6. I will be sharing this with my small business Twitter followers for sure. Thanks for sharing your process, and it sounds like you did a great job on preparing your site for the Today show. Maybe the white house can hire you to help reprogram the healthcare website! LOL

    Cathy Larkin

  7. One day I’ll have my own ebusiness too. I’m trying to find the niche and I’m scared to pull the trigger. Love your blog. It’s inspiring.

    1. Hey Reobert. Let me know if you have any questions when you pull the trigger.

  8. Najwa says:

    You are such an inspiration! I missed the show though. Is it available on youtube?

    1. Hi Najwa,

      The clip is posted above within the article

  9. All that and you kept the server load under 1? Nice!

    1. Yeah. Running the site statically cached is very powerful.

  10. I would never have guessed that such a brief amount of time from a promotion of your product on television would have such a huge impact on your sales.

    1. Seriously. Television is still a big time powerhouse.

      1. Free advertising is wonderful, especially when it is television.

      2. Absolutely. I’m now a big believer in television advertising.

  11. Congratulations on the TV airing! I follow your blogs all of the time, you are an inspiration. Still trying to figure out my “niche”. Would love a copy of her book, thank you for all of your great tips!

    1. Thanks Brooke. I’ll announce the winners sometime in the next week or so.

  12. It’s very helpful to view the back-end of how to best handle a large increase in traffic. I want to start pitching PR in 2014, but have been nervous about not only getting rejected, but for getting ACCEPTED, for this very reason.

    1. Absolutely. I was actually going to get more technical but my wife told me that stuff was boring:)

  13. Kathy says:

    Wow! Congrats! I’ve been following you guys for a while and you’ve worked really hard at this. You deserve it! Good for you!!

  14. Nica Tan says:

    Congratulations!

    And to think, only 12 seconds. How mind blowing!!

  15. Simon says:

    Well done! It just shows what hard work and yes, a bit of luck, can bring. Congrats on being featured. Reading success stories like yours may finally be the tipping point I need.

    1. Thanks Simon. Definitely pull the trigger now!

  16. Congratulations on being featured on national television! Its great exposure for your brand. I would have thought this was more up Geordi La Forge’s alley (we can only give you a few minutes at Warp 9.5 captain!) :)

    1. Hey Kay,
      Love the Star Trek reference. I was more of a Scottie fan myself but I guess I’m old school:)

  17. Judy says:

    Congratulations Steve!!!

    I know there’ll be lots of people who will browse and buy later on.

    Judy

    1. Hey Judy,
      You are correct. Orders are still coming in for the exact products that were shown on the show. It’s pretty amazing. Perhaps it’s the power of Tivo?

  18. Steve you are absolutely right, As strange as it my sound luck has a lot to do with your success. Being in the right place at the right time is one of the keys to making it all work.
    Always enjoy your first hand experiences, keep up the good work.
    Thanks
    Keith

    1. Thanks Keith. Appreciate the kind words.

  19. Lob says:

    Congrats on getting on. Well done!

    1. Thanks Lob! Hope to see you in office hours again someday:)

  20. I had a similar experience. We were the lead story on a current affairs show but they didn’t tell us when it was going to air. I had 24 hours to try and get the web hosting company to upgrade the server, which they couldn’t do. I had 11,000 visitors who actually made it to the site in half an hour and the server didn’t cope at all. I hate to think about how many sales I lost from not having a robust enough server!

  21. Jack says:

    Steve,

    As I read the article and watched the video clip, the only question in my mind was “how did you get picked for this segment”. I’m glad you took the time to explain it.

    Your numbers also tell an interesting story… you indicate the appearance garnered “millions of eyeballs” and three times the daily average traffic. That means you must get an astounding number of visitors each day.

    Quite impressive, indeed! That may explain why Robyn contacted you in the first place… some of your previous eyeballs had mouths attached that probably put a bug in her ear.

    1. Thanks Jack. By millions of eyeballs, I meant millions of people who watched the show and saw our store. Only a small fraction of those eyeballs translated into visitors but it was a lot for us.

  22. Wow! What a fantastic opportunity for your company! I would never dreamed how much preparation it would take to get your site ready for the spike in business. Thanks for sharing this—as always great info!

  23. Wonderful! Very glad to hear that you made it to the the today show and only 12 seconds of air time, awesome. Having checked out your very lovely website in the past, I wanted to see other monogrammed items on the show too, but the men’s hankies were a start. Was thinking maybe those cute baby head hankies with baby names and date of birth ;)

    1. Thanks Victoria,
      Beggars can’t be choosers:) We were lucky and extremely happy just to have made the show at all.

  24. Kimmy says:

    How fantastic! Congratulations on being on the Today show, and for your successes so far. I really enjoy reading your blog posts, all the way over here in Australia, and you have helped me a lot with starting to set up my online business :)

    1. Hi Kimmy,
      That’s great. Let me know what the URL of your store is whenever you get a chance.

  25. Congratulations! What an opportunity this was – and you both deserve it!

  26. Congratulations! Amazing results. Thanks for sharing the details.

  27. Very cool and funny pictures too. Congrats and great job on the planning!

    1. THanks Jamie. Haven’t heard from you in a while. How’s the shop coming along?

  28. Thank you so much for sharing your story, especially the “back of the house” version! That’s the stuff we never hear about. Congratulations on your success!

  29. Stevee says:

    I am very happy for you all!!! Your success is contributed to your hard work and dedication. I’m glad to have you as a mentor. May your success continue :)

  30. Excellent read and I could almost relate to your excitement. Good job, lucky you. Now send me the book quickly :)

    1. Hey SB,
      Thanks for the kind words. Have we met before at FinCon?

  31. I just have to extend my congratulations to you Steve! Just 12 seconds of TV and your store has received such an amazing influx of traffic! Talk about power and performance. Wow. ;)

    Thanks for sharing about the technical aspects of prepping a site to handle high traffic. It is a wonderful good read and a real learning experience for me.

    1. THanks Alan. Glad you enjoyed the read.

  32. Congratulations Steve on your first TV coverage! I have been following your blog for a long time and have taken away lots of gems amongst your posts!

    I’m sure that there will be more media opportunities to come..

  33. I saw that segment on the Today show, I watch it every day. I do remember thinking at the time that Kathie Lee was right about handkerchiefs being such a nice touch. Your before and after photos of your wife made me laugh, I think my sister feels the same way. Her new Etsy shop blew up a couple of weeks ago with holiday orders and hasn’t slowed down yet. It’s a blessing and a curse haha. Congratulations!!

    1. Hey Marianne,

      Yeah, the holidays are always crazy for us. This year, we thought we were prepared for it too and then this happened. But I’m not complaining:)

  34. Estwins says:

    Wow, didn’t realize how until now how major TV exposure is to a business, and all but 12 seconds! You sure had all the bases covered there, congrats on your success and please keep sharing your experiences with us, I personally learn so much from you.

    Cheers!

    1. I had no idea either. Imagine if the mention was 30 seconds long. I wonder what would have happened then? THanks for the kind words. I really appreciate it.

  35. What an awesome opportunity for your business! I stopped watching much television because I’m always on the internet but I guess most of America is still tuning in! Did Robyn mention how she found you? Is she a regular reader if the blog?

  36. Cindy says:

    Wow–that’s fantastic! Congratulations. I’ve been following your blog recently & planning to buy your course because I’ve wanted to open an online store for years but have been too unsure about how it all works. The technical info in your post today seems so overwhelming–I won’t have to understand all this stuff to open a store will I? I am inspired by all your success!

  37. Congrats. Well done. The role of the chance is really undervalued in our life). By the way – have you tried to calculate channel’s 12 sec price and conversion rate for your niche? I mean, is it possible/works for you to by tv ads on regular base?

  38. John says:

    Congratulations! I hope to give this book to my son’s wife, who is just starting her own online business.

  39. Congratulations! I had no idea that appearing on TV for 12 seconds will have that effect, and to actually land that opportunity by pure luck is outstanding. Wishing you the best of luck in the future.

  40. The book sounds great! I hope the giveaway’s still going!

  41. Natalya says:

    Congratulations, Steve! And thank you for the great articles.

  42. Carole @ Rustic Artistry says:

    Congrats! Did you find that most of the customers that day ordered the handkerchief featured on the show or did they shop around your site for other items?

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