Preparing for the Oprah Effect, an IT Tale

by Content Solutions on June 7, 2011

Tererai Trent on Oprah

Tererai Trent on Oprah

We shared in our From Humble Beginnings to Oprah’s Favorite Guest blog post the exciting news of one of our clients, Tererai Trent, was named Oprah’s All-Time Favorite Guest. This post is a continuation of the story of how we provided her website support as she got ready for that appearance.

It is proven that appearing on Oprah will not only contribute to making you famous, it will bring in business like a stampede of mad bulls. Appearing on the show can lead to boosted sales, website traffic, and brand recognition.

How a business prepares for the influx of traffic (and business) that an appearance on Oprah, Dr. Phil, the Today Show, or even an MTV Reality series—commonly referred to as the Oprah Effect—determines whether that stampede of mad bulls will resemble a bunch of bulls in a china shop or a provide bullish boon to the business’ bottom line.

When I first heard we were going to host Tererai’s Tinogona website and that she was going to appear on Oprah, a flurry of worry came over me. Coming from an IT background, I realized the amount of web traffic we would experience over the coming days was going to spike dramatically. This boost in attention would put a lot of burden on the services we would ultimately choose for hosting the site. Thus, we needed to make preparations on our end, as well as with the hosting provider, to ensure that the Tinogona site could withstand the oncoming traffic.

Researching the Cost of the Oprah Effect

Oprah effect courtesy of cnbc.com

Learn more about the Oprah Effect on CNBC.com. (Photo courtesy of cnbc.com)

Researching real statistics for the Oprah Effect is somewhat difficult as most people don’t publish such information and the stories of success and websites crashing are mainly anecdotal. Some experiences I found during my research have shown website traffic went from a few hundred hits a day to 250,000+; and that is in one day. This traffic slowly dwindled, but in the first week the visits approached over one million.

We did not know how much of a visitor load we would sustain in that first week, as we did not know how or if the show would promote it. Whether by a direct mention or people simply searching for Tererai, we knew would be safe to assume this website was going to experience some sort of stampede  when the show aired. We decided it would be best to take the worst case scenario that we could find, 300,000 hits in one 24 hour period, and run with that. This would be the basis for future decisions.

Deciding on Proper Website Hosting

When we first spoke with Tererai, she had already secured her domain name and hosting with a company we had not had opportunity to work with before. Because this company was new to us, we immediately questioned whether her plan would allow for the dramatic spike in traffic that we were preparing for.

Upon talking with the hosting provider, we deduced that they would not be able to handle the amount of traffic we were currently looking at. The hosting she had secured would only allow for approximately 2,500 visits per day. After these limits were met, the site would go offline. One of our goals was to make sure the site stayed online, so we knew that we needed to put the site, at least temporarily, on a hosting platform that would withstand the pressure of a traffic spike while remaining stable and fast. (We use Rackspace with most of our clients.)

Cloud Computing & Cloud Hosting by Rackspace

Determining Site Usage

Now the big question is, how did we prepare for the onslaught of traffic? The very first thing we had to do was break down what a single visit would cost us in terms of usage on the back-end. This means breaking down bandwidth (how much data we would send to a user visiting the site) and compute cycles (how hard the server processor would work for every visitor) for every visitor to the website. Essentially, every picture sent out had to be calculated and every button click tallied.

To calculate these numbers, I browsed around the Tinogona website on a day with no traffic. While I did this, I watched the reports that our chosen hosting company (Rackspace) provided on how our numbers went up while I jumped around the webpage. The photos on the site were a great way to test bandwidth, while buying a shirt tested how much computer processing was needed to run the store front. Over the course of a few days we calculated the site would consume an average of five megabytes of bandwidth and 1 compute cycle per visit.

Now these numbers may not look like a lot, but when you figure we could face 300,000+ hits in one day, that is a lot of strain on the servers. It was up to us to ensure that our site could handle this and the hosting company would scale to handle this as well.

Preparing for an Onslaught of Traffic

With usage numbers in hand it was time to plan out how we would handle this increased traffic. The most important fact was we would have no downtime, and customers could keep visiting the Tinogona website without fail. The first thing we did was contact Rackspace support and let them know what we were looking at and the date the show would air. Rackspace in turn provided a tech who would monitor our server on the day Tererai was on Oprah.

If anything started to get out of hand, the tech could easily move our slim site to another server in a seamless fashion. If things got out of hand and the technician needed to move the site to a new server, they could without interrupting visitors to the site. We were comfortable that if the site’s url appeared across the bottom of the screen, that the fanatical support at Rackspace would do what they could to keep the site from crashing.

Determining the Cost Exceeding Usage Limits

Next on the plan was to calculate the costs we would incur during specific intervals of increased traffic. We broke down expenses based on predetermined visitor points. This helped us realize how much it would cost if we happened to exceed our usage limits, yet keep the site up and running.

cost per visitor

Watching the Oprah Effect Wave

Since Oprah directed folks to support Tererai’s cause on the Save the Children website, we did not receive the tsunami of visitors we could have. We were very interested to see the number of people who would find the site and how they came to be there (Our resident certified Google Analytics and AdWords guru, Keri Honea, will talk more on this in an upcoming post.).

While we can’t provide you complete traffic data generated from the show, this is what the ripple wave of the Oprah Effect on the site looked like.

 

Oprah Effect statistics on Tererai Trent's tinogona.com website.

Wave of traffic on www.tinogona.com as a result of Tererai Trent's May 2011 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

There’s no denying that an appearance on a popular venue has far-reaching and tangential effects. We were super happy that our decision to move hosting was a sound one.

The End of the Day

We’ve had opportunity to work in with clients who had strong possibilities of being guests on popular shows, and our approach has always been the same—we prepare the site to be as lean as fast as possible, not to mention withstand an onslaught of visitors.

Sure, Oprah may be off the air, but the phenomenon called the Oprah Effect is alive and well. Whether you’re about to make it big or want to start small and be ready for the unknown, Content Solutions has the tools, knowledge, and experience to handle the influx of web traffic for any client, big or small.

Stay tuned for more on this topic. Published and upcoming posts include

  • From Humble Beginnings to Oprah’s All-Time Favorite Guest
  • Choosing Suitable Hosting to Survive the Oprah Effect (That’s this one!)
  • Making a WordPress Site Lean and Swift
  • Choosing the Best Plug-ins
  • Basic Site Elements Necessary for Search Engines to Find You
  • What the Oprah Effect Does to Your Site Traffic

Be sure to subscribe to RSS Feed (up in the right corner) to learn more about our journey.  In the meantime, if you haven’t already, go check out Tererai’s cause on Save the Children or her website.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: