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
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.
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.
And if you look at our server load during that time, it held up just fine.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
A Special Thanks To Robyn Spizman And A Special Offer
I 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.
- The Danger Of Hotlinking – Web Related Lessons I Learned This Week
- 6 Ways To Speed Up The Loading Of Your Website
- How Dedicated Hosting Can Actually Be Cheaper Than Shared Hosting
- Are These Ecommerce Mistakes Driving Newbie Shoppers Away From Your Online Store?