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Is Your Web Site Held Hostage By Service Providers?

Posted Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Do you use third-party services to track the links on your
Web site? What about for processing your online credit card
payments? If so, you are probably losing sales that you
don't even know about. Sorry, but it's a fact.

Third-Party Services Defined.

Let me explain what I mean by "third-party" services. These
are the "link tracking" type of services that one can
purchase from various online companies. People use the
special html link codes that these services provide to keep
track of how visitors move around their Web sites. In return
for a monthly fee, the user gets online access to a Web site
that stores their link tracking information on a database,
and gives them access to tracking statistics. This allows
users to quickly and easily find out such things as which
links visitors to their Web sites click on, and how often.

But, it's not just link tracking services I'm talking about
here. Payment processing gateways is another type of third-
party service that many of us are dependent upon.

These third-party services are great in theory, and when
they're working well they're also great in practice. BUT
there can be a definite downside to them. That downside is
this. If that service company's servers or and/or network
go down for any reason, you go down with them!

A Case In Point.

After a few bad experiences over the past year, I have made
it a habit to check all of my Web sites every morning. I
quickly open each of the home pages and click on a few key
links and make sure they are working as they're supposed to.
Of course, I don't have the time to check each and every
link, but I do test the key ones I know my visitors tend to
click on most often on their way to making a purchase. And,
I definitely check the main "order" links on each page.

If I find that these links are not working for some reason,
as I have on numerous occasions, it is about the worst
thing that could happen. In fact, it could ruin one's whole
day, because it means lost sales!

Last week while doing one of these routine checks I
discovered that a number of links were not working on one
of my sites. I did some further checking and realized that
these links had not been working for more than 12 hours!
What this meant was that visitors to my site had been/were
clicking on these links and getting a blank page full of
gibberish that indicated that my service provider's data
base was corrupted. In effect, this problem was crippling
my site.

You know what that meant to me of course - lost visitors
AND lost sales!

Long story, short. It took more than 24 hours from my
initial call until the problem was fully resolved. This
was during a prime sales period in the middle of the week.
Consequently, I estimate that during the 36-hour period
that my site was intermittently "out-of-action" due to
this problem, I lost somewhere between 6 and 8 sales.
Ouch! I can't afford that. Can you?

Here are a couple of other quick examples of similar
occurrences that some of you might be able to identify with.

Lost Weekend. Lost Sales.

One Friday night a few months ago I discovered that the
links on two of my sites were not functioning properly.
These links were being tracked by one of the "big name"
services that is widely marketed across the Net. Believe
it or not, I spent that whole weekend checking my links
regularly and then trying to get in touch with this
so-called "service" provider (I use the term "service"
advisedly here).

Well, my links didn't work for that entire weekend. At the
time, I did some research through my ISP that put me in
touch with the gateway site for my service provider. When
I contacted the gateway company by telephone, they advised
me that my service provider's servers were dropping all
connections and nobody there was responding!

It just so happens that that particular service provider
prominently advertises "24/7" support service in all of
their marketing copy! Well, I'm sad to report that not once
that weekend did anyone at that company ever respond to
one of my many e-mails or phone calls. It appears they all
took the weekend off and crossed their fingers that
problems wouldn't occur. Unfortunately for their customers,
problems did occur. So, effectively, my two sites were shut
down for an entire long weekend because of that problem.
There went another 5 to 10 sales!

To add insult to injury, these people never once contacted
me the following week to apologize for the inconvenience
and loss of business they might have caused me (as well as
to thousands of others, presumably).

Lost Weekdays. Lost Sales.

A couple of months ago, the links to my "big name" payment
processing company stopped working for an extended period
of time. I found out later that they had experienced a
major power outage that shut down their entire network.
They were out of commission for somewhere between 12 and
20 hours. Apparently, they did not (do not?) have a backup
power source in case of such an interruption! Duhhh, this
is the year 2002 isn't it?

This is a major online payment processor I'm talking about
here folks. Shouldn't such back-up be standard for a major
payment processor? The implications of this for the small
online business person were enormous of course: during that
period, literally tens of thousands of dollars in sales
were lost by thousands of that service provider's customers!

At least three more examples of such shoddy third party
service provider incidents that occurred over the past year
come to mind as a write this. But alas, I'm out of space.

Bottom Line. Don't Accept It.

If you use third party services for anything like link
tracking or payment processing, don't assume that things
are always running along smoothly on "automatic pilot" as
some of the Internet gurus would lead you to believe.

Be constantly vigilant, and when you discover a problem,
sound the alarm right away, and don't let your "service"
provider off the hook until the problem is fixed.

If you get any kind of "run-around" at all, head for the
major message boards and discussion forums. That should get
them to take you a bit more seriously in a hurry.

Finally, whatever you do, DO NOT accept the type of third
party service breakdowns that I describe above. They
wouldn't be acceptable in offline business, so why should
we accept them online?

About the Author
Shaun Fawcett is Webmaster of and
author of the eBooks "Instant Home Writing Kit" and "Instant
Recommendation Letter Kit". His popular FREE e-mail course
"Tips and Tricks For Writing Success" offers tips on all
types of home and business writing. Sign-up for FREE at:


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