Previously we’ve discussed why uptime is important for your business in terms of revenue, time, and brand image. But in order to know what’s going on, you need to be able to track your website’s uptime. There are many online tools and services, both free and paid, that allow you to do that, and more. But aside from that, you need to be aware that Google also plays a significant role in all of this.
How Google tracks your website’s downtime
Google will periodically crawl your website (that is, visit every page on it) in order to add it to its index, so it can be ranked and served in the search results.
The thing is that if your website is down when this happens, Google’s crawl bots don’t know whether you are performing some sort of migration or maintenance, or that your website is just experiencing a bad day. In general, Google crawls important sites (those with lots of traffic and inbound links) much more frequently than less important ones. If Google visits your website again and finds it unavailable, then your ranking is probably going to start suffering. Your website will be penalised even if it is up but has slow response times for an extended period of time. So, unfortunately, it’s not only a matter of keeping your website “up”.
There is, however, something you can do to notify Google’s bots in case you are planning downtime. Instead of just bringing down your website, or have it serve a dreadful 404 Not Found page, serve a 503 Error Code instead:
“10.5.4 503 Service Unavailable. The server is currently unable to handle the request due to a temporary overloading or maintenance of the server. The implication is that this is a temporary condition which will be alleviated after some delay.”
— HTTP/1.1 Status Code definitions
This effectively signals to Google bots that the downtime is temporary and that they should check again. In addition to that, you can also insert a Retry-After response header (with a value in seconds, or a specific date) to specifically instruct then when to do so. You can do both either by temporarily configuring your web server or by using the header command in PHP:
header('HTTP/1.1 503 Service Temporarily Unavailable');
or by using a date:
header(‘Retry-After: Wed, 31 May 2017 00:00:00 GMT’);
Hopefully, Google does not leave you in the dark regarding your website’s uptime. By adding your website as a property in Webmaster Tools you can check whether Google has found any errors regarding your website’s URLs, DNS and server connectivity. Just log in and go to Dashboard > Crawl > Crawl Errors to see the relevant information. You can also visit Crawl stats to get a picture of how often Google crawls your site, and how much of it.
However Google’s crawlies won’t help you monitor your website’s health, you will need to use an online monitoring service for that. Luckily, there are plenty around.
Services that track your website’s uptime
Below is a small sample of the most popular and trustworthy monitoring services that exist right now. There is something for every need and budget!
This is one of the most popular web monitoring services out there, offering much more than simple uptime monitoring, such as full stack, mobile, and synthetic monitoring, scalable infrastructure, and real-time analytics.
A simple, inexpensive and elegant monitoring service. They have 8 monitoring locations, offer Slack integration, SSL checking, and even accept payments in Bitcoin! You can see their public status page for Twitter here.
They have over 100 monitoring servers spread out in 40 different countries and alerting via pretty much everything (including Android and Slack). They also have a free community plan.
Alternatively, if you’re on a budget, you can’t go wrong with UptimeRobot. For a completely free service, it is quite impressive, featuring multiple check types and alerts, and even a REST API! You can check their public status page here.