Can Your Blog Handle The Best Post You Ever Make?

Most bloggers hope and dream for that big day when they finally create that one, awesome post that goes viral. But is your blog actually ready for that when it actually happens? Will your website survive the “Slashdot effect”? (Does anybody even read Slashdot anymore? I think we need to find a new name for that. From today on it will now be called the “Viral Effect”. Tell your friends.) Leo Laporte actually jokes about this all the time on his weekly radio show because so many websites completely buckle under the weight of his radio audience all rushing to a website whenever he talks about it, denying the owner his or her 15 minutes of fame. How embarrassing.

Image of a speedometer showing website performance

If your blog or website is hosted on an inexpensive “shared” host (and, if you pay less than $150/mo, it probably is), then you are really at risk. Most shared hosts are sadly overloaded and barely able to operate effectively with nominal traffic. When your big day comes, that shared host might lock up tighter than a clam with lockjaw.

The problem with CMS’s like Drupal and WordPress

Back in the ancient days, websites were built with HTML, and that was it.  Fancy websites might even have a picture or two. Any low powered web server could easily handle serving out hundreds of copies of a web page per second because it was nothing more than some simple (HTML) text and a few pictures. Only tiny amounts of memory or CPU processing were required per web-page.

Fast forward 10 or 15 years into the modern era and websites are now built on Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress or Drupal. The text that you write is stored in a database along with all of the pictures and fancy flash objects, and every page is loaded with PHP, CSS, Javascript, and lordy-knows what else. When someone views your webpage, PHP has to call the database, the database has to query the text, the locations of the photos, information about the author, the date it was written, and more. PHP then has to then assemble it for the web server and grab all the pretty CSS and other stuff, mash it all up, stir it around, and serve it to the reader. A typical webpage can consist of dozens of database queries, and each step (PHP, Apache MySQL) requires memory and CPU power. Drupal is particularly resource heavy, but don’t think that WordPress is immune.

What does all this super-technical mumbo-jumbo mean? It means that if your blog performs “ok” with 100 visitors per hour and slows down a little with 500 visitors per hour what do you think it will do when it suddenly gets slammed with 15,000 hits? Remember that lock-jawed clam I mentioned earlier?

An easy way to viral-effect-proof your blog: Caching

Caching (in this context) makes a copy of your web pages from the database, and re-assembles them into that old-fashioned simple HTML. The page looks the same, feels the same, and tastes the same, but without all of the nasty memory and CPU overhead. The result? Your website will be substantially faster, use far less CPU and memory, and it will be able to withstand a much larger flood of visitors before that lock-jawed clam comes around.

Caching For Drupal and WordPress:

There are two really good cache plugins for WordPress:

  • WP Super Cache
  • W3 Total Cache

I’m not going to review or compare them. Both are good. Both have some pros and cons. Read up on both, pick the one that meets your needs, and you will have caching up and running in 15 minutes.

Cache modules for Drupal:

  • The Boost Module 

Boost is probably the best static caching module for Drupal so it’s the only one that I’m going to mention. It takes some reading and a few minutes to setup, but well worth it.

After installing a cache module or plugin be sure to test it!

These caching systems only work for anonymous visitors, so if you are logged-in, you won’t be seeing the cached results. Be sure to log out or use a different browser, clear your local web-browser cache, and check through your website or blog as much as you can.  If you have a mobile theme be sure to test everything from a mobile device. Some mobile themes are notorious for not displaying properly with static caching enabled.

TL;DR:
Make sure that your blog or website is ready when you finally get your big break! You invest hours in writing, sharing, and social-networking, why not invest 30 minutes to install server caching to be sure that your site can stand up to the heat when it finally all pays off.

Can Your Blog Handle The Best Post You Ever Make? by
  • Mike

    Great post. I’m working on a video that I hope will get 1000s of visitors! Here’s my question… My website is static HTML. I am on a shared server like you mention above. Can my web host handle the traffic if I embed a YouTube video? I’d sure like to have them come to my website rather than taking them to youtube’s site. Any thoughts or advice is so appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Mike

    • https://plus.google.com/u/0/107418054739711167675 Rand Wilson

      Hi @899387e48eb63bd2a9eae98d8a093526:disqus, of course the honest answer is “i have no way to know for sure” – because i have no idea how flakey your shared host is.

      That said, as mentioned in the post, plain old static html is VERY lightweight on resources and if you embed the video then YouTube is actually the one doing the heavy lifting. So I am going to say that you will probably be fine in this scenario.

      • Mike

        thank you. Wish me luck!

        • https://plus.google.com/u/0/107418054739711167675 Rand Wilson

          Good luck @899387e48eb63bd2a9eae98d8a093526:disqus , be sure to come back and post the page so that we can watch this video!