Owning a self-hosted website can be fun and rewarding. And for businesses, it’s essential to have a website that looks good, works well, and that you can count on.
WordPress is an excellent platform for getting this done. But no technology is perfect, and nobody is immune to making honest mistakes now and then.
A survey of 200 companies revealed that website downtime costs enterprise businesses more than $26.5 billion in lost revenue every year. The survey also showed only 56% of companies in North America have a plan to recover from an outage.
That doesn’t have to be you. No matter how confident you are in your platform or your attention to detail, you still need to know about the common reasons behind website crashes and what you can do to insulate yourself against them.
1. Deletion of Critical Resources
If you accidentally delete something from your WordPress site, the results can be immediate and potentially disastrous. Sometimes, website owners might accidentally delete something like:
- A plugin that’s critical to website functionality
- Updated files
- Website user profiles
- Blog posts and articles
- Photos, logos, and theme files
Before you undertake any website maintenance, it’s imperative to back up all the files you’re removing or modifying. It doesn’t matter how minor they may seem to be. If something you update breaks your website, you don’t want everything offline for an extended period while you figure out how to restore the missing assets.
Keep these redundant backups after your site has gone live again, just in case an issue crops up and you need to roll one component, or even the whole website, back to a previous iteration.
In 2016, this exact problem caused a UK-based web hosting company to expose their clients, and a significant portion of the internet itself, to “catastrophic error.” The culprit? Accidental file deletion during routine server cleanup.
2. Errors With Plugins
If you’re familiar with WordPress, you know “there’s a plugin for that.” Plugins enable useful functionality, but you can’t necessarily vouch for their developers. They can also sometimes operate in ways that conflict with one another or a separate feature, causing website problems, maybe even website outages.
One of your responsibilities is to carefully vet the software developers you bring into your digital ecosystem. Your other job, if you suspect a WordPress plugin conflict has caused your website to crash, is to trace the problem to its source.
Consider taking out a pen and a notepad and recording when, and in what order, you performed the following tasks recently:
- Installed an unfamiliar plugin
- Updated an existing plugin
- Made changes to the site theme
- Edited a PHP file
Plugins change even the core features of your website sometimes. Make sure you choose plugins carefully to avoid problems and know how to methodically troubleshoot issues that do occur.
3. Your Domain Name Has Expired
Domain name expiration is a surprisingly common source of WordPress website outages. The good news is, it’s also one of the easiest to prevent and fix.
We don’t know why so many website owners forget this part of their website. You don’t own the words, but you own that particular combination of them. Your domain name is how customers find you, and is one of the most fundamental branding exercises you’ll ever undertake.
But it requires routine maintenance like the other parts of your website. Log into wherever you purchased your domain and make sure your contact information and payment method are up to date. If you’ve changed any of this information, or you don’t have “auto-renew” turned on, your domain could lapse, rendering your site unreachable.
4. Traffic Surges
There are traffic surges you can plan for, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday stampedes, and some you just can’t. Everybody hopes their marketing content goes viral. But can your website server handle the sudden influx of traffic you’re crossing your fingers for?
WordPress is quick to remind its customers that the platform is only as powerful as the hardware running it. Companies that haven’t considered processor and network speeds could find themselves unprepared for a spike in traffic.
What could have been a record-breaking sales day could peter out into nothing if you don’t anticipate your needs and build at least a measure of future-proofing into your server and service choices.
5. Host Availability Issues
Sometimes, WordPress outages result from errors on the user side. But on rare occasions, the host itself might experience a problem that renders client websites unreachable. In other cases, like one famous incident from summer 2019, the results were equal parts entertaining and disruptive.
In July, websites hosted on the WordPress VIP Go platform began serving default themes, mostly featuring cactuses and succulents, instead of custom themes chosen by the clients. The results didn’t “go viral” so much – they mysteriously propagated across the internet.
VIP Go customers probably didn’t have too many ways to prevent this one. But WordPress provided temporary solutions and important instructions as they worked on a fix. You don’t want customers completely thrown for a succulent loop when they visit your site.
So remember to follow the relevant PR and tech support teams on Twitter and other platforms, or find out about the fastest way to receive updates about ongoing issues and resolutions.
6. Accidental Power Off
Data centers have emergency-power-off (EPO) switches. These are generally for helping contain fires and mitigating damage from emergencies. But if somebody accidentally invokes the EPO during business hours, your website could drop out of existence.
Sometimes, emergency power-offs don’t even affect an entire data center. In 2017, Amazon’s web hosting services experienced an outage that took down many high-profile websites. They eventually traced the problem back to an employee who “took more servers offline than intended” during a debugging session.
The problem of accidental power-offs isn’t exclusive to WordPress-hosted websites. But WordPress users have the means to back up their entire site independently in the cloud, using paid third-party tools as well as free-to-use solutions. Knowing you can fall back to a restore point if you do lose power unexpectedly is a potent source of peace of mind.
Don’t Let Downtime Bring You Down
Whether you’re a WordPress user or not, you now have a better understanding of website outages and the steps you can take to prevent and recover from them.
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