Help! My site is down!

Has this website downtime scenario happened to you?

You swing by your own website, and your browser seems to be taking forever to connect. With a growing sense of horror, you begin to contemplate the possibility that something is wrong. Moments later, you get a timeout error message saying that the site “timed out” or “took too long to respond.”

Timeout error? Let’s not panic…yet

There are several causes for a timeout error, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been hit by website downtime. Plus, many of them are easily fixable. Try these basic tips before calling your web host in a panic:

  1. Try another site. Can you type in or or any other site? If you can’t access any sites, the problem is likely your own internet connection, and not something specific to your site. If other sites work and yours doesn’t, keep reading.
  2. See if it really is just you. lets you type in any URL and see if it’s “just you” or if the site is “really down.” This has saved me from several panic attacks, because if it’s just me, I know that others can still see my site. If it’s really down, it’s time to check with your web host. If not, try a few more tricks:
  3. Toss your cookies. I’m not speaking metaphorically of panic-induced fit of vomiting, but rather of removing the little bits of code that various sites leave in your browser. They are often helpful, but sometimes pesky. Here’s a complete list of how to clear cookies in any browser.
  4. Clear your cache. Your browser stores copies of recently accessed pages so they will load quicker. Again, usually a helpful thing, but occasionally causes problems. Here’s how to clear your cache in any browser.
  5. Restart your browser. Sometimes (depending on your settings) this will auto-clear your cache, history, and cookies.
  6. Have a backup browser. It would sure be nice if all browsers were equal…but they aren’t. Sometimes one displays things weirdly or gets buggy.
  7. Try a different device. If there’s another computer (or a smartphone or an iPad or whatever) handy, see if you can connect using it. You could call a friend and ask if they can connect, but that’s essentially just a one-data-point version of #2.
  8. Reboot and try again. Sometimes the simple things really do work. You might also restart your router (if you’re on a home network, say) and see if that has any effect.
  9. Check with your robot spy corps. Sign up with a free uptime-monitoring service like UptimeRobot, or, if you are already using the Jetpack plugin, activate its Downtime Monitoring module. You’ll automatically get an email or text message when your site is down longer than five minutes. These monitoring services don’t *fix* website downtime or timeout errors, but knowing what’s going on helps enormously (plus you can accurately report exact timestamps to your web host if you need to).

Also, note that if your site is showing something different from a timeout error, like “500 Internal Server Error,” that’s an indication that the problem isn’t on your end (your browser, your computer, or your internet connection). That’s a signal to check with your hosting company.

Here’s hoping that your website downtime is both rare and short!


  1. A service I have been using to monitor my sites is called

    It is a free service that will email, text or tweet you when your site is down. I think it checks every couple of minutes. Doesn’t tell you what is wrong, only that your site is down.

    I like it because I don’t manually check my sites everyday.

    • Thanks for the tip, Bradley — looks interesting, and I’ll have fun comparing it to It’s great that there are so many good free tools out there.

  2. I do pretty well troubleshooting websites, but we all have a mental hiccup once in a while. Your checklist is a great resource.

    Clients pointed out twice in the last month that my website was down, and I had been looking for a cost-effective service like Pingdom. I didn’t know about the free version. Thanks for the tip!

    • Thanks, Todd! This post was inspired by a friend who emailed in a panic saying her site was down. A quick check of told me it was up, which confused her and sent me to checklist-creation-land. The happy ending is that it turned out to be her router (which she diagnosed by whipping out her iPhone to check her site!).

      Checklists can be so reassuring, methinks — just having simple steps to take reduces overwhelm. Glad you found this list useful!

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