Five Digg-Type Effects That Will Challenge Your Server

Most Webmasters know that, when you start seeing referral traffic from Digg it’s a good idea to batten down the hatches and prepare for a Digg effect.

However, Digg is not the only site or service that can delivery a tremendous, potentially server-crushing spike in traffic to your site. There are several other ways you could find yourself and your site blown out of the water if you are not adequately prepared.

So what other referrals should send you scrambling to make sure your cache and CDN is working properly? Well, here are five of the big ones that you should consider and, the bad news is that, for many of them, there’s no warning when the tsunami of traffic starts rolling in.

1. Slashdot

Before we knew about the Digg Effect, we all cringed in fear of the Slashdot Effect. Slashdot has been crushing servers for much longer than Digg and, though it may lag far behind both Digg and Reddit in terms of raw visitor numbers, you can’t underestimate the dedication of the site’s audience.

However, unlike with Digg which is purely user-driven, Slashdot is editor-driven, meaning that stories that make the front page are selected from a submitted pool by administrators at the site. This means that you might receive no warning before a Slashdot effect crashes on your shores as only one or two visitors will reach your site via the domain before the tidal wave hits.

Where you will likely see a Digg or Reddit storm long before it hits, Slashdot can sneak up on you very easy and that can make the site very deadly to an unprepared server.

2. StumbleUpon

A StumbleUpon swarm is an interesting anomaly to say the least. Unlike Digg, Slashdot or most other social news sites, StumbleUpon has no “front page” that everyone hopes to get on. Users are pushed to sites primarily via plugins and extensions that they install and that present articles that StumbleUpon thinks they will be interested in.

However, at times, for reasons not fully explained, an article will take of on StumbleUpon and seemingly wind up on just about everyone’s to-read list. This usually happens after an article gets enough positive attention from the intended audience. This can provide a very intense wave of traffic that can be impossible to predict.

The problem is that most StumbleUpon swarms die out before they go anywhere. You get a few visitors from the service and then the swarm dies off, no having gotten any traction. Sometimes it will stop mid-way, other times it will go the distance. To make matters worse, once a major swarm starts, it can die off seemingly instantly after too many negative votes.

Though StumbleUpon traffic is great in that it is well-targeted and very natural, it can be impossible to prepare for.

3. Twitter

Like StumbleUpon, Twitter can also provide swarms of traffic that can be impossible to predict. The problem is that most sites have a certain amount of background traffic from the service at all times though, every once in a while, it seems a post “takes off” and becomes the subject of a flurry of @replies and retweets.

This behavior is almost completely unpredictable and can happen at almost any time to any article on your site. I’ve seen year-old posts become Twitter bait overnight while current, targeted ones languish.

The good news, however, is that the rush of Twitter traffic is usually not as crushing as other sources as it takes time for the retweets to spread. Instead, it comes more in a drawn out wave than most other options. The exception to this rule is when a Twitter celebrity tweets your link, at which point all bets are off and it was nice knowing your server.

That, however, is the least predictable kind of Twitter traffic but something that seems to happen extremely rarely.

4. SEO Bumps

Most people think of Google traffic as being a fairly standard thing, coming in at roughly the same level most days with shifts when Google changes its algorithms. However, it’s not that easy.

You may score well on a keyword or phrase that isn’t important now, but if something happens to make that keyword suddenly hot, you may find yourself in for a wild ride.

An example of this happened to me recently with the search term “Nick Simmons Plagiarism”. I had done a write up about allegations against him and my article reached number one in Google for the term. When, sometime later, more news broke about the scandal and searches for the term shot up many fold, I found myself deluged with thousands of new visitors.

There is little way to predict these spikes and traffics as you are likely unaware you even rank well on the terms likely to “break loose”. It is impossible to tell what news stories or events may take place that could draw the searching masses to your site but when it does happen, it is something you will notice immediately.

5. Mainstream Media

Finally, never underestimate the audience you can get from a major publication. Though we might think of newspapers as dinosaurs of the digital age, the truth is that their sites still command a great deal of traffic and a lot of content from other blogs comes from them.

If you can find a way to get your site linked in a major media site, including many major online-only publications, you can find yourself not only with a huge instant spike in traffic but a second, longer wave as other sites pick up the story as well.

With mainstream media, you likely do get some warning as most reporters will also want to interview you before publishing your link. However, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to know which stories will generate traffic and when they will go live. Some stories get buried at publications, others get virtual front-page attention and usually even the reporter doesn’t know.

Still, this is definitely one potential source to be prepared for.

Bottom Line

What this means is actually fairly simple. you should not count on your ability to “batten down the hatches” when it comes to traffic spikes as many happen without warning and, worse of all, even if you do get warning, you might be asleep or away from your computer.

It is important to ensure that your site is prepared for traffic spikes 24/7 and that, in turn, means having good caching in place, using a CDN when appropriate and, most importantly, having a server that is able to handle the load.

If you want your site to stay alive during traffic spikes, you have to be ready at all times. There are simply too many ways a rush can catch you off guard, no matter how closely you are monitoring your site.

In short, if you’re always prepared, you may be surprised, but you will never be taken off-guard.

(Thanks to tome213 for the image)

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