In this day and age, no one can deny that websites are crucial channels for organizations to communicate and engage their global audiences. Because of this, website availability, or the uptime of your site, becomes an important aspect for the success of your digital presence, and one you need to track and optimize.
Since every website needs planned downtime for activities such as server maintenance, it becomes essential to understand how it can affect your business.
It is, however, vital not to overestimate the importance of your website, or the effort needed to keep it up and running. An assessment of the significance of your website for your audience is useful so your business can pinpoint the percentage of availability that is absolutely necessary and what kind of time frame you can spare for maintenance activities on the servers, WCMS upgrades, and so on.
Key take-away 1: understand the web behavior of your audience
If you want to assess how critical your website unavailability really is, look at your audience first. Are you aware of their preferences and behaviors?
The first thing to research is the behavior of your website visitors. By using analytics tools such as Google Analytics, it’s easy to find out when your website is visited mostly: mainly in the morning, during working hours, or in the evening? Or do you have a lot of visitors at night? Are there crucial traffic spikes or is the stream of visitors nearly constant throughout the day?
A lot depends on the kind of business you’re in. If your company is a local, B2B organization, you probably won’t have many visitors at night (unless you need to restrict your far too industrious colleagues’ access). For B2C or ecommerce websites, on the other hand, there is an increasing demand in around-the-clock availability.
It’s also important to know where your audience is. For international companies, you likely ey have website visitors 24/24. This means your website will have to be available 24/24 as well!
Let’s take a banking website as an example - should it be available during the night period? Maybe, if it has international customers that operate in different time zones.
By getting to know your audience, you can make a correct estimation of the website availability you should ask for. Also, it helps you in planning your downtime:
- For websites with peak hours: Plan downtime when you’re least expecting visitors. Make sure that accidental visitors get a clear (and maybe humorous, if it applies to your usual brand personality and tone of voice) message with an indication of the duration of the downtime.
- For websites that get visitors all day and night: Organize the infrastructure of your website to fit their expectations. Typically, that is done by installing a “load-balanced” environment of multiple servers. The advantage is that you can do the necessary changes on one server while keeping the other servers “up”. After the work is done on one server, you switch to another one to perform that same maintenance there.
The behavior of your website visitors has a profound influence on the necessary availability of your website. The more constant the stream of visitors is, the higher your percentage of availability should be.
Key take-away 2: know the business-impact of your website
How business-critical is your website? The answer to that question also has an impact on the availability of that website.
If your website is your main (or only!) sales channel, availability will be a major issue. Take Bol.com for example: a business model which is built around an ecommerce website. If the website isn’t available, they’re driving valuable prospects and customers away to a competitor. Imagine the damage if the website isn’t available for two hours!
Another example is an online banking website such as Rabobank.be. The website plays an instrumental role in attracting new customers as well as serving existing ones. Downtime should be avoided as much as possible to avoid not just offering a poor banking service or no service at all, but also to potential financial implications.
A purely informative website, by contrast, will not be as financially affected by downtime, as the business model of the organization or brand behind it is profoundly different.
A website can’t do without maintenance from time to time. If changes are necessary, a downtime should be planned with business goals and visitor preferences in mind. For an institution such as the Belgian National Bank, it’s probably a good idea to plan that downtime after 6PM. For a movie theatre’s website, such as kinepolis.be, that would be unthinkable as its visitors are browsing movies and buying tickets at that time.
Another thing to take into account is social media. If you’re using channels like LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook to promote landing pages on your website, keep in mind that they are available around-the-clock, unless you time them differently. This means your users clicking on those links will expect your website to be available as well. Make sure to adjust your social calendar during downtime.
By carefully assessing the importance of your website to your business goals and your visitors, you can calculate the necessary uptime of your website. Business-critical websites, such as websites for shops that have no brick and mortar equivalent, demand high availability. But don't be tempted to overestimate: the higher your percentage of availability, the harder it will be to plan indispensable downtime for maintenance and improvements.