Last Update: 11/2/14
Update: We are still working to restore services on affected servers. This is a slow process, however we’re steadily making progress.
— HostGator Support (@HGSupport) October 30, 2014
Small business owners impacted by web hosting outages may find solace in the fact that they aren’t alone when these types of incidents occur, but knowing how to navigate a setback of this nature is paramount. If your company exists as an online pure play or relies heavily on online sales to drive revenue, a website outage is equivalent to a nuclear meltdown and could very likely incite chaos.
Because for a brief moment, time stops your pulse starts to race and your business world appears to come crashing down. It’s unavoidable yet the very thought of it makes you cringe. For a split second you realize that you simply weren’t prepared.
How to Manage a Technology Crisis (That’s Not Your Fault)
Online sales are the very lifeline of many companies. As Internet adoption rates increase and e-tailing soars “online shoppers in the United States will spend $327 billion in 2016, up 45% from $226 billion this year and 62% from $202 billion in 2011,” according to Forrester Research Inc. projections. Therefore a few minutes, hours or even days of website outages could result in significant losses.
While web outages are generally out of your company’s control, there are specific things you and your team can do to mitigate loss and proactively prepare for downtime in the future.
Here are five steps small business owners can take if a website outage occurs:
1. Make sure your site is actually down.
Take a deep breath and check to make sure your site is actually down. “Visit the website yourself, and press Shift + Refresh to make sure you’re not seeing a cached version (hold down Shift while reloading or refreshing the page) … You will need to check the website on your mobile phone or phone a friend. To be doubly sure, ask your friend to check Where’s It Up? or Down for Everyone or Just Me?, which will confirm whether your website is down just for you or for everyone.”
2. Notify customers.
If you have a general email list, take the time to carefully craft a simple and brief notice to inform customers, vendors and necessary third-parties of the outage. Let key stakeholders know that your website is down and share a link to a reputable news source for details. No access to email? Develop a secondary company email (i.e. email@example.com) in the interim.
3. Take to social media.
Social media presents a great opportunity to mitigate risk when your website (and world) comes crashing down. Utilize a social media management tool, such as HootSuite to send and schedule messages to inform customers of your website outage. Also provide a customer service email or toll-free phone number for users to contact your offices regarding immediate issues and concerns.
4. Contact your web hosting provider.
Contact your sales representative immediately and ask for an ETA (i.e. When can you expect your site to be back up and running?). You’ll receive a time estimate, but keep in mind that it is exactly that — an estimate. You should expect the best and plan for the worst. What is often quoted as “2 hours” can easily turn into “24 hours.”
5. Pause ad campaigns, when possible.
If you utilize online advertising to drive traffic to your site (i.e. display advertising, pay-per-click advertising, etc.) pause the campaign as soon as possible. There’s nothing worse than paying for a campaign that is guaranteed “not to deliver” results when users are directed to a blank page.
Also, take precautionary steps to prepare for unexpected website downtime in the future and purchase a backup DNS service.
David Rusenko, the co-founder of Weebly suggests that, “It’s so cheap it’s a no-brainer. For about $15/year you can get a service that will constantly grab your DNS data and act as a backup if they happen to go down. Otherwise, when your DNS servers go haywire (it’s happened to me and I’ve seen it happen to many others), you’ll be stuck helpless for a few hours as people are unable to get to your site. I’ve used No-IP Squared Backup, and Chris has used Nettica.”
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