What Is Website Outage?

Posted on May 15, 2024

Website outages can be frustrating and costly for both users and businesses. When a website becomes partly or fully unavailable, it can lead to lost revenue, damaged reputation, and lower search engine rankings. In this article, we'll look at what website outages are, their common causes, and how they can negatively impact users, businesses, and SEO. We'll also talk about ways to check for outages and reduce their occurrence.

Key Takeaways

  • A website outage happens when a site becomes partly or fully unavailable to users, causing problems with access or use
  • Server overload, DDoS attacks, hardware and software issues, and developer errors are common causes of website outages
  • Outages can negatively impact users, leading to frustration and confusion, while businesses may lose customers and revenue, and suffer SEO and reputational damage
  • To minimize the impact of outages, businesses can use load balancers, implement DDoS protection, monitor hardware health, and establish strong quality assurance and deployment processes
  • Website monitoring tools and online outage checkers help detect outages quickly, enabling faster resolution and reducing downtime

What Is Website Outage?

A website outage happens when a website or web service becomes partly or fully unavailable to users. During an outage, users may have problems that stop them from accessing or using the site as intended.

Causes of Website Outages

  • Server hardware failure
  • Network issues
  • Software bugs
  • Cyberattacks, like DDoS attacks
  • Planned maintenance or upgrades
  • Human error, such as accidentally deleting files or wrong settings

What Happens During an Outage

  • Entire website not working: Sometimes, the whole website may be inaccessible, showing error messages or not loading at all.
  • Website slow to respond: Even if the site is accessible, it may take a long time to load pages or process user requests, leading to a bad user experience.
  • Unable to use core features: Some key features of the website, such as login systems, search functions, or payment gateways, may not work, stopping users from doing what they want.

Other Terms for Website Outage

  • Website downtime: This term means the time when a website is inaccessible or not working.
  • Website crash: A crash happens when a website suddenly becomes unavailable, often due to server or software issues.
  • Website is "down": When a website is "down," it means that it is currently having an outage and is inaccessible to users.

Negative Impacts of Website Outages

Website outages can have bad effects on users, businesses, and search engine optimization (SEO). When a website goes down, it affects all involved, leading to frustration, lost revenue, and a damaged reputation.

Impact on Users

When a website is unavailable due to an outage, users can become frustrated and confused. They may not understand why the site isn't working, and this can lead to a poor user experience. If the outage lasts, users may give up trying to access the site and look for other options.

Example

  • An online banking customer is unable to access their account to pay bills or transfer funds, causing them to miss deadlines.
  • A student trying to submit an assignment through an online learning platform is unable to do so due to an outage, resulting in a lower grade or missed opportunity.
  • A person trying to book a flight or hotel room for a trip is unable to complete their reservation, leading to frustration and potential changes in travel plans.

Business Impacts

For businesses, website outages can lead to a loss of customers and revenue. If potential customers can't access a website to make a purchase or ask about a service, they may take their business elsewhere. Even short outages can result in large lost sales, especially for e-commerce websites.

Consider these scenarios:

  • An e-commerce store has a 2-hour outage during a busy shopping period, resulting in an estimated $100,000 in lost sales.
  • A SaaS company's website goes down, preventing new users from signing up for a free trial, impacting the company's growth and revenue targets.
  • A news website has an outage during a major breaking news event, causing them to lose a large number of viewers to competitors.

Outages can also damage a brand's reputation, particularly on social media. Frustrated users may go to platforms like Twitter or Facebook to complain about the outage, leading to bad publicity for the company. In some cases, outages can even attract media attention, further increasing the reputational damage.

SEO Impacts

Website outages can have bad effects on SEO, as search engines consider website availability and reliability when ranking pages. If a website often has outages, search engines may view it as unreliable and less valuable to users, resulting in lower rankings.

graph TB A[Website Outage] --> B[Search Engine Crawlers Unable to Access Site] B --> C[Site Seen as Unreliable] C --> D[Lower Search Engine Rankings] D --> E[Reduced Organic Traffic]

Lower search engine rankings can hurt the organic growth of a product or company. Websites that rank well in search results tend to get more organic traffic, leading to increased brand awareness, customer acquisition, and revenue. In contrast, websites with poor rankings due to outages may struggle to attract new users and grow their business.

Example

  • A blog with frequent outages sees a gradual decline in its search engine rankings, leading to a 30% decrease in organic traffic over a 6-month period.
  • An online store's search engine rankings drop due to outages, causing them to lose potential customers to competitors who appear higher in search results.

Common Causes of Website Outages

Website outages can be caused by different factors, from server issues to cyberattacks. Knowing these common causes can help businesses take steps to minimize downtime. Let's look at some of the most common reasons for website outages.

Server Overload

One of the main causes of website outages is server overload. This happens when servers get more requests than they can handle. For example, if a website has a sudden increase in visitor traffic due to a viral post or a marketing campaign, the servers may not be able to keep up with the demand. This can lead to slow load times or a complete website crash. In such cases, servers usually return a 503 status code, showing that they are temporarily unavailable.

To prevent server overload, businesses can:

  • Use load balancers to spread traffic across multiple servers
  • Implement auto-scaling to automatically add more server resources during traffic spikes
  • Optimize website code and database queries to improve server performance

Here's an example of how load balancing works:

graph LR A[User] --> B[Load Balancer] B --> C[Server 1] B --> D[Server 2] B --> E[Server 3]

In this diagram, user requests are sent to a load balancer, which then spreads the traffic evenly across multiple servers. This helps prevent any single server from being overloaded and provides a better user experience.

DDoS Attacks

Another common cause of website outages is Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. In a DDoS attack, hackers flood servers with a large amount of traffic from multiple sources, such as botnets. The goal is to overwhelm the servers and make the website unavailable to real users.

During a DDoS attack, servers use up their CPU resources trying to handle the flood of requests, leading to slow performance or complete downtime. Hackers may target websites for various reasons, such as extortion, political motivations, or hacktivism.

To reduce the risk of DDoS attacks, businesses can:

  • Use a DDoS protection service to filter out bad traffic
  • Implement rate limiting to restrict the number of requests from a single IP address
  • Keep server software and security patches up to date

Here's an example of how rate limiting works:

Requests per second Action
1-10 Allow
11-50 Delay response
51+ Block and log IP address

Hardware and Software Issues

Website outages can also be caused by hardware and software problems. For example, if a server's hard drive fails or its RAM becomes faulty, it can lead to downtime. Similarly, if a website relies on old or unmaintained frameworks and libraries, it may not work properly on modern browsers, resulting in a broken user experience.

To minimize the impact of hardware and software issues, businesses should:

  • Regularly monitor server hardware health and replace faulty parts
  • Keep software dependencies updated and compatible with the latest browser versions
  • Use version control systems like Git to track changes and roll back bad updates

Example

  • CPU usage: < 80%
  • RAM usage: < 90%
  • Disk space: > 20% free
  • Network latency: < 100ms

By setting up monitoring alerts based on these limits, businesses can find and fix potential hardware issues before they cause website outages.

Developer Error

Finally, website outages can sometimes be caused by developer mistakes. For instance, a bug in the website's code can cause it to crash under certain conditions. Wrong configuration of DNS records can make the website inaccessible. Issues with deployment processes or dependency management can also lead to website downtime.

To reduce the risk of developer-related outages, businesses should:

  • Implement a strong quality assurance process to catch bugs before they reach production
  • Use automated testing frameworks like Jest or Cypress to make sure code changes don't introduce new issues
  • Establish clear communication channels between development and operations teams
  • Document deployment processes and maintain version-controlled configuration files
graph TB A[Code changes] --> B[Code review] B --> C[Automated tests] C --> D[Staging environment] D --> E[Manual testing] E --> F[Production deployment]

How to Check for Website Outages

To reduce the bad effects of website outages, you need to find them fast. The quicker you know about an outage, the sooner you can start fixing it. There are two main ways to check for website outages: using website monitoring tools and online outage checkers.

Website Monitoring Tools

Website monitoring tools like Uptimia are services that always check if your website is up and running from different places around the world. They can automatically find outages and tell you right away when your site goes down.

Here's an example of how a website monitoring tool works:

graph TB A[Monitoring Servers] -- Periodic checks --> B[Your Website] B -- Website unavailable --> C[Outage Detected] C -- Triggers --> D[Alert Notifications] D -- Sent to --> E[Your Team]

By using a website monitoring tool, you can be alerted as soon as an outage happens, letting you start looking into and fixing the issue right away.

Online Outage Checkers

Along with website monitoring tools, there are also online outage checkers that give real-time information about current website outages. These tools collect data from various sources, like user reports and automated tests, to show a big picture of website availability.

Some popular online outage checkers are:

These tools usually offer features like:

  • Real-time outage maps showing which websites are currently down
  • User comments and reports about website issues
  • Historical data on past outages for popular websites