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The best website monitoring tools: Keep your site running

No one wants a panicked call or text alerting them that their site is down. Or worse, their site has been hacked. The best way to keep your site up, running, and protected is to constantly monitor it. We present the best tools we've found to keep things on track.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
AlertSite | Internal and external browser-emulation testing
Internal and external browser-emulation testing
View now View at SmartBear
AppDynamics | App analysis with the help of real-time machine learning
App analysis with the help of real-time machine learning
View now View at AppDynamics
FreshPing | Monitor up to 50 items per minute for free
Monitor up to 50 items per minute for free
View now View at FreshWorks
Host-Tracker | Comprehensive website tracking with Google ad smarts
Comprehensive website tracking with Google ad smarts
View now View at Host-Tracker
Jetpack | All sorts of features plus monitoring for WordPress
All sorts of features plus monitoring for WordPress
View now View at Automattic
LogicMonitor | Cloud-based infrastructure monitoring as a service
Cloud-based infrastructure monitoring as a service
View now View at LogicMonitor
ManageWP | The essential monitoring and updating service for multiple WordPress site operators
The essential monitoring and updating service for multiple WordPress site operators
View now View at GoDaddy
Monastic | A free (sort-of) service that does some stuff
A free (sort-of) service that does some stuff
View now View at Metadot
TeamViewer Web Monitoring | The service formerly known as Monitor.us and then Monitis
TeamViewer Web Monitoring
The service formerly known as Monitor.us and then Monitis
View now View at TeamViewer
New Relic One | A customizable and programmable platform for infrastructure monitoring
New Relic One
A customizable and programmable platform for infrastructure monitoring
View now View at New Relic
Pingdom | Web page response performance analysis
Web page response performance analysis
View now View at SolarWinds
Site24x7 | An embedded JavaScript helps you see inside your apps
An embedded JavaScript helps you see inside your apps
View now View at Site24x7
Sucuri | Monitor your site for malware attacks
Monitor your site for malware attacks
View now View at Sucuri
Uptime Robot | Free monitoring plus a very capable and affordable paid plan
Uptime Robot
Free monitoring plus a very capable and affordable paid plan
View now View at Uptime Robot
Uptrends | Beyond synthetic monitoring, real browser performance data
Beyond synthetic monitoring, real browser performance data
View now View at Uptrends
Show more (10 items)

Recently, we did a survey of some great network monitoring tools. This time, we look at a very similar topic: Website monitoring tools and services. Network monitoring and website monitoring are similar (and some services offer both), but there are some key differences. Network monitoring usually focuses on the devices and the structure of the network. Website monitoring digs deeper into the operation or web applications, particularly whether pages are up and the performance of APIs and interfaces.

Also: Best web hosting services

In our survey of website monitoring tools, we're looking at 15 tools ranging in price from free to very much not free. Some can be set up in five minutes by a novice webmaster, and others require serious coding to integrate and analyze all aspects of a complex SaaS operation. All provide some level of alert management, so when things go bad, you can be woken up in the middle of the night, crawl out of a warm bed, feel your heart rate go up, remember back to your younger days when you wanted to be an artist but gave it all up for a steady income, and... well, you know. We've all been there. 

The bottom line is these tools and services can help you keep your site running and diagnose and fix things when they break, so things can get back to smooth operation. With that, let's check them out.

What we like most about AlertSite is that you can set up monitoring paths from any of 350 nodes worldwide, as well as from inside your local network. Monitoring is synthetic, which means that the SaaS app emulates browser requests when it accesses the resources being monitored.

AlertSite monitors your websites, of course. But it also monitors the condition of the SaaS sites your company depends upon. One of our favorite features is DejaClick, a click-recording add-on for Chrome and Firefox that lets you create quick monitoring automations with, you guessed it, a click of the mouse. We also like that AlertSite enables you to create alert templates, set blackouts (where you don't get alerts), and can send email and text alerts, along with integrations into other applications.

AppDynamics has one heck of a pedigree when it comes to network management: it's owned by Cisco. But it's not just enough to have a well-proven corporate parent. The key is what the solution can do for you. Keep in mind that AppDynamics is an enterprise-level platform, so it might be just too much for a small business application. 

That said, what we like most about AppDynamics is the dynamic nature of how it gathers and processes operational information. You place agents out on the nodes you want to monitor and AppDynamics gathers data from those nodes, builds up a baseline, and then notifies you when there's a deviation from that baseline. This means, unlike many other monitoring solutions, you don't have to know what you're looking for before you start looking. You can set up AppDynamics and let it run, giving you feedback and helping you discover performance behaviors you might never have found otherwise.

If you want to get started monitoring your websites, FreshPing is a great place to begin. You can monitor up to 50 items every minute. Those items can include web URLs, IP address pinging, TCP and UDP ports, or DNS. The service records incident history, performs tests from multiple locations across the planet, and allows you to include a custom note with your alerts.

As you grow, you can add more monitoring checks. A mid-level plan costs $132 for a year of monitoring and adds checks and users. A more substantial plan costs $432 for a year, stores data for longer, lets you have more users, more integrations, and advanced monitoring. While the costs do go up considerably as you monitor more, the basic free plan is a no-brainer for any website operator.

The thing that intrigues us about Host-Tracker is how it recovers Google Ads campaigns from failure. Google is generally smart enough to turn off a campaign when a target site is unavailable. But that can take time, and if you're paying for Ads, you could still incur per-click billing between the time your site fails and Google figures it out. Additionally, once Google turns your Ads off, you have to manually turn them back on. Host-Tracker handles both conditions. If your site is down, it suspends your active per-click campaigns. And when your site goes back up, it restarts your ads.

Host-Tracker also offers all the usual monitoring features, including alerts, HTTP, ping, SMTP, SNMP, TCP, and content monitoring, black lists, response time monitoring, and server load. But if you're spending on Google Ads, the big win is definitely Host-Tracker's Google Ads management. This one feature, alone, could well save you the cost of the service and then some.

If you manage a WordPress, you've undoubtedly encountered Jetpack, the add-on mega-bundle sold by Automattic, WordPress's parent company. The thing about Jetpack is that it's way more than a monitoring solution. It's just about everything and the kitchen sink, monetized by Automattic for open-source WordPress site operators.

There's a free plan that provides basic downtime monitoring, but it's once you get into the premium and professional plans that provide you with automatic spam filtering, malware scanning, and automatic security fixes. Sure, there are other WordPress-optimized monitoring solutions out there, but this is the one supported and blessed by the folks who manage WordPress. Still, I've toyed with installing and then removing Jetpack because it's just so cumbersome. If you're a streamlined WordPress site operator, you might want to check out ManageWP or Sucuri (discussed later in this article).

I lauded LogicMonitor when I discussed the best network monitoring tools out there. When I first looked at LogicMonitor, I was impressed by the vast amount of infrastructure and cloud app integrations it works with -- numbering well over 2,000. And no doubt about it, LogicMonitor does full-stack network monitoring with aplomb.

But it's also got some healthy website monitoring chops. It doesn't just test to see if a site is up, it does HEAD, GET, and POST requests to confirm your API is running solidly. It also does synthetic transactions, where it emulates browser performance to see how your site performs from the browser's perspective. And, it can monitor and report performance trends (and performance problems). Beyond that, it performs intelligent anomaly detection and root cause analysis, which can help get your site back up and running quicker.

I've been using ManageWP since before it was purchased by GoDaddy. While the service offers monitoring, I find it most useful to batch updates to all my sites. Today, for example, 46 plugins, 74 themes, and 12 WordPress installs across 16 sites need updating. Before ManageWP, that would have been my entire day, logging into each site in turn and running the update. Now, with ManageWP, I just hit one button and let the system do its job. In fact, just in the time I wrote that sentence I performed all those updates.

But ManageWP does also offer monitoring, performance checking, link checking (to fix broken links), and uptime monitoring. Each of these are minor add-ons to the price, but I pay under $12 a month for my sites. If you run more than one WordPress site, this is a must-use service.

As SaaS offerings go, Monastic is positively monastic. When you go to the main Monastic website, you're greeted with a field where you can enter a URL to test. No marketing information, feature lists, or anything else. In fact, you won't even know this is a commercial service unless you click the 9-point Pricing link at the very bottom of the page.

Monastic is free for open-source projects that post a banner on its GitHub page. Otherwise, there are programs ranging from $5 per month up to $50 per month and that gets you support for various check intervals, URLs to monitor, frequency of testing, number of status pages, and number of SMS messages. The thing is, there's not much here, here. We've heard a lot of positive recommendations about Monastic, but we're not sure we see it. We're including it in this list because a number of our readers asked us to, but it's very much a service that you have to use before you can find out what it will do for you.

TeamViewer Web Monitoring is a cloud-based service owned by TeamViewer, the remote support folks. What we like about TeamViewer Web Monitoring is that you can customize your plan, specifying the number of uptime monitors, real-user monitors, full page load monitors, synthetic transaction monitors, application monitors, servers, custom tests, and SMS alerts. Once you specify your needs, TeamViewer Web Monitoring will give you a price reflective of your environment, which is a creative business model.

In terms of what it does, the compelling starting point is how quick and easy it is to setup. You can specify URLs or machines to monitor and TeamViewer Web Monitoring does the rest. If you want agent-level monitoring, you can install them in Windows and Linux machines. Plus, the dashboard is crystal clear, helping you see the health of your entire network at a glance. Beyond that, there's an open API, so you can integrate custom monitoring deeply into your own platform requirements.

New Relic One is an agent and API-driven monitoring platform that allows you to build your own applications, user interfaces, and monitoring dashboards. While there are agents and a dashboard provided for you upon registration with the service, it's the ability to deeply customize and integrate New Relic into your existing apps that gives it an advantage.

New Relic has an AI component that can detect, filter, and group incidents so that you're non inundated with lots of notifications. By integrating the New Relic AI capabilities into your custom-programmed monitoring capabilities, you can extend your apps with detailed monitoring, analysis, and intelligence.

Many of us have come to know Pingdom because of its free speed test. You can enter a URL and choose where the test originates from. I've used it a lot in my host analysis articles and other projects. It summarizes overall speed, requests by content type and size, load order, and more.

But the free tests are only the beginning. If you truly want to analyze and improve your site's performance, Pingdom's professional tools can help you drill down deep inside your application or site's performance and locate problems and bottlenecks. You can also track uptime statistics, get alerts, perform real-time analysis, and more.

I looked at Site24x7 in my network monitoring tools analysis. It's back in this article because the solution is also quite relevant for those monitoring websites. Of particular interest to website operators is the small JavaScript that you embed in your Web app's web pages. This module allows you to monitor performance, pinpoint JavaScript errors, measure and monitor AJAX requests, and more.

When it comes to understanding exactly what your app is doing under a real load, with real user interactions, it's possible to optimize, fix, and improve overall website performance. And, as we all know, the better the website performance, the better the visitor retention, and the more likely it is that your visitors will convert to leads or customers.

It was early July 2014 and my phone rang. "Uh, David, did you know our sites are filled with porn?" That's not exactly what anyone wants to hear early in the morning, but it turns out my then-poorly-maintained sites had been hacked. It was a hard lesson to learn, but from that day on, I paid a lot more attention to my site security -- and that started with Sucuri.

The hack was such a mess that I had to reach out to them to perform emergency mitigation. Since then, going on six years now, I've been paying for this monitoring service. While the upsite monitoring is a table-stakes feature, what stands out about Sucuri is malware monitoring. It scans websites for malware and also operates a website firewall that helps prevent malware from getting through. The proof of its claims? My sites have stayed clean since I signed up.

If you want to monitor 50 or fewer checkpoints and can wait five minutes between tests, Uptime Robot is your C3PO of website security. Uptime Robot checks http and https endpoints and will examine your retrieved pages for test content. We particularly like the rule-based notification feature that allows you to specify conditions that help you avoid notification storms.

If you spend a few bucks, you can boost checks to every minute, monitor SSL, get SMS notifications and voice calls, check API performance by scanning HEAD, GET, and POST https responses, and more. We particularly like that nearly all functions of Uptime Robot can be managed programmatically via REST API calls. At just $7 per month, there's a lot to like, even with the paid plan.

Uptrends does all the usual monitoring tasks but adds user-level monitoring that helps you see how your site performs from your visitors' perspective. The higher-level plans monitor using multiple browser synthetics, track transactions throughout a website visit, and perform "real user breakdown," which gives Google Analytics-like information, but in real time.

One of the more interesting features of Uptrends is the use of Chrome, Firefox, and, surprisingly enough, IE. Ir runs tests that allow you to see how performance fares, not just based on low-level network requests, but from each browser's perspective. In this way, you can identify any unique browser-level problems that you'll need to chase down and fix.

Our process

Once again, I started with tools I'm personally familiar with. I'm a long-time paying customer of ManageWP and Sucuri, and I rely on them to keep my 16 sites updated and safe. I've also used some of the other tools on and off. We reached out to other webmasters and IT professionals for their recommendations. I also eliminated some popular tools because they didn't have an alert mechanism. We looked more for services than products, because, when it comes to web monitoring, it's better to test from around the world than from just your basement or data center.

How to choose

If you're budget-constrained, we present a number of free services. They are usually limited by the number and frequency of tests they perform, and whether they'll send you alerts through anything other than email. So if you can live with relatively infrequent testing and email alerts, the free options are a great place to start.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you're running a complex SaaS installation with a lot of API interaction and paying customers depending on your service's performance, you might want to go with some of the more comprehensive services. Look for offerings with machine learning so you can prevent alert storms. Look for services that not only test API performance, but perform REST, HEAD, POST, and GET checks. Look for tools that don't just let you know when your site is down, but can help you figure out why.

For everyone else, there's bound to be a sweet spot. There are a lot of great options out there. I always recommend you start off making a list of your needs, requirements, and worries, and then compare the offerings of each service against your list. When you do, you're bound to find one (or, like me, more than one) that fits your needs.

When you do, let us know in the comments below. How are you making sure your sites stay running and safe? Feel free to share your experiences with everyone.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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