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Hotjar for the holidays: how to predict and prepare for a traffic spike

An anticipated increase in website traffic is all the more reason to optimize your site and grab more opportunities to boost sales, increase conversions, and deliver a delightful user experience. 

Last updated

18 Nov 2023

Reading time

9 min


Is your site prepared to handle high-traffic seasons? For many users and online shoppers, there’s nothing more frustrating than a website that wasn’t built to handle a traffic surge. 

While many people caught up in the holiday shopping frenzy would happily give up their hard-earned money, we’d bet ours that they won’t be so quick to accept online businesses’ excuses about experiencing too much traffic. In most cases, that’s a lost sale. Worst case? It’s a prospect you’ve lost to a competitor for good.

So either be ready for the traffic surge or risk losing revenue—and facing potential backlash—on D-Day. 

The great news is that digital entrepreneurs can predict and prepare for most peak traffic periods, from global and public holidays to grand sales and online shopping events. 

One way is to search for the broader market and consumer data in your space—think ‘ecommerce’ or ‘digital economy’. User experience (UX) platforms like Hotjar can also help you uncover insights into traffic seasonality that’s unique to your company. (We won’t get into how effective Hotjar is during seasonal traffic surges right now, but give us a few minutes: we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves in the following chapters.)

If a website that’s optimized and all about delighting users during peak season is what you want, delve into our guide to get the details on how it’s done.

Maximize peak traffic periods

Spot patterns and problems that occur when your website traffic increases. Use our behavior analytics tools to figure out fixes before the next traffic spike.

‘Tis the season to improve your site UX

Low- and high-traffic seasons occur as your target market’s needs change with time. As we said, it’s possible to keep track of these changes, starting with key market factors. (We could also easily point to specific holidays, but it’s better to support business decisions with hard data. 😃)

Expect Cyber Monday again as the holiday shopping event with the biggest conversion rate this year.

For instance, we know the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the busiest in the United States. But, get this: holiday ecommerce transactions alone can reach $236 billion in 2022, an estimated 15.5% growth year-over-year (YoY). And if last year’s record repeats itself, expect Cyber Monday again as the holiday shopping event with the biggest conversion rate. 

If you’re participating in Cyber Monday, or any other holiday sale, we cannot stress enough the importance of a pleasant user experience in increasing your conversion rate. A crashing website tends to ruin the moment for shoppers, and you don’t want that happening just because your site can’t handle traffic spikes.

Website optimization: an overview

Optimizing your website or app involves analyzing and implementing changes to the following aspects:

  • User experience (UX)

  • Accessibility

  • Search performance

The process aims to increase traffic or conversions

Also, it takes advantage of various tools and strategies, including:

  • Page speed improvement

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)

  • Conversion rate optimization (CRO)

  • Mobile browsing optimization

3 ways to predict seasonal traffic surges

Let’s be clear that while Cyber Monday may cause a massive surge in traffic, your site can experience spikes throughout the year. That’s why it always makes good business sense to anticipate and get ready for such events.

1. Connect the dots

Virtual waiting room firm Queue-it found that holiday season traffic grew 57% YoY in 2021. So if you have access to your traffic data from last year, you can check if the surges corresponded with holiday sales. 

If you’re from the U.S., you can also cross-reference this list of holiday shopping events ranked according to the highest conversion rates:

  • Cyber Monday

  • Black Friday

  • Small Business Saturday

  • Day before Thanksgiving

  • Thanksgiving

  • Veteran’s Day

2. Create a baseline

Sometimes, a reason for reaching peak traffic may not be a holiday sale. A regular ol’ marketing campaign can also create such an impact (think of a viral meme, an influencer call-out, or a TikTok video driving traffic to your site). 

An off-season traffic surge in action

In April 2022, a happy Hotjar employee posted a TikTok about our Hotjar perks. The video unexpectedly exploded. What followed was a flood of traffic to our careers page and a surge in job applications. 

(Fun fact: the employee noticed a lot of the traffic going to a 404 error page. Luckily, she was able to redirect it to the correct URL!)

A chart on the Hotjar Dashboard depicting the surge in traffic on our careers page.

So to better predict high-traffic events, you should first look at past data and determine your steady-state traffic. Then, plot the points where traffic surged and see what coincided with them. Is it a seasonal event (e.g., a holiday-related campaign) or a normal business event (e.g., a demand generation activity)?

3. Monitor site performance

When you use tools to monitor UX, you can spot trends as they arise. For example, you learn through Recordings, one of the primary Hotjar tools, that many visitors are using a particular feature during a holiday sales event, causing a slowdown. Using this insight, you can then predict when the demand will rise again and prepare a solution to nip the problem in the bud.

💡Pro tip: be sure to check out the following chapters of this guide if you want more detailed use cases and actionable tips on how to use Hotjar Recordings before, during, and after a traffic spike.

What site owners miss out on if they don’t maximize high-traffic seasons:

Losing new and repeat customers to competition
Missing great opportunities to convert as many people as possible
Earning a bad rap—and the ire of the internet community—due to unfulfilled user expectations

Issues that come with increased traffic

After identifying traffic spikes, you can start preparing for them and the potential issues they may cause. Problems may differ from one business to another. But there are common factors to consider when planning for an onslaught of traffic.

Overwhelming your server

Servers contain the data that make up sites, webpages, and apps. Each time a user accesses a web page, a request is sent to a server to download a copy of the web page to a browser (Chrome, Safari, etc.) located on the user’s device (client). 

These servers can only handle a certain number of requests. A sudden spike in traffic can cause it to max out its resources and fail to serve more requests. To users, this translates into something like a new website melting down in the first five minutes.

The good news is that, in some cases, you can avoid this issue by simply upgrading to a server that can accommodate your estimated increase in traffic.

Targeting the wrong audience

Just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come. And by they, we mean the people who will buy and find value from your product. So, focus on quality over quantity. It’s absolutely more productive to attract 20,000 relevant visitors than 200,000 non-relevant ones. 

Becoming vulnerable to security issues

Racking up more visits can boost your brand’s popularity. But while this is a desirable effect, it can also attract the attention of cybercriminals, especially if your success has become widespread.

Experiencing sustainability issues 

If too much traffic is the result of unsustainable growth, it can put a strain on your company's resources. You may lack the team, processes, and infrastructure to deliver a delightful experience to your customers. And this can translate into losing existing and even new users to competitors.

What happens if a site’s UX isn’t optimized?

When you fail to optimize your site, it can slow down or crash altogether during peak traffic periods. This can drive away high-intent users and cause sales to drop. That’s understandable: people are pressed for time and want to complete their orders fast. If they find friction on your site, they’ll switch apps or stores pronto. 

According to reports, 57% of users will leave a website that doesn’t load in three seconds. Additionally, 45% of people are less likely to complete a purchase if the site is slower than expected.

Here are some scenarios that result from the failure to optimize your site’s UX and accommodate the surge in traffic:

Best practices for preparing and improving UX

Optimizing your site’s UX should not intimidate brands and business owners—or anyone without coding experience, for that matter. Some of the steps here do not require a developer’s knowledge and skills. But it would be great if you were working with one since it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation anyway.

Reduce friction

Understand how users interact with your website. Apart from looking at the traffic volume, you can take advantage of platforms providing product experience insights like Hotjar. For example, viewing heatmaps and recordings will enable you to identify areas where users get stuck. 

With complementary features like Hotjar Trends, you can also spot significant patterns, such as an increase in rage clicks on a landing page in the last three weeks leading up to a holiday sale. (P.S. our following chapters dive deeper into Hotjar’s unique use cases in this space.)

Maintain the same website layout

Change is constant, but still, humans love consistency. So use the same website layout during high-traffic seasons. And just introduce holiday sales events by incorporating relevant elements into your site’s existing theme and content.

#Banner on Target’s website for its Halloween holiday deals.
Banner on Target’s website for its Halloween holiday deals.

Optimize images

Obviously, large images take longer to load on web pages. People may not have the patience to stick to your site if all your images behave this way. So, conduct a backend check. Find any image over 500KB and compress it using online tools, such as JPEG Optimizer or TinyPNG. 

Upgrade your hosting plan or provider

You need a reliable digital repository for your website data: the code, text, images, and videos. If you’ve experienced crashes due to traffic surges before, it’s time to consider a better hosting provider. Ensure they have a proven track record for maintaining uptime. They should also offer services aligning with your need for storage, a content management system, customer support, payment processing, and more.

Enable browser caching

Caching involves storing web page resources on the browser, allowing for faster page loads. Your browser will usually store static assets, as these do not change from visit to visit. Examples would be images (photos, logos, and backgrounds), HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Update plugins

Plugins are add-on software installed on your website to customize features and improve functionality. Some examples are HubSpot's WordPress plugin for marketing, OptinMonster for lead generation, Yoast for SEO, and, of course, Hotjar for user behavior analytics.

Create a seamless process

Communicate to users what you want them to do next. And do it logically. For instance, sometimes, users abandon checkout because the site suddenly asks them to log in. If you want them to complete the process, make logging in as fast and painless as possible. Or remind them to do so as they’re just starting to browse your products or services.

Answer people’s questions

Make it easy for users to find useful information on your website. Craft accurate product descriptions, publish clear store policies, and create a Frequently Answered Questions (FAQ) section.

In addition, consider adding a live chat, allowing them to reach out directly if they can’t find the answers they’re looking for on the site.

Create a contingency plan

Thinking ahead of D-Day and preparing potential fixes is a must. But unexpected things can still happen. So, better come up with Plan B to address real-time issues with urgency. Brainstorm what you will do if more traffic comes in, your site crashes, a data hack occurs, or your online store runs out of stock. 

Put users at the core of your prep

The key lessons in this guide are: predict and prepare for peak traffic seasons. Ensure your site is optimized for such events to increase sales and conversions. But don’t forget that at the heart of it is the desire to delight users, so they end up buying your product or service.

Let Hotjar help. Get to the bottom of what pains, frustrates, or brings customers joy without switching between too many platforms. Our tools provide an all-in-one gateway to historical data that allows you to pinpoint the exact issues people face on your site during high-traffic periods. Not only that, but Hotjar is equally as useful before, during, and after a traffic surge (head to chapter 2 to find out why).

You can access this critical information through Heatmaps and Recordings, available through the Observe plan. At the same time, you can send Surveys and request Feedback—available via the Ask plan—to further understand and improve your site’s UX.

The clock is ticking. The best time to plan and prepare is now. Focus on making your site seamless, efficient, and worth singing praises about. Give your customers the best buying experience during high-traffic times.

Optimize your site for high-traffic seasons

Anticipate the changing needs of your users over time with Hotjar tools. Next, apply the insights to fine-tune the user experience on your site.

FAQs about UX optimization for high-traffic seasons