Don’t be Coinbase. Don’t crash your site.

It’s possible to be too clever by half with your advertising and offers. If you’re not careful, and you overdo it, you can wreck your own website at the most inopportune time.

I hated the Coinbase Super Bowl ad immediately. The last thing I want is for yet more people to be conned into buying into a Bitcoin pyramid scheme. I also thought, as I saw that colorful QR code bouncing around the screen like a screensaver from the 1990s, that this was going to blow up in the company’s face.

I was right.

Surojit Chatterjee, Coinbase’s chief product officer, said Coinbase had more than 20 million hits on its landing page in a minute. The company’s app also got unprecedented traffic. Chatterjee added, “We’re ready for you.”

No, they weren’t. Both the site and app crashed for about an hour. This is not a good look for any business.

Some people claimed the ad drove so much traffic because it was new and engaging. No, it wasn’t. It got so much traffic because the QR code promised people $15 in Bitcoin if they signed up for a Coinbase account before Feb. 15.

People love anything for free; of course, they crashed the site. I could have predicted this the same way I can predict if you drop a heavy rock on your foot, you’re going to say “Ow” a second later. There’s nothing to it.

Coinbase should have realized it, too. And so should your company. Anytime you offer something for free or a deal that sounds too good to be true, your online presence is going to get hammered.

So, you’d better make sure that your websites and services are ready for it. Here are some simple steps to keep your business in business.

First, ahead of your expected traffic spike, make sure your website’s software and hardware are up to snuff. You want your sites to be served and your services presented by the best and most recent programs.

Your software should also be tuned to deliver the fastest possible performance. Poor JavaScript code, unoptimized images, too many HTTP requests—all of these and more can slow a website just when you need it to be as fast as possible.

If your sites and services are hosted by another company, make sure it doesn’t impose data caps that limit incoming and outgoing data to protect its servers. Some web hosting companies do this with the details hidden in the fine print. If you’re based in the cloud, make sure you’ve provisioned sufficient resources to deal with a traffic flood.

While you’re at it, find out whether your web host or cloud provider has been suffering from any problems. Just when you’re launching a big advertising campaign is not the time to discover they have problems of their own.

Let’s say you’ve done all these things and you still get too much traffic. A wise CIO will have already signed a deal with a content delivery network (CDN).

A CDN’s main job is to reduce latency by shortening the distance between a website’s visitor and its server. It works as a web-level cache. But, these days, it can also serve as the last defender against distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. That last role can keep you in business when it’s not attackers but customers trying to swarm through your virtual doors.

There are many CDNs, but my particular favorite is Cloudflare. It’s mindlessly easy to use; you just update your DNS nameservers to use Cloudflare and it works automatically. I’ve been using it for years and its service has never failed me. I can also recommend other CDNs such as Akamai, Fastly, and StackPath.

The goal of all these steps is to make sure that when customers appear, you can follow through on what you’ve promised. Delivering a website or a service quickly is more important than you might think.

Akamai has found that the best website load time should be 2 seconds or less. For every second beyond that, you lose a huge percentage of your potential audience. Coinbase can say it got 4 million hits, but since the site wasn’t responding well, I doubt it actually had anywhere near that number of effective hits.

True, Coinbase also got a tremendous amount of news and social networking buzz from its ad, but tell me—Do you think people will trust a company that makes real money—not cryptocurrency funny money—from managing their Bitcoin? I doubt it.

The smart thing to do for your business is to make sure your online presence is equal to the challenges it will face. This likely won’t make headlines, but it will do a lot more to make your company’s latest efforts successful. 

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