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Site Temporarily Unavailable.

Few words conjure such disgust and frustration in the English language. A jaw-dropping, you-have-to-be-kidding-me, apocalypse-rivaling reaction.

Why does a broken website instill sure ire in its owners and audiences? It’s simple: so many businesses and brands depend on their digital product – and downtime means lost revenue or decreased credibility. Also, digital remains a largely intangible, niche industry, so most of its users don’t understand the nooks and crannies of how it actually works.

Technology is incredibly complex – and getting more complex by the day. (However, statistically speaking, technology works most of the time.) So why do websites break? There are many potential culprits:

Data and unexpected content
If your site processes data but then the data changes to something the system doesn’t expect or wasn’t planned for, the system won’t know how to handle this new data. So if your system is expecting a number but gets a date instead, it doesn’t know what to do with that information.

Browser updates
Modern browsers are very powerful and feature rich. Nowadays, updates are introduced at a breakneck speed—often in the span of months, or even weeks, rather than years—and are likely automatic, so the user may not even be aware of them. These new versions can introduce changes that can break your site.

OS/Infrastructure updates
Your site can break if the operating system and/or infrastructure on which it’s hosted are updated. We just had an experience where on the same version of Chrome on Windows 7 a site looked great, but on Windows 8.1 the formatting became distorted.

Stagnant content
This isn’t going to break your site but it certainly isn’t going to drive any traffic (or repeat traffic) to it. Content needs to be updated frequently and users need to be rewarded with new and compelling information and insight. Sites need to have their “lights on” so that visitors need to feel that there’s an active brand behind the site. In the end, it’s all about delivering a quality, compelling experience to your audience. This is where smart planning and strategy comes in.

Unforeseen use cases
Sites and applications are built to be used in a particular way. But if a visitor uses the site or app in a way that wasn’t foreseen when it was developed, problems can arise. (Ever hear the one about the guy who complained that his lawn mower did a terrible job of trimming his hedges? It’s strange but true.) Careful and regular monitoring and constant support can help alleviate these problems.

Unplanned audience growth
If you designed your site to handle thousands of users and suddenly are getting tens or hundreds of thousands of users, your site will most likely have problems. This is even common for big sites—several years ago, Twitter’s user demand skyrocketed. As a result, the site was offline inconsistently because the developers couldn’t handle the site’s growth.

Security issues
We have seen many sites get hacked either by spammers filling out contact forms and flooding them with bogus offers, or hackers actually breaking into the site and trying to steal data, etc. This unfortunately is increasingly common. Constant and rigorous monitoring is critical here.

Hardware failures
Inkjet printers break, hardware breaks. It happens. (What happens next depends on your IT partner, so you’ll want a good one.)

Programming issues, poor design, and/or poor database development
Test and test again. This is how snags, interface issues, and cumbersome design can be detected before a site or app goes live. It’s how to deliver predictable outcomes and great digital experiences.

All of these issues can be fixed—they have to in order to protect the reputation of your brand. It starts with having an experienced digital partner that first establishes a clear strategy and follows up with support throughout.

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