Article by Jerry Low
Geek dad, SEO data junkie, investor, and founder of Web Hosting Secret Revealed. Jerry has been building Internet assets and making money online since 2004. He loves mindless doodling and trying new food.
As you search for a web host, you’ll undoubtedly come across the term “uptime” and all sorts of guarantees surrounding it. But what does it actually mean – and why does it matter?
Uptime refers to the amount of time that your website is up and running, available to visitors and potential clients; anything that isn’t uptime is downtime – and to oversimplify it, downtime is bad.
Downtime means that people can’t reach your site which can be frustrating to potential visitors while also costing you traffic and revenue. Additionally, if people aren’t able to reach your site the first time, they may not try again. That said, hosting providers provide minimum uptime guarantees which is a guarantee that they’ll have your site up and running that percent of the total hours in a day. As a general rule, don’t work with providers who give anything less than a 99.9% uptime guarantee.
On your end, you’re responsible for monitoring your service and site uptime to ensure you have a clear view of your provider’s performance, but more importantly, so that you’re the first to know when your site goes down; this fast response time is critical. And, yes, your web host of course monitors uptime – but no matter how much you trust your host, you need to monitor your uptime proactively. This helps you to confirm that your web host is making good on their promises and also gives you some level of control over your own site’s performance; think of it as “the more eyes and ears you have, the better.”
So what are the practical methods to track your website uptime? No – you don’t have to check your website every 5 minutes or so in your browser. The quick answer is using web tools to auto-check your site uptime and listed below are some of my favorite tools.
But before we dig into the tools, let’s take a closer look on types of tools available in the market.
There are literally dozens, if not more, of server monitoring tools available online – some are free and some costs upwards of thousands of dollars annually. Some run simple HTTP checks to confirm whether your site is running, while others perform very complex back-end jobs to monitor more than 50 checkpoints simultaneously.
The various tools run every end of the spectrum, which can be a bit overwhelming to shoppers, but also ensures that there is a tool out there to fit your needs and budget. For example, free and easy tools include Uptime Robot, Monitor Us, Pingdom, and WHSR’s Uptime monitor, among others. More powerful (and costly) tools include Naios, Cacti, and others.
Regardless of which uptime monitoring tool you go with, it will fit into one of the four types of monitoring: Ping monitor, HTTP monitor, DNS Server Monitor, and TCP port monitor.
A Ping monitor basically pings your website to confirm that it’s there and up and running.
Think of it like a virtual ping pong ball; if you serve the ball to a wall, it should hit that wall and come back to you – if the wall is down, the ball isn’t able to connect. Same with a ping monitor – if your site is down, it senses the missing connection and notifies you.
This type of monitoring typically goes a bit above simply letting you know if your site is up, however – it does also provide insight into internet connection speeds and downtime statistics. The connection speed is an important factor, because slow websites are not much better than down sites for visitors, not to mention that slow speeds hurt your Google search rankings.
We use HTTP to transfer data online, using set rules that tell the servers and web browsers which information to exchange. Because it is involved in the constant information exchange that occurs, HTTP monitors provide information about the HTTP traffic between the internet and computer. Advanced settings allow users to glean additional insights, such as whether an SSL certificate is in place.
DNS Server Monitor
Every computer corresponds with a numerical address; the DNS protocol translates the online address to the numerical address. By matching the information and running behind the scenes monitoring of the addresses, the DNS server monitor is able to provide in-depth information about uptime, protocol failures, network outages, and more. Particularly important, should a numerical address mismatch with the online address, the DNS is able to sense it and report the error which may be a result of hijacking.
TCP Port Monitor
The Transmission Control Protocol – or TCP, for short, transfers data from one network device to another network device, using a retransmission strategy to ensure that there isn’t any data loss that occurs during each transmission. Since it is part of quality monitoring and has a hand in establishing host-to-host communications, it becomes apparent quite quickly if there is a connection problem. Should a TCP port fail to respond or receive transmitted information, the monitor will alert the user of the failed or faulty transmission.
It is incredibly important to monitor your site’s uptime to make it successful. There are constant threats in the cyber world and working with a great host who carefully monitors uptime and employs great defenses proactively is the first step; taking secondary measures to monitor yourself is the second and both are equally important.
Monitor Scout helps monitor websites availability from 15 different locations and runs checks on HTTP, HTTPS, PING, mySQL, MS SQL, IMAP, POP3, DNS, etc upt to every one minute interval. Users get email and SMS alerts in case of server outage; detailed reports including uptime, latency, and in-depth analysis are provided. I had a Q&A session with Monitor Scout CEO in 2012 and here is the interview.
I have never used Got Site Monitor before but a few of my readers at WHSR strongly recommend the tool. From outside, we can see that the Free plan covers up to 5 URLs, 20 SMS alerts on signup, and unlimited email alerts. Website check (monitoring interval) is done every 5 minutes for Free Plan, every 1 minute for Paid Plans. The users get to track websites uptime from different locations; and the tool also check webpage content, SSL secure certificate, and website performance besides site uptime..
Service Uptime provides 5 different service plans: Free, Standard ($4.95/mo), Advanced ($9.95/mo), Professional ($52.50/mo), and Custom. For Free Plan, you’ll get one free monitor checked every 30 minutes via HTTP, SMTP, FTP, and PING. The company covers up to 10/20/110 website uptime checks from 10 different locations with up to 1-minute monitoring intervals for Standard/Advanced/Professional plans.
Not to be confused with Microsoft’s prototype software HostTracker, Host-Tracker is another site monitoring service. The service has 62 nodes and multiple monitor points from all over the world. Host-Tracker comes in several different language package – French, English, Spanish, and Greek. The Free plan covers up to 2 website monitors (checks at 30 minutes interval); for paid plans, it covers up to 200 website monitors and three different checking methods (Head, Get, Post).
Basic State is a free service that helps track unlimited number of websites on 15 minutes check frequency. Downtime alerts are sent out from BasicState via email or text message; daily reports are available for 14 days history.
Status Cake supports both free and paid accounts. For Free Plan, users get a 5 minute interval check on unlimited websites plus detailed monthly reports at the end of each month. However, no alert will be sent out during outages. On the other hand, Paid Plans – Basic, Superior, Business (priced at £5.99/14.99/49.99 monthly) – support SMS alerts, up to 30-seconds monitoring interval, real browser testing, content matching checks, custom status code, SSL monitoring, malware check, and many other valuable add on features.
Pingdom comes in 5 different service plans, namely Free ($0), Starter ($9.95/mo), Standard ($21.06/mo), Professional ($91.20/mo), and Enterprise ($453.75/mo). The Free Plan covers one website, monthly email reports, and 20 SMS failure alerts; Starter Plan monitors 10 Checks, 1 Real User Monitoring Site, and 20 SMS failure alerts. Standard, Professional, and Enterprise covers 50/250/500 checks with 5/20/200 Real User Monitoring Sites plus 200/500/1,000 SMS alerts. Pingdom also comes free in mobile apps hence you’ll get push alert on your iPhone or Android phones. Website check (monitoring interval) is done every 1 minute for both Free and Paid Plans.
Sponsored by Monitis, Monitor Us website monitoring service is 100% free. With this tool, users get to track website availability from different locations and check website uptime using HTTP, HTTPS, PING, and DNS. The tool also covers public IP checks using TCP, UDP, SSH, and IMCP protocols. Failure alerts will be sent instantly via email, instant messaging, SMS, and live voice; detailed reporting with service level metrics per interval.
Update – Monitor.us is migrating to Monitis. The basic monitoring service remains free of charge as per the press release.
Uptime Robot checks your sites every five minutes or so and if the site does not ping back, the program will e-mail you a message that your sites are down. The best thing about Uptime Robot is that it’s completely free and it allows up to 50 monitors per account. I use Uptime Robot to track most of my test sites and post uptime scores here on monthly basis (examples – here, here and here).
Last but not least – there’s our home-made uptime monitoring system that does HTTP checks every 5 minutes and sends out unlimited alert emails when your site is down. The system is kind of relatively simple but it’s 100% free and allows up to 10 website checks per account. Also, what makes us different is that we will store your sites uptime records for up to 1 year.
A few key factors to look into when you are choosing an uptime monitor service are:
If you look into Johan’s (Monitor Scout CEO) answer to the question in our interview, there’s no one-fit-for-all answer to this problem. Which monitoring tool to choose depends largely on your personal requirements. You should take time to make a comparative study on the offerings of different monitoring service providers listed above.
Johan, there are a handful of website monitoring services around the Internet – Pingdom, Wormly, UptimeRobot, etc etc. How do we choose the right monitoring tool?
As per my experience in the industry, monitoring a server or a webpage is not enough to ensure a bullet-proof situation for your business. Several other aspects need to be monitored. To say for example, your e-commerce store is being affected due to downtime or some other issue; you are losing customers and making a loss. The most feasible solution is monitoring the web pages, the login page, database, hosting server, hardware components, and the vital applications. Choose the monitoring tool that packs in all these opportunities.
When the user finds it difficult to choose between 2 or 3 monitoring companies, the user should contact the customer support of those companies to check if free trial version of their services is available. . All major monitoring companies should be able to offer this to customers that are in the evaluation process.
Your site is down, now what?
There are a number of reasons that could cause a website to go down. Here are a few immediate things you can do when your site is down: