Eyes on the Site: Strategies for 24/7 Website Monitoring

Eyes on the Site: Strategies for 24/7 Website Monitoring

Back in the 1990s, there were all sorts of companies that would scan your website and let you know if and when it ever went down. Ah, the memories. Site monitoring has since advanced far beyond those humble beginnings. Today, most websites are more complex, and checking whether one is online or not is not as simple as it used to be. However, it’s still a necessary service.

Stepping into the time machine once more reveals that site monitoring was originally exactly that: it checked whether a website was responding correctly or not. If the domain was offline, the server broke down or there was some sort of routing or connection issue, you’d get an alert.

It is good to know about things before your customers complain about them — or worse, just leave without saying anything and never come back.

At a higher level, your hosting company also monitors for network outages, power outages or other issues in their data centers. There are a lot of different things that can go wrong, so just having an alert of “online” or “offline” doesn’t really work. The same is true of your website.

It is good to know about things before your customers complain about them — or worse, just leave without saying anything and never come back. Your website or platform should be monitored so that you know not just when it's offline, but when individual systems break or go offline. It sounds complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple.

Web Host Architecture Monitoring

If you are with a premium or managed hosting company, they will likely already have robust monitoring in place. However, the primary purpose of monitoring by your web host is to keep your servers operational, so it is usually limited to hardware and network issues related directly to your server. While some hosts offer custom content monitoring to clients upon request, most do not. Therefore, here are the steps to build your own:

Simple Content Monitoring

Nobody knows your code, software and how they’re supposed to operate better than you. Setting up content monitoring on your website starts with selecting or placing specific text, which never changes, on the pages you want to monitor.

Alerts Sent Directly to You

Something as simple as a scheduled crontab running every few minutes will check whether that text snippet appears on your page. If for any reason your script cannot confirm that text is present, it can then notify you immediately via your email, SMS or some other method.

Systems Monitoring Page

If you have large or complex architecture, or want more granular checks and reporting, a custom-built systems monitoring page that watches the integrated parts of your website will keep you more informed. Instead of just checking for a text snippet on your main webpage, you can add a MySQL query to check the contents of your database. That simple check will confirm whether your database is responding, but more importantly, whether your data is still there. It is possible to add checks for remaining hard drive space, so you know when you need to add drives or switch to cloud object storage. You can do the same for other critical systems.

Instead of each check sending an individual alert, you can build one script that reviews the status result for each check, then alerts you if any of them reports a problem. Remember to avoid false positives as much as possible, to avoid scrambling to fix problems that don’t exist. Too many “boy who cried wolf” alerts will train your people to stop responding at all.

Transparency Has Value

Some companies even make their monitoring pages publicly accessible, or at least an output of their scan results. This provides both transparency and accountability, as the public will know when something happens. This has the added benefit of building trust and credibility with your customers. Your reputation will thank you.

If you have a team, consider programming alerts that will notify specific team members about specific problems within their competency. Redundancy is also important, so having a fallback secondary person also receiving alerts can be a good idea.

Once you’ve built your own monitoring, if you are with a managed hosting company, have them also monitor what you’ve built, to have more eyes watching for potential problems.

Go Beyond Just Monitoring

But wait, there’s more! Website monitoring isn’t just for reporting system outages and problems. Use monitoring for proactive improvement of your website. Instead of just checking specific pages, add a time check to track how long it takes a page to complete loading, then improve your code to make it run faster. You can even scan for broken links on pages, to help you fix errors and keep content or affiliate codes up to date. Once you start adding reports or monitoring to your websites, you’ll probably discover a desire to add more. Your website and your business will thank you.

Brad Mitchell is the founder of MojoHost, which has served the industry for nearly two decades and has been named XBIZ Web Host of the Year several times. He regularly shares insights as a panelist at trade shows. Contact brad@mojohost.com to learn more about the suite of services his company offers.


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