The most common reasons for website downtime

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In today's hyper-connected world, having an accessible website is a vital part of a business – an effective website provides valuable information and encourages customer trust. 

But website downtime can have severe consequences, from damaging your brand's reputation to impacting your bottom line. The cost of downtime can extend into the thousands of pounds. 

Here, I share the most common reasons for website downtime and strategies website owners should consider preventing this. 

Understand server and hosting needs 

One of the most important factors in a website's stability lies in its hosting infrastructure. The choice of a web hosting provider and server configuration can greatly impact a website's uptime. Depending on the needs of your business, there could be several hosting requirements to consider such as server performance, reliability and scalability.

Several factors can lead to server issues and subsequently, website downtime. Surges in traffic, especially during peak periods, can overload servers and cause crashes. In recent years popular events, such as a Beyonce concert, have caused major technical issues when hundreds of thousands of fans visit ticketing sites at the same time.

Additionally, backup servers, while necessary, can be overwhelmed, leading to temporary unavailability.

Load testing is recommended to monitor server behavior under different scenarios – such as during a sale period or product launch, where the site might experience a dramatic increase in visitors. Load testing involves subjecting the server to simulated high-traffic scenarios to assess its behavior and performance.

Another strategy to implement is load balancing, which involves distributing incoming traffic across multiple servers, ensuring no single server is overburdened.

Daniel Pearson

CEO at KnownHost, a leading managed web hosting service provider.

Scale infrastructure to accommodate growth 

High traffic can lead to overload, causing a website to crash during critical moments, like a product launch or sale. While these events are great for business, they can also lead to infrastructure overload, causing website crashes precisely when they are needed most.

Scaling IT infrastructure to handle such surges is essential. One study found that even a one-second delay on a website could result in a 7 percent loss in conversions.

Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) offer an effective solution to alleviate the strain on a single server. These consist of a network of servers distributed around the world. When a user requests a page, the nearest server delivers the content, reducing the load on the primary server and ensuring quicker access for users across the globe.

Investing in cloud hosting services can also help alleviate pressure as they can automatically scale a website’s capabilities so that it always has the necessary resources based on traffic levels.

There are also a number of auto-scaling options which allow a website to adjust to its traffic demands. During times of high traffic, a cloud hosting service will automatically adjust the number of servers used by the site to ensure uninterrupted access.

Update software and plug-ins  

Software and plug-ins play a pivotal role in enhancing website functionality and user experience. However, they can also become sources of vulnerability and performance issues if not managed properly.

In fact, one study found that thousands of pounds have been spent on malicious plugins, which may install malware onto users' devices or illegally access private user data. The study found that there have been over 47,000 malicious plugin installs on 24,931 unique websites, a majority of which are still active.

Incompatibility between plug-ins and website software, code conflicts, or excessive resource consumption are also common culprits behind downtime.

Legacy software is particularly susceptible to causing downtime when it can't meet the demands of modern web traffic. Plans that are a few years old may have resource limits that aren’t suitable for modern demands as many newer software packages and applications require more resources.

This may lead to websites performing differently and experiencing Out of Memory errors.

Regular updates are essential to ensure that software, plug-ins, and themes are up-to-date, secure, and compatible. This includes security patches to fend off potential threats. Adopting a systematic update strategy, coupled with consistent monitoring for vulnerabilities, is the key to maintaining a robust and functional website.

Safeguard against DDoS attacks 

In recent years, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks have seen a surge in frequency and potency.

These attacks flood a website's server with an overwhelming volume of traffic, rendering it unable to respond to legitimate user requests. One report found that in 2021, the capacity of DDoS attacks was 300 gigabits per second but by 2023 this has risen to about 800. There are various forms of DDoS attacks, such as a Smurf attack or spoofing attacks, which can cripple a website's functionality.

A Smurf attack, based on the Smurf malware, can cause significant damage to a target system. The malware attacks a server by sending Internet Control Message Protocol requests to overwhelm the server, making it impossible for it to process all the incoming traffic.

Spoofing attacks are also a common DDoS attack where cybercriminal will falsify their identity. By doing this they can deceive unsuspecting users or automated systems into sharing sensitive information or gain unauthorized access to a server or website.

One survey found that a DDoS attack costs businesses hundreds of thousands of pounds. To mitigate against this, businesses must invest in robust security measures and firewalls to safeguard their websites. DDoS protection services can detect and mitigate malicious traffic, ensuring that legitimate users can access the site without interruption.

Furthermore, a comprehensive incident response plan should be in place to minimize damage and restore normalcy swiftly in case of an attack.

Uncover coding errors and debugging 

The integrity of a website's code is crucial to its proper functioning. Coding errors, whether they stem from syntax mistakes such as missing semi-colons or brackets and incorrect logic are easy mistakes to make but they can have dire consequences on the operation of a website.

In fact, even companies as large as Microsoft, have experienced downtime due to a typing error in the code.

Websites can also experience downtime due to coding issues such as poor error handling, or memory leaks. Poor error handling, which refers to the improper management of system errors, can reveal sensitive information or provide users with ambiguous information that isn’t helpful.

A memory leak may occur when a computer program allocates memory continuously, causing it to consume large amounts of memory over time. This can lead to performance issues or system instability over time.

To prevent coding-related downtime, developers should adhere to best practices and undergo thorough code reviews. Regularly auditing the codebase helps identify and rectify potential vulnerabilities before they can impact the website's performance.

Employing automated testing tools and conducting comprehensive code reviews among the development team can significantly reduce the risk of coding errors leading to downtime.

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Daniel Pearson is CEO at KnownHost, a leading managed web hosting service provider.