If you manage your own website, or if you host your customers websites, you should be monitoring uptime (i.e. the time that website is available to the rest of the world).
Every hosting company these days pretty much guarantees 99.9% uptime (and if they don’t, why are you using them?), but the reality of that is a little different.
Server outages happen all the time. Not only that, but 99.9% uptime isn’t the steadfastly reliable, always-on presence you might think it is (see my post here for more detail).
I used a hosting company for six years who had brilliant customer support. I thought they were the bees-knees! Sometimes my site did seem very slow to load, and sometimes the hosting panel took ages to update, but I glossed over it as their support was so fast and helpful (moral – great customer support will get you a long way). However, when I started freelancing and decided to add a monitor to notify me if my site was unavailable, I was shocked. My website was timing out or returning 503 errors multiple times a week. I contacted my host and they seemed to think I was hitting resource limits, but after investigation we could find no reason why it was happening. Eventually, with no resolution available and the site still going down repeatedly, I moved hosts and I have never looked back. I now host my website at Krystal (save £5 against any product using my discount code FIVEPIXELS) and I have been extremely happy with their speed and service so far.
What is a website monitoring service?
A monitoring service is simply a regular, automated request for your website (usually the home page, but you can use any URL), which is interpreted as either a success or failure and then recorded in a report for you.
Uptime Robot and StatusCake both have a free account option. Now – I don’t want to knock StatusCake, but I signed up to both of the free services and set up monitors for several sites. In the nine months since I did that, I’ve had various notifications of the odd minute or two downtime from UptimeRobot, but I have NEVER had a single notification from StatusCake. They both monitor at five minute intervals, so you can guess that I would recommend UptimeRobot.
How to set up your own monitor at Uptime Robot
- Sign up for your free account
- On the dashboard click the big green ‘Add New Monitor’ button
- Select the monitor type as http(s)
- Give it a friendly name (to identify it), and then enter the URL of the site you want to monitor
- Choose your interval frequency (I always use 5 minutes)
- Select notification options (see below)
You can receive notifications via text, email or both. On the free account you can purchase SMS credits for instant notification on your phone. HOWEVER – be aware that sites do go down all the time. A minute’s downtime here and there is actually a completely normal occurrence. You might not want to have your phone bing-bonging all over the place (the middle of the night seems to be a popular time for brief interruptions of service), unless it is imperative that you know the very instant a site stops working.
You will see over time that very often a site goes down and then pops back up again a few minutes later. Uptime Robot will send you an email to notify you that the site is down, and another to let you know when it is running again. It also records the downtime on a handy graph on your dashboard, so you can keep an eye on your site and how it’s doing.
Here you can see a segment of the response time for Five Pixels:
And here is a summary, which tells me the current status, the overall percentage of uptime and also the last downtime occasion which was for one minute on 1st March:
It’s such an easy check to put in place – you can set it and forget about it. However, it gives you a valuable insight into how your host is performing. Don’t accept shoddy service from hosts who cram too many websites onto each server. Your website is there for your customers – make sure that they can access it.