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 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.

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.