When your website goes down it’s hard not to panic. It’s hard not to wonder how a website going down will impact your business. But the truth is, no website is invulnerable to outages – even giants like Amazon, which briefly went down in 2013, losing over $66,000 per minute as a result.

Though this might seem like a scary thought, it may be reassuring to know that ultimately, everybody is in the same boat.

There are lots of things that can cause your website to go down, and, as a result, lots of ways you can solve the problem, and protect yourself for next time.
So take a breath, resist the urge to call 999, and have a read of this guide!

Common Causes of a Website Outage

Broadly speaking, there are three main reasons why a website goes down. The first is human error at your end. This means coding or programming errors, running too many scripts, or even just forgetting to renew your domain name. The second is an issue with the server. If you’re lucky, your website has been deliberately taken offline for a short period so that server maintenance can be carried out.

However, it could also be a genuine server-specific problem. Too much traffic to a particular site can overload the server, causing problems not only for that site but for any sites it shares the server with.  The cause might even be a power failure or malfunction at the data centre where your server is stored.

The third (and most scary) cause of an outage is deliberate sabotage by someone hacking your site or targeting you with DDoS attacks.

Working Out What’s Happened

The first thing to do when your website appears to go down, is to check it’s actually down. You can do this by testing it on a separate internet connection, and checking its status on sites like this and this.

Once you’re sure your site is definitely out, check out your hosting company’s website or social media to see if it’s a known problem, or if they’re simply carrying out server maintenance. If you can’t get any answers this way, or you want to tackle the problem yourself, start by finding out if the problem  is a programming error at your end. Check the status bar at the bottom of your site.

If it says “Done” or “Loaded” (but the page is still broken) this points to a programming error. To check for server errors, you’ll want to run a ping test.
This is essentially like sending a short message to your server to ask if it’s OK, and it’s very simple to do. 
It’ll also show you if the problem lies with your domain name; if you think that the problem is with your domain, you can use a site like Who.is to check what’s going on.

Ping tests differ depending on what kind of computer you’re using and the type of request, but you can find a simple guide by WikiHow here.

The results should flag up if there’s a problem with the server or connection by indicating lost packets, i.e. bits of data that are failing to reach their destination.
If the request simply times out, this points to a server crash.In the case of an error with your server, there’s not usually much you can do.

Contact your hosting company, ask for as much information as possible, and cross your fingers that it’ll be resolved quickly. And in the meantime, if you have customers, let them know what’s going on via email or social media.

The Best Ways to Protect Your Site

Website outages are often simply out of your control, but for future reference, there are some things you can do to protect your site, such as using CDN services to store and deliver cached content from the site in the event of an outage.

You should also consider backup hosting, where you set up a secondary hosting account at a different company – ideally in a different geographic location to your primary server. If you’re going to have a secondary hosting account, you should transfer backups to it on a regular basis. You should also use a DNS management service, as this will automatically transfer your site to your secondary server if it goes offline.

It’s not always easy to protect yourself from DDoS attacks and hacking, but generally speaking, the more security you have in place, the safer the site will be. This means security plugins, complex passwords, firewalls, and performing frequent backups and updates.

Lastly, if you’re not tech-minded and your business is lacking in staff who can tackle these kinds of problems, it may be time to think about hiring an web agency. Believe us, it’ll be worth the extra cost.