There is no doubt that traffic on your blog is exciting. Whether it be your first visitor, your first visitor from a search engine, or your first trackback, it is a great experience. With increased traffic and concurrent visitors, however, come hosting problems. In this post I’m going to define levels of traffic, common problems I see with hosting, and present a couple of solutions for you. I’ll try to do so in a way that isn’t too technical. If I loose you, ask a question on the comments section as there are no “stupid questions” on this blog.
How Do You Know How Many Visitors You Are Getting?
There are two free and effective ways to look at visitors on your blog. The first statistic that is interesting to view is overall traffic. Traffic statistics are very valuable as they tell you how many overall visitors you have on your blog and what content is drawing them. WordPress Stats is a great solution for this as it updates pretty regularly throughout the day and integrates into your blog via a plugin.
The second type of statistic you want to look at is actual users online at any given moment. You want to have access to actual online visitors as it helps you to understand when something is happening (e.g. a trackback from a newspaper driving significant traffic) and it is a great tool for evaluating hosting performance. For this I use a plugin called Visitor Maps / Who’s Online . Speaking of hosting performance, I probably ought to get back to that topic as it relates to this post!
What Do I Need To Support My Traffic Loads?
100 Concurrent Users or Less
If you are experiencing hosting problems and you have traffic that is less than 1,000 visitors a day or less than 100 concurrent users, this is for two reasons. The first is just poor hosting. If you are hosting your WordPress blog with a local service provider or a “cheap” masses provider, you could be in this boat. The second is the hosting package you have selected is placing limits on your blog. For example, GoDaddy’s lowest in shared hosting package maxes out at something like 50 or 100 database connections. After that, they start refusing connections leaving your users with a “database error” message. For an additional few bucks a month you can upgrade and be done with that problem.
Most commodity hosting providers should be able to handle 100 concurrent users or less without performance degradation. If you are experiencing this, switch providers. For our blogs in this category, we use MediaTemple’s Grid Service which is $20 a month.
Spikes that Go from 100 to 400 Concurrent Users
Many bloggers will see spikes in their blog that bring 100 to 400 concurrent users to their blog for a period of time throughout the day. Though any good shared hosting or virtual dedicated server (see my post on WordPress hosting options for explanations) should be able to handle this traffic, it will definitely pushe the limits of normal hosting memory configurations due to the overhead required to maintain database connections. A free and fairly easy strategy to take is to remove the database out of the equation. How do you do that? A simple plugin called WP-SuperCache . What WP-SuperCache does is makes a static HTML page from your blog post and serves it up so that each visitor doesn’t require a database call for the same thing the last visitor just saw. If this is you, install WP-SuperCache and enable it. Matt will be providing a post tomorrow on how to install and configure WP-SuperCache.
Handling Traffic Over 400 Concurrent Users
If your blog sees over 400 concurrent users in spikes, you will see both shared hosting and virtual dedicated hosting start to fall apart. This is because these traffic loads start to push up against memory limits caused inefficiencies in most default installations of Apache (the web server software on your hosting). WP-SuperCache cannot solve this problem for you. Thus, you are going to have to make a decision as to whether you just let your blog die on these less frequent occasions or whether you do something about it. If you chose to do something about it, you should do so because your have determined that your blog is growing in popularity and you need to step up and solve the problem. Doing so will require a solution that cost between $50 and $150 a month and takes about 1 hour of a UNIX administrator’s time to setup.
I will detail this solution in an upcoming post entitled “The Ultimate, Affordable WordPress Hosting Solution”.
Blog traffic is fun and exciting. Use statistics tools to keep an eye on your traffic. Before you start installing plugins and spending money, know the various levels of traffic a blog can see and use the information I’ve provided configure your blog properly and purchase the right hosting solution.