A Tale of Two Websites: 
An Example of Two Very Different Instances of Website Downtime

Over the years we’ve discussed, in depth, why a website monitoring service is essential to the success of your business and why website downtime can be your business’s worst enemy. If you host your website on your own servers, you can take measures that others who use a hosting provider cannot. However, even those who use a web hosting service to host their websites should not be left feeling vulnerable and completely in the dark when things do go awry. In this post, we are going to discuss two separate downtime instances that recently occurred and how they were each handled very differently and, as a result, how the impact on the websites was also very different.

When Good Hosting Goes Bad

A website owner who wishes to remain anonymous recently discussed with us how his site had experienced a four-day stretch of downtime due to a DDoS attack on the servers of his hosting provider this month. The business in question had not yet realized the site was down until hours after the instance first took place. He then contacted his hosting provider, who assured him they were working on the issue and the site would be up and running shortly. Two days later the website owner was on the phone with the hosting provider again, asking why his site was still experiencing downtime. Surprisingly, the website hosting service told this client that the reason his site was down was due to the server the site was hosted on was being targeted by a DDoS attack. The provider also claimed they couldn’t do anything about it and would update him when something changed.

Until this point the businessman had never had a problem with this hosting service. However, when your site has been down for days and the hosting provider tells you that it’s due to a DDoS attack and nothing can be done about it, that is a big red flag indicating that the company is not the provider you should be turning to for your hosting needs. Instead of focusing on servicing its customers properly, that provider focuses on keeping its profits in its coffers instead of seeking out effective solutions to such problems – and problems like four consecutive days of downtime are quite significant.

Mistake Number 1

The first problem is the site that experienced the four-day bout of downtime didn’t have any dedicated error messages that it could display or control during this alleged DDoS attack. As a result, it just looked as if the site had disappeared – packed up its bags and left. Since this is a service-orientated site in which customers pre-pay for the services the company provides, there was quite a bit of panic and a lot of phone calls to the company due to the site being down for so long. An hour or two, a customer may deal with. Four days? Your business starts to lose credibility with even the most patient of clients. 

To make matters worse, the company in question had no control over the website downtime that they were experiencing. They had not created a failsafe server or any way to keep the lines of communication with customers or potential customers open while the site was down. Only customers who had the company’s phone number saved somewhere were able to get through to the company and find out what was going on. 

Mistake Number 2 (and Likely the Biggest)

The biggest problem with the four-day downtime issue is that there is no excuse for a DDoS attack to take a site down for a full four days. Even a full day should be out of the question, as there are indeed measures a company can take to stop a DDoS attack in its tracks. If the hosting company itself was unable to stop the DDoS attack in a timely manner, they should have turned to a third-party service that would have been able to stop the DDoS attack in minutes rather than days.. While these services may cost the hosting provider some money, the cost incurred is well below what the clients who had their sites hosted on the company’s servers were losing. Once the website owner realized the DDoS attack could have been stopped by such a service and the hosting company refused to use one, he decided it was time to pack his bags and move to another website hosting service.

A Good History Doesn’t Always Mean a Positive Future

It is important to understand that just because you have never had a problem with a hosting provider in the past, this does not mean that issues won’t arise in the future. As a result, always have a backup plan and failsafes in place so you can avoid a four-day outage like this website owner had to endure. Also, be prepared to dump your current hosting provider and move to one that will be more responsive to such emergencies, so you can minimize any downtime your website may incur. 

Of course, it is also crucial that you have your site monitored by a quality website monitoring service. This way you will know the moment your site goes down, allowing you to take action immediately. These steps will keep you in the driver’s seat instead of forcing you to be at the mercy of a website host that may or may not take your downtime issues seriously. 

An Altogether Different Experience

Same month, same year… Amazon’s Goodreads website went down as well. However, website visitors to the Goodreads site did not just find an unavailable page when they reached the site. They were, instead, directed to a custom error page saying the site was currently down and would be up as soon as possible. The issue was also fixed in about an hour rather than over the course of four days. Goodreads visitors were not left wondering if the site had suddenly disappeared for good. They were able to see a clear message directing them to communicate on Twitter and to hang in there while the issues were being resolved.

The Different Impacts on the Two Websites

The anonymous website owner who found himself dealing with a four-day stretch of downtime lost quite a bit of money and a lot of face due to the fact that their hosting provider refused to take the measures necessary to stop the DDoS attack on their server in a timely manner. The Goodreads site, however, was also able to get messages out to their visitors and communicate with them via social media thanks to the custom error message, which even contained an illustration and a message directing visitors to communicate via Twitter until the issue was resolved. This not only saved Goodreads from a loss of reputation, but it also ensured that their visitors weren’t left in the dark regarding the status of the site’s downtime.

A Lesson Learned

What did the owner of the anonymous website learn during this stressful encounter? Never leave all your eggs in one basket and don’t assume you can keep your site up and running on your own. Had the website, at the time, been able to redirect visitors via webhooks or other failsafe measures, the four-day period of website downtime would have been an inconvenience rather than the crisis it became. 

Communication with your website visitors is crucial if you want to retain an image of a professionalism and competence. When a site encounters four straight days of downtime, that downtime starts to reflect poorly on the business as a whole (not to mention what that downtime did to the website’s search engine rankings because it was down for so long). If you don’t put measures in place now that will allow you to communicate with visitors and display either a backup website or at least a proper error message when your site goes down, it will be too late when a crisis like four straight days of downtime descends upon your company’s website. 

The Importance of Website Monitoring Services

Always be sure to have quality website monitoring services in place, keeping an eye on your website 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Had the anonymous website owner known about the downtime sooner and taken prior precautions, he could have sent emails to his entire customer list letting them know about the downtime and that the company was working to resolve it. While few customers would have the patience for a four-day period of downtime, consumers are more likely to be forgiving of a company that communicates with them regarding any downtime than a company faces. No consumer likes being left in the dark while a site goes down and waiting days to find out what happened.

Word to the Wise

If you are in the market for a new hosting provider, make sure you ask them what their response to a DDoS attack would be prior to signing on the dotted line. Of course, also ensures that you have a quality website monitoring partner in place to ensure that you have as much control over the situation as possible when incidents do occur (and they will from time to time). Running into a bout of downtime isn’t uncommon, nor is it unforgiveable. Facing four straight days of downtime will alienate a lot of customers and without the ability to fall back on a failsafe, will definitely do damage to your site’s reputation and search engine rankings. Even the most patient and forgiving of visitors and/or customers won’t tolerate a four-day period of downtime when no information is being provided and no one knows when or if the site will be back up.