No entry. Downtime is one of those things that we all fear. Some of us have more reason to fear it than others though. A shabby downtime page can lose you valuable traffic.

A few hours ago I decided to check in on a promising new blog I discovered recently. I wanted to see how it was doing and the new content.

That is, until I read the homepage:

"We’ll be back very soon. Please hang in there."

That was the entire contents of the page.

Be More Helpful

If your site is down, it’s natural to put all of your effort into getting it back up. In the rush to do so, it’s too tempting to just throw together a quick "Sorry" HTML page and upload that.

People are going to visit your site while its down, and adding a little substance to your error page will substantially lessen the number of visitors you lose. The extra few minutes it might take are worthwhile.

So what could you include?

  • Why is the site down? Is it upgrades? Unplanned server outages? Redesigning? Giving a justification is crucial, especially if you hope to gain any sympathy. Otherwise, your readers will be left to guess in the dark.
  • When do you expect it to come back up? The web has been plagued with "Under Construction" and "Back soon" pages for years. We don’t trust them anymore as it’s not uncommon to find a "Back soon" message that has been up for months. Give a concrete timeframe (Even if it’s the next day), so that users know your site really will come back up.
  • Is the whole site down? If your blog is just a blog, then this may not apply. But what if you have a forum as well? Or a job board or a mailing list? If these aren’t down, make sure your readers know (And the homepage promotion won’t hurt them at all!)
  • How can I get in touch? Put an email address on the page. Don’t leave readers feeling stranded. If they want to check how you’re doing (or offer some help!), make sure they can.
  • Publish the 3 latest posts. Not everyone uses your RSS feed. What about the loyal readers who just check in weekly? Or even the first-timers who want to see some content? Don’t leave them starved for content. It’s easy to copy and paste a few posts from a cached page, your database, or even a splog!
  • Give readers something to do. One of the best tricks that I will always remember seeing was on DeviantArt. When their site was down for maintenance, they put up a Flash game on the page! How could you be angry at them then?

There’s 6 ideas, and none of them would take more than a few minutes to implement. Most of us put a bit of thought into our 404 pages, but a downtime message is even more important. When your whole site is down, it’s all you have to sell yourself on.

PS – Incase you’re interested, the site was Freelancing Money. And I still want to see how it’s doing!

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