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Mar 7, 2011
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Are you prepared for unexpected website outages?

For many companies, the web has become a cornerstone, if not the heart, of their business. Even if you never want this to happen, have you considered what would happen if your site went down for a significant length of time? Or even for just a few minutes? If you consider and prepare for this this before it happens the first time, there are substantial benefits to gain if it should happen.

For a company with a static page it may not mean much, but for an online retailer trading in the run up to Christmas , the effects on the bottom line could be catastrophic. Are you prepared for the unexpected? There are many potential reasons for a website to go down. It could be that something happens to drive a lot of unexpected traffic to your site. For example, Heathrow airport’s website had some problems just before Christmas when the weather caused havoc for flights and holidaymakers flocked to the site to find out more. The airlines also experienced this when the ash cloud swept across Europe last year and travellers were looking for flight information.  It might be that your web host has problems and this has taken your site down. Perhaps it is a technical problem with a new version of the site you just uploaded. Or your site might be targeted by hackers who try and send so much traffic to the site that it goes down. Regardless of the reasons, the repercussions could be significant. There are some actions you can take now to make sure your website is prepared for the unexpected:

Predict worst-case scenarios

While it is impossible to predict every eventuality, there are some scenarios that you will be able to envisage and prepare for. Make a list of these and discuss how you would react were they to happen. Record your conclusions and put a plan that can be checked quickly if needed. This should include a contingency plan that will ensure downtime is minimized. Get buy-in for the plan from your hosting partner.

Invest in monitoring technology

If your site does go down, you want to make sure you are the first to know about it, so deploy an early warning system that will notify key individuals in the business as quickly as possible so action can be taken before too much damage is done. (Make sure that you update the contact details on a regular basis, you will not have time for that in a crisis situation.)

Talk to your web host

Get in touch and see what they can do to help. Understand how they would cope with sudden traffic surges and what their contingency plans are if their network goes down. They should be able to help you. For a business critical site, you will want to investigate the possibility of having your site distributed across separate servers that are independent of each other.

Create an emergency website or landing page

If you do suddenly get an influx of traffic, one of the ways to counteract this is to drop your normal site and put up a temporary landing page in its place that has as small a page size as possible. This could give important information about the outage and alternative contact information. Another option is to have the emergency webpage display the most important information that you know most of the visitors are looking for, to take the pressure of the call center.

Sort out internal communication plans

If your site goes down, it will likely impact other parts of your business too. For example, will your contact or support center suddenly get more calls or emails? Communicating what has happened to the rest of the business and what they should do about it is an important first step. Keep key stakeholders in the loop as things develop and set expectations.

Work out how to contact your customers or clients

Your customers or clients will also want to know why your site is down, especially if it is a site they depend on to access information or conduct business. Think about the other channels you could use, from email and phone to social media and have a contingency plan so that the channels are always accessible.

Back up your site on a regular basis

It might be an obvious one, but don’t forget to back up your site. If everything goes wrong and you lose your site, make sure you have another copy somewhere safe!

Hopefully this will never happen to your business but, just in case it does, these tips will hopefully save you from what could be an embarrassing and potentially damaging situation!

Mar 07, 2011


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