Improving Website Performance: A Site Manager's Guide to Minimizing Downtime

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Higher education institutions often have large, complex websites that cater to many audiences who depend on their successful performance: Faculty, students, prospective students, parents and the higher education community at large.

The importance of your institution’s website cannot be understated. The web is now mission-critical, meaning that if your web presence fails, your business operations suffer as well. For this reason, any downtime is an unwelcome hassle for anyone charged with managing the website.

Are you getting the expected uptime from your site? Do the thoughts of website downtime keep you up at night? Based on our experience, we suggest you follow these steps to prevent downtime and solve any problem you are facing:

If you are currently experiencing a crisis, take a deep breath. Don’t panic. You’ll want to take a structured approach to locating and fixing the problem, or you could accidentally introduce new issues in a state of panic. The first thing to do is to determine where the issue is coming from.


The Hosting Provider

Think of your hosting provider as your website’s landlord. Every website is run on a server. This server is run by a web hosting service, such as Amazon, Acquia or GoDaddy.

When you are experiencing an issue with your site, your very first step should be to contact your hosting provider and let them know your site is down. If it’s a company-wide issue, you may not get through to the support team right away. In the meantime, you can ping the server to eliminate some of the potential issues. If you receive a response back telling you the server is alive, don’t move on just yet. There still could be issues at the host level, but at least you have more information.


 Pinging the Server


While you wait for a response from your hosting provider, you can check Facebook or Twitter for any updates. If the support team is swamped, they’ll likely try to communicate the issue via social messaging. Rest assured your hosting company is taking care of the issue and that your site will be up and running shortly.

If the site is down due to a host network or server issue, you’ll want to be proactive about any messaging you have scheduled to go out. If you have any traffic campaigns running, contact your vendor and ask if you can postpone their release until a later date. If you have social campaigns running, pause them. You don’t want to be sending traffic to your site if it’s down. Be proactive and communicate the issue to your site users and let them know that the issue will be solved shortly.


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There are a lot of quality hosting providers out there. Most hosts advertise 99% uptime. What most people do not know is that this guarantee only for the host’s network, not your end site. The remaining 1% protects the hosting company should there be an outage and the web host fails. Lower-end hosting services are famous for frustrating their customers with about 30% downtime.

If you contact your hosting provider and the network, server and all ports are working as they should, you’ll likely be told to look elsewhere to solve the issue.



Between the end user and the physical machine, there is an operating system, a CMS and a website. If the hosting provider is saying there is no issue, the next step is to check your CMS.

If you’ve chosen an open source CMS like Drupal or WordPress, there isn’t so much a singular entity or person who you can contact to help fix your issue. You can post to forums or groups and hope someone will respond, but in a state of emergency, you can’t be at the mercy of someone replying in some unknown period of time.


Drupal Forum Member Question


If you have a mission-critical website, such as a higher education or government website, there are some preventative choices you can make when choosing your CMS and hosting provider so as to avoid this runaround.

By now, you probably know that not all web content management systems are created equally. When it comes to organizing web content -- research, news, photos, videos, events and blog posts -- the right CMS can make all the difference. To help you choose the best CMS for you and your institution, check out some of our recent posts on content management systems:


The hosting provider you choose to work with plays an integral role in protecting your site and ensuring performance. The need for higher education institutions to provide a dependable user experience makes managed hosting an easy choice. With an experienced managed hosting provider working as an extension to your IT department, you can rest assured that someone is proactively monitoring, patching, backing up and protecting your data from the unknowns that threaten the dependability of your environment.

As I’d previously mentioned, there are many quality hosting providers to choose from. If you have a Drupal website, I’d recommend choosing a provider that has experience and expertise with this CMS. Acquia is one such provider. As the creator of Drupal, Acquia Cloud Hosting is an end-to-end solution optimized for Drupal sites. Here are some of the benefits to choosing Acquia Cloud over web hosting alone and other managed platforms:

  • Fully managed and updated LAMP stack for Drupal-optimized websites
  • Security: Dedicated isolated network, two factor authentication, WAF (DDoS mitigation), teams and permissions
  • Compliance: SOC 1 and SOC 2, HIPAA, ISO 27001, EU Data Protection, FERPA, PCI-DSS
  • Developer Tools to help you build better websites faster and speed time-to-market
  • Dev-Stage-Prod Environments: Pre-established separate workflow environments to support best practice software development
  • Drag-and-Drop Functionality: Deploy code from testing to production faster
  • Real Time Monitoring and Troubleshooting: Minimize time spent on keeping websites up and running
  • Enterprise Level Reliability: 99.95% Uptime SLA
  • Global Support: 24/7 Follow the Sun - Infrastructure and Drupal Application Support
  • Disaster Recovery: Multiple geographic regions for multi-region failover


Acquia Cloud Features


Unless you’ve recently upgraded your site, it’s probably not an issue with your CMS. The next step is to check the specific codebase.


The Code

When you become aware of a performance issue on your website, you’ll want to get in touch with the last developer to work on the site. If he or she tells you the code was tested before moving it into the production environment, the original code is likely not the issue and you’ll need to move onto other possibilities.

In the market for design and development talent to help you with your website? You have a lot of choices when it comes to choosing a partner agency to support your web projects. Check out our free Partner Selection Comparison Checklist and guide on How to Select the Right Web Design Firm for your design and development needs.

Have you updated your code recently? If the new code is your problem, this will be an easy fix. Simply load your old code via backups and see if the problem goes away.

If you’re seeing the White Screen of Death (WSOD), it’s likely your database has been corrupted. Upload the last database backup to see if the problem goes away. If it does, you can conclude someone has accidentally or maliciously injected the bad code directly into the database. Revert to a previous backup of the database to solve the issue.


If you’re experiencing less-than-optimal site performance, or even worse, website downtime, remember: Don’t panic. Follow the steps outlined above to track down the issue and get your site back up and running in no time.


Let us know if you found this article helpful! Which actions do you take to make sure your site is performing optimally?


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