Argos launched their new-look, revamped website this week, but I bet they wish they’d waited a while, as after only a few hours of going live, users started seeing problems and weren’t able to access the website, instead seeing error messages stating the website was either overloaded with users (even at 2am!) or just “unavailable”.
Argos have since put their website back online (with the new design) and have said they were “only” down for half a day – but there’s no “only” in business (especially so close to Christmas for a retail company) and this experience may very well have left their tail feathers singed and lessons learnt for the future when launching a new website! Saying that, they have had these problems before, in 1999 when they accidentally offered TVs for £2.99 (instead of £300) and in 2005 when a £349.99 Bush digital TV appeared on the website for £0.49 – a bargain and no mistake!
Server problems, which may have been a factor in Argos’ most recent outage problems, are easily avoided if you’re tech savvy, or work with a company who are. For a website that sees as much traffic as Argos does on any given day, it’s imperative that the server can cope with traffic levels no matter what time of day it is, and even for smaller businesses this is equally as important – nobody wants to lose customers because their website can’t cope!
• A server hosts your website and keeps it running via HTTP
• Browsers, such as Firefox or IE, make requests to the server using HTTP to load a page every time you click on a link
• They are also used for user interaction elements such as submitting a web form, uploading files and downloading documents from the web
• If your server can’t cope with the traffic load on your website at any one time, it will crash and take the website offline until the problem is fixed. This problem is often compounded when multiple websites share a server, making it cope with traffic on numerous sites all at once.
There are many companies out there that offer server services, including Rackspace, Fasthosts and of course, Microsoft. Many companies offer (for an increased cost) a Dedicated Server service, which means your website will be hosted on its own server with no other websites, thus increasing both the security of the website and also decreasing the likihood of having downtime due to server failure.
We recommend using a dedicated server to our clients, especially those with large and busy ecommerce websites, for the reasons as above. Christmas is coming soon and nobody, not even Argos, can afford downtime during peak shopping times, especially when it could so easily be avoided!
If you want to check your server performance, there are several tools online that can help:
• Is It Down Right Now – this will allow you to check your own website as well as others, and also shows popular websites as to whether they are online or not at any given time
• Pingdom DNS Check – this will allow you to check your DNS settings and check everything is configured properly. It’s quite a thorough tool so can take up to 15 mins, maybe longer for large websites.
• Down for Everyone or Just Me – This will give you a no frills overview as to whether the website you want to check is up or down.
• Server Header Checker – A little unrelated to performance, but this tool allows you to check on a per page basis the headers used on your website, including 404, 301, 302 and 200 OK
• Check Broadband Speed – if you are struggling to load websites and not sure whether it’s them or you, check your broadband speed to make sure you’re not having connectivity problems (this tool is only for the UK)
There are many more tools out there that allow you to check server status and performance; if you’re a bit confused or want to know more, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try to help!
Please note we are not affiliated with any of the websites featured above, they’re genuinely good resources that we use regularly here and we like to be Seriously Helpful and share our finds when we can :)!
Having started out in this industry with about as much marketing knowledge as a gnat, I have worked my way up from tea-making trainee to Head of Search thanks largely to the staunch support of our director, Stuart, and a lot of late nights, strategy sessions and training. At work I am extroverted, creative and always on the Internet, but behind closed doors I’m happiest with my family, my dogs and a good book (usually accompanied with a good cup of tea!).