If you have a website, it is important that it is always available. The last thing you need is for visitors to discover your site has gone down, especially if it is a critical element of your business. In this post, we’ll look at why websites can suffer downtime and what you can do to prevent it happening. We’ll also show you what to do if your website does go offline.
Reasons why websites can go offline
There are numerous reasons why a website can go offline: it can be caused by everything from natural disasters, such as floods at your web host’s data centre, to you accidentally putting your site into maintenance mode. Some causes are more common than others, however, and in this next section, we’ll look at the ones which are most likely to affect your site.
1. Scheduled server maintenance
Like any other computer, the server on which your website is hosted needs to be looked after. From time to time, your web host will need to update software, install security patches and upgrade hardware. Whilst much of this can be done while the server is still in operation, occasionally, this will mean the server needs to be temporarily taken offline or rebooted. When this happens, your website may be unavailable (though there are some forms of hosting where this is not necessary).
Web hosts are aware of how this can affect customers and they undertake their maintenance at times which are least likely to cause disruption to your business. For example, they will avoid times of the day when web traffic is the busiest. However, if your web host is based in another country, the time differences can mean this is less convenient.
2. Server overload
Sometimes websites can go down because the server on which they are hosted cannot handle the number of processes taking place. One cause of this is the DDoS attack where a hacker will flood a server with so many traffic requests that it goes offline. It can also happen on a shared server where one of the websites being hosted receives so much traffic that the other sites suffer performance problems as a result. It can also happen if something on your website goes viral and you suddenly get unexpectedly high volumes of visitors all trying to reach your site at the same time.
If you use shared hosting, make sure your web host puts measures in place to prevent other user’s websites usurping all the server resources. If you find that the amount of traffic you receive is regularly taking your site offline, this can be a sign that you have a very popular website and that you need to upgrade to a larger hosting package to handle all your traffic.
3. Coding errors
A common cause of downtime is due to coding errors on your website. Whilst individual pieces of software are usually error free, sometimes when you run them together they may cause a conflict. For example, if you run a WordPress website, you may find that two separate plugins are incompatible. Each may work perfectly when the other isn’t installed but when both are installed your site may go offline. If this happens, you may need to find an alternative plugin.
Another coding error happens when people tinker with the coding on their site without really knowing what they are doing. Lots of people do this, particularly with CMS website software like WordPress. If you intend to tinker with the coding, always make sure you have a backup so that, if the worst happens, you can get your site back online quickly.
Besides the DDoS attacks we mentioned earlier, there are other forms of hacking that can take your site offline. If a hacker gets access to your cPanel or your server area, they can take your site down by deleting or tampering with files. Alternatively, they can redirect your visitors to other websites, so whilst it might look like your site is online, everyone who tries to visit it ends up on a different and often malicious website. To avoid this, always use strong login passwords and keep your site secure.
5. Poor hosting
If you find that your website goes offline on a regular basis, it could be that you have opted to go with a poor-quality web host. They could be using outdated hardware, cramming too many users on to each server or simply not monitoring how well their servers are performing. If this is the case, you need to migrate your site to a different and more reliable web host.
How to stop your website going offline
1. Find the right host
The single most important factor in keeping your website online is choosing the right host. A good host will provide a wide range of services to ensure that uptime is guaranteed, these include:
Use of fast, high-performance servers
Configuring servers for optimal website performance
Use of backup servers (or data centres) if a server goes down
Monitoring server performance so issues are dealt with before a server fails
Monitoring for hacking and malware
Managed updates and patching to operating system software
In addition, a good host will also provide services to help you look after your website, such as remote backups, 24/7 technical support and site monitoring. Some hosts will also offer you guaranteed uptime. Depending on the type of hosting package you choose, this can be between 99.95% and 100% uptime, backed up by a service level agreement (SLA).
3. Keep your software up to date
To prevent your site going offline because of hacking, it is important to keep your site software up to date at all times. Cybercriminals look for vulnerabilities in outdated CMS, theme and plugin software and target those sites where those vulnerabilities are found. The best way to avoid this, is to set up automatic updates; this way, you won’t need to worry about updating them yourself.
4. Monitor your website
Monitoring services provided by web hosts or through installed plugins can alert you if your site goes offline or if there are issues you need to take action on. They will also create error logs which you can use to diagnose why your site went offline and help you restore service quickly.
What to do if your site goes offline
1. Make sure it is actually offline
If you cannot reach your website, make sure, first of all, that this is not due to the device you are searching on, the connection you are using or your browser. If you can, get someone else in a different location to verify the status for you.
2. Find the cause of your downtime
When you attempt to visit your site, you may get clues to the cause. Often the browser will report a reason for a failed connection. If there is a coding error, you may see the error code displayed instead of the actual web page. If there is heavy traffic, the site may take a very long time to load and may only partially show the contents.
If these attempts to find a cause fail, you may need to log in to your cPanel and look at any error logs. If you cannot log in to your cPanel, then it is likely to be an error at your hosting company’s end.
3. Contact technical support
If you have chosen a web host with 24/7 technical support, get in touch with them straight away. Inform them of your problem and ask them for assistance. Often, what looks like a major problem to you, may be something they can solve quite easily.
4. Let your customers know
If your site goes down, you need to let your customers know about it. If you can still send email, send out a message to subscribers informing them that the site is currently unavailable and that service will resume shortly. You can also do this on social media, for example, you can post a status update on your Facebook page or send out a tweet. You should also do these things once normal service is resumed.
5. Disaster recovery planning
If your website is a critical element of your business, ideally, you should have a disaster recovery plan in place to deal with getting your site back online as quickly as possible. For more information read our post ‘10 Tips for an Effective Disaster Recovery Plan’.
Hopefully, from reading this article, you should have a clearer understanding of why a website can go offline, what you can do to prevent it and what you need to do if your site does go down.