Businesses today are more reliant on their websites than ever before. From ecommerce businesses that rely on their Shopify pages, to B2B organizations that show others the importance of their solution, an operating website is vital to business performance.
When sites go down, there are major financial and operational implications. From bots to genuine buyers, it’s critical that your site can weather the storm of product releases, swarms of visitors, and even DDoS attacks. There are many ways to handle this, but what is known as a virtual waiting room simply doesn’t get enough attention.
Budget-Sucking Site Crashes
When your site breaks – or even goes down for good – then genuine customers are cut off. Over 80% of businesses experience losses of over $300,000 for every hour that a site stays down. For multi-million dollar giants, every minute matters. For Amazon – currently valued at $1.32 trillion – experiencing even a single minute of downtime wipes out a quarter of a million of revenue. They had similar problems during their 2018 Prime Day. Normally a massive event, a huge surge in customers – and underperforming architecture – created a sinkhole at the checkout pages. Customers could not go through with their purchase, as the checkout page would simply not respond. Though only a partial outage, it still cost Amazon between $72 and $99 million dollars simply in abandoned purchases.
Even non-ecommerce giants face major consequences to site downtime. On March 13th 2019, Facebook suddenly suffered a 14-hour blackout. This included all of Facebook’s products, too: Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp all ground to a halt. In the longest period of downtime they’d suffered since their inception, this caused a loss of $89.6 million – $6 million for every single hour of downtime!
What Causes Site Crashes?
Every time a visitor hops on your site and browses, the server is continuously managing their requests. Whether that’s requesting a particular page, watching a promotional video or zooming in on images; adding something to their basket or completing the checkout operation. Each of these individual actions demand processing power.
Alongside handling user requests, the site also needs to handle your own backend, vital to managing a business. Calculating costs for shipping and taxes, updating inventory, reading and activating scripts. Every action places a little more weight onto the server and its supporting system. During a normal working day, the server handles this easily and efficiently.
However, some days are special. A surge in site traffic can kick your server into overdrive, and – if extreme enough – can cause a complete outage. An unexpected deluge of site visitors can have you scrambling around, attempting to patch the sudden holes from the hundreds of thousands of new visitors. Not only does this mean you fail to take advantage of this boost in numbers, but all of your daily conversions also fall through the floor.
These surges can originate from both good and bad sources: a highly effective marketing campaign can bring thousands of new eyes onto your brand; an online controversy can entice swarms of angry visitors. Other surges can come from highly-anticipated product drops or sudden ticket releases.
Having a contingency plan for traffic surges means that your company is not only capable of handling a traffic surge, but well-positioned to take advantage of it.
How do Waiting Rooms Work?
Virtual waiting rooms operate similarly to queues at a theme park. The ride has a set amount of seats and architecture, ferrying up to a few hundred people round at a time. When more people arrive before another group leaves, they are faced with the choice of joining the queue or abandoning the ride. A site without a virtual waiting room is like a rollercoaster without a queue: totally unprepared. The vast majority of shoppers, when faced with a broken link, will simply abandon your cart and shop elsewhere.
When the site reaches a rough threshold for the amount of visitors it can handle, this is where a virtual waiting room kicks in. This works off the basic idea of demand and supply: if your site is that popular, then there’s something worth waiting in the queue for.
Any traffic over the manageable limit is placed in a queue in the virtual waiting room. This is a static webpage that displays their queue progress in real time. Thanks to the relatively simple page design, this traffic will take up far fewer server resources. When the user’s turn comes around, they can then access the site and make their transaction.
A Battle Against the Bots
Maintaining your site and its integrity is an important part of facilitating the growth of any online business. However, there are even greater benefits to a virtual waiting room: it forms a vital part of your cybersecurity defense.
A DDoS attack utilizes a network of infected computers – called a botnet – which are controlled by a single attacker. This attacker points this hundreds-of-thousands-strong botnet at any site they please – sometimes as part of a larger extortion campaign. From here, the botnet can begin pinging site requests at your website. A DDoS attack is particularly powerful thanks to each computer’s ability to leave the site hanging. Essentially, when a normal site user requests a web page, the server will supply the page – then ask for confirmation of that page being received. A DDoS botnet will make millions of requests, but each individual request will not perform that final confirmation step. This places even more stress on a server, as it now must wait for the request timeout – if there’s one implemented at all.
Outside of malicious attacks, bots make up a large chunk of online traffic. A large bot presence on your site can hugely impact SEO rankings, as well as create issues for real life, genuine visitors. For example, scalping bots access your site and buy up as many pieces of high-demand product as possible. They will then re-sell these products at a vastly inflated price. This means that your brand becomes negatively affected by illegitimate users, and your customers face the consequences.
A virtual waiting room with a bot detection system can detect bots based on their browsing patterns and prune them. This also means that queue-jumping bots are thrown out, and legitimate users are prioritized from queue to purchase.