Let’s start this article with two basic assumptions. First, you went into business to make money and second, you try to make decisions for your business that support your overall profitability. If you had a website, a web application, or a mobile application developed for your business, at the root of those decisions was a belief that it would somehow improve your bottom line, even if indirectly.
With that in mind, let me ask you several questions that could be posed regarding any value generating site or app. I’ll use a typical website that is used primarily for inbound marketing as an example.
- What are your tangible losses per hour, if the site is down?
- How much traffic is your site capable of handling?
- Do you have a tool in place that tells you if that site is online?
- If it went offline, who would troubleshoot the issue?
- How would they be able to tell what is wrong?
- Do you know if the site is loading correctly?
- Is it loading at an acceptable speed?
- Are contact requests being forwarded correctly?
- Are videos and other embedded content displaying correctly?
- How would you know, if someone made unauthorized content changes?
- How would you undo improper changes?
These same questions and others could be asked of revenue generating sites or applications, for whom the answers have much greater ramifications.
Unfortunately, many companies can spend thousands of dollars on a web presence and even more on web and mobile applications only to suffer financial loss when those sites or apps fail because they don’t have even basic monitoring in place.
The remainder of this article will help you develop a viable response plan to issues with your company’s sites and applications.
Who’s on First?
Before we get into the details of what you need to check and how you do it, we need to determine who will responsible for responding to potential outages when they occur. You need to have an employee or partner who is technically savvy enough to address potential issues. They need to have proper credentials to access affected systems. Further, they should have access to offline documentation for all the systems they support. Last, issues rarely arise during business hours, so the responsible party needs to be on call. In most companies, this type of responsibility has some sort of extra compensation, whether it is a per incident stipend and a company phone to receive pages, automatic overtime for all hours worked on-call outside normal work hours, etc. If you are using an employee in this role, you should seek HR and legal counsel to ensure your abiding by state and federal laws.
Once you know who is responsible, what alerting components should you establish to ensure you know about problems before your customers do?
Basic Uptime Monitoring
At a bare minimum, you should have uptime monitoring for each major website or backend system that you have. Uptime monitoring lets you know if a site or system is generally available, but it won’t necessarily tell you why a system is offline nor can it tell you if all the internal components of the system are working. This type of monitoring should be automated to check a site or application at least every five minutes, but it might be done as frequently as every few seconds depending on criticality.
Link and Content Monitoring
Going a step further, you should monitor that all the pages and links internally still work and you may even want to check external links, although you might do that much less frequently. You might check internal links hourly or daily and external links daily or less frequently. Additionally, verify that content hasn’t changed inadvertently or maliciously could be important to ensure that you’re getting your story out there and that your brand doesn’t suffer harm.
Beyond basic uptime you probably want to know if various components of your website are working. For example, if you use your site for lead generation, you probably want to know if the contact submission form works. Similarly, if you sell anything directly through the site, you would want to validate your payment processor, your connection to order fulfillment, and your e-mail confirmation system regularly. There are literally an endless number of variations here that you would want to verify depending on how you use the site or app.
User Experience Monitoring
When you built your site or app, you likely had visions of a quick responsive app that your customers could quickly and easily navigate. You might have set a goal of how many simultaneous visitors you wanted to safely host. Regardless, how do you know if your customers are having a favorable experience? Do you know where people get stuck? Do you know if they are abandoning the site before ordering? User experience monitoring can tell you many important things about the effectiveness of your site or app.
Counting the Cost
Obviously, all these layers of monitoring carry a cost, so prior to determining which types of monitoring to include, it may be wise to calculate the tangible impact these apps and site represent for your business. Going back to our original example of an inbound marketing website, let’s assume the site brings in 5 leads a day and you average a conversion every other day for a $1000 sale. What would you be willing to pay on an annualized basis to minimize the downtime of that site and ensure it was generating leads? This is the same type of calculation you need to make for your site or your app to determine what you want to monitor and how much you are willing to pay.