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How to Avoid Website Downtime That Can Affect Your Search Engine Listings
By Nick Nichols
If your web pages are down — even momentarily — it can hurt you several ways. Learn why, and what to do to make sure your pages are visible the maximum amount of time.
The Internet has changed the way we access information, and the way we buy and sell products and services. When it works, which, fortunately, is most of the time, ideas and cash flow from person to person, company to company, and country to country.
But when the inevitable happens and your pages go down, your business, your bank account and your reputation can suffer, especially if you are unaware of the down status of your e-business operations for more than a few minutes. One way this can hurt you is with the search engines.
Whether you operate a corporate website, a mom-and-pop or something in between, there’s no question about it. If you want to get traffic via the search engines, you have to work at getting and maintaining placement on the first page of the current “big four” — Google, Yahoo, MSN and AskJeeves. Depending on the keywords you’re trying to get high results for, this can be a time-and-resource intensive process.
Everyone who uses search engine marketing knows that getting and keeping high placement is an ongoing process filled with many unknowns. The rules of the game seem to change without notice, causing frustration, disappointment and even desperation among beginners and veterans alike. Methods that work today may not work tomorrow. Tactics that may be “legal” today may cause problems tomorrow.
It’s as if, despite all the research, experimentation and best intentions, there really is no exact formula that can be applied to guarantee results. There is, however, one aspect of search engine marketing that is a known quantity. If your pages are down — even briefly — when the spiders visit, you run the risk of losing your place. And unless they come back up immediately, they may be dropped altogether.
For example, Google’s “Information for Webmasters” area says that if your pages cannot be crawled after several attempts due to network or hosting problems, they won’t be listed — meaning they’ll be dropped — and it may take “a few weeks” to for them to show up again. MSN’s guidelines state that if your server is offline or there is another access problem when their spider tries to crawl your site, it may not return “until a later time.” Neither Yahoo nor AskJeeves seems to have guidelines on this issue, but it’s reasonable to assume that they and other search engine spiders operate like Google and MSN.
Another pitfall of web page downtime is wasted pay-per-click advertising dollars. When PPC landing pages go down, your clicks go nowhere and your money is needlessly depleted. And the PPC medium may suspend your ad if your landing page goes down for too long.
It’s a fact that web surfers have limited, if any, patience for “page not found” errors. Building credibility and trust on the Internet is a challenging task. When surfers click to your page, and it’s not there, they may conclude that you are out of business. At first exposure to you, if your page is not available they are likely to find a competitor and forget all about you. Yes, you can create a custom 404-error page, but if your entire site is down, that won’t help you much.
Suppose you sell advertising on your site and it goes down. What will your advertisers think if they visit your site and don’t’ see their ads?
Maybe you have a paid membership site. What will your members think when they try to access your site and it’s not there?
Suppose a reporter visits your site and it’s down. That could kill a budding story about you, or it could inadvertently cause them to write something negative about you.
Why risk all these problems when the solution is so simple and cost-effective?
The answer is remote website monitoring. For under $20 per month, you can get basic monitoring that will inform you if your site is down so you can take immediate action to fix the problem. Depending on the complexity of your e-business operation, you can get more sophisticated service features that can monitor not only your pages, but also your database, servers, transactions and can even check for content changes on your pages. If someone hacked into your site and changed the content on your home page, wouldn’t it be nice to know about it before the rest of the world does?
To check out companies that offer these services, do a search for “remote website monitoring.” Most companies have free trials. The key is to find a company that has flexible service options. Depending on the scope of your e-business, you may or may not need certain features that are bundled together. Why pay for what you don’t want? Also, bigger may not be better. Look for an established company that is not too big to give you excellent customer service. During your free trial, send a question or two to their tech support and see how fast they respond. This will give you an idea of what you’ll get after you pay.
Whatever you do, do it today. You can’t afford to not know if your web pages are down.
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