How To Set Up Free Automated Phone Calls For Website Downtime

The Issue

It’s an ever-present fear for anyone who manages a website in any capacity. If you’re a web developer, designer, blogger, small business owner, big business owner, etc, for some reason or another, your website can go down at any time for a number of reasons. Would you rather get phone calls from angry customers trying to access your downed site, or from an unfeeling robot who will let you know before anyone notices your site is down?

Plenty of free services exist that let you know when your site is down, such as DownNotifier, Pingability, Pingdom, UpTime Robot, and more, but none of the free-tiers offer a better notification than emails or a limited amount of SMS/text messages.

If you are like me, emails can get lost in the pile of all of the other emails and texts may not be checked until later. Phone calls are the best way to immediately contact me these days, and calls are usually reserved for emergencies. Some of these services offer phone calls as notifications, but usually only in the paid plans or as a limited version in a free plan.

The Solution

To get free and unlimited phone calls whenever your sites experience downtime, we will combine two free services:

  1. UpTime Robot‘s RSS feed and
  2. IFTTT (If This Then That).

Both of these services offer paid versions, but for our purposes, we will stick to free.


Note for non-US residents:

Unfortunately, the calling service that IFTTT uses is only available in the United States as of 30 October 2017, when this article was published. If a similar service exists outside of the US that calls you when an RSS feed updates, substitute that service with this guide.

Better yet, contact me so I can update this article to be more helpful. I will give credit where credit is due :).

One untested alternative for non-US is getting a US Google Voice number and using the Google Voice app on iOS or Android to get your phone calls. Follow this guide by Lifehacker if you would like to get a US phone number as a non-US resident. Once you have a working US phone number set up with Google Voice, follow the rest of this guide as written.


1) Set Up Uptime Robot Account & Monitors

Create an account on UpTime Robot if you don’t have one already. The free tier lets you monitor up to 50 URL’s. Navigate to your dashboard and click the button that says “+ Add New Monitor”.

screenshot of add new monitor button

Fill out the necessary details for your new website monitor. Setting up email alerts isn’t necessary with the RSS-to-IFTTT-to-phone calls setup we will be using, but it may be good to have a backup in case something goes wrong with our Rube Goldberg machine.

2) Set Up Uptime Robot RSS Feed

Once you have created monitors for all of your websites, click “My Settings” near the top of the page. Scroll down to RSS Notifications section of the settings.

screenshot of Uptime Robot RSS settings field

You may need to click a button to enable the RSS feed.

Uptime Robot will provide you with a link to the RSS feed for your particular account. Follow the link, and copy the URL (it should start with “rss.uptimerobot.com” followed by many letters and numbers). Copy the entire URL.

3) Create IFTTT RSS Feed Trigger

Go to IFTTT and create an account if you don’t have one already.

Once you have an account, click “My Applets” at the top of the page. Once you are there, click “New Applet”.

screenshot of ifttt navigation showing position of my applets and new applet buttons

The first part of the applet (the “This” that triggers the “That”) is the RSS feed. Either search “RSS feed” or click the option for the RSS feed if you already see it. The RSS feed is a common ingredient for IFTTT, so it should appear near the top.

Next, you have the choice between selecting “New feed item” and “New feed item matches”. Choose “New feed item” to be safe and get an alert when there is any kind of update in the RSS feed.


Note for hotshot experts:

If you are more experienced with these things, you can select “New feed item matches”. That way, you can filter certain items by getting phone calls only when keywords are present. However, adding another layer of complication may give more opportunity for errors in the process, so is it really worth it?


Paste your RSS feed URL (the URL that began with rss.uptimerobot.com) in the field “Feed URL”. Click “Create Trigger”.

4) Create IFTTT Phone Call Action

With your trigger created, you can create the “That” portion of your applet. Search for or just click the “Phone Call” ingredient.

The only option on the next screen as of 30 October 2017 is “Call my phone”. Click it.

5) Modify the Default Message within Phone Calls (optional)

You now have the option to modify the message that is spoken to you when you get phone calls from IFTTT. The default message is “A new item has been posted from {{FeedTitle}}, titled {{EntryTitle}}.“. IFTTT replaces the “{{FeedTitle}}” and “{{EntryTitle}}” elements with the title of your feed e.g. “Uptime Robot – All Monitors” and the title of the new entry “Example Site is UP” or “Example Site is DOWN“.

screenshot of ifttt default rss phone call message content formula

If you’re like me, and you want the phone calls to get straight to the point, you can delete the text and type “{{EntryContent}}” or select “EntryContent” from the “Add ingredient” menu. The phone calls will now immediately tell you why IFTTT is calling you.

6) Finish Creating IFTTT Applet

Click “Create Action”. This will take you to the review screen.

IFTTT automatically fills in a title for you, but the title is usually formulaic and confusing. Rename it to something simpler like “Call Me When a Site Goes Down” so it’s easier to identify the applet if you would like to edit or delete it later.

screenshot of ifttt rss feed to phone calls review screen

Click Finish at the bottom of the screen.


Conclusion

That’s it! You now have a system in place that will call you within minutes of your website(s) going offline, and you made it all for free. If you would like to get phone calls for an additional site, simply add a new site to your UpTime Robot account and it will automatically add itself to the RSS feed.

Based on your needs, you can use the methods of this tutorial to create slightly different versions of the same thing by:

  • Using a site-monitoring service different than UpTime Robot that also utilizes an RSS feed
  • Creating another IFTTT applet to also send emails, IFTTT app notifications, or texts, among other things
  • Creating more IFTTT applets to notify multiple people (such as multiple developers) with phone calls if a site goes down – you may have to have multiple IFTTT accounts for this as there is one phone number allowed per account
  • Creating IFTTT applets to tweet, post to Facebook, or utilize other social media if a site goes down (if you want to be mean)
  • Modifying your IFTTT applet to add a line to a Google Sheets spreadsheet instead of using phone calls

The world of downed websites is your oyster.

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