Understanding What Causes Website Downtime and How to Prevent It

Most businesses have invested heavily in the digital economy, which is driven by numerous cloud-based services, applications, and platforms. This economy provides a level playing field to all players; however, businesses must compete fiercely to gain and retain their end customers. In this environment, optimizing websites for better user experience has become critical. Still, preventing website downtime is even more important. Any downtime due to technical issues or natural disasters can lead to significant reputational and financial losses. In this article, we’ll discuss some common issues leading to website downtime and provide tips to prevent them.

Top 3 Causes of Website Downtime

image depicting preventing website downtime
  1. Server-Side Issues
  2. Cyberattacks
  3. Software and Hardware Issues

1. Server-Side Issues

If you’re maintaining your website on-premises, you need to monitor several server-related issues. Failures to maintain or upgrade your servers to meet your evolving needs can lead to server failures. Oftentimes, server overloads can lead to reduced performance and even downtime. Server load shedding techniques can help you maintain website availability. Load shedding is a fail-safe mechanism in which you define upper thresholds for your resource consumption (CPU, RAM, etc.). Whenever workloads exceed these thresholds, your website will drop incoming traffic and serve error messages to new requests. Load shedding mechanisms are useful for organizations supporting websites with strict infrastructure constraints. It helps them deal with traffic spikes and meet a significant portion of their traffic as opposed to failing completely. However, server issues may arise even when you’re using hosting services, so you need to constantly monitor your website’s performance and uptime to minimize downtime damages.

2. Cyberattacks

The threat surface for organizations grows every year with new back doors, vulnerabilities, and sophisticated malware. Threat actors also employ a wide range of social engineering techniques to compromise privileged accounts and exfiltrate critical enterprise data. Countering these attacks requires dedicated tools and expertise. The most common cyberattack causing websites to face downtime is a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack.

A DDoS attack floods a web server (or a network resource) with simultaneous requests through a large group of compromised computer systems. This attack overloads the server and crashes it. Even if your website isn’t directly hit by a DDoS attack, it could be exposed to the threat through shared hosting. In this case, your anti-DDoS mechanisms are likely to fail, as the other website sharing your server may still be vulnerable to DDoS attacks. To counter this, most hosting providers offer advanced anti-DDoS services. As an added layer of security, you might consider dedicated servers for hosting your website.

3. Software and Hardware Issues

A poorly coded website with several third-party dependencies can encounter latency issues. Accidental file deletion is a common cause of website downtime, and coding errors such as incorrect syntax, infinite loops, and typos can lead to server errors. Moreover, database issues due to uneven sharding, corrupted tables, or dropped or missing tables can affect website performance and availability. Because databases are complex, consider investing in database monitoring solutions to maintain and manage their health and performance. Websites can also crash due to a buggy content management system (CMS) plug-in. Though outdated plug-ins are a security liability, sometimes an update failure can also cause downtime. We recommend reducing your dependence on third-party plug-ins.

How to Respond to Website Downtime

Usually, the operations team is responsible for ensuring a website is restored as soon as possible. For troubleshooting, they need to understand what went wrong. HTTP error codes may provide a direction to start troubleshooting, but error codes such as HTTP 500 lack sufficient context for web administrators. You may have to rely on advanced web monitoring and troubleshooting tools to identify the root cause of downtime.

Sometimes organizations get busy with firefighting and fail to inform their end customers about their websites’ downtime. It’s a good practice to acknowledge and update your website’s maintenance status and expected time of recovery to reassure your customers. You can use social media and emails for crisis management.

How to Minimize Downtime

Proactive monitoring and quick response are important for minimizing website outages. Most website performance issues can be detected and resolved well before they lead to downtime; your website will give you enough signals before it goes down. Declining web performance is often a clear indication of an impending outage. If you’re monitoring errors and issues at regular intervals, take corrective measures to maintain optimum performance and reduce the chance of an outage.

Furthermore, you can analyze your current website’s uptime statistics and history to detect patterns and predict future outages. These days, you can also get better protection against natural disasters. Most hosting service providers offer disaster recovery options to ensure high availability during disasters like floods and fires.

Choosing a Web Monitoring Solution

Web performance monitoring is crucial for ensuring higher website availability. There are many tools in the market offering a wide range of monitoring capabilities. You can also explore some free or open-source website error checkers and website down detectors to monitor availability and performance issues. For effective monitoring, however, you’ll need advanced solutions like GTmetrix, WebPageTest, Site24x7, Uptrends, and SolarWinds® Pingdom®. We’ve reviewed all these tools, and we recommend Pingdom for its simple and quick analysis features. Here’s a brief description of the solution with some key highlights.

SolarWinds Pingdom is a comprehensive web monitoring solution offering uptime monitoring from more than 100 servers around the globe. With this solution, you get access to advanced features such as page speed monitoring, real user monitoring, and transaction monitoring. Moreover, you can monitor server issues and get alerts to rectify errors quickly. The solution assists in root cause analysis through traceroute and server response codes. You can get detailed insights about a website’s performance with several metrics regarding availability, loading speeds, and response times.

screenshot of solarwinds pingdom's uptime monitoring setup window

Unlike other solutions, Pingdom minimizes manual overhead and offers features designed to expedite responses in real-world situations. An alert for website downtime might seem like a simple feature, but Pingdom gives you the flexibility to define the severity of these alerts and to automatically send these alerts to the right teams for quick resolution. Furthermore, it integrates with your choice of notification service (SMS, email, Slack, etc.). You can choose to receive low-severity alerts via email and high-severity alerts via your mobile device (Android, iOS), for example. Pingdom also performs additional tests before it sends any of these alerts. Its reliable and immediate reporting and actionable insights make it easier for you to minimize downtime and ensure your website is optimized for better user experience. You can learn more about Pingdom here or get a free 14-day trial for evaluation.