How Do You Properly Scale WooCommerce?

Using WooCommerce to power your online store is a great way to run an eCommerce business. WooCommerce allows you to start with modest means. But, as your webshop grows it will require you to develop a strategy for growth. Not just on the business side of things, but particularly to scale WooCommerce on the web hosting side of things. 

Estimated reading time: 16 minutes

Growing your eCommerce business requires you to have a scalable hosting solution. The last thing you want is to see your marketing budgets generating traffic that your site can’t handle. And worse, dropping search engine rankings, decreasing conversion rates, increased bounce rates, and increased abandoned carts all because your web hosting did not scale. 

WooCommerce itself is a highly scalable solution that is capable of handling an incredibly large number of products and customers. But, a lot of online stores struggle to scale properly as their business grows, and they really shouldn’t have to.

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This article helps you identify crucial problems that arise when your online store does not scale, and more importantly, what you as a stakeholder can do to keep your business growing and serving any number of customers with a consistently good user experience. 

Scaling your site properly is only achievable when your hosting stack supports true scalability without adding more complexities and effort on your end. But first, let’s dive into what actually happens when your WooCommerce store doesn’t scale.

What Happens When Your WooCommerce Store Does Not Scale?

There are various signs that indicate your WooCommerce store does not scale. For example, you may experience a spike in loading times,  or experience sluggish performance while navigating through the store – especially in rush hours. Similarly, you may also feel delays after executing actions like updating a cart, filtering through products, or while processing orders from the backend. 

All of the above problems will occur when your server is unresponsive – or slow – while processing your store’s visitors and customers. The performance problems mentioned above make your site not scale. How? Well, when your site repeatedly fails to perform the tasks it needs to perform in a timely manner, your performance problems have become scaling problems. Because more traffic will make it a lot worse. And as a business owner, you want more traffic.

The following identifiers are prime examples of your site running into scaling issues. 

Degraded Performance

The first thing to look for is the overall performance of your online store. As the server gets overloaded with requests, the performance degrades to the point where it’s incapable of handling any traffic on the site. This is because the traffic your site processes, visitors and cart processing, may exhaust the CPU and RAM of your server. By hitting its maximum capacity it will result in a complete server crash or unavailability for a period of time – both are of course extremely harmful to your business.

Read our comprehensive guide on Speeding Up WooCommerce

Limited PHP Workers and 504 Errors

If your current hosting allows your site only to work with a limited amount of PHP workers, then the additional requests get queued which causes increasing latency issues. Ultimately, this results in scenarios where the server throws a 504 timeout error as it is waiting too long to get a response to process the customer’s request on your site.    

High Memory Usage

Just like your disk storage can hit a limit, so can the available RAM. If there’s too little RAM all sorts of symptoms may occur. What happens is that some part of your system will have too little space to perform optimally, resulting in degradation and eventually failures of varying sorts.

A very common, more easily identifiable issue, is to exhaust the PHP memory. This may happen when serving “heavy” requests on your site, for example, editing large products or pages with large category blocks or similar. The most common reason for this is poorly written code. Without the server having enough PHP memory left, it will start to throw 500 Internal Server errors to your customers, or just a “white screen of death”. This is that dreaded WSOD we all hate seeing. A common issue for this WSOD to appear is infinite loops in PHP.

Increased Bounce Rate

You may see an increased bounce rate (in Google Analytics). This is because the sluggish performance of your site (and server) directly impacts the user experience of your website. When your customers are unable to navigate smoothly or have trouble finding the products because of latency (the delay between when you make a request on a site and it actually delivers it back), this affects their shopping experience negatively. Which ultimately pushes site visitors away from your store.

More Abandoned Carts

The number of abandoned carts will increase. Abandoned carts are also associated with poor performance and bad user experience. Customers abandon their shopping journey when the cart takes too long to update, or when your server throws a 504 timeout error in the middle of the checkout.  

How Does it Affect Your Business?

It should come as no surprise that the above-mentioned list hurts your business tremendously. The growth of your business is highly dependent on the scaling capability of your WooCommerce store. If your WooCommerce store does not scale, you as a business owner will face one or all of the following challenges.

Loss of Revenue

Your revenue is directly proportional to the number of online customers and their successful purchases. In short, your customers expect and deserve seamless experience from landing on your store till their checkout. This gets affected when your online store is slow or becomes unresponsive due to scaling issues. Both seriously disrupt the business and revenue generation.  

Drop in Search Engine Ranking

This performance – and subsequent scaling – issues are not limited to site visitors. Search engines like Google measure and consider performance as one of the ranking factors. Because of this, they encourage website owners to improve the Core Web Vitals of their websites which directly translate into the user experience. Bad performance leads to a bad user experience. Bad overall performance will result in a drop in your store’s search engine ranking.   

Reputational Loss

Online businesses are highly competitive and customers look for better alternatives if the current solution does not meet their expectations. Your business hurts its reputation every time a customer experiences sluggish performance or a timeout error during any part of their online shopping journey. 

Low ROI Against Marketing Efforts

The Return on Investment (ROI) against the marketing efforts will be extremely low when your WooCommerce store is not scaling well. In fact, these marketing efforts can cause more harm than good. They’re supposed to bring new customers to your online store, but when the server is unable to handle this spike in traffic, it ruins the shopping experience that creates a bad impression of your business. The exact opposite of what you wanted to achieve.

Solutions for Scaling WooCommerce Store

So far we’ve established a lot of indicators for bad scaling WooCommerce stores and how they hurt your business efforts. It should be super clear by now that you need your site to always be in the most scalable fashion to truly thrive. Waiting for any of the above-mentioned signs to appear is not an option. 

When you search the internet for solutions on how to scale your WooCommerce store, you will come across various resources all recommending a plethora of things. Unfortunately, the vast majority of solutions offered don’t actually remedy the root cause. These ineffective strategies you’ll find online in most places offer some sort of bandage, but no real solution. You’d still not be truly scalable and open to suffering missed financial opportunities.  

Below we’ll cover the best available solutions out there as well as help you understand which option offers true scalability to your WooCommerce store.

First Things First

Any site, but especially a WooCommerce powered site should be built with performance and thus scalability in mind. This means you need to have developed a performance-focused theme and all the code it runs should be optimized for performance. Optimizing for performance is optimizing for scaling as we’ve talked about before in our article on how to make WooCommerce fast. All the internal code your site uses, from the theme to any of the plugins you’re using, should be clean and optimized code. All interactions with the database should run at the right time and in the most optimized fashion. So, remove any plugins you don’t need, double-check the ones you think you need for performance. Using a wp profile and wp doctor, and Query Monitor and/or Laps are a necessary first step. 

This is where scaling starts… 

Traditional Method: Costly & Complex

The most popular belief is that adding more servers or resources can solve scaling issues. And it can to some degree, for sure. But the questions you should be asking as a business owner are: 

  • How effective is this solution? 
  • What level of expertise does it require? 
  • What does the costing look like? 
  • How sustainable is the solution?

To answer these questions, you first need to understand how these options work and if they really offer true limitless sustainable WooCommerce scaling. 

Load Balancing

Load Balancing is a concept in which the traffic is divided among several servers to avoid overloading a single server. Based on the various algorithms, Load Balancers route the traffic to different servers accordingly. This may improve the scalability as compared to a single server, but at the same time, Load Balancers have their drawbacks.

  • Configuring and adding load balancing to your server is complex. This will make you very dependent on the person arranging and maintaining the setup for you.
  • It is definitely not a set-and-forget type of service and requires maintenance and upgrades as business demands change.
  • It introduces extra latency in your hosting stack
  • The pricing structure is usually complex and it is expensive to set up and maintain a Load Balanced server setup. 
  • Introducing more servers is introducing more latency. This latency is caused by various reasons like inherent network connectivity latency, high resource utilization on the backend instances, or just plain improper configuration. 

Adding More Resources

Vertical scaling or scaling up is a practice in which more server resources like RAM and CPU are added to accommodate the growing traffic of your WooCommerce store. This method of scaling WooCommerce has limited potential. Here are the reasons why:

  • Your hosting expense hikes very fast. 
  • The options for scaling are usually limited on CPUs and/or RAM
  • More resources mean more power consumption, thus, not a sustainable option.

Adding more resources to your server masks the actual problem you’re experiencing. You’re not solving the problem of not having fast origin hosting by adding more resources. Having the fastest possible origin hosting should always be your starting point. Adding resources to a server is limited and an expensive method of scaling WooCommerce. Investing too much on a single server is risky and not very efficient. 

Complex Caching Mechanism

Most often, WooCommerce scalability issues are attempted to be saved entirely by caching. Hosting providers are generally hard on selling you their proprietary caching solution as a means to solve scaling issues. 

Some will add additional software such as Varnish (which is used to cache static assets and HTML) and Redis (used for object caching). All are intended to accommodate the growing number of requests. Although both of these are tools that may help with scaling, it is often applied without testing whether it actually works like intended.

One thing that is certain, is that adding more components to your hosting stack will complicate the setup, which has consequences for operations, increases the maintenance burden, and complicates debugging when something goes wrong. If it actually helps with scaling, it may increase your capacity a little, but the key bottleneck will still remain the same, your origin’s hosting speed.

WordPress caching plugins are not the most efficient either, especially with WooCommerce. The problem here is that any solution that works inside of WordPress still needs to load WordPress itself before it can do its job and it uses the same CPU as everything else. This limits your ability to scale.

The extra code trying to do its magic can result in more CPU consumption for handling the requests that cannot be served from cache. Because remember, for the most important part of the customer journey, from adding to cart to checking out, your site will be uncached regardless. 

WordPress caching plugins often do not really help with scaling as the infrequency of visits to each page often results in content not being cached, or pushed out of the cache before the next visitor comes around to get served from the cache. Caching in WordPress has hard limits. 

How To Solve These Problems?

It is crucial to solving performance, security, and scalability issues at the root level for optimum results and long-term effectiveness. The majority of the providers are great at selling ideas that only work for them in terms of revenue and customer acquisition, but often do not have any real impact on the growth of their customers’ businesses.

At Servebolt we are on a mission of making the internet faster, more secure and sustainable. We believe in solving crucial problems at the root level so our customers do not have to keep jumping from one provider to another and stay focused on growing the business. And for the same reason, our fast WooCommerce hosting is the first stepping stone towards true scalability.                    

First Thing You Need: Fast Origin Hosting

The first step towards scaling a WooCommerce site is to host it on a fast origin hosting. Fast origin hosting sets the ground for a more performant, reliable, and scalable WooCommerce store that you can grow your business on with confidence. Servebolt managed fast origin hosting is tailored specifically for WooCommerce and solves crucial performance and scalability issues at the ground level through simplicity. Simplicity in the hosting environment makes scalability predictable, maintenance easier and cheaper over time, as your site grows.

Let’s look at some of the highlighted features of fast origin hosting and how they help with scaling a WooCommerce store. 

Fast WordPress Admin

Faster WordPress admin simply means “more work done” when you are running a busy WooCommerce store. Servebolt fast origin hosting speeds up the WooCommerce backend to allow you to process orders quicker. It will save you seconds on every click and action in the WordPress Admin. 

Hardware That Supports Scalability

Servebolt managed hosting plans come with unlimited server resources like RAM and CPU, to support a large number of orders and activity in your store. These resources help with both the performance and the scaling of your WooCommerce store.

Customized & Optimized Hosting Stack

Unlike other providers, Servebolt does not rely on caching for performance. Instead, we have optimized every part of our hosting stack to deliver speed and scalability independent of content being cached. WooCommerce stores hosted on our Servebolt Cloud enjoy unlimited PHP workers that allows you to cater large numbers of customers without compromising on performance. 

Similarly, Servebolt’s out-of-the-box optimized MariaDB databases reduce the query processing time and server-caching helps with scaling and reduces the load on the origin server.

Our fast origin hosting blew away the competition in web hosting benchmarks 2020 conducted by Review Signal. Servebolt hit the perfect score in the Load Storm test where the real-users are simulated to perform various tasks and grow exponentially to test the server’s performance under stressed situations.

Servebolt blew away the competition on this test recording near 50% faster scores on both PHP bench and WP bench than the next fastest competitors.

Kevin Ohashi,  founder at Review Signal

Second Thing You Need: Accelerated Domains: Solution for True Scalability

Accelerated Domains is a set-and-forget add-on service developed by Servebolt to solve complex performance, security, and scalability issues in the most environmentally friendly way. Accelerated Domains was designed to create an effective solution to accelerate the performance. Specifically, the following four elements are improved by Accelerated Domains: speed, scalability, security, and sustainability of your site.

Accelerated Domains performs its magic by avoiding complex and unnecessary plugins to be added to your WordPress/WooCommerce site. The service is also built as a set-and-forget type of service. It is completely, and fully managed so you do not have to deal with any complexities.

Together with Servebolt’s fast origin hosting, Accelerated Domains produces astounding results on our test client’s websites. Faster loading times, improved Web Core Vitals, enterprise-grade security, and of course, better-scaling sites. Accelerated Domains is built in such a fashion that those results are only going to get better as the service keeps evolving. 

Let’s see how Accelerated Domains allows any WooCommerce store to scale virtually without any limits.      

Smart Location-Aware Cache Network

Accelerated Domains gives your WooCommerce store access to its caching network spread over 180+ nodes globally. Even if your site serves a local audience, having multiple nodes available to disperse traffic surges will greatly benefit local sites’ performance as well. This makes your WooCommerce store scalable and performant both locally and globally and minimizes connection time for your customers.

We call it Smart because it smartly detects and caches the non-unique requests and leaves the unique requests like carts and checkouts to be handled by the origin server. This allows you to scale properly without adding more servers which is an expensive, non-sustainable option.    

Optimized Cache Hit-ratio

Accelerated Domains optimizes the cache hit-rate that helps you serve your site to more visitors. A general problem with marketing campaigns is that they often bypass the cache, hitting the origin server due to tracking parameters those campaign use. Accelerated Domains solves this problem by smartly caching close to two-thirds of your that campaign traffic. 

This means the vast majority of your campaign-driven audience will experience a fast performing version of the site. Essentially helping you scale both the performance of your website for campaigns, and significantly improving the ROI for those campaigns. More new visitors are able to land on your store quicker and browse it with an enhanced user experience making you help you scale your business as well. No need for anxiety to creep in if your site will hold that newsletter you just sent out to your email list!

Proactive Security Engine

Security is another factor that can hinder the scalability of your WooCommerce store. Your customers suffer while waiting for their requests to process when your server is busy attending the unwanted web traffic such as bad bots. Accelerated Domains offers enterprise-level security that is an extensive yet simplified solution in the shape of a Security Engine that solves a wide range of security-related issues.

Accelerated Domains Security Engine benefits from the analysis of about 40% of all HTTP requests done on the internet before it even hits your origin server. What that means is that unwanted traffic like bad bots is proactively mitigated before it causes any real problems. This allows your origin server to stay fully available to serve only the legit crowd.

Through smart heuristics powered by machine learning and Servebolt’s hands-on knowledge in traffic analysis, Accelerated Domains detects malicious activities like DDoS and Brute Force attacks and mitigates them automatically without you taking any actions.         

Added Benefits

Accelerated Domains is a fully managed service that unlike Load Balancers does not require any complex configuration or advanced server management skills. Using Accelerated Domains is also sustainable as it prevents the server from overloading and consuming unnecessary power. It leverages an effective caching network to serve the fresh copies of your site.

Accelerated DomainsLoad BalancingVertical Scaling
AffordabilityVery affordableCostlyVery costly
SustainabilityVery sustainableNot sustainableNot sustainable
Scaling LimitationNot limitedLimitedLimited
ConfigurationEasyComplexVery complex
MaintenanceFully managedRequiredRequired
ComplexityLowHighHigh
Simplifies the stackYesNoNo
InnovativeYesNoNo

Summary

Scaling a WooCommerce store properly can open a whole new world of opportunities for growing your business. Instead of wasting valuable resources and time on experimenting with ineffective techniques, focus on solving the problems at ground level that start with a fast origin hosting. Service like Accelerated Domains offers a 360-degree solution that not only helps you scaling effortlessly, but also boosts performance and protects your online store from serious security issues.

Remkus de Vries

Head of Partner & Customer Relationships

Remkus is Head of Partner & Customer Relationships at Servebolt. He co-founded and lead WordCamp Europe and WordCamp Netherlands. During more than a dozen years he's spoken at many WordCamps and WordPress Meetup groups.

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