Unfortunately there are times when a website goes down. It could be a server error, an upgrade that went bad, or a hacker that's decided to target your site.
The largest websites in the world, such as Facebook and other giants of the world wide web, are usually built with fault tolerance and multiple redundant sites to provide 99.999% uptime. Some medium-sized websites and businesses even attempt to mitigate downtime by hosting multiple versions of their websites on different web servers. When one server goes down, a redundant server picks up the slack.
But what if you're a small business who doesn't have a hefty budget to throw around at redundant servers and mirror versions of your site across the globe?
Whether you run an e-commerce site, niche blog, or have simply set up a digital version of your small business to engage in digital marketing, you need to be able to handle downtime effectively. The failure to properly handle downtime could thrash the effectiveness of your marketing campaign and lose a lot of trust with your audience, not to mention potentially hurting your website rankings.
Plus, it just looks a little flaky when a business doesn't maintain their online presence. Not only could you lose loads of traffic, but your visitors may be dissuaded from visiting your pages in the future.
Here are some tips to effectively handle website downtime, no matter what the cause.
Use the Right Error Codes
It's a pain in the neck when you're surfing the web and get slapped in the face with a 404 "This page can not be displayed" error. It's so irritating because the 404 error code does little to tell a user why the content is unavailable. Perhaps something is wrong with the user's Internet connection, maybe the web master failed to redirect traffic on old pages to a new domain, or one of a million other reasons.
If your website has crashed or you simply need to take it offline for maintenance, it's better to set up a 503 HTTP Service Unavailable error code. Using the proper error code will do several things to help your website. First of all, even though we don't know the inner mechanics of the Google ranking algorithm, there is some speculation that using the right error codes can minimize any negative impact on your rankings.
Alternately, you can create a static hard-coded page on your site that explains the situation, and sends the right signal (a 302 redirect) to the search engines that your site is just temporarily experiencing issues.
In my opinion, better advantage is that it will preserve trust with your audience. They won't get a 404 error that doesn't provide any information on why a page isn't available, and they'll know that the error was on your website (as opposed to their browser or Internet connection) - and that it's being worked on.
Dress Things Up a Bit
Let's face it – error pages are annoying and pretty mundane. As such, they're a great place to inject branding and humor. I've seen some websites that have their mascot with an apology for the lack of service. The only limit is your creativity, and designing your own error pages can really make your website more relatable. However, you want your error pages to be contextually appropriate for your industry. If you're strapped for ideas and want some inspiration, check out these quirky custom error pages.
Tell Your Audience What's Happening Behind the Scenes
Chances are you have an online presence that can speak to your whole audience at once. Tools like Facebook pages and Twitter can be used to inform your audience that the website is down, and even provide them with an ETA for availability. This will make you look a lot more proactive, on top of things, trustworthy, and your users won't have to wonder how long they'll need to wait before your website is once more accessible.
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Use a Monitoring Tool or Service
There are a million and one monitoring tools in the market, and I'd highly recommend using one – especially if you run an ecommerce site. There are so many to choose from that I couldn't possibly hope to mention them all here. Some are free, some are cheap, and some are rather expensive. It all depends on what level of service you need.
That said, you may want to look into services and tools like Montastic, Uptime Robot, 100Pulse, and BasicState. These types of tools will monitor server statistics and website availability. If abnormalities or outages are detected, the service will raise an alert via email or even a text message.
If you are a hosting customer of ours, you should look into our weekly maintenance and hacker protection service. Many websites have been saved by this simple addon!
Don't Put Off Renewals and Registrations
Web hosting companies give their users ample time to renew subscriptions. They'll email you far in advance to ensure that you don't run into any renewal issues – and let's face it, they don't want to lose a customer. However, if you fail to renew your domain name or hosting package, you might inadvertently incur an outage. Mark the day on your calendar with a big red “X,” and make sure you don't put it off too long!
Many domain registrars also have auto-renew, so they'll just charge your credit card when it comes up for renewal. This will save you the trouble of remembering!
Website downtime is a real pain in the behind, but there are a lot of tools you can use to mitigate the chance of downtime as well as minimize the damage it does to your reputation. If you don't feel comfortable installing security packages, configuring monitoring tools, or configuring error pages, it's in your best interest to reach out to a WordPress professional. Otherwise, you could be damaging your online reputation if your website goes down.