Avoiding Downtime Sinking Computer
Jackie Long

Avoiding downtime 

Unexpected downtime can be costly. Understand how it happens and how to avoid it with this quick guide.

All forms of downtime are costly – even when a website is only partly unavailable. A complete shutdown costs $5600 per minute on average. And companies who rely on advertising for the majority of their revenue, like Facebook, can lose significantly more. Even a slow-loading site can cost your company, since most customers will grow impatient and leave a website that doesn’t load quickly enough.

Downtime and slowdown costs can obviously vary depending on the size of your business, your industry, and other factors, but any unexpected issues will certainly cost you money. Though technology and site infrastructure have advanced significantly, some downtime is always going to occur. But there are ways to minimize its effects.

Know Common Causes for Downtime:

Recognizing some common causes of downtime can help you prepare for potential issues and create a plan to deal with them quickly.

Certificate expirations

Many companies fail to renew their site certificates before they expire. Because online security has become a vital aspect of data privacy, most browsers will automatically filter your site if its certificate is out of date. This means that your site may be completely unavailable to your customers or hidden behind a warning that erroneously states that your site is unsafe. Knowing the status of your certificates will ensure that customers can easily access your site.

Block listing

All search engines compile so-called "block lists," which are lists of sites that have been deemed fraudulent, predatory, or otherwise problematic. Sites that appear on these lists will not show up in search engine results.

Sometimes websites may end up on these block lists by mistake. Occasionally people will falsely flag legitimate sites for personal reasons or to bring down a competitor. Other times, companies end up on a block list due to an expired certificate or other minor problem. Either way, once you’re on the list, it can take time to be removed. This is especially true if you don’t even know that you’ve been listed.

Downed server

Servers fail all the time. Even if it’s not your server, it can still affect your site: for example, a company that relies on international orders could be severely impacted by a fire at a local server farm in one of the countries they serve. Any customers that would normally be routed through those servers may have a difficult time getting to the site or may not be able to view it at all.

However, tracking all servers would be an incredibly time-consuming and unrealistic task. Setting up alerts for when customers are experiencing trouble loading your site can help alleviate these problems so you can handle them as quickly as possible.

Too much traffic

Whether due to a great promotion or an orchestrated attack, sites often experience unexpected downtime thanks to traffic spikes. While there’s no way to completely insulate yourself from these issues, you should know how your hosting company handles traffic spikes and have a plan in place for escalation if needed.

Changes to site/Human error

One of the most common reasons for downtime is human error. Making changes to a site can cause problems if not done correctly. Even with testing, sometimes unexpected problems cause pages to load incorrectly, pictures and links to break, or product listings to be incomplete. Worse, sometimes pages will simply not load at all. Examine any possible changes for problems, plan accordingly, and test everything before you complete any updates to avoid these problems.

Natural disasters

Unfortunately, blizzards, floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters happen frequently all over the world. While it’s impossible for a company to avoid being affected by nature at some point, you can minimize the damage. Consider where your servers are, set alerts during high-risk seasons, have back-up plans, and know who to contact for when major issues occur. Being prepared can make the difference between a short service interruption and weeks of downtime.

Know When Downtime Happens:

While some unexpected outages are bound to occur, being notified of problems immediately can reduce their overall impact. The sooner you know about an issue, the sooner you can get to work fixing it. Here are a few ways to know when something might be wrong:

Monitors

Whether you’re hosting a site yourself or using a hosting service, it’s important to set up alerts to notify you when things go wrong. Servers can suffer from a variety of problems, including going offline, inability to communicate, or slow loading times. Fixing these problems quickly requires you to know when there’s a problem in the first place. Try using escalating alerts to ensure that the problem gets handled in a timely manner.

Real User Monitoring

Your local servers may not be the only ones causing trouble. Real user monitoring allows you to know when any customers are having problems with your site by tracking loading times for users around the globe. Some tools can also notify you when a particular region is seeing massive outages or slower service. Armed with this knowledge, both your customer service representatives and your technology team will get a head-start on handling other problems that come along with those issues.

Improve the Customer Experience:

Beyond just maintaining your site, actively improving performance will give your customers a better experience and can help prevent future issues. Getting better hosting or decreasing thumbnail size are just a few ways to improve your site’s efficiency.

As technology continues to develop, customers expect the sites they visit to keep up. Make sure your site stays competitive by updating navigation, product descriptions, photographs, and categories. You may even see an increase in revenue following more updated options.

Unexpected downtime does happen, but how you respond to it can make the difference between losing customers and keeping them. Communication is the most important thing you can offer your customers. Whenever you discover a problem, use email, social media, banners, live chat, and other methods to let your customers know what is happening and when they should expect a solution. Social media can be particularly useful here. This is your opportunity to show your customers that you care and even turn a negative experience into a positive one—take advantage of that.

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Almost every hosting company and ecommerce platform offers uptime guarantees, with most at around 99%. But even 1% of unexpected downtime can be costly.