5 Consequences to Reacting to Site Downtime Without a Plan

disaster plan keyboard buttonAs a business owner, you try your best to plan for the future. You start by creating a business plan that spells out your corporate goals, the products or services you’ll offer, how they fit in the marketplace and appeal to consumers, and how you plan to market them.

While you can’t plan for every contingency in business, there are a lot of potential ups and downs you can prepare for.  A flexible attitude complete with a backup plan can help you to weather most unexpected setbacks. Of course, it’s always better to anticipate the things that could go wrong to mitigate any potential damage to your company.

When it comes to site downtime, your best option is to move forward under the assumption that, at some point, you will suffer loss of service. At the very least you’re going to have to shut down your website on occasion for maintenance and repairs.

Unexpected downtime can occur for a variety of reasons. You may end up with a web host that provides spotty service. Or perhaps you didn’t anticipate the bandwidth you’d need and your site overloads as a result (one can only hope for such problems).

It’s also possible that you could come under attack from hackers looking to steal sensitive customer data or wreak havoc on your company. Regardless of what causes your site downtime, you’ll be better equipped to deal with it and get back up and running if you have a plan in place to recover from unanticipated downtime.

Failure to plan for this potential threat could lead to several undesirable consequences. Here are just a few reasons why reacting to site downtime without a plan is detrimental to your business.

1. Extended Downtime

Suppose your car breaks down on the highway. If you’ve planned ahead, you probably have a roadside assistance service in place. All you have to do is call the service for a free tow and the time you spend marooned on the road will be short.

If you failed to plan ahead, you’ll have to find phone numbers for towing services, call around to check rates and availability, and potentially spend a lot more time and money rectifying the situation. A proper plan can significantly reduce your hassle.

The same is true when your website experiences unscheduled downtime. Planning ahead might mean hiring a monitoring service to immediately alert you when downtime occurs. This way you don’t have to wait for customer complaints to start flooding in to know that your site is down.

It could also mean having software solutions or service providers in place. These services can pinpoint the problem and help you to correct it so you can get back up and running as quickly as possible. It might also mean having a system backup in place to revert to just in case you can’t access needed files.

Your plan will determine your response to unscheduled downtime. This way you can minimize damage and get your online operation back in business.

2. Wasted Money

With no plan in place when downtime occurs, your employees may have to spring into action and work overtime to find and solve the problem. This could result in paying some employees to sit idle because they can do nothing while your website is down.  Or you might end up paying some employees overtime to get your site back up – or both.

3. Lost Revenue

In addition to the added expense for labor, you are likely to lose revenue when your website experiences unexpected downtime. This could happen in a couple of ways.

If you provide an online shopping cart for patrons, they will not be able to access accounts and make purchases while your site is down. Also, new visitors to your site, upon finding it non-responsive, may elect to go to competitors, never to return. Both outcomes bode ill for your business.

4. Declined Morale

Employees may lose confidence if they see the company scrambling to solve a problem for which a plan of action should have already been in place. In addition, having to do extra work to rectify the situation because of the company’s poor planning could result in a decline in morale.

5. Damaged Reputation

If you suffer extensive or ongoing downtime issues, your professional reputation will begin to suffer. Customers may not see your company as reliable. They may complain in online reviews.

This can cause further lost revenue, loss of employees, and other problems that spell disaster for your company over time. Having a plan in place to deal with unscheduled downtime can make a world of difference.

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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.

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How Google Accounts for Your Website’s Downtime

google-76517_640Google continues to dominate the search market, claiming somewhere in the neighborhood of two-thirds of all search traffic on the web (with Bing/Yahoo coming in at a distant second). This is great news for the company that spends its time and money on innovations like the self-driving car and a loony project to create a literal sky-net of balloons floating in the stratosphere to relay satellite signals and provide internet access to the entire planet (like a benevolent Big Brother).

For businesses trying to make an impact in the online arena, this merely means pandering to Google’s every whim and algorithm update. It wasn’t that long ago, really, that monthly indexing by search bots sent webmasters into paroxysms of fear. If a web crawler found a site unavailable, the reaction was immediate and difficult to reverse.

Eventually Google realized the unfair demand being placed on businesses…or maybe they changed their algorithms and practices for an entirely different reason and the result was a happy byproduct for online businesses. Either way, an increase in Google’s web crawling activity a couple of years back gave websites a little more latitude concerning downtime.

So what can businesses expect these days? How does Google now account for website downtime? Here are a few things you should know.

Google’s Perspective

If you want to know how Google will react to website downtime you need to try to look at it from their point of view. They don’t know why your site is down, and they don’t care. To them it doesn’t matter if you’re practicing regular maintenance, you’re having server issues, or you picked a subpar web host.

Google is running a business, like you, and they want to provide the best possible service to their customers. To this end they’ve set up complex algorithms designed to reward the highest-quality content by placing it at the top of the list for related search queries.

If your website is unavailable, by definition you cannot be the best option for customers seeking information or access to goods and services. This is the perspective Google has to adopt in order to keep their own customers happy.

How Much Downtime is Too Much?

According to a 2014 missive from Google’s preeminent engineer, Matt Cutts, websites will no longer be penalized for short periods of downtime. Being down for a few hours or a day when web crawlers come to call is okay. Letting your website take a 2-week vacation – not so much.

Of course, there’s a pretty wide gray area between one day and two weeks. Here’s what happens. When one of Google’s bots checks your site and finds it down, the crawler will return within 24 hours to check back, and continue checking. If you’re having sporadic downtime and the bot finds you up and running the second time around, you won’t be penalized.

If, on the other hand, your site remains unavailable after repeated attempts, the bots will be unable to index your site, which will produce increasingly negative consequences for your rankings.

Possible Repercussions

When your website is down and Google’s bots can’t access it, you’re going to find that a couple of things happen in short order. First, you’ll get a notice from Google telling you that your site is inaccessible. Then your rankings will plummet as repeated attempts to access your website fail.

This could be temporary. If you’re able to get your site back up and running in short order, say within a couple of days, you should be able to rebound rather quickly. Google is not trying to penalize legitimately good websites that are suffering temporary issues with downtime.

On the other hand, extended or repeated bouts of downtime can have cumulative results that ultimately end with your website being delisted. Coming back from that snafu is no picnic.

Regaining Your Footing

If you have proper monitoring software in place you’ll recover from unplanned downtime pretty quickly, and if you are able to pinpoint and address the issue promptly you’ll suffer no consequences where Google is concerned. Extended downtime is another matter. So what can you do if Google strips you of your ranking and ultimately ousts you from the index?

Unfortunately, you may be stuck clawing your way back to the top of the heap. Regaining your former rankings after extensive downtime could take months of work, especially if Google has gone so far as to remove your site from their index. If the worst comes to pass and your site is de-listed, you’ll simply have to roll up your sleeves and virtually start over.

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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.

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Web Security 101

web security mouseYou’d have to be living under a rock to remain unaware of the many threats modern companies face due to online operations. Certainly there is a lot to be gained from setting up a business website complete with an online store, not to mention social media accounts, but there are also many risks associated with forays into the virtual world.

Keeping your business secure used to mean installing locks, an alarm system, surveillance cameras, and possibly a robust safe, just in case. While these measures still apply to companies with brick-and-mortar locations, many businesses now have the added worry of protecting a secondary operation in the online arena.

You’ll hear plenty of people say that the worldwide web is a modern Wild West. Although controls are constantly evolving and will continue to advance, the truth is that hackers often seem to be a step ahead. However, this could have something to do with the vast number of businesses that are tremendously under-protected.

Whether you’re just starting your online operation and attempting to learn about web security along the way or you’ve been at it for a while and you’re in need of a refresher, there are several security basics every business should be aware of. Here’s a crash course in web security to get you started.

Technical Controls

There are two main types of controls inherent to web security: technical and operational. Technical controls consist of any measures automatically implemented by your technology, including your hardware, software, and firmware.

There are a broad range of technical controls to consider when planning your security strategy. Most businesses start with firewalls for both their internal systems and their online operations (i.e. web application firewall). The next step is implementing software that recognizes and stops viruses, spyware, malware, and so on.

Technical controls could also include password protection software, encryption software, third-party monitoring and maintenance, and system backups. This last one is technically a recovery feature rather than a security measure, but it’s worth mentioning because without it a hack that results in data loss could halt operations.

Of course, you can’t rely entirely on technical controls to keep your company’s online operations safe. In addition to the many programs designed to protect you from hackers, your users (employees, customers, etc.) also must to behave in a safe and responsible manner in order to ensure the highest level of security. Tools are only as good as their users, and this is where operational controls enter the picture.

Operational Controls

Operational security measures include any actions performed by people, as opposed to machines, but these two systems of control often work hand-in-hand. For example, you no doubt have a login system that includes username and password requirements.

The system itself is a form of technical control, but users are responsible for making and using passwords appropriately. If employees allow others to access their passwords and accounts, they could be responsible for breaches that your technical controls would otherwise have protected against.

Another example of technical and operational controls working together would be software that warns users when they’re about to access dangerous websites (those that contain potentially harmful code). If users are properly trained, they should navigate away instead of putting your network at risk.

Of course, this marriage of technical and operational control relies on a tertiary system: management control. The policies and procedures you create have an impact on how well these systems all work together to protect your online operations.

With comprehensive training and implementation of security systems you can ensure that both technical and operational controls work toward the common goal of keeping your company secure against breaches.

Risk Management

Proper internet security begins by assessing your website from the hacker’s point of view. What are the weaknesses hackers are most likely to exploit? Perhaps your password protocols aren’t very robust or your antivirus software is out of date.

Maybe your employees have a penchant for visiting dangerous websites, opening suspicious emails, or clicking dubious links. Maybe you don’t take advantage of monitoring services that could provide you with early warning of breaches.

Risk management revolves around understanding the threats you’re facing and performing an honest assessment of your vulnerabilities. When you do this you have the information needed to implement suitable security controls.

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How Page Content Monitoring Can Improve Your Site Security

security-265130_1280Business owners can’t exactly spend all day checking in with their website to ensure that it is performing as it should. The good news is that there are all kinds of monitoring programs and services to do the heavy lifting for you.

What do these monitoring platforms provide? There are any number of things the average business might want to track. For example, site uptime is a major concern for many business owners who want to make sure unscheduled downtime isn’t preventing customers (and prospective customers) from accessing their content.

The right monitoring service can alert a business when its website is experiencing downtime or even extended loading delays, just for example. Monitoring software and services could also be used to track network activity, error messages, customer logins, traffic, shopping carts, links, email, and more, including the content on your website.

Pretty much anything you want to monitor when it comes to your website performance can be tracked using appropriate software or monitoring services. What you may not realize is that such measures can do double duty by increasing your security, as well.

How can monitoring services, and content monitoring in particular, bump up your security? Here are just a few ways in which choosing appropriate software or service providers can keep you apprised of potential problems with your website and increase security in the process.

Deal with Downtime

There are obvious reasons to avoid website downtime. Some amount of downtime is, of course, unavoidable. Eventually you’re going to have to perform maintenance and upgrades to your site, and your web host will have scheduled downtime, as well.

What you really want to avoid is unscheduled downtime that stops visitors from reaching your site. When this happens, you risk losing both loyal customers and new visitors.

However, you gain more than just a window into what your visitors are encountering on your website when you hire a service to monitor downtime. You could also discover hacking or other attacks that disable your site.

Monitoring services will send you notifications when your site is experiencing unexpected downtime, allowing you to fix the problem post haste. This might actually allow you to stop a hack in progress and protect your network and data from breach.

What if hacking activities don’t result in downtime, though? Suppose someone is tampering with your content? In this case, having content monitoring services in addition to uptime monitoring could help you to spot unusual activity and stop hackers before they cause too much damage.

Spot Unusual Network Use

Some monitoring and management services provide a variety of network solutions for your business, including options to perform backups and keep an eye on network usage. Some even provide added security for your network in the process.

Regardless, the information these monitoring services provide can help to keep your business and your data safe. Network monitoring can provide you with clues to a number of different potential security threats.

When you receive alerts from your monitoring service showing unusual activity on your network, it could be a clue that employees are using your resources inappropriately, potentially creating security risks in the process. Or it could indicate that your network is under attack or that a breach is already underway.

Receiving such notifications allows you the opportunity to curb potentially harmful behavior by employees and stop hackers in their tracks, especially if your monitoring service also provides management and security.

Unfortunately, some threats come from inside your organization. Here, too, content monitoring could serve security purposes by alerting you to suspicious activities such as malicious tampering with your website content by disgruntled current or former employees.

Identify Who is Accessing the Network

With appropriate monitoring and management software or services in place, you increase your ability to determine who is responsible for breaches. Whether an employee has inadvertently allowed access to your network by clicking a spammy link, visiting a dangerous website, or sharing a password or you’ve come under attack by industrious hackers, the right monitoring program can help to trace the source of the breach.

This information can be invaluable when it comes to finding those responsible and setting up better protections in the future. Strengthening network security starts with understanding weaknesses, which monitoring methods can make you aware of.

Before you can address a problem you must first realize that something is wrong. Whether your network usage is high, your site is experiencing unscheduled downtime, or something hinky is happening with your content, the right monitoring software can alert you that there is a problem.

Derail Suspicious Email Usage

In addition to monitoring your website and your network usage, you should also keep tabs on email and messaging. For example, monitoring email could alert you to the transfer of confidential data or unusually large files, signaling inappropriate activity that goes against your security protocols.

You can also analyze log files after the fact to check for threats like viruses, quarantining as needed and tracking the sources of these threats. Regardless of the monitoring software or services you choose, you should know that you not only stand to gain valuable insight into and control over digital operations, but you could also increase security in the process.

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On-Page SEO: 18 Easy Ways to Improve Your Rankings

This article has been contributed to the Site Uptime Blog by our friends at The HOTH SEO.

On-Site SEO Optimization

On-Site SEO Optimization

Even though on-page SEO is a synergy of different practices, not all of them are equally important. As you can see from Moz’s Search Engine Ranking Factors Study, various SEO practices influence SERP rankings differently. Although domain-level and page-level link features continue to dominate the charts in terms of
influence, on-page SEO is becoming increasingly important. What’s more, as opposed to off-site SEO, which cannot be completely controlled by the webmaster, on-page SEO is more accessible.

Continue reading

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Best Practices for Systems Backup

data backup cloudThe growth of internet operations over the past couple of decades has been extremely beneficial for commercial interests in a number of ways. Not only can businesses now reach a much broader range of prospective customers, but they can offer the convenience of purchasing from the comfort of home thanks to online shopping carts.

That’s just the benefits for retailers. Service providers can also offer ease of use to customers and clients thanks to speedy communiques and information sharing online. In both cases, however, there is one major challenge to consider: security.

When consumers provide businesses with private data, including names, contact information, credit card numbers, and even social security numbers, just for example, they expect this sensitive data to be protected. In addition, there are laws in place specifically aimed at protecting consumer privacy, such as those listed here on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

In other words, companies must have systems in place to protect confidential information, not only for customers, but also employees, vendors, and anyone else they do business with. Unfortunately, data breaches can occur, even with the best security measures in place.

Taking steps like encrypting data can help to ensure that even stolen information is unusable. However, a business that suffers a data breach could end up dealing with files that have been locked, corrupted, damaged, destroyed, or otherwise rendered unusable.

Natural disasters can occur, as well, wiping out memory or even destroying physical systems. For these reasons, companies must prepare for data recovery with a solid strategy for backing up data. Here are a few best practices to set you on the right path.

Hardware and Software

Your best bet when it comes to data recovery is to avoid situations where you have to recover lost or stolen data. This is the worst-case scenario when it comes to data protection.

The best way to avoid data loss is to set up hardware and software that keeps your data safe. This means utilizing secure servers and setting up network security programs like a firewall, antivirus software, and encryption to protect data from breach situations.

Of course, it’s not always possible to stop breaches or natural disasters that could wipe out your system, so it’s also important to set up a system of backups to make data recovery (at least from your last save point) possible.

Planning for Recovery

When it comes to backing up data, there are three main considerations: frequency, capacity, and policies and procedures. You need to start by determining how often you want to back up your data.

Some companies do it weekly, some prefer daily, and others have multiple saves per day. The frequency of turnover of data could help you to figure out how often you should back up information.

You also need to think about the capacity required to save your company data, especially if you want to keep several save points on hand. Ideally, you should plan for flexible storage capacity with the option to grow along with your operation, either in-house or off-site (or both).

Finally, you need to implement policies and procedures for backup. With the right hardware and software in place, you may be able to automate the entire process. Still, your employees should know how and when to back up data, as well as how to keep it safe.

3-2-1 Backup Rule

The rule of thumb for backing up data is the 3-2-1 rule. This rule states that you need a minimum of three copies of data, that it must be stored in at least two different formats, and that one copy of your data should be stored off-site.

This level of redundancy might sound extreme, but suppose you have operational data stored on a network and backed up on hard drives. What if a tornado destroys your office, your servers, and all of your data?

If such a catastrophe should occur, you’ll certainly be glad you created a third copy of your company data and stored it off-site, making recovery possible.

Monitoring and Management

The final practice to observe when it comes to data backup is monitoring and management. When you hire services to monitor your systems and manage your data backups, you can increase security and your ability to avoid costly issues like data breaches that could lead to losses.

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Why a Slow Website Is As Damaging As a Down Website

loading tabletEveryone knows that downtime is bad for business, or at least that unscheduled downtime is bad. At least when you have a schedule in place for website maintenance or upgrades, you have plenty of lead time to let users know that your site will be temporarily unavailable, and you can put up an “out of office” type placeholder so they know when to check back.

Your web host can also warn you in advance about its scheduled downtime so you can adequately prepare. Scheduled downtime is not the problem – it’s the unscheduled variety, especially when you don’t know it’s occurring, that can wreak havoc on your page rank and patronage.

The good news is that there are monitoring services available to help you track unscheduled downtime and make necessary changes to avoid it in the future. What you may not realize, however, is that slow loading times can be just as detrimental.

According to Kissmetrics, a website has only about 8 seconds maximum to catch a visitor’s attention before that visitor navigates elsewhere. In addition, an estimated 40% of visitors leave if a page doesn’t load within 3 seconds.

This is bad news if your site is running even a little slow. If you’re not yet tracking load times in addition to your site uptime, you need to know the potential damage being done so that you understand how serious slow loading times can be.

Visitors Can’t Reach You

I know what you’re thinking. Slow loading times aren’t as bad as downtime because visitors can still reach you if only they’re willing to wait a few second.

Unfortunately, a short attention span dominates modern web surfing, thanks to the instant gratification of pages that load almost immediately. In other words, slow loading is a major problem.

Your site might as well be suffering downtime if it takes longer than a few seconds for pages to load, because visitors are going to navigate elsewhere and the chances they’ll return after a perceived failure are slim to none. You will have lost prospective customers as surely as if you were suffering downtime.

Shoppers May Abandon Carts

Suppose that visitors to your site are willing to wait for pages to load, albeit slower than usual. Perhaps they have a genuine interest in products or services that only you offer or that are superior to your competitors. Or maybe they’re returning customers that have purchased from you in the past and they already have an established relationship with your brand.

The unfortunate truth is that they may have to go through several different pages in order to complete a purchase. Each time a page loads slowly, they are more and more likely to abandon their efforts.

By the time they reach the shopping cart, they may grow worried that their transaction won’t go through. Or they may simply give up. Considering how many shoppers abandon carts without making purchases anyway, it stands to reason that slow loading times could definitely impact sales.

Loyal Patrons May Lose Patience

Your loyal patrons have grown to appreciate your brand and your goods/services. They are therefore more likely to be forgiving if your site is running slowly. But even their patience is likely to have limits.

The great thing about loyal patrons is that they’re likely to check back in. However, if they encounter slow loading times over and over again, their interest in returning could definitely decrease.

Search Engine Penalties

Search engines like Google send out bots to check in on websites for the purposes of indexing and determining page rank. If your website is frequently down or loading times prevent search bots from completing their objectives, your page rank could definitely suffer as a result.

Don’t be shocked – search engines are running a business, too, one in which they provide the most relevant results for user queries. If your pages are consistently difficult to reach because of slow loading times, and visitors frequently navigate away, your rankings are likely to suffer.

Loss of Customers and Revenue

Slow loading times are going to impact your online operations and your business as a whole in a number of ways, but the overarching detriments include losing customers and losing revenue. Both are essential to sustaining your business, so it’s best to identify slow loading times and find ways to nip this critical issue in the bud.

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What Can You Learn From the Panama Papers Leak?

panama papersWhen it comes to cyber security breaches, there have been some real doozies. In fact, there have been some appalling breaches in just the past couple of years. Just look at the 2014 hit on Sony that resulted in the broadcast of executive emails and the resignation of key executives (following the 2011 attack on Sony’s PlayStation Network that reportedly cost the company over $170 million dollars).

How about the 2015 attacks on health insurance providers (Anthem, Blue Cross), banking institutions (JPMorgan Chase and Co.), dating website Ashley Madison (which you’d think would have abundant security considering the secretive nature of its adulterous clientele), and even the government (Federal Office of Personnel Management, or OPM)? That’s not even mentioning the many data breaches on mega-corporations like Target and Home Depot.

The point is that no one, not even the largest, richest, and most powerful organizations in the world, is exempt from attempted (and probably successful) hacking. However, the Panama Papers incident has been cited as exceeding all of these breaches in scope.

The data breach (of which The Guardian news outlet provided a handy primer here), which resulted in the theft and subsequent publication of 11.5 million files from the databases of Panamanian legal firm Mossack Fonseca (the fourth largest offshore firm in the world), exposed the firm’s wealthy clientele, including a variety of world leaders. Included in the revelations was evidence implicating Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and Icelandic Prime Minister David Gunnlaugsson (among others) in shady and potentially illegal offshore activities.

Is there any good to be gleaned from this incident? If your business is the type to learn from the mistakes of others, the answer is yes. Perhaps the nature of the Panama Papers incident can serve as a warning. Here are a few things you could learn from this historic data breach.

The Attack was Simple

Since the Panama Papers leak, the method of the attack has come to light, and apparently the breach exploited a well-known weakness so simple that it could have been perpetrated by a child, much less a hacker of some skill.

This prompts the question: what are you doing to protect your website and network? Firewalls, antivirus programs, password protection, encryption, and monitoring are all great, but you need to stay up-to-date with known issues if you want the best chance to bolster your security and fight off intrusion. If you’re like most companies, you’re not even taking some of these common steps.

Valuable Data was Up for Grabs

As a business owner you know that some types of data are more valuable than others. For example, client names might not be as valuable as their social security numbers or credit card numbers.

Unfortunately, Mossack Fonseca failed spectacularly to adequately protect any of their client’s data, regardless of the relative value or need for privacy and confidentiality. In fact, it was discovered in the aftermath that sensitive data was regularly transferred via unsecured email, which would make it all too easy to get a hold of, even in the absence of the scope of hacking that occurred.

Additionally, data of a more sensitive nature was not compartmentalized and stored behind extra layers of security. Hackers had no trouble accessing and stealing everything, including the most private client data.

No One Noticed Unusual Activity

Simple network monitoring software or services could have easily spotted the enormous data transfer that occurred during the hack on Mossack Fonseca (amounting to 2.6 TB of data). This size of transfer is astronomical, and it should have immediately set off alarms and notification – if only proper monitoring had been in place.

Everyone Suffers

It’s no surprise that the Panama Papers leak had consequences for both the company and its clients. For example, David Gunnlaugsson stepped down as Prime Minister of Iceland following the leak, which revealed conflicts of interest in deals brokered after the financial crisis.

Other prominent world leaders were also revealed to have practiced unethical or even illegal activities relating to Mossack Fonseca, the least of which revolved around tax avoidance while the worst offenders appear to have stolen money from the very countries and people they represent. This, of course, is a worst-case scenario for any business, but the lesson is clear.

A company that allows such a data breach will lose clients, one way or another. Whether they leave due to lack of confidence or they find themselves so personally compromised by leaked data that they can no longer continue to function professionally, the company that allowed the breach is likely to be compromised beyond repair.

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