The other evening Camillo Di Tullio, a.k.a. Dr Who, asked me via IM if I was having problems accessing highly trafficked social media websites like Facebook or LinkedIn. In that particular moment, I wasn’t, but his question stuck a particular cord. We’ve seen many downtime issues with major Internet sites lately.
Website downtime, planned and unplanned, presents a company with a reluctant marketing opportunity. After all, investments in search engine visibility and other website traffic drivers are all for naught when a site is no longer reachable. The best a company can do is acknowledge the issue and, where appropriate, attempt a dose of humor while working frantically behind the scenes to insure the problem doesn’t occur again.
What follows is an informal survey of mostly recent “site is unavailable” downtime messages. I conclude with information on keeping website service pages out of search engine results.
Google is unavailable. Seem far fetched?
For most European Internet users, it would be difficult to image a day navigating the web without the Google search engine. Searching to find a site. Searching to find out more information about a product or service. Searching to accomplish a task such as making a purchase. All things we take for granted. But should we? Could the Internet look like this one day:?
Probably not. This particular error was with Gmail, more than a year ago. But just for fun, try using Yahoo! search for a day!
Shopping at Staples.com
Staples is an large office supply chain with a presence in the US, Canada, the UK, Germany and Portugal. This is their website:
Can you guess what today’s offer is?
Insurance, or doubts at Genialloyd?
Staples isn’t the only business site to bend under pressure lately. Genialloyd is an insurance website, part of the Allianz Group.
At least one can say is that this error page is a bit more informative than that of Staples. As a side note, I’ve actually found the overall service offered by Genialloyd to be very good.
Twitter, on its last tweet?
Essentially a multichannel Instant SMS broadcast service, Twitter has been embraced by many early adopter types as an efficient communication tool, using Twitter for fun and business. Yet Twitter has struggled to keep up with the explosive grown it has sustained. Images like this are all too familiar:
Actually, the issue becomes clearer…
The whale or the alien and the bomb: which do you prefer?
Not willing to wait for Twitter to get its act together, many have tried promising alternative services such as Plurk. While I’m not so certain Plurk’s user interface is an improvement over Twitter’s, Plurk currently has fewer users than Twitter, meaning that social media conversations are with a more limited audience. Plurk does seem to share at least one thing in common with Twitter – a creative “site is down” page:
It might not be fair to pick on the relatively young sites Twitter (October 2006) and Plurk (2008). Even the seasoned pros in the social media networking sector like LinkedIn are having problems scaling their sites too.
And indeed, they’re back now. Programmed maintenance includes a magician, although I’m not sure why:
How would you market a company’s downtime?
In some cases, downtime is necessary to roll out new functionality. User goodwill can be maintained by announcing scheduled maintenance in advance as Microsoft adCenter analytics has done in a blog post, in an e-mail, and with a site message:
Different companies, different images, different site down messages. The most important point is that companies think about how they will communicate service issues – planned maintenance and unscheduled downtime – on the web.
Keep your downtime service message page out of Google
As a search engine marketing professional, I strongly recommend that companies consider not only the message they want to convey, but that they insure this message doesn’t end up in search engines. There’s no need for people to encounter a disservice message after the event.
There are various ways to keep web content out of search engines. The best approach in this particular case is for the web server to issue a 5xx “server error” http status, such as 503 Service Unavailable. This is a strong signal to search engines: the content is an error page which would not be useful to users in web search results. It is also a safe assumption that the server error is temporary, unlike a “noindex” metatag or a robots exclusion directive, both of which may or may not be temporary.
How is your company managing its planned and unplanned downtime image?
- Now there are 6 ways to keep website content out of search engines
- The real news behind the Google and Bing Twitter deals
- How to painlessly import contacts in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social sites
- Twitter statistics slides presented by Biz Stone at Chirp developer’s conference