One of the most frustrating events about running a blog, or any website, is when the site is not operating at 100%. Kevin just posted a blog on Has BloggingTips been down for you in response to some to some feedback from some visitors who “commented that the site has been down for them at one point or another.”
It’s somewhat counter-intuitive, but it’s actually easier to solve a complete site outage than an intermittent outage. If the server crashes or the telecommunications lines to your servers go down the result is that life sucks – but the resolution is pretty clear. It’s clear and obvious how to resolve these disasters.
With intermittent outages you almost always have to prove the issue to your web hosting company. Indeed, they will most likely refer to them as “alleged outages,” until you can prove that there really is an issue. However, there are several ways to gather data on outages.
1 – Use your user community
Use Kevin’s posting as an example and solicit input from your community – and the more details they can give the better.
- When did the event occur (and remember the time zones, 4pm for a specific user might b3 9pm for your server)
- What did they see – did they get no page, a partial page, an error message
- Did they retry/confirm the issue – you are trying to determine how long the outage lasted
- How did they know it was your site – The message “Your site was down – I tried 5 times and in between each attempt I visited another website” tells you that the user had a live Internet connection.
If you are more involved in an ecommerce website it is harder to ask your users – but you might have the option to listen to your users in emails/feedback to your customer service center. Unfortunately customers tend to be less willing to provide details than “community members” but offering a coupon or a discount can oftern go a long way to getting more reliable data.
2 – Use your Web Analytics
However, what you are looking for is changes in your traffic patterns. If you are seeing no changes in your web traffic than you have to wonder how widespread the issue is. If there are big changes than those analytics reports can be used to help show your web hosting company that something is up.
3 – Use website monitoring services
There are oodles of services that will monitor your web site and report basic diagnostics. BloggingTips wrote about one of these a few months ago in Monitor your blogs uptime with Pingdom. Many of these services, like Pingdom, offer a free trial and many others offer a free basic or “limited” service (One of the free services is SiteUptime). Essentially these services visit your web site on a scheduled basis and if they detect an error – they can send an alert – be it via email, SMS or possibly even Twitter.
In selecting a service consider several aspects of the service:
- Number of Monitors – You can monitor Web Server Monitoring (HTTP), Email Server Monitoring (POP3), Email Server Monitoring (SMTP) or FTP Server Monitoring (FTP) – frequently the free or limited services only monitor some of the services you are probably using.
- How often is the interval – In the free cases, monitoring usually occurs only 1 or 2 times an hour. Pretty obvious that the higher the frequency the higher the likelihood of spotting the trouble.
- Number of Monitoring Locations – The monitoring is run from 4 locations around the globe. The more locations you have the more likely you are to identify when it is traffic or routing issues that are behind your trouble.
It’s important to realize that these services are only monitoring services. All they will do is report an issue – these free services don’t include diagnostics and on their own they won’t lead to resolution. However, typically what you are looking for is proof to provide to your web hosting company to get them to research the issue.
You can’t ignore potential issues that are impacting your web site – and thus your community and maybe even your revenue. If you have a steady income from your site than you should consider an investment in one of the website monitoring systems to be your early warning system. Consider the regular monitoring as a form of health insurance for your website.