6 Effective Ways to Track Changes on a Website [+ Best Tracking Tools]

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Vitalii Makhov
Vitalii Makhov

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Keeping track of website updates can be tiring, especially if you need proper software to do it. Still, tracking a website’s changes is essential for staying up-to-date on relevant information.

a bell representing a notification from tracking website changes

Fortunately, there are several ways to track changes on a website, including website monitoring tools, RSS feeds, and API integration.

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In this post, we’ll cover the most common and efficient ways to track changes on a website. We’ll also cover popular software for tracking website changes. Whether you're a business owner or want to stay informed on your favorite websites, this guide will help you find the right tool for your needs. Let’s dive in.

Why track changes on a website?

First of all, why would someone need to track changes on a website in the first place? Let's break it down and see how different roles at a company can benefit from monitoring changes:

  • Internet marketers aim to bring traffic and leads to their online business. They can leverage website tracking to access statistical data regarding their websites. Moreover, they can also monitor their competitors' sites. As a result, marketers can gain valuable insights to make informed decisions.
  • Content managers can watch their website content's KPIs. They can also keep an eye on newly published articles from other sources. Hence, these specialists can determine the content marketing trends and adjust their strategies around future publications. For instance, they can change the brand’s tone of voice, topics, intended audience, etc.
  • Developers are more interested in the technical characteristics. Thus, they can leverage website tracking to monitor uptime, load times, cross-platform compatibility, and so on. As a result, developers can optimize their development and testing processes.
  • Lawyers are obligated to track content changes on government websites. Legal practitioners can prevent prosecution and penalties associated with delayed response to these changes.
  • Business owners who run teams of the aforementioned specialists need to know the advanced way to track changes on a website. They may use the respective tools with a personal dashboard to track their website and spot errors or inconsistencies on time. Also, one can be aware of the various sentiments associated with the brand.

Some other purposes include tracking the hottest topical news online or one’s competition, or simply fetching any necessary data: weather, exchange rates, prices, etc.

So, how can you monitor updates on a website?

How to Track Website Changes

There are several methods available to monitor sites — this section will cover approaches from manual checking to advanced tools.

Check manually.

Manually detecting updates is low-tech and free of charge. It's also more manageable when the monitored site rarely changes. Hence, there is no need to track real-time data endlessly.

Another reason for choosing the manual option is the importance of information. If the tracked content is not vital and urgent for decision-making, you can explore it at your own pace since there is no need for immediate updates.

On top of that, you can use this approach when detecting things visually. For instance, page styles or layout changes are noticeable at a glance.

However, manual checking is the least efficient and the most time-consuming method. Thus, change detection software remains more straightforward and reliable.

Use website monitoring tools and extensions.

There are different types of software used in content monitoring. For example, you can choose desktop software, browser extensions, or web applications. While some methods are automated, they may still require manual setup and maintenance.

Additionally, some websites may block or limit specific tracking techniques, so check the website's terms of service before using any tracking tools.

For example, WebSite-Watcher is a freemium app for desktop Windows and Android platforms (with synchronization features between devices). It can check web pages, monitor RSS feeds, highlight all text changes, highlight specific keywords, and perform many other actions.

Distill is a Google Chrome extension used to monitor website changes. You can use Distill with Opera and Firefox as well.

a screenshot of the Distill tool in a web browser to track website changes

The real fun begins if you want to use a website change to trigger another event, such as a webhook execution. For instance, creating a specific JIRA issue is possible every time a dedicated app emits an alert of web page change. Among others, Zapier paired with Wachete, provides this functionality.

a screenshot of the Zapier tool in a web browser to track website changes

We cover more website monitoring tools to track changes in the next section.

Set up a workflow with APIs.

An API allows a software program to interact with a web-based application and exchange data. For example, a website monitoring tool can access specific data from a website's REST API, such as page content, metadata, and other website elements. The monitoring tool can then compare this data to previous versions to detect changes and alert users.

One benefit of API integration is that it allows website tracking tools to access data more quickly and efficiently than traditional web scraping techniques. API integration also enables monitoring of dynamic web pages and single-page applications, which can be difficult or impossible to analyze using web scraping methods.

The REST API integration can also provide more accurate and reliable data, eliminating the risk of false alerts that can occur with web scraping.

Additionally, API integration allows monitoring tools to access and track information that is not available through web scrapings, such as data stored in databases or other backend systems.

Create a web scraper.

Unlike API integration, the web scraping method entails retrieving website data in bulk and parsing it later as necessary. Although it appears to be a crude, inaccurate way to track changes on a website, it has some advantages over API integration.

APIs require authentication in the form of an API key or other credentials, which must be obtained from the website or application owner. In addition, many APIs have usage limits or other obstacles, such as rate limiting or throttling, to prevent abuse or overuse of the API. These restrictions are typically outlined in the API documentation and must be followed to ensure compliance with the terms of service.

That said, with web scraping, you don't need to worry about changes to the API that might require code updates, you don’t have the usage limits or other restrictions imposed by APIs, and you can extract and process any data from a website, including data that may not be available through an API.

On the other hand, custom scrapers are harder to set up. For a business owner without an applicable technical background, there is no other workaround but to delegate the development of a custom scraper to an in-house tech team or use an IT outstaffing service like DOIT.

For instance, Python-based scraping tools, such as Scrapy+Frontera or PySpider, require at least basic Python knowledge to run and customize. However, for advanced use cases, you need a solid understanding of the language.

Explore the Google tools: Google Analytics and Google Alerts.

Google Alerts and Google Analytics are free tools. To start using them, follow the link and type in the keyword you want to receive a web alert about. The app will also ask you to provide an email address to send the signals.

Next, you’ll set up custom alert criteria, such as the frequency of email notifications and specifying the type of content you would like to be informed about (video, blog articles, etc.) and the nature of sources (news, personal blog, etc.). You can also choose the language and the region of the reports.

Google Alerts does not track one specific website by default. Instead, it will search the entire web for the freshest updates on the topic you specified. You can use a company name, a trend, a general name of a particular industry, etc.

Google Alerts is a convenient tool to track your brand mentions on the web and your competitors. To limit the alert to a single site, you can use a “site:” query modifier: this way, you receive a Google alert when the website changes.

screenshot of the google alerts browser tool

The other query modifiers that work in the Google search bar work here, too:

  • “intitle:”
  • “inurl:”
  • “filetype:”
  • “related:”
  • “OR”
  • “-” or “NOT”
  • quotation marks for exact search matches

screenshot of the google alerts browser tool

Google Analytics is not explicitly built to track changes on a website. Instead, it is an advanced tool that helps to measure a website’s performance. Google Analytics can output a handful of helpful information into advanced reports. Some metrics include traffic sources, page views, time on page, bounce rate, site speed, etc. It expressly answers every marketer's question: “How are particular sections of website content performing?”

Use RSS feeds.

Are you looking for a simple tool to track changes on a website, such as receiving a new blog post alert? In this situation, you can consider push notifications, email subscriptions, or RSS feeds. All of these options are free.

RSS feeds are not necessarily outdated, but their use has declined recently. You may have seen the RSS icon quite often about a decade ago. Today, RSS has been mostly replaced by other notification methods.

Websites like Reddit, Washington Post, CNN, and NY Times still use RSS to name a few. So, yes, RSS is still a thing in 2023. However, many of us don’t want our inboxes cluttered with hundreds of updates. Therefore, having the updates arrive in a different place is much better.

To subscribe to the feeds, determine if the website has an RSS feed first. For instance, Wappalyzer, a free Chrome extension, can help you detect this technology.

Your next step is to get an RSS reader. You can find ones with various customization options, e.g., keyword tracking. Moreover, a reader might be built into a browser or another application; for example, MS Outlook has an RSS folder.

screenshot of an rss reader

The feeds often include a publication date (“pubDate” element) or timestamp. For example, you wonder how to find out when a website was updated. In that case, RSS is the best option compared to extremely pricy premium plans of the monitors listed below or inefficient web scraping.

Apps and Browser Extensions for Detecting Website Changes

This section will explore some of the best tools designed for tracking site updates. Let's take a closer look at how they can enhance your website monitoring experience.

Visualping

Visualping is a powerful and user-friendly monitoring platform that uses visual recognition technology to detect changes on web pages. In addition, its customizable monitoring options, different monitoring modes, and scalable pricing plans make it an excellent choice for businesses of all sizes.

screenshot of the website track changes tool visualping

For example, in Visual Mode, Visualping continually compares the varying appearance of a page to detect changes. This feature can be handy for analyzing changes to images or texts that may not be reflected in the HTML code.

There are also other change tracking modes, such as Text and Element.

Visualping is simple to set up and start using from the home page. The free plan includes tracking up to 5 pages with a daily check.

Visualping Google Chrome extension is perfect for “occasional high-frequency checks” of a single page for free, only using your browser. Also, with this add-on, you can control a web page without your involvement, having two checks daily with email alerts.

PageCrawl

PageCrawl is an all-in-one, feature-rich application to track changes on a website. Even with a free version, it offers some unique and exciting advantages. Namely, there are:

  • Unlimited daily alerts via email, Slack, Discord, Telegram, and MS Teams;
  • Sync with Google Sheets;
  • Zapier connection;
  • Server location selection;
  • Change actions;
  • JavaScript-enabled crawling;

screenshot of the website track changes tool pagecrawl

With a free plan, you will get limited features, such as the storage size for page screenshots, view history, max monthly checks, and check frequency – see the website for details.

You can avoid the said limitations partially or fully with higher-tier plans.

With a more advanced plan, a user also receives a ton of new features:

  • Track changes in web files such as .odt, .doc, .xls, .pdf, and others.
  • Cloudflare protection & captcha bypass.
  • API & Webhooks.
  • Logic-protected page tracking, etc.

Hexowatch

Regarding the diverse ways to track changes on a website, Hexowatch is the best website change monitor. Besides tracking content updates on a website, there are many more options. Some of them are monitoring backlinks, sitemaps, tech stack usage, keywords, uptime, HTTP posts, and API response changes.

As a downside, the tool may seem overly complex. For each type of tracking mentioned before, there are additional settings. Therefore, users can be on a steep learning curve when first using Hexowatch.

screenshot of the website track changes tool hexowatch

Nonetheless, the team behind it does an excellent job explaining most of its use cases and educating the users via its Academy. Furthermore, with the help of Hexowatch tutorials, a user can learn from scratch, without coding, how to monitor a website for changes. They’ve also released a “Monitoring Strategy Playbook” with practical applications and illustrations.

The sheer variety of page elements available for tracking comes at a price. Unfortunately, Hexowatch has no free version, and you must pick a paid plan after a 7-day trial.

Sken.io

Sken.io offers a unique combination of key features that set it apart from other website monitoring tools. Among them are visual change detection, support for single-page applications, customizable monitoring intervals, and archive change history.

screenshot of the website track changes tool sken.io

How do you see when a web page is updated? With Sken.io, one can easily select a particular element to track and any rectangular area on a page. And if a pop-up window gets in the way, it can be easily removed.

If you track numerical data, the app can build a chart that reflects the changes over time.

With the Sken.io trial plan, you can monitor website changes for free, but the number of daily checks is limited to 140.

The subscription options come with affordable prices and gradually increase the limit of available monthly website checks.

Custom plans are available, too. How fast to burn through the check limit is up to you: the refresh rate is highly customizable. In addition, it is possible to set up the exact days and hours when the app will check your pages for a change.

Stay up-to-speed on website changes.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution among the methods we listed.

Pick one or play with several to determine which fits your business goals, restrictions, and needs.

There is also a definitive choice between ready-made and custom solutions. Rather than learning how to monitor websites or guessing how to tell when a web page was last updated, isn’t it worthwhile to build a custom solution for your needs and get detailed reports as requested?

If your business requires a bespoke one, then obviously, yes. The alternative is paying a third-party website change monitor app provider perpetually or suffering from limited functionality and subpar performance.

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