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Want to ensure your website stays alive? Follow these 7 critical steps.

Updated: February 4, 2010 I originally wrote this post in late 2007, when my hosting company at the time decided to fold its tents and move on. Since then, I’ve been very happy with my new host (Dreamhost. And yes, I am an affiliate). However, today, we suffered a hack here on thinks, where the hacker tried to redirect all traffic to his own spammy sites. Fortunately, having learned a lesson a few years ago, we were able to fix the issue and get back in business in relatively short order. So, if you haven’t seen it before, I give you, “Want to ensure your website stays alive? Follow these 7 critical steps.”

How’s your week been? Mine. Not so great. Last Thursday, my web hosting company appears to have closed their doors, taking this site down with them. Gone. Dead. Kaput.

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How would you like to spend your weekend trying to get your site up and running again from scratch? Worse, how would you like to do it on big revenue days like a Monday? Yeah, me neither.

I’ve learned – re-learned – some valuable lessons during this period. I thought you might appreciate avoiding my pain by hearing what they are.

  1. Keep backups. I know, I know. We’ve all been told this. Here’s the thing. How many days do you want to spend getting your life together after if it goes away? Backup one day less than that. If you’re OK with spending a month putting your life back together, back up every 29 days. I did my last backup on November 4. When my site died on November 25, I got screwed. EVERYTHING between those two weeks was gone. Is gone. If anyone has a copy of my blog posts, boy I’d sure like to have them. Seriously.
  2. Make a copy of the backups. No, really. It doesn’t take much to backup your hard drive with a site like Carbonite (PC-only today, though Mac is coming) or any number of Mac services. I’m also a real big fan of Jungle Disk. I had the nightmare scenario. My laptop – where I do all my writing – died the same week as my web host. Think stuff like that only happens in Ben Stiller movies? Surprise! Fortunately, I had a copy on a share drive in addition to the one on my laptop. I’d have been way more hosed if I hadn’t. It’s likely I still wouldn’t have content on this site. And just imagine what happens to your Google PageRank then.
  3. Develop a checklist of emergency tasks. For instance, should you stop your paid search campaigns first or should you put up a page telling your customers what’s happened? Most small companies don’t have the resources to do these in parallel, so it’s critical you – and your team – understand what the priorities are. When you find yourself in a hole, first you need to stop digging. It’s bad enough that you’re losing revenue. Don’t make it worse by not knowing how to stop.
  4. Make sure you have all your critical contact information for your hosting company, development shop and other key providers available in more than one location. For instance, I didn’t have my web hosting company’s super secret tech support phone number I’d dug up a while back anywhere but on my local drive (see item #2 above). While I found their main number on Google, they weren’t answering that line anymore.
  5. Manage your DNS separate from your hosting. If my DNS was hosted by the same company as my website, I’d seriously be dead right now. In truth, I wouldn’t remotely know how to deal with that situation. Which is another item for #3 on this list now, isn’t it?
  6. Pay attention to trouble with your service providers. I don’t recommend jumping ship every time you have a little bugaboo with your service. Managing websites/hosting/development is complicated and occasionally things go wrong. But if you start to see a pattern of issues with a provider, demand immediate resolution or start shopping for a new provider.
  7. Always have a Plan B. What saved my butt was that I was already in the process of moving my site from one host to another. You don’t want to have to figure out what your alternatives are when you have no alternative. No matter how happy you are with your hosting company, development shop, analytics provider, marketing agency, what-have-you, you need to know who else is out there and what they can do for you. Take an hour or two every month at lunchtime and review alternative providers. That way, if you do need to make a sudden move, at least you’re not starting from scratch.
  8. Updated: Plan B, Part 2. In addition to the steps above, make sure you have a complete web presence, one that incorporates social tools and off-site content that works with customers where they are and links customers to your website when they want that, too. And offers alternative ways of communicating with customers should the hub of that presence fail for any reason.

I know this list is incomplete. Preparing for emergencies with your site can be a full-time job. But, these are the critical items most businesses need to have covered. Please add anything I missed to the comments. And I hope you have a better week than I did.


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Tim Peter

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

This Post Has 0 Comments
  1. Hi Tom,
    Thanks for the plug. I’ve moved from Avid Hosting (who are definitely dead) to DreamHost. It’s too soon to make a firm judgment, but they seem pretty well suited to my needs.

  2. […] I’m dealing with a similar thing now. I’m a big fan of Mozy, a low-cost online backup utility for Windows and MacOS. Pay a few dollars each month and backups just happen in the background. But here’s the thing. What the folks at Mozy didn’t tell me before I signed up is how challenging it is to restore. Their preferred method for getting my archived data back to me? Ship me DVDs, at a cost of roughly $100. That’s not a terribly high price to pay for backups. If you look at productivity costs, it’s fairly inexpensive. And, as long term readers know, quality backups can save your business. […]

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