How to Proactively Prevent Website Crashes and Recover from Disasters

Most people take websites and digital services for granted, and expect them to be available 24/7/365. And a crashed website can cost a business a lot of money. Some business models, such as ecommerce platforms, lose money with each minute the website is down. But even if you don't sell anything online, a crashed website could be costing you brand reputation, trust with your audience, leads that are trying to find your business, and repair costs.

Instead of leaving things to chance, it's better to proactively take measures that will minimize downtime and ensure that your website doesn't crash in the first place. It also pays off to make sure that you've taken measures to recover if the worst should happen. Use the following tips, tools, and techniques to help minimize the chance of an outage, and to recover from one if your website crashes.

Use Website Security Tools

The best way to thwart hackers and viruses is to prevent them from tampering with your website in the first place. Any web administrator or small business that's trying to grow an audience online needs security services to ward off invasions from the latest threats, but some people forgo security protection in an effort to save a buck in the short term.

In the long term, however, failing to use security services could devastate your business. I'm sure just about everyone has read headlines detailing the latest successful hacking attack, whereby an Internet hacker stole hundreds of usernames and passwords. In the past, there were even reports that terrorist groups like ISIL were exploiting WordPress vulnerabilities.

The Internet isn't a safe place, and failing to protect your website is a rookie mistake.

Research Patch Notes and the Latest Vulnerabilities

It's always worth keeping up with the latest vulnerabilities and exploits. I know it might sound like a lot of work, but two of my favorite sources for the latest threats are the WordPress Vulnerability Database and CVE Details. I think anyone can make time to check things out at least twice a month or so. Since all the hard work has been done for you and all the latest known vulnerabilities have been aggregated, you can easily scan through the list and make sure you don't use any plugins, themes, or WordPress versions that are vulnerable to an attack.

I'd always recommend upgrading to the latest WordPress version, but it's a little nuanced. You do need to feel comfortable making technical changes to a WordPress site, and it's best to read up on patch notes to make sure the latest version is stable. Furthermore, you're going to want to make sure all of your add ons, plugins, and other similar components are all up to date. If you fail to update WordPress modules, you may still be vulnerable to an old attack.

If you’re uncomfortable with running updates and patches on your site, find a service that will do it for you. We offer a WordPress maintenance service which includes offsite backups and weekly updates.

Backup Your Website

Anyone who's felt the sting of a virus or data loss in the past knows just how critical it is to backup data on a regular basis. It takes an immense amount of time to put together a quality website, and creating content is a continuous process. But without website backups, you could lose all your content, custom coding, and user data in an instant. It only takes one virus or configuration error to negate all the blood, sweat, and tears you've poured into your digital marketing campaign.

As such, you need to stay on top of backups. Not only will it prevent data loss, but it can help give you a restore point if a new plugin goes haywire and crashes your theme. The good news is that there are plenty of free tools to help you backup your website, such as Duplicator, BackupWordPress, BackwpupFree, and even WordPress Backup to Dropbox. I wouldn't recommend Dropbox due to a lack of encryption and past security issues, but if you know how to encrypt your files, it's a viable free alternative.

Consider Using a CDN

A CDN is a Content Delivery Network, which may or may not be appropriate for your business (depending on the industry and type of website you run). If your main product is content, such as software reviews or how-to content, a CDN could be a real life saver. They work by caching static page content from your website and deliver it to users based on their geographic region.

Instead of the server hosting your content directly supplying visitors' web browsers with your static page content, the cached static pages can be hosted on redundant servers to lessen the load on your main server. Using a CDN can also help mitigate the damage from a DoS attack or sudden traffic spike. However, if your website is nothing more than a simple digital storefront that helps local customers find your business, you likely won't see much value in a CDN.

Drill Down and Determine the Root Cause

If your website mysteriously crashed and you can't discover why, it pays off to be diligent. You'll want to make darn sure you find out the root cause of the crash, or it could happen again. Worse yet, your website may have been the victim of an attack, in which case you'll need to determine where the vulnerabilities lie.

This is where monitoring packages provide massive value, since they'll be able to help alert you when your website crashed as well as other abnormalities. For instance, if you notice an abnormal traffic spike, it could be that you were victimized by a DdoS or DoS attack. Other times, physical hardware problems might be the issue. Hosting providers aren't perfect, so if you suspect physical hardware problems, get on the horn with your hosting provider ASAP.

I'd recommend looking into the WPServerStats plugin if you don't already have monitoring software in place.

Final Thoughts

A lot of headaches and expensive downtime can be completely avoided with a little bit of preparedness. I'd highly recommend doing the following to ensure your website doesn't bite the dust:

  • Keep all of your code modules, plugins, addons, themes, and WordPress version up to date
  • Spend the few extra bucks on a security service
  • Use monitoring tools to log oddities and abnormalities
  • Always backup your data
  • Consider using a CDN

There may not ever be such a thing as a perfect server, but by using these techniques, can can drastically reduce your risk of a costly outage.