Website Crash? Don’t Panic!

By Michelle Shaeffer It’s the event every website owner fears… your host’s server goes *poof* in a fantastic crash and burn… and takes your website down with it. Don’t panic yet, there’s hope!

Let’s begin with what you can do to minimize your risk of a crash and maximize your ability to quickly and fully recover, then I’ll give you some tips and tricks to use if a crash caught you unprepared.

Servers crash, and hardware fails. Anyone who works regularly with computers knows that it’s not a question of “if” a server or hard drive will fail, it’s a question of “when” it will happen. Aside from server crashes, websites can also be accidentally deleted with one click of the wrong button by the host, or accidentally when editing or updating them yourself.

1) Choose your website host very carefully

There are many low cost hosts out there. Don’t choose a website host based on the low price, the fancy website, the claim of unlimited bandwidth or the slick advertising campaign. Choose your host based on the quality of their equipment and service. Three important things to look for are:

DAILY BACKUPS: You want a host who makes daily backups. Find out if those backups are stored on the same server or off-site. Off-site backups are safer because even in the event that the whole datacenter burns down (which is extremely unlikely) there will be a safely stored copy of your entire website on another server in a second datacenter.

Another good reason to look for a host with daily backups is that if you accidentally delete your entire website yourself, they can restore it within minutes. Don’t laugh. You’d be surprised how often this happens!

SERVERS WITH RAID: RAID stands for “redundant array of independent disks.” In a RAID 10 configuration, all files on the server are mirrored. This means there’s a real-time second copy of everything. So if one drive crashes, no data is lost and it takes only minutes to get back online.

ABILITY TO MAKE YOUR OWN BACKUP: Don’t rely blindly on the backups of your hosting company. Backup files occasionally get corrupted or aren’t complete, so you need to have your own as well. Look for a host who gives you the ability to make your own complete backups. If you host on a cPanel server, this is easy to do with a few clicks within your cPanel and if you save the backup file to your computer you can easily restore your website not only with your current host but at most other cPanel hosts. Be sure you download and save the backup file to your computer and don’t save it on your hosting account because if the server crashes and your backup file was stored on the server, your backup copy will be gone too.

2) Be sure to regularly back up your own website

I advise clients to backup their website monthly and anytime they make major changes. You may also want to backup your databases separately. And always save a copy of any files you upload. In a worst case scenario, if you have a database backup from your store or blog, you can recreate it using the database backup.

Keep in mind that if you use webmail, your mail is being stored on the server and if it crashes your mail will disappear with it.

What to do when your website is gone and you don’t have a backup

Stay calm. You’ll need to deal with it one step at a time.

First, find out if your host has a backup copy. They should. If they don’t, they were not adequately prepared and you need to seriously consider a new website hosting company immediately. If they did have backups stored off site that failed restores, it might be worth giving them a second chance. But otherwise, look for a more prepared company.

If they don’t have a backup copy, and you don’t have a backup copy, then you’ll need to begin reconstructing your website from scratch.

If you’re facing a complete server crash and everything is gone your first steps should be to get your email addresses set back up and put up a temporary page to assure your clients that you will be back online soon. Deal with this before you do anything else. You want to be sure that your email is up and running and that clients are notified that you aren’t out of business.

Next you need to start reconstructing your website. Here are methods for reconstructing your site from various site-building methods.

Created by You

Did you create your own site? If you coded it on your computer, the files should be there somewhere that you can upload back to your web space.

If you publish your site with a program like Dreamweaver or Front Page you may have a copy of your website on your computer that you can upload again from within the program and be all set.

Created by a Website Design Firm

If you had a website designer create your pages for you the chances are very good that your designer has saved a copy of the original files. There may be a fee for their time to get the files reinstalled, but it can save you from having to start from scratch.

HTML Website Recovery

If your site was plain HTML pages (no database) then you may be able to reconstruct it using Google’s handy cache feature. Just put the full URL of the page you need into Google and you’ll see a result come up like this:

The Small Business Muse

Are you a small business owner who wants tips and ideas on how to balance, manage and market your business with an inspirational twist? … – 6k – Cached – Similar pages

See the little link that says “Cached”? Click it. You’ll see the most recent version of your page that Google has saved. Do a “View Source” of the page’s code, and you’ve got your page back! Images will likely be missing but you should be able to find them saved somewhere, and the image names will be in the code so you can search for them on your computer.

Go through one page at a time and if your pages were plain HTML and if Google visited and indexed your site recently, you’ll be able to recover a good portion of your website this way.

Database Driven Site Recovery

If your site was database driven like an ecommerce shop or blog, it’s tougher to reconstruct.

The first thing to do is reinstall whatever your website was powered by (WordPress, osCommerce, Zen Cart, etc).

Next you need to get your template back. Again the original designer may be helpful so contact them and see if they have a copy of it saved. You may be able to find it in Google’s cache as described above, but it will be a little trickier to get your template code so if you aren’t very familiar with php, HTML, and the way your website worked, ask your virtual assistant or website designer/programmer to help you with this step.

Then you’ll be ready to add your products back in. If you regularly submit to a shopping site like Google Base, see if you have a recent txt file export stored that you could use as a basis to reimport your products. If not, you’ll need to just restock one item at a time.

And next time…

Sometimes lightening does strike the same place twice. So be sure that you are prepared! Not only will you save yourself frustration and work by having a back up copy of your website you can use to easily restore it, you’ll also be able to sleep peacefully at night knowing that you are prepared for the worst case scenario.

Please go backup your website now. Really. Right now. *smiles* You’ll be glad you did, even if you never need to use that backup.

About the Author

Find Michelle Shaeffer online at The Small Business Muse where she shares weekly tips and strategies for small businesses in The Muses Brainstorm. Stop by The Muses Guide for inspirational guides to help your small business grow.

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