Black Friday 2020 falls on November 27th, and given the circumstances this year, it's bound to be a frantic online affair more than ever before. That's why it's super important to prepare your business and your website in particular, and we will guide you through that process, so you can move swiftly through that chaotic period and do some good business along the way. We will show you how to set up your online shop with some good deals for your customers, how to get in touch with them and inform them of all those great offers you'll have, and also ensure that your website will sustain the increased amount of traffic it will hopefully receive. The great thing about this piece here is that it's applicable year-round and you can extend these strategies well beyond Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It's never too late to start and you can use these practices for the entire holiday season starting 2020 and after.

Set Up a Black Friday Landing Page With an Email Newsletter System

If you are wondering where to start with your Black Friday preparations, email marketing is one of your best options. An email list with legitimate subscribers is an invaluable asset to any business, whether it's traditional or strictly e-commerce. Sending out promotional/marketing emails to those who have subscribed and have real interest in your products is a great way to trigger actual purchases on your website.

And to conduct an effective email marketing campaign, you need two things - a landing page where prospective subscribers can sign up, and an email newsletter system that will help you send out automated messages to your subscribers.

Ultimately, what you'd like to achieve here is to establish a list of leads. These would be not just regular website visitors, but people who are genuinely interested in your products. This will result in a much higher conversion rate, and that's why you would have to build that list yourself.

And this is where a good landing page comes in handy. Landing pages are beneficial for both parties in a sense that you ask visitors for their email and you give them something in return. For example, you could ask for their email address and in return they would be "the first to know" about your Black Friday bargains. Or, you could directly reward them with a discount coupon for signing up for your email newsletter.

To improve their chances of converting visitors into actual hosts, Airbnb helps them estimate the potential earnings based on the location.

Speaking of email newsletters, that's the other important aspect of this whole process. You need a system that would store your subscribers email addresses, and an email service that would send out your messages to them. Of course, you want an email service with great reputation, so that your messages would not get filtered as spam. There are third-party email newsletter services that you could use, but they are usually paid, particularly over a certain number of subscribers.

Email Service Included

The good news is that with every ICDSoft hosting account, you get a great email service that you can use to send out your email newsletters. Obviously, we don't tolerate spam and you should also make sure to send out your messages in portions (batches) to avoid clogging up the email queue on the server.

We have a video on our YouTube channel showing you how to create a landing page and set up an email newsletter step-by-step. It's all based on WordPress, and you can use it even if your current website is not on WordPress. For example, you could use WordPress just for the sake of creating that landing page and sending out your email newsletter. A nice feature about it is that you would be sending out some good-looking HTML email messages to your subscribers, and you can choose from a lot of ready-made templates. The end result would be at industry standard quality at no extra cost.

Quick Recap of the Video

We start off by installing a newsletter plugin for WordPress. Go to the Plugins > Add new menu and run a search for "newsletter". The one we will use is Newsletter - it's quite popular with over 300k downloads, and it has good reviews. The other notable plugins are MailPoet and Mailchimp, but Mailchimp is paid for newsletters with over 2k subscribers and it also uses their email service, while in our case we will be sending the messages to our subscribers via the ICDSoft email service that's included with every hosting account, so you don't have to spend any (extra) money. So let's proceed to install and activate Newsletter.

The Newsletter plugin comes with a very neat quick-configuration wizard. First you want to set up the Sender name and email - the plugin automatically applies your Site Title for the Name, so that should be OK for most cases. On the second step of the wizard, you will choose what information you'd like to get from your subscribers. By default, the input fields would be name and email address. The plugin automatically creates a subscription page named "Newsletter", but we will create our own one.

When configuring the Newsletter plugin, the important aspects are to avoid filling up the email queue on the server with too many messages, and to establish a healthy mailing list with legitimate subscribers.

Go to the Newsletter menu > Settings and More > Delivery Speed tab, and enter "200" for the Max emails per hour. In that way, if you have a larger list of subscribers, let's say 1k or more, the whole job will be split into smaller tasks. By doing that, you will avoid clogging the email queue on the server with too many messages, making sure that your emails will go out smoothly.

At the List building menu> general tab, Set the Opt in to Double opt in. This forces the visitor filling out the form to confirm their email address which will protect you from having fake registrations. We will also set the "Repeated subscriptions" to No, because we don't want to have duplicate subscribers in our email newsletter.

Go to the Security menu, and we want to make sure that our subscription form is protected against automated submissions.

If you are using the Akismet plugin, it's a good idea to Enable it here and integrate it with our subscription form. Newsletter will then use Akismet to check every subscription and block it if Akismet signals a high probability of spam. The Antiflood option is important, so we will turn it on and set it to 1 minute. This time interval signifies just how quickly two subscriptions for the same email address or the same IP address can be accepted. And last, we will enable the CAPTCHA protection.

You can check the screenshots below to get a visual on the settings you should apply for the smooth operation of your Black Friday email marketing campaigns.

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Enter "200" for the Max emails per hour.

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Set the Antiflood to 1 minute, enable the CAPTCHA protection.

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Set the Opt in to Double opt in.

Our next step is to set up our actual landing page. Go to the Pages > Add new menu. We will name our page "Subscribe", and we will change its Attributes to "Elementor canvas". This is important because it will hide our standard theme menu and footer section, and we will start with a blank page. We will design our page with Elementor, so press the Edit with Elementor button on top. We recommend that you watch the video starting at the 5 minute mark as it will give you a much better understanding of how you can design the page and just how easy it is. Obviously, you should tailor the page to your own specific needs, and given how flexible Elementor is, you should not have any major difficulties doing this. You can also check one of our previous tutorials on How to Build a WordPress Website in 10 Steps for additional tips and tricks.

Setting Up Discount Coupons in WooCommerce

Obviously, Black Friday is all about great deals and discounts, so we will show you just how easy it is to set up coupons in WooCommerce for WordPress. In the latest version of WooCommerce, the option to create discount coupons has been moved in a separate menu - Marketing > Coupons. There, press the Add coupon button. We will name our coupon "BlackFriday2020", so that would be the code our buyers would have to enter when checking out in order to get the discount.

You have various configuration options that you can set according to your preferences. They are available at the Coupon data section.

For example, you can set the Discount type - Fixed cart discount, or Percentage discount. We will set the Coupon expiry date to 2020-11-28, so that our coupon will be deactivated once Black Friday ends. The Usage restrictions menu is where you can apply certain limits, for example a certain minimum amount that users must spend to become eligible for that discount, or you can limit the offer to specific products or categories.

The Final Countdown

Adding a countdown to a landing page creates a sense of urgency and should entice visitors into actually filling out the form and sign up for your newsletter. As with all things WordPress, adding a countdown to a page is easy as there are a number of plugins for the job, both paid and free. We will use the free version of HurryTimer, but again, feel free to explore the wide range of plugins for that particular job. You just need to install the plugin and go to its Add Campaign menu. There, add the name of the campaign (Black Friday 2020) and when it would end, so it can start counting backwards.

Adding our Black Friday Campaign in HurryTimer. Make sure to copy the shortcode shown on the right side.

To add this code to your landing page, you just need to add an HTML Code block in Elementor and paste it there. We will use the existing HTML Code block where we placed the shortcode generated by the Newsletter plugin (displaying our sign-up form) as seen on the screenshot below:

Adding the shortcode generated by the HurryTimer plugin into an HTML Code block in Elementor.

Keep in mind that these HTML shortcodes are usually not executed while editing the page with Elementor (or with the default WordPress editor). To see the end result, you would have to Preview the page or View the published page. Here is a look of our landing page with the countdown added to it:

A look at our landing page with the countdown added to it.

Handling A Surge In Website Traffic

With the ongoing pandemic across the world, Black Friday 2020 is bound to be completely different. We are used to seeing mile-long queues at shopping malls and tensions would often escalate to a point where common sense is completely forgotten as people would literally fight for a product. Certainly, we won't be seeing such horrific scenes this year as local lockdowns would sway buyers towards online purchases. Spending would probably not be as heavy due to the financial difficulties that a lot of folks have been going through as part of the COVID-19 crisis, but still, this period should be pretty productive for ecommerce and online stores. That's why you have to get ready for an increase in traffic and an increase in product demand, especially if you have a popular online store already. With that said, it's crucial that you prepare your website to withstand that traffic surge.

If you are running a WordPress website, we have a great video on speeding it up, so we strongly recommend that you go through all the steps listed there as they would ensure that your installation will run as fast as possible. The caching mechanisms described in it, as well as the compression, will help optimize the website so that it can serve a lot more visitors simultaneously.

Even if you are not using WordPress, you should still be able to benefit from most of the suggestions described in the video. Here is a quick round-up of the main optimization tips that should help your website (and the server) handle a higher-than-usual traffic wave.

1. Use SSL

That's an absolute must for any online store, but what may come as a surprise to most people is that the use of an SSL certificate also brings a speed improvement. That's because it forces the use of the HTTP/2 protocol on your website. HTTP/2 has significant performance advantages over HTTP.

ICDSoft Offers Free Let's Encrypt SSL Certificates With All Hosting Plans

All our web hosting plans offer free automated installation and renewal of SSL certificates provided by Let’s Encrypt. These certificates are issued and activated with a single click in the Control Panel of your account. Let’s Encrypt’s free SSL certificates use the same encryption methods and strength as commercial certificates. The renewal process for Let’s Encrypt certificates is fully automated on our servers, so once you activate a certificate, your website will stay secured until you deactivate it.

 

2. Use PHP 7

PHP 7 can process around three times as many requests per second compared to PHP 5 versions. Essentially, this means that your website/application would be able to handle more visitors simultaneously without causing a heavy strain on the server. Currently, the latest PHP version available on our servers is 7.4, and we recommend that you switch to it if you haven't done so already. If you are using the latest version of your application (whether it's WordPress, Drupal, PrestaShop, etc.), you should not have any issues under PHP 7.4. You can change the PHP version via the Control Panel > PHP Settings > Default PHP Version.

3. Use PHP-FPM and OPcache

The most popular e-commerce and CMS applications are based on PHP. Thus, improved performance of PHP will result in faster loading times for your website while causing less load on the server, ultimately allowing your account (and the server in particular) to handle serious traffic spikes.

PHP-FPM, short for PHP FastCGI Process Manager, is a FastCGI daemon for PHP that allows a website to handle strenuous loads. It works by maintaining pools of PHP worker processes that can handle incoming requests. This way, PHP-FPM provides not only reduced server response time (TTFB), but can also handle much more incoming requests compared to the traditional CGI execution scheme employed at some shared hosting environments. What this means for your website is that it would be able to handle much more visitors simultaneously.

On our end, PHP-FPM works hand in hand with OPcache. OPcache improves PHP performance by storing precompiled script bytecode in shared memory, thereby removing the need for PHP to load and parse scripts on each request.

To activate PHP-FPM with OPcache for your account, go to the Control Panel > PHP Settings. There, you should switch the PHP Handler to FPM with OPCache for the subdomain where your website is running. Typically, that's the www subdomain.

4. Activate the ICDSoft Server-side Caching

We recently introduced a brand new feature designed to further improve website speed and performance - Server-side Caching.

Our server-side caching mechanism uses an internal NGINX server which handles incoming requests for cached pages. When pages are cached and served by the NGINX server, their delivery speed is increased because each page is served as a static file from the cache instead of being generated on the fly. Serving pages as static files bypasses the PHP compilation, which means nearly zero CPU utilization, again resulting in less load on the server and ability to handle more simultaneous visitors.

The server-side caching mechanism has been tested and is compatible with the most popular software used on our servers - WordPress, and its e-commerce platform - WooCommerce.

Unfortunately, due to their internal design, server-side caching isn't suitable for Magento stores and Joomla-based websites. If your website is based on either Magento or Joomla, we would recommend that you use a third-party caching extension and make sure you have PHP-FPM enabled for optimal results.

The Server-Side Caching feature can be enabled via the hosting Control Panel > Server-Side Caching section.

5. Use a Content Delivery Network

Content Delivery Networks are one of the most effective solutions for handling serious website traffic spikes. CDNs consist of servers spread all over the world, and they all keep the same cached copy of your site ready to serve it to visitors who are at the closest proximity to the corresponding CDN server. Cloudflare is the most popular CDN and it's fully compatible with our hosting service. You should be able to do just fine with their free plan, and you can check our detailed instructions on setting it up.

Filip Finkov
Author

Filip Finkov has been working at ICDSoft since 2012. Whenever he is not working or writing about himself in third person, he likes to spend time with his family and venture into the seas and mountains.