Widespread Website Downtime as Election Day Arrives

It was just a few days ago we blogged about ensuring that your website was ready for growth and success. It seems that some should have implemented that advice as political sites across the World Wide Web were being taken down on Tuesday due to an overload of traffic. This is the perfect example of how too many website visitors can actually be a bad thing – especially if your site isn’t ready for the influx of traffic.

Putting it In a Brick-and-Mortar Perspective

Some website owners don’t understand how an influx of visitors can cause a website to go down. Sometimes it’s just best to put it in a brick-and-mortar perspective. Imagine you own a small boutique in a mall and you decide one day to run a sale. Word gets around that your products are great, your prices are unbeatable and suddenly everyone wants to visit your little establishment. On a good day there may be 10 to 20 people in your boutique at a time. Suddenly there are thousands of people clamoring to get in the door at once. What happens? The door breaks. Your boutique racks get trampled and it becomes complete chaos in your little store that just can’t handle the massive influx of customers. While you’d love the business, you actually need to shut your store down while you get things back under control.

While this isn’t actually what happens when too many visitors go to your website, it’s along the same lines. If your website suddenly experiences a huge influx of visitors, your host’s servers might not be able to handle the load and, in response, your website goes down and you get the frustrating experience of website downtime. That’s exactly what happened to a number of political websites on Tuesday as voters clamored for information.

Website Downtime Affecting Multiple Political Websites

You would think that the “political powers that be” would expect a spike in traffic during the elections and would prepare for the influx of visitors to avoid website downtime. It seems that this wasn’t the case with a number of political websites across the Internet, however. The website outages didn’t just affect one or two sites. The Twitter network was abuzz talking about multiple sites that had suddenly gone offline due to an inability to keep up with the traffic their sites were receiving.

As Twitter member Lauren Chooljian tweeted, “Heads up voters! The Chicago Board of Election website is down. Officials say "unprecedented" traffic!” And Chicago’s Board of Election website wasn’t the only political site affected. The Louisiana Secretary of State’s website went down. In the State of Georgia, Fulton County’s website went down. It seems that numerous political sites took a hit and were shut down due to server overloads on Tuesday.

Make Sure You’re Prepared

We mentioned last week that planning ahead is better than experiencing a site outage due to too much traffic. The outage of political websites due to an influx of traffic is the perfect example of this fact. While your site may not experience the level of traffic these sites did, there are still some things you need to know and absolutely have to keep an eye on.

First and foremost, know how much traffic your website can handle. Is your site coded efficiently? Is your hosting plan unlimited? If it’s unlimited, do you understand what’s really unlimited and what isn’t? For example, unlimited disk space doesn’t mean unlimited bandwidth. If you do have unlimited bandwidth, does your host implement resource usage limits (meaning you can only use up so much of your shared server’s resources at a given time)?

These are things you need to look into when deciding when and if it’s time to upgrade to a new hosting plan or a dedicated server. Keep an eye on your monthly traffic and if you notice your traffic is starting to increase steadily, it’s best to implement these upgrades before your site crashes – not after. We’ll talk more this week about truly understanding the limitations of your hosting plan. In the meantime, understand that increases in your website’s traffic likely mean increases in the hosting needs of your site.