What’s the point of having a website when it keeps failing and goes offline at an alarming frequency? You paid a good sum for it, so it should always be up, but nobody guarantees a 100% uptime.
The effect of outage differs from industry to industry. It also depends on the type of website. If a service that hundreds of users depend on everyday faces an outage even for a few hours (say, Ahrefs), it deeply affects customers’ lives. It most probably will also affect the reputation of the company as well.
Lastly, an outage will also affect the productivity of your employees who cannot do their jobs while your service is down.
Let’s drill down and see what causes unplanned downtime, why a very high level of uptime is important for your website, and how to deal with downtime when it does occur.
Reasons for Website Downtime
Sometimes a website is down just because there are too many visitors and the server cannot take the load. But often it’s not as simple as it seems. You might have to dig around to see what’s the exact reason.
Let’s now have a look at some common reasons for website downtime.
Expired Domain name or hosting
In today’s world where almost every netizen is facing information overload, it is not uncommon to miss the reminders from your web host or domain name registrar.
It’s easy if both services are handled from the same account. But if both are under a different account, it may be complicated to handle the renewals and chances of forgetting renewal dates becomes higher.
Nameservers are like phone books for the internet. They are used by web browsers or search engine bots to decode the numeric address of your website from its URL.
When you switch hosting providers, you are asked to update your nameservers from the old host to the new host. If the new host nameservers (or that of an intermediary CDN service) are having issues, it can cause downtime for your website.
A low-quality hosting provider
You may be tempted by a Black Friday deal from a never-heard-before host. These low prices are probably just a marketing gimmick for the host to get its initial set of customers. The process for a new hosting company has become very easy and cheap; anyone with a basic idea of the business (or even half a year of exposure to this business) can start a hosting company.
If the host is a very new company, chances are that their servers are untested. If you deal with them, your website is going to be just another guinea pig for them.
Also, when you are using shared hosting service (of a new or a reputed host), excessive server resource usage by your “neighboring websites” may also cause downtime on your website.
Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks exploit the server side vulnerabilities of your host to flood a website with targeted traffic for a long time to crash the website.
Additionally, software issues like using outdated versions of MySQL or PHP are also reported to cause website outages.
A less secure website
Outdated versions of plugins/themes/WordPress core make it very easy for hackers to find vulnerabilities. Once they access to your admin account(s), it doesn’t take long for them to start exploiting these vulnerabilities and cause downtime on your website.
How to avoid downtime for a WordPress website
In the eyes of Google, one-off, short-duration downtime can be excused. But multiple 24 hr+ outages raise the red flag. Extended downtime is classified an important website ranking factor.
If your website regularly faces extended outages, it is going to hurt your website’s SEO ranking as well.
Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Since we are firm believers in “Prevention is better than cure”, we have listed some steps below which will help minimize these downtimes.
Save renewal reminders to your To-do List
Your website renewals should be as important as your wedding anniversary (or the birthday of your spouse!). So, take it up a notch. Create a recurring reminder on your Google Calendar.
Make sure the reminders are set for every day of the last 3 days before the renewal date. Enable both types of notifications – calendar and email. Also, don’t forget to be very specific in the event description about the type of renewal and the account name.
You can make it even more effective by punching the deadline in the event name itself. Combined with email renewal reminders from the host/domain registrars, Google Calendar becomes a foolproof way to ensure you never miss your renewal dates.
Test your DNS
If you are a technical user, Microsoft has also published a highly DNS troubleshooting tutorial.
Upgrade your hosting plan
A Virtual Private Server (VPS) provides a virtually isolated environment and so does a dedicated server. But the amount of resources and therefore the traffic volume a VPS can handle is lower than that of a dedicated full server.
Both are comparatively expensive than shared hosting, but the problem of “dirty neighbors” can be easily avoided.
If you can stretch your budget a little bit, you can buy a managed WordPress hosting plan as well, instead of just shared hosting.
If you compare the two, WordPress hosting is customized heavily for WordPress. Therefore, other tools like phpBB (for forums), Drupal, Joomla, and others may not work properly. In fact, they may not be supported at all.
A managed WordPress hosting plan has higher server power and advanced support making server administration a breeze. Website builders are also included in this plan.
However, it is more expensive than a typical shared hosting plan (or even a VPS, at times!).
Implement general website security tips
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Because of this mindset, many webmasters learn the importance of security after their website gets hacked for the first time and suffers its first major downtime.
Some steps that can help you increase the general security of your website:
- 2-Factor Authentication (2FA) – Adds a second layer of security for all WordPress user accounts. Every login requires users to provide their password as well as special code delivered to their mobile/email/a specific app – which cannot be accessed by anyone.
- Install security plugins– Plugins like Wordfence provide automation of several security features in one plugin – they are not limited to only 2FA. Some common features provided by most security plugins include firewall, security alerts, data of hack attempts, and even recovery tools in the event of a security incident.
- Auto-update plugins/themes/WordPress core – If you find regular update notifications for your themes/plugins/WordPress itself, then consider adding these two lines to the functions.php file in your theme:
add_filter( ‘auto_update_plugin’, ‘__return_true’ );
add_filter( ‘auto_update_theme’, ‘__return_true’ );
- Set up regular backups – One can never overstate the importance of regular backups. So many plugins provide this feature, but Backup Buddy and Updraft Plus are the most popular backup & restore plugins in the blogging community.
- Add SSL to your website – Sure it costs extra to have a good SSL, but it’s better than scratching your head when a downtime happens.
Summarizing WordPress Downtime Handling Strategies
A downtime is certainly a distressing issue for any webmaster. A prolonged duration of the website being down could affect your brand’s presence among its customers. Several extended outages can affect your SEO rankings as well.
You should look at upgrading your hosting plan and take measures to beef up your website’s security level to prevent hackers from triggering website downtime. As a precaution, you should also check for any DNS errors and set renewal dates as repeating events on Google Calendar so that you don’t miss them.
Have you faced any outages in your experience as a webmaster? What was the issue and how did you overcome the problem?