5 Ways Your Business Can Come to a Halt When Your Site Is Down

error page website downNot all website downtime is bad. In some cases, it’s necessary to schedule downtime in order to practice maintenance, make needed repairs, run tests, or load new content. However, this planned downtime can be disclosed to customers well in advance and you have the opportunity to redirect visitors to a temporary page that tells them when you’ll be back up and running.

Unscheduled downtime, on the other hand, does not allow you the same preparation. So when visitors seek out your site and get an error message instead of a landing page, they’re going to be understandably disappointed, or maybe even annoyed.

First-time visitors are likely to navigate away, probably never to return. Although regular customers may give you the benefit of the doubt, several unscheduled outings could ruin customer relationships you’ve worked hard to build. Then there are the problems you’ll have when search bots can’t locate your site.

In short, unplanned site downtime can be a real hassle for your business. In many ways, it can bring your operation to a crashing halt. Here are just a few examples of the impact you’re likely to feel when your website goes down.

1. Lost Sales

The biggest halt, of course, will be to online sales. When your website is down your customers can no longer access product pages or shopping carts, hence eliminating your ability to make sales.

This is a major problem for any business relying on revenue from online sales. If you have a brick-and-mortar location in addition to your online presence, it might not be such a big deal, except for the fact that downtime can impact future sales, as well. Online-only stores will find themselves in big trouble if they suffer extended or ongoing outages.

When consumers visit your site and find it unavailable, there is a great likelihood that they’ll never return. They’ll go to competitors whose sites they can access. You will not only lose sales in the immediate sense, but potentially in the long-term, as well.

2. Loss of Service

Depending on your business, customers or clients may rely on your web portal for certain services, or you may need online operations to carry out business. Downtime could throw a wrench in your ability to provide services for your clients.

Just consider what happens when an airline’s website goes down. Not only do they lose the ability to sell tickets, in some cases, but customers may not be able to check in, track flights, or fly at all, even if they’ve already purchased their tickets. The negative impact this has on a business goes far beyond the loss of a single sale, for example.

3. Reallocation of Assets

If your business relies heavily on online operations, your staff may be unable to perform their duties until your site is back up and running. Even those that can continue working might be reallocated to work on finding solutions for the downtime or to deal with angry customers.

4. Reduced Rankings

In addition to raising the ire of consumers, website downtime can be a black mark with the bots search engines like Google use to ensure that their customers get the best possible recommendations for their search queries. In other words, if Google finds your website down too often or for too long at one time, you will likely be penalized.

This could include reducing your rankings for certain searches. In extreme cases you could even be de-listed. This type of damage could take months to repair, ruining all the hard work you did to achieve stellar rankings and leaving you without access to search traffic in the meantime.

5. Damage to Reputation

The long-term effects of site downtime can be difficult to gauge, but it’s fairly likely that the ripple effects won’t be fully realized for quite some time. One major issue you may come up against is damage to your reputation resulting from extensive or frequent downtime.

Positive customer reviews can really boost your reputation, but negative ones can do just the opposite, and if your site is unavailable, inconveniencing customers, negative reviews are sure to follow. In order to undo this damage, you’ll have to find ways to change the opinion of reviewers. Otherwise prospective customers will be tainted by the bad reviews, which could potentially halt your business for good.

How to Protect Against Common Hack Attacks

attack computer codeHacking is not really a new concept. In fact, the idea of breaking into a business to steal information, make a quick buck, or simply wreak havoc has been around pretty much as long as there have been businesses. The advent of online technologies has just upped the ante, so to speak, by increasing B2C connections and centralizing the data, making for a virtual smorgasbord that criminals can’t ignore.

Even worse, hackers are ahead of the game. They’re constantly finding new ways to break down defenses, exploit chinks in the armor, and defeat protective measures. This, of course, is also nothing new.

Build a better lock and thieves will find ways around it. The difficulty, as always, is that one party plays by the rules and the other delights in breaking them. That said, you can’t suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune without at least trying to protect yourself.

At the very least there are privacy laws in place that mandate some effort on your part to protect the sensitive information entrusted to you by customers. That said, you also have an ethical responsibility to treat confidential information with the utmost care, and frankly, your business will suffer the most if that data is compromised, thanks to government penalties, possible lawsuits, and a damaged reputation.

What can you do? As it turns out, you can do a lot. Many businesses are sorely in need of increased protection from hackers. In some cases pricy upgrades are needed, but others rely on pure common sense. Here are some strategies to help you protect against the most common hack attacks.

Don’t Be an Easy Target

As in the real world, many crimes in the online arena are crimes of opportunity. Hackers are predators – why work hard for a kill when there are so many easy pickings available? If you’re not protecting yourself adequately, your company will pay the price.

Although the headlines often feature only the highest-profile hacks on mega-corporations, it’s much more common for small businesses to be targeted and compromised simply because they don’t have the same level of protection as their larger brethren. If you want to secure yourself against the most common attacks, you need to at least take basic measures.

A firewall is pretty much a given, as is antivirus/anti-spyware software. However, you can do a lot more on behalf of your company and your clients. For starters, you’re going to need a web application firewall (WAF) to protect your online operations the same way you protect your internal network.

From there you can consider more aggressive options like using encryption software, hiding your website’s CMS with security applications, and employing a third-party monitoring service, just for example. These measures can cost you, but likely not as much as a data breach will, and you can pick and choose the options that work best for your business.

Focus on Login Controls

One of the easiest points of ingress for hackers is often customer or employee logins. The good news is that you can do a lot to stymie hackers on this front.

Strong password requirements are a must, but you should also prompt users to change their password frequently and automatically log users out after short periods of inactivity. You can also use login software that doesn’t auto-populate fields.

If the password is wrong, don’t allow the username to display even if it was correct – clear all fields for additional login attempts and freeze the account following successive fails to log in. Two-step verification is also becoming more popular for added security.

Train Employees

Your protective tools are only as good as the people using them. Your password protections, for example, are worthless if users allow easy access to login information. Your firewalls can’t protect against ignorant behavior.

Training is therefore an essential element of protection. You may have software that warns network users about dangerous websites, but you also need to train them to navigate away instead of ignoring these warnings and behaving in a foolhardy manner.

Employees should also be warned against opening suspicious emails or clicking harmful links. With proper training your employees and even your customers can be taught how not to facilitate data breaches.

Hire Help

If you want to protect against hackers you may have to hire professional help. Whether you employ an on-site IT staff or you contract with third-party service providers, you should update and maintain your hardware and software regularly, monitor your network, and implement a system of alerts that warns you of suspicious activity. Early warning of hacking activity can be a very valuable protective measure.

How Site Downtime Affects SEO Efforts

Every website is going to have some downtime. Hopefully this downtime is anticipated and planned for, such as when you or your web host performs scheduled maintenance and updates. In such instances, you have the opportunity to warn users in advance and even put up temporary placeholders to let visitors know when you’ll be back up and running.

Unfortunately, some amount of unscheduled downtime is also inevitable. You can take steps to avoid common issues like hardware and software failure, as well as human error, and the average business is unlikely to be the target of DoS (denial of service) attacks, but some things are out of your hands. When power outages, natural disasters, and other catastrophes occur, there’s not a lot you can do.

Of course, other issues may be at play. For example, your web hosting could be spotty, resulting in frequent, unscheduled downtime. Or you may not have adequate bandwidth to support the number of visitors to your site.

The good news is that with proper monitoring you can become aware of downtime and the issues causing it so that changes can be made. This is important not only so that visitors and patrons can access your site, but because downtime can have a marked impact on the efficacy of your SEO efforts.

If you’re going to bother spending time and money optimizing, you want to make sure there’s a return on investment. Here are a few ways in which network downtime could affect your SEO efforts.

Loss of Patronage

What is the point of search engine optimization? You want to take steps to ensure that consumers interested in your products or services are able to find you, that they’re able to find you before your competitors, and that they are not only directed your way, but compelled to visit your site, make purchases, and become loyal patrons.

In other words, SEO efforts are intended to increase visibility and encourage patronage. So you’re busily finding ways to funnel customers to your website. Now what if your website isn’t there?

As an online user yourself, you are no doubt familiar with the frustration of trying to visit a website and instead receiving error messages or extended loading screens. What is your response? You may try back again later, especially if you’re a loyal customer; but if this is your first visit, chances are you’ll navigate back to your search query and try the next result.

The point is that site downtime can be extremely damaging when it comes to impressing prospective customers and keeping loyal patrons happy. Your SEO efforts will be for naught if your site is often unavailable to users.

Inaccessibility

Customers aren’t the only ones looking at your website, which is why SEO is so important. If you want to be found by search users, you must first be found by search engines, or more specifically, crawlers that seek information for indexing purposes.

SEO is really designed to make sure you are found by web crawlers. There are complicated algorithms designed to determine how websites are ranked for search purposes. The more information web crawlers can gather on you, the better chance you have to boost your rankings, in a very simplistic sense.

So what happens when your website is inaccessible due to site downtime? If web crawlers look for your site and find it down once in a while, it probably won’t damage your SEO efforts. Search engines realize that site downtime happens and that it’s not always within your control.

What can be damaging is frequent or prolonged downtime. Web crawlers are programmed to recrawl, or check back with pages that are inaccessible. Where you get into trouble is if recrawls result in further inaccessibility.

When this occurs, especially over a prolonged period of time, your page rank will suffer as a result. It’s no surprise – search engines want to make sure they’re promoting the best results in order to keep their own users happy.

Site Speed

Another potential problem area is site speed, which Google admitted plays a role in their algorithms and rankings. With a subpar web host you could not only suffer downtime, but issues with loading speed as well.

It’s important to be aware of both of these factors and take steps to correct them. If you want to see the best results from your SEO efforts, it’s imperative that both web crawlers and consumers are able to access your site in a reliable and expedient manner.

The True Cost to Your Business When Your Server Goes Down

It’s happened. You just received a call from one of your IT employees that a server has gone down. It’s non-responsive and nobody knows what caused the problem. What is that down time going to cost you?

The answer is: it depends.

To calculate how much it costs you when your server goes down, you’re going to need to put on your bean counter’s hat, open up a spreadsheet, and calculate the figures based on a number of factors.

What Kind of Server Went Down?

The first thing you need to know is what kind of server went down. Was it an email server and nothing else? If that’s the case, then your email communications were interrupted. That could be a big problem, though, if you run a support shop that relies heavily on email communication.

Was it a web server that went down? If so, then your website might have been unavailable for a while. That’s almost always a huge a problem, but it’s even worse if you’re running an e-commerce company with no retail outlet.

Was it an analytics server that went down? If so, then your employees can’t crunch numbers to provide you with business-driven intelligence that feed your overall company strategy.

Regardless of which type server was disrupted and down, you will immediately feel the pain in lost opportunity cost as well as employee efficiency. The calculations for determining the exact cost of a down time vary significantly depending on the server’s primary use.

How Long Was the Server Down?

The next question you need to ask before you can calculate the cost of the down time is: how long was the server down? If it was down for just a few minutes, then maybe it’s not even worth calculating the cost of the down time at all. However, if it was down for an hour, three hours, or eight hours, you probably want to know the very painful truth about how much that down time has cost your business.

Calculating the Cost

Once you know the nature of the server and the length of the down time, you can begin to calculate the cost.

If it was a server that employees used, then you want to know how much you paid your employees to essentially do nothing. If the combined salaries of the three people who use that server amount to $300,000 per year and the server was down for two hours and no one could do their jobs, then the calculation is fairly straightforward. Let’s assume that the employees each work 2,000 hours per year. This effectively means that you’re paying each employee $50 per hour. The server was down for two hours, so you lost six “man-hours” because there were three employees who couldn’t do their jobs. At $50 per hour, you lost $300.

If the server was an e-commerce server, then you need to calculate the number of orders lost during the period that the server was down. The best way to do that is to use comparable sales figures from similar time periods. For example, if the server went down on Tuesday from 2PM to 3PM, then look at how much sales your company typically earns on Tuesdays that aren’t holidays between 2PM and 3PM. That’s the cost of the lost business.

If you lost an email server for a while and your company relies heavily on email traffic for customer relations and support, then the cost is a little harder to quantify. In that case, you’ve certainly lost some good will because customers are angry that they didn’t receive prompt replies to their emails. If you know for sure how many customers you’ve lost because of the down time, calculate the income that you would have received if they had remained loyal customers. It will not be a pretty figure.

Keep in mind that all of these calculations don’t even include the cost to fix the server, if any was incurred. You’ll need to include that cost as well.

There is a reason why redundancy is a great idea in engineering. Technical problems can and will occur. In many cases, those problems can be very costly. While it’s great to know what it costs your business when a server goes down, it’s even better to take proactive steps to ensure that you have proper backups.