Posts in Category: Free Tools

Is Your Website Up? (Value IT Support)

Do you know whether your website is up and running now? Or does the front door to your business look like this at the moment?

Browser connection errors...

You've made a significant investment in your web presence, but how do you know that it's always available to the outside world? Unsurprisingly there is a whole industry that is willing to help. Simply Google or Bing "Website monitoring" and you will see a wide range of options available. But which should you choose?

The key things to look for are the reliability of the monitoring service and the location of the monitoring points. Clearly the monitoring service always needs to be checking the availability of your site and ideally it should to be carrying out the checks from the same geographic locations as your intended audience. That way it will be checking the connectivity to your web site and not just whether the web server is working.

In use, most services simply ask you for the web address of your site or application, the frequency of checking (typically from one minute upwards) and how you should be notified if your site is down. Notification is usually through email or SMS although some providers also provide smartphone apps.

So what's our recommendation?

Monitored by Pingdom If the primary audience for your website or application is in the UK, mainland Europe or North America then, based on several years of real life use, Pingdom ( is our first choice. If you have just one website to monitor they have a great free service. For multiple sites their pricing is very competitive - at the time of writing you can start with the five site "basic package" for US $9.95 per month and then add checks for extra sites at the equivalent of US $0.50 per check per month.

You can see how the monitoring process works in more detail on the Pingdom website. Remember too that the service can be used to monitor more than web site availability. As an example, for our clients, who use the remote web access facility provided by Microsoft Small Business Server or Server 2012 Essentials, a Pingdom check provides the ideal verification that their staff can access their office based applications and data when working away from base.

Checks also show the response times for your site or application and can be configured to monitor other key services such as email. To round it off, Pingdom also have some useful free tools, including a full web page speed test, located at

So, don’t wait for your customers to tell you that your website or web application is down, use the tools available to keep an eye on things – it’s easy and inexpensive.



Thames Valley SBSC - What's in the Tool Box?

Presentation SlidesThursday 5th July 2012 – my turn to do some sharing at the Thames Valley Small Business Specialist User Group (an excellent peer networking group for IT pros serving small businesses).

Please click here to download a copy of the slides – I hope you find them useful. Thanks go to those who have recommended some of these tools to me in the past.



Google Alerts and Twitter - Value IT Support

Back in February, we mentioned how useful Google alerts are for easily keeping up to date with what people are saying online about you, your competitors and your customers.  If you've been using them, you'll know how well they work delivering useful information directly to your inbox.

If you're also using Twitter and want to be alerted when something you're interested in is contained in a tweet, then Google alerts can help you with that too.

Simply set up a Google Alert in the usual way and change the "Type:" to "Realtime" to monitor a range of social media sources including Twitter. If you need to act on a tweet, then changing the setting "How often:" to "As-it-happens" can also be useful to minimise delay.

You can find out more about Google's realtime search facility at where the video will give you a good introduction to its capabilities.


A Free Research Team - Value IT Support

How do you know what people are saying about you online?  What are they saying about your customers and competitors?

Use a search engine I hear you say, but do you really want spend your time doing all sorts of search queries just to keep tabs on this, even though it’s important?  If your budgets stretch that far, you could of course hire a research team to do this for you.

Another approach, which is free, is to use “Google Alerts” to do the bulk of the work for you.  This is an easy to use service from Google that can automatically email you the results of a search query, as new results are found.  You simply set up an alert with your search query (eg “Acme Washers”) and whenever Google finds results that match, it will send you an email with the relevant links.  You can also have your results grouped into daily and weekly emails to avoid overload.

To set up your alerts, all you need is a Google account and an email address, then visit

Google Account

To use Google Alerts you will need a Google account (this can also give you a Gmail email address if you want one).  If you haven’t got a Google account then you can sign up at It’s all pretty self-explanatory and you can opt to just use your own email address as the username for your account.

If you opt for a Gmail address (they can be quite handy as a backup), it can be a good idea to set up forwarding so that email sent to your Gmail address also ends up in your usual email account. You can set up forwarding using the “Settings” link when you are logged into Gmail.  When the settings page is displayed, just click the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” link and choose the forwarding options you need.  There are a host of other useful (free) things you can do with a standard Gmail account, but perhaps that’s for another post.

Google Alerts

Once you’ve signed in to you set up your alert by entering your search term eg “Acme Washers” and choosing where you want your results delivered.  You also have the option of specifying which elements of Google to search along with the frequency and volume of the results.  From here you can also manage any of the alerts you have already set up and the “Google Alerts Help” links gives clear and useful advice on using the service.

It’s as easy as that.

To illustrate how useful this can be: one of our customers recently found out via a Google Alert, that they had been very well reviewed in an independent newspaper and online article. They were delighted to then be able to capitalise on the review in their own marketing activities.

We’re often asked whether there is such a thing as Bing alerts, an equivalent service to Google alerts but driven by Microsoft’s Bing search engine.  The nearest equivalent I can find is Bing News Alerts (which limits searches to the “News” section of Bing). I’ve even heard rumours that the good folks at Microsoft use Google Alerts to keep tabs on things! Perhaps someone can let me know if this really is true.