The level to which you need to plan your website resources is largely down to the importance of your site to your business. For example, if you have a finance site that takes transactions, and you have a steady flow of traffic, there could be serious financial and reputational consequences if your hosting fails, or your website crashes for any other reason. People may not know whether transactions have gone through, and people may lose faith in your service.
If you are running a lead generation website, or if your website is simply a brochure website, then your website may be a little less mission-critical, and a few minutes downtime here and there may not be the end of the world.
Think about the Consequences of Website Downtime
If you haven’t ever had problems with your websites and downtime, then you may not realise just how inconvenient it can be. When your website goes down, you need to go through a troubleshooting process to find out what may have gone wrong.
It could be that something on your content management system is broken or conflicted. It could be that your website host is having problems. It could be you are under a denial of service attack.
The process of finding out what’s wrong costs time and money, and then getting things resolved may also hit your bottom line. That’s without factoring in any lost transactions, or potential customers who came and went, making a resolution to work with you.
So How Do You Prepare for a Situation Where You Have a Website Outage?
One of the most important aspects of disaster recovery is having a backup. With most web hosts, you can have them automatically back up your website daily, but don’t assume this is happening unless you ask.
One thing you can do to test is to upload a basic file onto the website server, delete that file, and then ask your web host to provide you with the file. If they cannot provide you with the file, then they probably aren’t backing up everything automatically.
It’s also advised that you back up your website yourself. You can back up website files through an FTP software, and databases can be downloaded.
Choosing Your Host Appropriately
Web hosts cannot guarantee 100% uptime. From time to time, web hosting will go down, but some of the best hosts such as BlueHost in the US, Hearts Internet in the UK, 1 & 1 IONOS in Germany and www.domains4less.co.nz/web-hosting in New Zealand guarantee no more than around eight minutes of downtime a year. Take a look at the service level agreements of your host.
Shared Hosting Is not an Option
You are at the mercy of the activities of other people on the server, some of whom may get traffic spikes which affect your website performance, and others who may run unscrupulous activities that affect the reputation of your IP address. The security parameters of shared hosting are simply not good enough.
A virtual private server can be used for around $30 a month. Dedicated servers may cost you around $300 or more per month. The reality is that in order to maximise the amount of uptime you have, you need to choose your hosting wisely, go for a system that has excellent security, disaster management protocols, and distributed resources that mitigate against most reasons for downtime.
Monitoring and logging
If you regularly make changes to your website, then make sure they are monitored and logged. You can then see who made what changes and when, and can ensure that you get the correct version of your website backup when it comes to restoring the site. Website monitoring services can also help with this, including Basic State and Hyperspin, although there are lots of other options as well.
Tackling an Outage When It Occurs
If your website goes down, then the first thing to do is contact your web host and find out if there is anything going on at their end. If you have customers who are on the website, then get in touch and let them know what is going on. Social media is an excellent place to communicate updates for downtime that lasts more than a few hours.
The restoration process can be quite lengthy and technical, so make sure you have a good IT team, or a consultancy ready to call when you need them.
When your website goes down, have your host put a static page rather than you having the standard error page. This could include your logo and something like “We’re working on some changes, back up shortly”. Whatever message you put, make sure it is positive, and make sure you are proactive with ensuring any downtime doesn’t cause reputational damage.
You can’t totally protect yourself against a website outage. Therefore, you need to have a plan in place, and to be doing daily activities that ensure your website is backed up and that you can do an efficient restore.