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“My Website’s Down!” The First Steps to Take, and What You Can do to Mitigate the Damage

Your site’s down, you’re panicking, and you don’t know what to do. Step one…

Not long ago, a problem occurred with one of the biggest content delivery networks in the world, and it led to the downtime of the sites of many big-name brands. 

Apparently, just a few days ago, WPX Hosting experienced downtime that lasted roughly 5 hours. Although they thought they had reliable redundancies in place, those redundancies were also affected, thus all their customers’ sites were down. 

And worse, because WPX relied on upstream providers, they weren’t sure when their sites would be back online again. 

With these recent events, it seems that it’s prudent of us to prepare for the scenario where our site goes down.

This can be incredibly frustrating for web hosts and us, their clients. It can be bad for our customers who rely on our web-based services to conduct some form of business or activity that impacts their lives.

And of course, it’s unfortunate when you have people who are willing to spend, but see some error message on their browser. 

The Nine (Possible) Things You Should Do When You Notice That Your Website’s Down

Step One: were you notified by your web host or a site monitoring software about this?

If not, perhaps your web host hasn’t noticed that there’s a problem on their end (which would be very surprising, as most good web hosts have monitoring). 

Or, maybe they haven’t informed you yet. If it’s a problem on their end, they should. Soon. 

Or, maybe the problem is with your website, and not with other sites that use the same hosting (or other sites on the same server if you use shared hosting).

To be sure, try a different browser, or use a different device. 

Also, be sure to contact your host.

Step Two: go to a site like Is It Down Right Now? and see whether your site is only down for you, or if it’s actually down (for everyone). 

If it’s only down for you (which can also include others, but not the entire globe), it may be due to your browser, your connection, or maybe your DNS. You can also contact your host and ask for help.

Step Three: for those whose contact information you have contact them: your repeat visitors, your customers, your email subscribers, etc. 

Let them know that you’re aware that there’s a problem with your site, that you (or your web host) are working on it, and you’ll get back to them with updates. 

You can also say that you’ll do what you can to ensure that their data is protected, and that if they were double-billed for anything, you’ll work to resolve that.

 (I mention double-billing because I had the recent experience of twice seeing an error message (rather than a confirmation message), and being billed 3 times.)

Try to contact them via as many channels as possible: email, phone calls, text, Twitter, Facebook Page, Profile,  Groups, YouTube video, etc. 

Step Four: between the last time you saw your site up and now, were there any changes that were done that a downage can be attributed to? Is your webmaster doing something? Did you just install some backend software or plugin? Did you update your content management system?

Step Five: could your site have been hacked? 

Step Six: does your web host have backups? Can they restore a previous version of your site? (If you made changes…say…an hour ago, but their backup is 24 hours old, then if they restore the backup, your changes may not have been backed up.)

Step Seven: stay calm. 

Step Eight: did you just move to a new host in the past few hours or so? If you did, then you probably had to change your domain’s nameserver configurations to point the domain to your new host. It may take up to 24 (or even 72) hours for this change to propagate through the Internet (which is why you may wish to still have your site on your old host, until propagation has fully taken place). 

Step Nine: is the source of your outage something within you or your team’s control? If so, get on it ASAP!

Thankfully, Websites Aren’t Usually Down for Longer Than a Few Hours

Yes, you’re losing money, and people can’t use your services. And, even worse, there may be pending lawsuits if your clients are businesses that need your services to run their own businesses (for example, if you offer Software as a Service). 

But thankfully, these issues are usually resolved in minutes, and usually, hours.

If this does go on for a prolonged time, perhaps you can send buyers to your physical stores (if you have them), or to partner sites who are willing to help you. 

Preparation Is Key: What Can Be Done Beforehand

First: backup, backup, backup. If your host provides automatic backups, then great, but you should also download backups of your site. 

Second: know how to restore your site from a backup, so that if it really goes down, you’re not spending time trying to figure out how to restore from a backup. 

Third: you can have a mirrored site of yours that’s hosted elsewhere, so that if your site goes down, you can tell your visitors to go to the mirrored site. (And, to prevent duplicate content, you can choose to not have this site indexed in Google.)

Fourth: you can have a .pdf version of your catalogue online, hosted elsewhere, with links going to your 3rd-party payment processor. 

Those are a few things you can do to be prepared for the event that your site goes down. 

Why Major Providers Go Down

Major providers can go down for various reasons. It can be due to some kind of attack, like a distributed denial of service (DDOS), which is when an overwhelming number of requests are sent to a server, thus slowing it down. 

A web host’s servers can go down for numerous technical reasons. One example is during routine maintenance that fails. 

By being prepared, and/or taking some of the steps listed above, you can help mitigate losses and bounce back quickly. 

It’s never fun when something out of our control threatens to debilitate our businesses, but if we’re transparent and act professionally, we can hope that those who rely on us will be understanding and forgiving. 

With that, I have to give kudos to WPX Hosting for being so transparent and forthcoming about their recent experience. While we’re not all web hosting providers, we’re still digital entrepreneurs, and WPX’s public response is an example we should emulate when things go wrong.

Source: WPX Hosting Blog