Recovering from website disasters - Part 1
This article, originally published in 2004, offers tips on solving problems with your website
My site has been dropped by search engines
Your traffic plummets, orders dry up and ad revenue withers. Perhaps your site has been dropped by a major search engine. Danny Sullivan, editor of Searchenginewatch.com, warns that search engines might lose your listing sometimes. "Maybe there was a server error when they visited," he says, "or maybe you've moved a page so they can't find it or maybe the search engine glitches which happens from time to time."
He advises you to first check whether your site is in the search engine's index or not by searching for its URL. At Google you can search for 'allinurl:www.sean.co.uk -xyz' to see all the pages in the index for a particular domain (our own site in this example). When you search at alltheweb.com, it'll ask if you want to see all the pages it knows about from the domain.
"It's important to do this," says Sullivan. "It may turn out that you think you've been dropped but you're still there, in which case the issue is that you're not ranking well. People freak out about that. People get used to being in the top ten for certain keywords and if you drop out, you're largely invisible."
If you're not listed, use the add URL form or contact details on the site to request that your site is added to the spider's in-tray. It can take a month to get listed again.
"If the site isn't ranking, first determine if you've done anything significantly different in the last few weeks," says Sullivan. "You might have moved to a dynamic delivery system and not put page redirects in place so search engines can't find pages or URLs with link credit are not given that credit. It might be a new design: search engines tend to favour simple pages. You might have shortened your copy or rewritten your copy so it's not as relevant as it's been in the past." If your design is at fault, try returning to your old design for a quick fix.
Tricks to boost your search engine ranking can backfire. "You might have been told to include links to other pages - nothing wrong with that. But you might have then been told to hide them," says Sullivan. "That can be a no-no because search engines think you're trying to mislead them."
Similarly, link exchanges with unrelated websites purely to boost your search engine rankings can cause Google to award less credit to your incoming links than it might otherwise.
When disaster strikes, Sullivan suggests it's a good time to think about advertising. "If your business model has been to sit back and hope that Google sends you 75% of your traffic, that's foolish," he says. "Google is not guaranteed to be the most popular search engine in future and search engines are always changing their algorithms to avert spam and improve their results for users. You need to have a budget so that if you have a disaster situation, you can use adverts to carry you."
To prevent getting dropped by search engines, ensure your server is robust so the crawler can visit without interruption and continue developing good quality link exchanges.
"Make sure you're still providing the best content you can," adds Sullivan. "That means content that's not just trying to sell. That correlates with sites that tend to ride out the problems."
My host has gone bust
Gone are the days when a host would wield terrifying power over a lowly webmaster. If your host goes under, you can rescue your domain and get it up and running again without the host's cooperation.
"The first thing is that you must do something," urges Nominet MD Lesley Cowley. "If you do nothing, you'll possibly lose your domain name and the whole website. Find out what's happening, whether it's a technical problem or your ISP has gone into liquidation. If it's gone into liquidation, find a new ISP and move your business there."
If you have a .co.uk domain and it's registered in your name, Nominet can transfer it if the old host refuses or is unavailable. Expect to pay £15+VAT for this service.
Someone's snapped up my domain name
The onus is on you to renew your domains to avoid losing them. In November last year, Microsoft allowed the registration for hotmail.co.uk to lapse and it was snapped up by someone else. "Microsoft ignored the postal reminders and we followed our procedures and cancelled the registration," says Cowley. The new owner was kind enough to return the domain to Microsoft.
If you're forgetful, you can dodge a similar disaster by renewing your domain name up to six months before it expires, which is known as a 'positive registration'.
Cowley says that most disputes about domain name ownership arise when partnerships or even marriages collapse. To lodge a complaint, use Nominet's disputes resolutions process. "The first stage is free," says Cowley. "We have a team of very able moderators who will use phone and email to try to sort it out."
If that doesn't work, Nominet has an independent expert panel which costs £750+VAT to consult. "It's not cheap but it all goes to the expert panel and not us," says Cowley.
In the US, disputes involving .com domains are subject to the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (or UDRP). "The major difference is that there's no mediation there," says Cowley. "The rights you have to prove are slightly different. We say that rights are more than just trademarks, for example if you have a name you've used for some time in the UK. The .com UDRP has a tighter definition of rights."