What to do when your website is down - Your emergency plan

by Teresa Rodriguez Barnada

Having your website down can be almost as devastating as a facing a natural disaster.  It can affect user confidence, loyalty and ultimately eat into your bottom line, particularly if you are paying for online traffic. That’s why it’s important to have a business continuity plan in place and a dedicated person or team to assess the impact of the incident (natural or virtual) and manage an appropriate response.

website is down

Hopefully, the following suggestions will help you minimise the stress and manage your website's down-time successfully:

1. The most immediate reaction is to panic – Don’t! Your hosting company would (supposedly) have backed up your website files and database. So, before you start rushing to change website configurations or codes take a deep breath and try to think rationally about your next step/s. If you have an IT department onsite, don’t waste your time – make that call and get them right onto it. If you don’t,  try the following

2. Go through the very basics (no matter how trivial) - Ask yourself:

  • Is your web service even running? Is there a possibility that the service might have stopped?
  • Have you made any recent changes that could be causing an error? Did you forget to test those changes?
  • Maybe your developer worked on something you are not aware of?
  • Have you recently changed Domain Name System (DNS) or scheduled DNS to change? Depending on the changes you made, DNS can change instantaneously or it can take up to 24 hours to update. 
  • Is the broadband connection functioning correctly?
  • How about your browser? Try opening the site up on a different browser to the one you always use -  Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, etc. If the broadband connection seems to be fine, try clearing your cache and cookie - open up the browser,  press Ctrl+Shift+Del, select Cache and Cookie and select either everything or from the beginning and press OK. Everything will then be cleared from your browser. Try loading the site to see if it works this time.
  • Has your website’s domain name expired?
  • Has your hosting plan expired? 

3. Find out whether the site can be viewed outside your network.  Ask a friend to check it out on their end or approach one of the many proxy services that allow you to see if your site is accessible via a third-party connection, such as Megaproxy

4. Services like Whydown.com will help you diagnose the source of the problem.  There are also quite a number of online tools you can use to check availability and performance issues. Check some of them out here.

5. If the size of your site is fairly considerable, you may not be the only one experiencing difficulties. You can check what others are saying on Twitter  at http://twitter.com/#search?q=sitenam.

6. ‘Ping’ your domain address. Pinging is a command which tells you if the connection between your computer and a particular domain is working correctly. Here’s how to Use the Ping Command: In Windows, select Start > Programs > Accessories > Command Prompt. Enter the word ping, followed by a space, then the (your) domain name then hit enter on your keyboard.

If the results show a series of replies, the connection is working.

7. Contact your hosting company. Find out from them if there is a problem in their end and how to fix it. If they are closed, not available or not responding, try their online live support. You’ll probably need to login to your account and assess the status for your hosting. The status would either indicate:

  • There is a problem - perhaps something the hosting company is dealing with or something specific to your site.  Once you have identified the problem you may or may not understand it. If you don’t, make use of the online support facility provided by most hosting companies. Online support is usually free and available instantly and they will generally be able to get you back online within the  next  fifteen minutes unless there is a problem outside their control.  Send them error messages your website is showing and you’ll get instructions back. Make sure you save them for later incidents.
  • There is no problem – refer back to your website and get professional help. A re-upload might be in order

8. Notify users of the outage. Put up a message in your social media channels  to let them know what’s going on and when your plan to have the site up and running again.

9. Post-downtime analysis. After the scare is over and all systems are functional again, try to analyse what happened, learn the lesson, optimise and prevent it from occurring again. And let the incident be a good reminder to keep a backup copy of your website copy and all your latest updates. 
Teresa es lingüista y especialista en comunicación intercultural, con un masters de resolución de conflictos interculturales y otro en traducción e interpretación. También ha formado parte de la comunidad de Pymes, dirigiendo una empresa de traducciones e interpretaciones en Malasia y una empresa de catering en Sídney, Australia. En la actualidad, Teresa es la directora de redacción de Hotfrog, así como editora, escritora y traductora en el Hotfrog Small Business Hub. Además Teresa tiene sus propios blogs No-mad, y Digital cultures and translation.

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