How to Plan for Success

There are many potential pitfalls connected to the ownership of a successful site. It is important to plan for success well in advance of any crisis point, so that you do not get taken by surprise.

How Much Headroom Do You Have?

Make sure that you are aware of the maximum capacity of your site. In most cases, the hosting contract you have signed with your virtual hosting company comes with clearly defined limits on the amount of traffic that you can handle every month without paying extra. Typical amounts for most sites will be in the region of 1GB to 3GB per month.

WARNING! Some less than scrupulous hosting companies will try to make you believe that a traffic allowance of around 100MB - 300MB per month is adequate. They're lying to you!

This traffic limit is very important, since if you go over that limit you will normally have to pay a small but significant amount for every MB of data that your visitors download... and you don't want to have to "pull the plug" on your website because you can't afford the payments anymore!

If you don't know your site's limits, find out NOW! A sudden increase in visitor numbers (I'll give you an example scenario later) could end up costing you tens or hundreds of $ as many hosting companies have very high excess charges for all traffic over your allocated limit.

How Much is Enough?

The table below will help you gauge roughly how much capacity you should allow for your site. It is based on 1 page = 25Kb. If you have a site with large pages full of graphics, you'll want to reduce the estimates accordingly. Remember that if you have one or two banner ads per page, 25K per page will be way too low!

100MB 4,000
300MB 12,000
500MB 20,000
1GB 40,000
2GB 80,000
3GB 120,000
5GB 200,000
10GB 400,000
20GB 800,000
40GB 1,600,000
60GB 2,400,000

I have included values upto 60GB/month since some (relatively costly) hosting plans allow for 1GB of data per day.

If your average visitor views four pages, you can easily see how quickly a 100MB traffic allowance will be used up. In this case, if you get over 35 visitors per day you are in real trouble!

If you choose the right hosting company, a capacity of 2GB or more per month should be within reach. That will be enough to satisfy the needs of many small business and personal sites.

Handy Hint : Buy More than You Need, and Save Money!

With most web hosting packages, you will find that the marginal cost of more traffic is much lower than the initial cost per month. For instance, it might cost you $15 per month for a basic site hosting package that includes 1GB of traffic, but only $20 per month for 2GB of traffic. In other words, if you buy in bulk you get a lot more for your money!

Always plan ahead: try to evaluate your traffic requirements based on your future target for your site. Try to aim around one year down the road -- that's a lifetime in Internet terms!

For instance, if you have a site that currently receives 5,000 visitors per month and your target is to increase the number of visitors by 10% every month... you'll need to plan for enough capacity to handle approximately 15,000 visitors. Add a little bit for safety's sake, and you'll see that a 2GB traffic allowance is appropriate for you.

ALWAYS make sure that there is little or no financial penalty if you want to switch your web hosting plan to one that offers more traffic. I have seen some dodgy hosting companies that charge a fee of upto $250 for the priviledge of switching you to a a different hosting plan under which they can charge you more money.

Traffic Explosion : A Real-Life Example

Your traffic can suddenly increase for many reasons. Perhaps your site won a major award, or it was mentioned in a newspaper or magazine. Perhaps your site was just listed in Yahoo! or one of the other major online directories... for whatever reason, running your site close to your maximum limit can be VERY costly.

My Free Email site was listed recently in Infoseek's Select sites listing, which collects sites that in the opinion of Infoseek's editors represent excellence on the web. While I was delighted at the accolade, it has brought with it an incredible leap in site traffic, around 200 more visitors per day. That's an extra 600MB of data to transfer every month, if the visits stay constant. For a small site, that big an increase will come as a massive shock! If I had been near my traffic limit, that sort of increase would cost me around $60 ($0.10 per MB) -- more than an entire 2GB per month package costs ($49.95)!

Playing with Big Guns

Yahoo! will send a team of engineers to "stress-test" a site's servers if the site owner wants to sign up for a major promotional campaign. This represents the ultimate traffic explosion, as it could result in hundreds of thousands of extra visitors over a very short space of time. Of course, in this particular example you are paying for those visitors... but it shows how seriously even the biggest companies take the "threat" of more traffic.

Other Considerations

It's not just the amount of traffic per month that you need to concern yourself with. With increased traffic come a plethora of related increases:-

  • Increase in the amount of email to your site. Can your email program or system handle a significant increase in email? Can you respond within a reasonable time to a much larger volume of email?
  • For commercial sites: Increase in the number of potential customers and hence, hopefully, orders generated by your site. Can your order processing mechanism handle more visitors? Do you have the staff to process and dispatch a much larger volume of orders?
  • Increase in the amount of attention paid to your site. If you really see a very significant increase in traffic, you may well attract the attention of the media. Do you have a media kit or press release ready for them? Are you able to respond to questions or interview requests at short notice?

I hope the above has provided you with food for thought, and that you will consider planning for success an essential part of the promotion process.

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