Free Tools to Run Your Website Like an IT Guru
There are a million different ways to host a website these days. A weekend hobbyist can setup a free wordpress account in minutes, while a large corporation might hire a team of professionals to keep its site running smoothly.
If your hobby site is starting to turn into something more serious, it can be hard to know what your next steps are, short of paying someone to manage everything for you.
Fortunately, there are lots of free tools that are easy to use that you can setup right now to help you monitor your website and keep it stable, safe and secure.
You should enjoy your site’s growth, not be worried about it! These are all tools that I’ve used for my own websites, and they’ve made it fun to watch my traffic numbers rise, instead of worrying about problems with stability or performance.
Track Your Site’s Speed
Every website owner should use Google Analytics. Even if you’re also using another premium service, you just can’t beat the stability and reliability of Google’s data.
Earlier this year, the Google Analytics team announced a new dashboard with lots of new reports and segmentation options. Everyone can access the new dashboard via a link at the top of the screen.
One of the most exciting new reports is the “Site Speed” report, under the “Content” tab. This report shows you how long it takes for your site to load on a visitor’s computer.
Unfortunately, this stat isn’t tracked by the default Google Analytics tracking code. There’s an extra line that must be added to your tracking code in order for Google Analytics to start collecting site speed data. Click here for more info on how to make that change.
Make sure you’re collecting data on your site’s speed and keep an eye on it over time. If you add new features to your site, see how they impact your site’s loading time to make sure your site isn’t getting unbearably slow.
Get Notified the Moment Your Site Goes Down
Websites go offline for a lot of reasons, many of which are unexpected.
A few months ago, I lost my wallet and subsequently cancelled my credit card. I didn’t think it would cause any problems until recently my hosting company suspended my account after several unsuccessful attempts to bill that card. (doh!)
Fortunately, I had downtime monitoring setup on my website, so I discovered my sites were down within a few minutes, and I had everything back online moments later. If I didn’t have this monitoring, it could have been several hours before I even noticed the problem.
Simply give them your site’s URL and an email address to contact you. They’ll ping your server every minute from around the world to make sure it’s still online and functioning properly. If your server doesn’t respond to their request, they’ll immediately send you an email to let you know that your site is down. You can give them your phone number to get text message alerts, or download their mobile apps to take your monitoring on the go.
Free Pingdom accounts are only allowed to monitor one URL at a time, but this limit should be fine for most site owners.
Protect Your Site From Malicious Traffic
If your site really starts to get big – or draws the attention of the wrong crowd – it might end up under attack. These attacks can range from simple content scrapers and comments spammers, to code injection and large scale DDoS attacks.
These can lead to site instability, huge overage charges from your hosting provider, and potential loss of data.
Even if you think there’s only a remote possibility of this happening, Cloud Flare offers a free tool that you can setup in minutes to protect your site – without needing to touch a line of code. Better safe than sorry!
Simply tell them where your site is and then point your domain name at their servers. They’ll filter all the traffic that tries to access your site, blocking malicious requests and only allowing legitimate traffic to reach your server. You can customize the level of protection based on your site’s needs, and you can change it on the fly.
Essentially, Cloud Flare acts like a free, crowd-sourced, state-of-the-art firewall for your server. Their technology is constantly learning from the millions of page requests they receive every day, and they have successfully thwarted a number of high-profile denial-of-service attacks.
Not only does Cloud Flare block malicious traffic from reaching your server, it also caches your site’s content across their global network of datacenters, essentially acting as a content delivery network (CDN). This allows your site to load more quickly from around the world, and lowers the amount of bandwidth you’ll end up using from your hosting provider.
Their free accounts give you access to basic settings and daily analytics, while pro offers more advanced settings and real-time analytics for $20 per month.
Get Automatic Hourly Backups
Maintaining a recent, clean backup of your site’s data is one of the most important things you can do to safeguard your website.
Hardware fails, things get deleted, and files get corrupted. If you have a recent backup of your site’s files and data, it takes only moments to restore your site – but without a backup, it can take days or weeks to undo the damage.
The problem with backing up a site is that it’s one of those simple, mundane tasks that’s so easy to forget. But the longer you go between backups, the more data you can potentially lose.
Automate your backups and don’t worry about them!
If you run a Wordpress blog, there’s a free plugin that I use on all my sites called WP-DB-Backup. It can be configured to backup all of your site’s data once a week, once a day, or once an hour.
If your site is extremely busy, I’d recommend using the hourly backup so that you don’t lose comments and other constantly-changing site data, but for most sites, once a day should be fine.
You want to make sure you configure the plugin to email you the backup, and not simply save it somewhere on your server. Your backups won’t do you any good if your server crashes and they’re all wiped out. Sending them to yourself as an email attachment ensures that you’re not putting all your eggs in one… err.. server.
Also, in addition to storing your database backups, it’s important to keep a backup of your site’s theme files, if you’ve done any customization work. There are a number of backup plugins for that here.
If you’re using another system besides Wordpress, you should try to find a tool that does regular database backups. Do it now, don’t wait until it’s too late…
It’s important to use third-party tools to backup your site, rather than relying on local plugins on your server. If your server ever goes down or has any issues, you probably won’t be able to access those plugins. That means the switch you were supposed to flip, or the backup you were supposed to find, won’t actually be there!
That’s why I recommend you have all of your site infrastructure tools managed by third-parties.
These are all things that you should setup now – like right now. If you wait until your site starts having problems, it’ll be too late. All of these tools are free and will save you tons of time, money and headaches down the road.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure…
PS: I’m always testing out new services and products, and I usually end up tweeting about them. Follow me for more tips!
NOTE: These are all services that I’ve used in the past and have been extremely pleased with. I’m not being paid by anyone for these endorsements.