Amazon’s Prime Day crash is just the most recent example of a website going down due to poor planning. By not ensuring that enough servers were in place to handle the anticipated traffic, customers visiting the gargantuan online retailer were stuck looking at error messages, costing Amazon—and the businesses who sell on the Amazon platform—countless lost sales.
In reality, this kind of thing happens all the time—just not always in such a public way. The most likely reasons that your website is down include the following:
- Plug-in or extension errors
- Broken code
- Hosting provider issues
- Attack by virus or hackers
- Traffic spike
- Domain expiration
And while you might think it’s no big deal to have your site experience some downtime, think again. Just imagine a department store or supermarket closing its doors in the middle of the day. It’s the same thing when your website crashes: Traffic is temporarily halted, which keeps transactions from happening. This results in poor customer experiences, which may negatively affect brand affinity and future purchasing decisions.
So, the question isn’t whether or not crashes are bad (they are), but what you should do when one happens, and how it could be prevented in the first place. Let’s find out.
No Website is Immune
Unfortunately this just seems to be an unavoidable annoyance that comes with doing business online, where you are dealing with fallible machines and lots of moving parts.
We already mentioned the big Amazon Prime Day debacle, but the truth is that Amazon is not the first (nor will it be the last) big company to experience a crash during a highly publicized event. J Crew’s site went down during Cyber Monday, as did Australian website Click Frenzy during their own version of this digital retail holiday. The list of shamed online retailers goes on, but we think you get the point.
Surveys have shown that a majority of Fortune 500 companies experience some downtown on a regular basis. Depending on the size of the enterprise, this could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue, not to mention the additional expenditure of having to fix the issues, and the residual damage to the company’s reputation.
What’s important is that you know what to do when a crash happens, and how you can prevent this kind of occurrence from happening too often—particularly at those moments that may be key to your company’s bottom line.
What to Do When Your Site Goes Down
The law of averages suggests that, at one point or another, your website will probably crash. Whether it’s due to severe weather at your datacenter or one error in a long line of code, what do you do about it?
Check if It’s Really Down
The first thing you need to do is check if the website is really down. For example, sometimes, your internet goes out, or there’s a hiccup in the WiFi, or you’re looking at a cached version, or any number of things that might be replicating the “symptoms” of a crash. So refresh the page, try a different browser, and restart your computer before you panic.
Get in Touch with Your Hosting Company
If your website really is down, you’ll need to get in touch with your IT department immediately to figure out where the problem is, so that the appropriate steps can be taken to remedy it. Luckily, the best website hosting services have 24-hour support and will help you get things back up and running in no time.
In the meantime, stop traffic as much as possible. The last thing you need is for potential customers to be directed to your website after clicking on a pay-per-click ad, email, or brochure ad you put out only to find it down. Pause your campaigns, and only reinstate them once you’ve confirmed that your site is functioning properly again.
What Not to Do
Just as important as knowing what to do, is knowing what not to do. There are several unhelpful—and potentially harmful—reactions that many website owners may immediately have in response to a crash.
The last thing you want to do is lose your head when your website crashes. Like we said, these things happen to everyone at one point or another. So take a deep breath, and follow the tips above so that you can proactively work toward a timely solution.
Switch Hosts Immediately
Don’t throw away a great hosting service because of an inevitable mishap (one that you’re likely to experience at some point with whichever hosting service you switch to anyway)! Of course, you will also want to assess your hosting service, so ask yourself if you are happy with the overall service provided. Consider how often your site does crash—the reasons behind those instances—and what other benefits you are getting from this provider. After careful consideration, you may decide the best course of action is to ditch the loser and find someone worth your hard-earned money.
Ignore the Problem
Pretending the problem doesn’t exist won’t make it go away. In fact, it will only make it worse. Pay your customers the respect that they deserve, and address the issue in a timely manner. Go on your social media accounts or send out a mass email. Regardless of how you get in touch, ensure your followers that you are aware of the problem and are handling it. This will earn you far more respect in their eyes than ignoring the issue.
How to Avoid Crashing in the First Place
Of course, there’s one more takeaway that is vital to any crash discussion, and that’s what you could’ve done to avoid the crash in the first place. While occurrences like this are going to happen (infrequently, we hope), they typically occur because of negligence on the part of the host or site owner. Here are a few important things to do to keep that dreaded “Site Down” page from appearing:
Despite having ample manpower, statistics from previous years, and enough money to fuel a small country, Amazon made the same fatal mistake as so many others: it wasn’t prepared. If you are running a huge sale, launching a new product, or creating massive hype in some way, make sure your servers have the power to handle a higher level of traffic than usual. Also, make sure you have extra IT support on call during this time, in case the unforeseen does happen.
Update & Test
Often, websites crash because of a simple bug in the software. Updates are constantly being released to fix those bugs, so you can save yourself a lot of trouble by staying up to date with all of your software and programs. Expired domain names is a surprisingly common reason that many websites go offline—save yourself the embarrassment and make sure that your domains are renewed.
Also, do your due diligence up front and make sure that any changes to the website’s code are being checked and double checked on different browsers and devices before going live, and certainly before a major sale or promotion. A simple syntax error is all it takes to dismantle the most powerful online names.
Get on the Cloud
Using a cloud-based server minimizes the likelihood of crashes. Why? Because these servers automatically scale themselves to handle the load that is being thrown at them each minute. So, if you have a sudden influx of visitors, the cloud-based server can help avoid what might otherwise be a devastating event.
Crash & Burn? Not Necessarily
Nobody likes to land on an out of service or temporarily down webpage, and now you have the tools to make sure your customers don’t have to. Be prepared, check your hosting caps, and keep your systems up to date to avoid that annoyance. And, if (and when) it does happen? Keep calm and get busy. Your website will be back up in no time.