This year has shown how critical websites are to businesses of all sizes. With high streets shut and millions of people staying at home, there has been a scramble for every business to boost their web presence, but with websites required to be available 24/7 – how can you make sure your website is running smoothly and ready to accept orders even when you’re asleep?
As we found out this week with the Google Cloud outage, even the biggest companies cannot deliver 100% uptime. Whilst most hosts will guarantee 99.9% uptime, that is still over six hours where your site could be completely unavailable over the year – possibly in one go! This 99.9% guarantee generally only covers hardware issues as well, so if another site on your budget shared server uses up all the system resources and brings the server down, or a software conflict stops your website running then this could well not be covered.
Beyond your host having issues, there is also the very real possibility that the software that powers your site may run into issues and bring your site down. Maybe you’re running an older version of WordPress that is not compatible with your PHP/MYSQL stack, or maybe a plugin you are using has auto-updated and conflicts with another you are using. There is numerous things that can happen that could cause your site to be unavailable to visitors, and that is not even going into nefarious actors who may be working to target your site.
If you know when your site is facing issues, then it is possible to take action and get the site fixed, whether than means contacting your host to look into server issues, contacting your web developer to fix up any plugin conflicts, or just investigating the issue yourself. If you are looking for a way to keep an eye on your site without hitting refresh every 30 seconds yourself, then there are a wealth of website monitoring tools available to help.
What type of website monitoring is available?
Basic ping checking
Basic monitoring generally just involves pinging your website every few minutes to make sure a response is returned, which is checking to make sure the server itself is still up. However, if your server is up, your website could still be down for a vast array of reasons and these basic tools will not be able to tell you – if your server responds to a ping then they think everything is working normally.
HTTP response code monitoring
Slightly more advanced monitoring tools go a bit further and will try and load a webpage, which will highlight a much wider number of errors. A normally working website should deliver the webpage with a 200 status code, which signifies the page was sent successfully. If your site instead responds with a 500 error or any number of other issues from 404 (page not found) to 403 (forbidden).
Whilst your website may be “working” in the general sense, it is useful to know if the server has slowed to a crawl and pages are taking a long time to load. Potential customers will leave your site if it takes too long to load, so knowing when something is slowing your site and your site is taking over 3 seconds to load it is critical to find out as soon as possible. Performance monitoring generally includes features like waterfall reports to help you identify which page elements are slowing down load times and you can then solve the bottleneck accordingly.
Global availability monitoring
On the whole, websites are available to users all around the world. However, sometimes global internet infrastructure is damaged or facing issues and you find that your site is suddenly unavailable to the who west coast of the USA or all users in the UK. Global availability monitoring will check your website’s availability from locations around the globe so you will know the instant your site becomes unavailable to any geographic location. If you want to see whether your site is being served properly around the world immediately, then you can also check the availability of your website for free.
Website defacement monitoring
Most website issues are hardware or software related, but there are also plenty of bored teenagers and other bad actors that love to find weak spots in websites and deface them to either show that they can (teenagers) or to try and blackmail you for control (hackers). Defacement monitoring services will take a snapshot of a page, such as your site’s homepage, and monitor it for any changes – alerting you as soon as it does. Obviously such tools are less useful for regularly updated properties like news sites, but for general “leaflet” sites it is very useful to know if something has been changed without your knowledge.
Photograph by Geralt