Amazon had a website crash on July 16 or Prime Day, one of the company's busiest days. They're not the only large retailer that has experienced website crashes. Nordstrom crashed on its anniversary sale day in 2017, and Best Buy went down temporarily during Black Friday in 2014.
Fortunately, for Amazon, the downtime reportedly didn't have a measurable effect on sales. But that's not always the case with website crashes.
Erik Scheetz, owner of Texas Best Movers, knows this firsthand. His company's site went down for a week recently.
—Erik Scheetz, owner, Texas Best Movers
"The experience was unnerving and eye-opening," says Scheetz. "Without getting into specific numbers, the loss was well into the multiple tens of thousands of dollars."
Since his customers use his website to contact his company and book trucks and movers, being offline affected Scheetz's sales dramatically.
"I had no way of catching leads and communicating with prospective clients," Scheetz says.
He ended up pointing traffic to his Facebook page as a 301 redirect while the website was being recovered.
Potential Website Crashes and Disasters
In addition to the website crashing because of an overload or a breach, you could also go out of stock on an item that suddenly becomes popular.
"Other online disaster scenarios include a domain lapsing in ownership, server malfunctions and inbound traffic overloading your site," says Scheetz. "In some instances, especially if you have comment boards on your blog, spammers and hackers can wreak havoc on your site."
Another website disaster Scheetz has experienced is when a plug-in he's installed on his site fails to update properly, resulting in glitches or even a broken website.
When it comes to website crashes, "the most common reason that sites go down isn't generally hacks, but server issues," says Jason Morgan, owner of SEO Tacoma, a web design and online marketing firm.
"Many businesses don't have their own servers or in-house IT teams," says Morgan. "The sites are instead managed remotely by an outside vendor. The reasons why servers go down are nearly infinite, but most stem from communication errors.
"Someone somewhere updates an element of your site without notifying other parties, which then causes a kink in their area and a website disaster," he explains. "Or someone accidentally deletes a database/repository while working on what was thought to be a non-critical file.
"I've even heard of a cleaning crew that accidentally turned a power switch off in the server room not realizing the repercussions of doing that," says Morgan. "Most of the time it's an 'easy' solution that just requires prompt attention, but sometimes it's a critical failure. That's why it's important to hire a reputable and reliable server host."
Non-human factors can also come in to play. For instance, the city where your server is located could experience a blackout. If the company doesn't have backup power, you won't have website service.
Though it's less common, you can also experience a website disaster because of nefarious reasons, such as a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack.
"A DDoS attack is an attempt to make a website unavailable by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources," says Morgan. "This is usually a planned attack. It can also happen naturally if something goes viral and your server doesn't have the bandwidth for the traffic coming from multiple referral sites."
Preventing and Handling Website Crashes and Disaster
Given the costly repercussions of website crashes and disaster, it makes sense to do whatever you can to prevent one from occurring. If one does happen, it's possible to minimize the damage.
1. Use a website security platform.
"Because of all the threats out there, whether malicious or organic accidents, we use a company that provides complete site protection from nefarious hacks, crashes (they have a backup system in place), problems with website speed, removing malware and more," says Morgan. "It's the frontline of defense."
2. Have multiple backup plans.
Even though Morgan uses a security platform to prevent a website disaster for his clients, his company also completes its own daily backups of each client site.
"I make sure we have our own backups as a second measure of security," he says.
"Redundancy is key," agrees Scheetz. "In addition to a backup in a place that's not with your host, make another one on top of that. If you have a domain coming up for renewal in a couple of months, pay it now or set up auto-pay with a credit card that has an expiration date well past the payment date."
3. Plan for an uptick in traffic.
"If you anticipate a sale that could overwhelm your servers and cause a website disaster, buy some extra space," suggests Scheetz. "It's super easy to do."
Also make sure you have plenty of inventory on hand.
4. Check plug-ins regularly.
"While a plug-in solves a problem nicely, it doesn't mean that it will always be operating perfectly, so watch out for compatibility issues," says Morgan.
If you do have a website disaster, let your customers know as soon as possible, advises Scheetz.
"If you don't have an ETA of its return, post a note on all of your social channels," he suggests. "Pin the notice so that it remains at the top. Or add custom text to your homepage to explain the situation."
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