Why Your Site Goes Down (And How to Fix It)

It’s a website owner’s worst nightmare: You type in your domain, but instead of seeing your beautiful website design, you’re greeted with a blank screen.

How long has it been down? What went wrong? And more importantly, how do you fix it as soon as possible?

Sooner or later, all webmasters go through that panic-inducing experience. There are innumerable causes of website outages, including:

  • Hacker attacks
  • Viral traffic (also known as the “Digg effect”)
  • Deliberate DDOS attacks
  • Natural disasters wreaking havoc on your data centers
  • A minor mistake in your website’s code
  • Scheduled server maintenance by your web host

Website outages aren’t just an annoyance — they can be very costly for businesses. Amazon reportedly lost $66,240 per minute when it was down briefly in 2013. Your business may not be the size of Amazon’s, but downtime can still be deadly. Evolven, an IT operation analytics company, estimates the cost of downtime across industries to average $5,600 per minute in missed revenue and employee productivity.

And that estimate don’t include the forgotten costs of downtime like loss of customer loyalty, losing business to your competitors, and the impact on your business’s reputation. Imagine visiting a company’s website for the very first time, and being greeted with error messages or a blank screen. How would that influence the way you view that company? On the web, your website is the face of your company, and you don’t want to give the wrong first impression.

When you own a website for any length of time, downtime is unavoidable: it will happen sooner or later.

However, there are precautions you can take to strengthen your site against some common causes of downtime, and steps you can take towards remedying the problem when it occurs. Just check out steps below to find out how to safeguard and fix your site in case of an outage.

Why Your Site Goes Down (And How to Fix It)

Transcript: Why Your Site Goes Down (And How to Fix It)

For businesses, a website outage of just a few hours can mean thousands of dollars lost in revenue. Be proactive and protect your company’s site from unnecessary downtime to save time and money.

When the Giants Go Down

Every website is vulnerable to outage, even larger, well-known companies occasionally suffer website downtime.

Microsoft: June 2014

  • Lync Online communication service:
    • Caused by external network failures
    • Services were down for several hours
  • Microsoft Exchange Online:
    • Some users couldn’t access their email while others experienced delays
    • Outage lasted about 9 hours
  • The outages were not related
    • They only affected users in the US

Google: January 2014

  • Gmail, Google Drive, Calendar and Google Plus were all affected by the outage
  • Affected users all over the world
  • Lasted about an hour
  • Caused by a software bug
  • Google stock decreased by 2.4% after the outage

Twitter: March 2, 2014

  • Ellen DeGeneres tweeted a selfie of herself and other stars at the Oscars
  • Broke the record for the most retweeted tweet
    • 3 million retweets in under an hour
  • Twitter was down for about 15 minutes

What Causes a Website Outage?

Server Maintenance

  • Sometimes websites must be deliberately taken offline to perform hardware upgrades or software updates
    • This is usually done during low-traffic times

Webmaster Errors

  • Coding errors, not optimizing scripts or running too many scripts can cause issues
    • CMSs, blogs, and forums are likely culprits
  • Forgetting to renew a site’s domain name or hosting contract

DDoS Attacks

  • Distributed Denial of Service
  • Occurs when sites are deliberately targeted with traffic from many sources to cause server overload

Server Overload

  • A tidal wave of web traffic can overload a server
  • With shared servers, resources are limited
    • One site with heavy traffic, processing needs, or high volume email can cause problems for other sites on the same server

Datacenter Problems

  • Datacenters are storage facilities holding multiple servers in a controlled environment
    • Power failures or hardware malfunctions can affect sites hosted on a datacenter’s servers

Protect Your Website from Downtime

Use a combination of a CDN service, a backup host and DNS management to protect your site from both short-term downtime and major outages.

  1. CDN Services (Content Distribution Network)
    • Stores and delivers cached content from your website
      • Examples:
        • Cloudflare (offers a free version)
        • MaxCDN
      • Easy and effective method to protect against short periods of downtime
  2. Backup Hosting
    • Set-up a secondary hosting account at a completely different hosting company,
    • Preferably on a server in a different geographic location to your primary server
      • Create and transfer backups to this secondary hosting account on a regular basis
        • Remember: database-driven websites need to back up their databases
  3. DNS Management
    • Invest in a DNS management/failover service
    • Such as EasyDNS.com and DNSmadeEasy.com
      • As soon as the website goes offline, these services automatically route traffic to your secondary host

Other Options and Tips:

  • Use a scalable hosting plan: Many VPS & Cloud hosting plans allow you to scale RAM/resources in real-time to meet the demands of traffic spikes.
  • Some hosting companies offer managed hosting with DNS management & automatic backups to a secondary server in an all-inclusive service
    • This is sometimes referred to as “mirroring” or “mirrored servers”
  • If you don’t have technical expertise on staff:
    • Ask your host if they can help
    • Or hire an IT consultant to manage your website
  • Use a website monitoring service like Pingdom or Pingability
    • Alert you by email or text message if your site is down

What to Do In Case of Outage

Make sure the site is really down

Visit your hosting company’s website, blog and their network status page to see if the problem is a known issue

  • Some hosting companies will also post network status updates to Twitter or Facebook during an outage
  • Contact your host for an update, and estimate on when they expect downtime to be resolved

Communicate With Customers

  • As soon as you know why your site is offline, notify customers about the problem and when you expect to be back online
  • Communicating through emails and an established social media presence will reach customers quickly and efficiently
    • Assure customers that their data is safe (unless it isn’t)
    • Let customers know if their orders are affected by the outage
    • Apologize
    • Acknowledge the inconvenience

A website outage can be an unexpected and unfortunate occurrence. Being prepared for an outage will allow your site to get back on track for your customers in a timely manner.

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