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Woes of a Big Site: How to Prepare Your Site for Growth

By June SpringJune Spring
Powerful businessman

Newcomers often ask how their site can become big and well-known. Well, naturally this is every webmaster’s dream — whoever creates a site hoping it will become obscure? However, what many newcomers fail to appreciate is that big and well-known sites face a number of problems. Here are a few of those problems and some things that can be done to pre-empt them.

Traffic (Bandwidth) Problems.

It’s interesting how everyone faces traffic problems. The small site faces traffic problems — few people visit them. When the site increases in popularity, it too faces traffic problems, albeit a different kind: the expensive kind.

When a site is starting out, the typical data transfer (sometimes loosely, and incorrectly, called “bandwidth”) allocation of (say) 5GB seems generous and a distant target that looks impossible to hit. But wait till it becomes popular. Suddenly that 5GB looks very skimpy, and you’ll be frantically searching your web host’s documentation for how they charge for “overages” (the amount by which you exceed your allocation).

So when scouting for web hosting companies — think ahead. Check out the “bandwidth” or data transfer policy. It should bill you according to the amount you actually exceed and you should not be required to have to pre-pay it. And read the fine print in all their policy statements carefully.

Too Many Pages to Update.

Always make provisions for keeping certain common features found on every page in a single location. Don’t make things like the navigation menu, logo, etc., inserted into every single page because it can be a nightmare to maintain when the site grows. Just imagine — each time you wanted to change the website design, you had to manually go through the two hundred odd pages to modify them. You could not even use the search and replace feature of your editor to simplify the task — the changes often span multiple lines and are interspersed with page-specific information.

Even if you think your site is a small site in terms of number of pages, plan for its eventual growth. Put common design elements of your pages in a central location. There are many ways to do this: using Server Side Includes (SSI), using frames, dynamically generating it from a template, etc.

Reliability.

Usually when a site is new, the owners consider it little more than a hobby horse. As such, they tend to simply find a cheap web host to dump it on, since in its infancy, the site is unlikely to generate much income anyway.

Cheap web hosts seldom have the margin they need to hire good, competent help. When we say competent help, we mean the kind that knows the server hardware, the various software that run on it, security issues, and how to fix software and hardware problems. You need that kind of competent help so that they can pre-empt (as far as possible) potential problems as well as handle any true crisis that arises (e.g. fixing new security holes in the web server, etc., or troubleshooting hardware problems).

When your site grows and gains more visitors, the “uptime” of the site becomes increasingly important. If the server goes “down” for a couple of hours when your site is new, you have lost at most a few visitors. But when your site is well established, every hour that your site is down, you lose thousands of visitors (and the income associated with them).

You should keep an eye out for good, reputable web hosts so that when your site grows, you’ll know where to move it to. Such hosts may cost slightly more than a budget web host, but the stability you get is well worth the extra expense, especially when your site has a lot of traffic.

Planning for Growth.

The best time to do planning for growth is when your site is still young. The changes that you need to make to prepare for the future will be smaller when it is young. Don’t wait till your site is too big. You don’t have to learn the hard way.

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