If you run a business or personal website, downtime can be a major issue. Especially if you’re unaware of why it happened, or what you can do to fix it. But don’t worry — we’ll explore everything you need to know about website downtime in this simple guide.
Website downtime defined
A website is described as being “down” when it is:
- totally inaccessible
- unable to perform its core functions (e.g. playing videos)
But why do you need to take site downtime so seriously?
Because it’s a serious threat to any business’s online success today. Site outage, even if only brief, can:
- leave customers frustrated and dissatisfied with your brand
- damage your company’s reputation (particularly if site outage is a frequent occurrence)
- contribute to a drop in your search engine ranking
- cause you to lose clients and miss out on valuable revenue
Your site is the face of your company today. And in so many cases, it’s the most important touch point in your customers’ journey: if they can’t access your website to learn more about your brand or purchase products/services, they’ll have little choice but to look elsewhere.
So, it’s essential that your website is available 24/7 — no matter how complicated that might seem.
What are the biggest website downtime causes?
Various issues can cause a site outage. Here are the most common:
For more than half of downtime cases affecting SMBs, hardware is the culprit.
You might think you have all your bases covered with network controllers, several power supplies, and levels of redundancy, but nobody can predict when a major power outage will strike or when cables will become damaged.
Even when you take several steps to protect your hardware, there’s still a risk that it will fail at one time or another — taking your site down with it.
Inferior site hosting
So, your hosting provider offered an uptime guarantee of 99%?
Sadly, that’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.
Even if the provider gave you an uptime promise of just 75%, they wouldn’t provide you with compensation for the money you lose during downtime. They’ll just compensate you for the price you paid for their service while your site was out of action. And that probably won’t be much.
Poor website hosting is one of the biggest reasons for site outage, and you won’t know the exact amount of time that your site is down because your provider is unlikely to share your monthly downtime stats with you.
But website monitoring can help. You’ll know exactly how long your site is down for, and whether it’s time to start approaching new providers to organize a better deal.
DNS issues are another of the most common website downtime causes. In some cases, this is due to waiting for it to propagate, and in others, the DNS has simply been figured wrong. And something so simple as misspelling a nameserver may be responsible.
If your website isn’t loading because of a DNS issue, you have to identify the exact cause and fix it immediately.
DDoS cybersecurity attack
A DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack occurs when one or more culprits flood a server with requests. Their aim is to overwhelm the server, crash it, and cause disruptive server downtime.
Your site might not even be the intended target, but it could go down if a site that you share a server with is attacked. That’s something you need to think about when browsing for a reliable shared hosting plan.
Even a personal blog or any other non-commercial site, no matter how innocuous, could fall prey to a DDoS attack if it shares a server with the target domain.
Consider website and server downtime a real danger if you opt for a shared server, rather than a dedicated one.
Hackers can find any security weaknesses or other penetrable breaches, exploit them, and bring your website down with ruthless efficiency. Even if they have no real motivation: they might do it just because they can.
Malicious hackers may target your site specifically (unlike with DDoS attacks), rather than inflicting downtime on multiple websites that happen to share a server. Hackers use bots to find sites with vulnerabilities and take them down, which makes their “work” easier than ever.
Your website could be vulnerable to attack from hackers unless you implement the most advanced cybersecurity solutions on the market. And that means your site could enter an enforced period of downtime from even the tiniest vulnerability.
A CMS (Content Management System) can create issues that lead to downtime, no matter what system your website is built on. Installing an incompatible plugin on a WordPress site, for example, could cause a site outage.
Database errors and other internal problems can also leave your site loading partial or blank pages — or not at all.
Maintaining your website regularly is critical to reduce the risk of downtime. Leaving it unchecked for long periods could cause you to be unaware of key issues, and lead to unexpected site outage in the future.
You need to be vigilant in checking that your site is functioning properly. Otherwise, it could experience a massive failure and an extended period of downtime.
How to prevent site downtime
Let’s explore how you can avoid downtime bringing your business to a halt.
Take advantage of a CDN
A CDN (Content Delivery Network) is a layer between a website’s server and its users. This improves the site’s speed and makes it easier to access.
CDNs function via a network of caching servers, based in various locations across the globe, that stores a cached version of your website’s content. This can be quickly delivered to users in immediate proximity.
Essentially, a CDN serves as a buffer capable of providing your users with content even if your site goes down. It can also prevent malicious bots penetrating your website, filter traffic via analysis of IP addresses, and act as a terrific safety net in case of a brief outage.
Utilize a monitoring service for your website
A website monitoring service will monitor your website continuously, and alert you if it goes down.
Using a website monitoring service won’t prevent website downtime, but it will ensure you’re the first to know about it.
Choose monitoring software that will check your website in the shortest intervals possible, and sends alerts through numerous channels. Also, create a simple status page that informs users of the problem when they land on it.
You should be the one to announce that your website is down before users start asking or complaining across social media. Take a proactive approach: keep your audience informed via status pages and social media until the problem is resolved.
Choose your host carefully
One of the most important steps in preventing site downtime is choosing the right hosting service provider. They should be equipped to handle the traffic volumes you expect at present and in the future, regardless of how high they might become.
You could endanger your service, and your entire business, if you opt for a poor-quality provider just because they offer the cheapest prices. Especially when you run an online-only business and generate huge traffic.
Only trust your website with a host that guarantees high uptime in the service level agreement (most will promise more than 99.9% uptime). Choose the provider that aligns with your budget, needs, and expectations the most. Take as much time as you need, and see what a prospective provider’s other clients have to say before you make your decision.
Back your data up
Your business should back up data regularly, as your website is prone to downtime despite the measures you’ve already taken. Store your data locally and in the cloud for total peace of mind.
A lot of hosting providers will offer backup tools. Backup hosting services bring you an additional layer of protection if your site becomes unavailable.
It’s best to set up an additional hosting account with a different provider, so your data will be stored on a separate server. Small issues, such as domain expiry, may also cause site outage. You can solve this by configuring your domain to auto-renew or purchase it for long periods at a time.