5 Reasons for Website Downtime (And How To Prevent It)

By SolarWinds on March 9, 2020


Ensuring your website is fully functioning and doesn’t suffer from regular bouts of downtime is a must for any website owner. Downtime will affect your SEO, increase your bounce rates, tarnish your company’s reputation, lose you loyal customers, and ultimately cost you sales and revenue. But what are the main causes of downtime, and importantly, what can you do to prevent it?

In this article we discuss five key reasons websites go down. We then share top tips and strategies to help prevent website downtime. By the end of the article, you’ll be armed with actionable tasks and tools you can implement to help keep your website’s outages to a minimum.

1. Server Issues

The saying “you get what you pay for” couldn’t be truer when it comes to hosting. Cheaper hosting companies without the features and functionality to meet your site’s needs, are more likely to cause you problems with downtime. If you want to run a successful and profitable website, getting the right host for your business is key.

Common server-related downtime issues include:

  • Shared servers—If you pay for a shared hosting service, then your site will be hosted on a server shared with other websites. If another site on the server monopolizes the resources, your website’s availability can quickly be affected. And although most hosts say they protect against this bad neighbor effect, this isn’t always the case.
  • Traffic surge—If your website has an unexpected surge in traffic, then a budget host often won’t have the procedures in place, or the capacity, to handle the situation. This can result in your site crashing. Equally, if you’re using a shared server, some hosts will temporarily suspend your service to protect the other websites using that server.
  • Server maintenance—All hosts will need to undertake some maintenance on their servers. However, this should cause minimal disruption to your site. Always check the terms and conditions before signing up with a host.

Server overload and other server issues are frustrating, as they’re often out of your control and leave you dependent on your hosting provider. To minimize server issues, it’s best to opt for a high-quality, reputable hosting company. You should also always check host reviews before signing up, paying attention to uptime stats and customer support ratings.

On top of that, selecting a dedicated server package where your site is the only occupant of the server is recommended. However, if your budget is tight, a VPS package is also a good option—just stay away from shared hosting if you can help it!

2. Security Attacks

Numerous security threats can directly affect the performance of your website and even cause an outage. These include:

  • DDoS attack—A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is one of the most serious threats to downtime. This is when multiple systems attack your site, flooding the bandwidth or resources of your server to bring down your site.
  • Access control—Brute force attacks and other access page attacks are common, so putting security controls in place to guard access to your admin website login page is crucial.
  • Software vulnerabilities—Poorly coded or outdated software can result in your website becoming vulnerable to malware and other security hacks. Always make sure you use well-coded products and keep your site updated.
  • Third-party integrations—Using third-party integrations and services has become common place, but the problem is the security for these tools are out of website owners’ control. Although we presume third-party services take care of their own security, there’s always the chance of compromise.

An effective way to protect against security threats like DDoS attacks is to use a high-end content delivery service (CDN). A CDN service will store copies of your website’s files in data centers worldwide, serving this static content to users from the server closest to them.

A properly configured CDN service will help protect against common malicious security threats, particularly DDoS attacks, bot abuse, data breaches, and more. Using a CDN will also significantly reduce the load on your hosting server, improve website speed, and importantly, ensure if your site does go down, your content will continue to be served to your users.

3. CMS Theme and Plugin Incompatibilities

Using a content management system (CMS), like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla, to create your website is a popular choice. However, although content management systems give you much control and flexibility over your website, they come with their own set of problems.

One of the most common causes of downtime within a CMS is when a theme or plugin update goes wrong. There are thousands of WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla themes, plugins, extensions, and other tools available, providing extra features and functionality many websites need. These are constantly updated by developers, and however well coded they may be, compatibility with every website is never guaranteed.

When you update a theme or plugin, the new version must be compatible with your version of WordPress (or other CMS) and the technology used by your host server. If this isn’t the case, a seemingly mundane product update can quickly bring your website down.

To compensate for theme and plugin incompatibilities, we recommend regularly backing up your website. You can back up your website manually or install a backup tool to automatically complete this task for you. Either way, by backing up your website, if your site breaks, then you’ll have a recent copy of your site that you can quickly restore.

4. DNS

DNS (Domain Name System) refers to a network of servers that translate domain names into IP addresses, so browsers and servers can connect. Using a reliable DNS hosting provider should always be a priority, as poor DNS service can affect website speed, security, and uptime.

DNS issues that can affect your website’s availability include:

  • A slow connection from the server to the DNS
  • DNS server outage
  • A DDoS attack
  • Waiting for the DNS to propagate
  • A misspelled nameserver from the site’s domain registrar

Most web hosts and domain registrars include DNS hosting as part of their hosting plan. However, some web hosts let you upgrade your DNS hosting, offering premium features. These can include control over your DNS settings, faster servers, advanced security features, guaranteed website availability, and more, all of which add extra protection against downtime.

5. Coding Error

A bad piece of code can at best disrupt a site’s performance; at worst, it can take a site down. But human error is impossible to avoid—lack of experience or a simple mistake written into thousands of lines of code it can be difficult to spot. So, it’s important that if your website is compromised by a coding error, or any other issue, you’re alerted to the problem as soon as possible.

Resolve Website Downtime

SolarWinds® Pingdom® is an online monitoring tool designed to monitor your website’s uptime and immediately inform you if your website goes down. Pingdom has a global network of over 100 data centers capable of testing your website up to every 60 seconds, 24/7. If it detects an issue with your website, it will send you an alert via SMS, email, or through certain apps, enabling you to fix the problem quickly and get your site back up and running without causing your users too much disruption.

Other website downtime monitoring features from Pingdom include:

  • Additional tests—Pingdom runs additional tests when downtime occurs, so you can quickly find out what caused your website outage. Troubleshooting options include running a traceroute, collecting server response codes, analyzing the output from your server, and more.
  • Audit trail history—Status reports help drill-down to the potential causes of failure. Tests are also saved, giving you a full website uptime history, and enabling you to identify long-term, low-level issues causing website outages.
  • Collaborate tools—Pingdom integrates with your workflows, ensuring your whole team is kept in the loop when downtime occurs. You can connect through a selection of group messaging tools, including Slack, Opsgenie, or Victorops, or using your own platform (via API).

Final Thoughts

A proactive approach to security is key to staying ahead of the game and will help ensure your website isn’t vulnerable to performance issues and ultimately downtime. Don’t wait until your website is suffering an outage—be prepared and put measures in place to prevent it from happening in the first place.

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