Web site management tools

Web site management tools


Agencies spend thousands of dollars and many months developing their Web sites, and
often what results is a well-functioning, error-free place where visitors can get fast
access to timely documents.


But for webmasters, that’s just the beginning. If the site doesn’t grow and
include new content, services and applications, it becomes an electronic ghost town.


A robust, dynamic site attracts more surfers and provides them with a more enjoyable
and edifying experience, but the more the site grows, the greater the risk that problems
will creep into it. Performance may degrade, links may be broken, unauthorized content may
be posted or it may become so complex that users get lost.


The solution is Web site management software. Such programs can help administrators
monitor, test and control every aspect of the site. They can locate broken links, ensure
that all content has been properly authorized before posting, measure server performance
and even chart user behavior.


In the products that comprise Web site management software, features overlap. A Web
server performance monitor, for example, may also ferret out broken links. But each type
of product is optimized to solve a different problem.


One of the most important of the Web administrator’s jobs is to protect viewers
from the error message: "404 not found. The requested URL was not found on this
server." The most common reason for a failure to find uniform resource locator
addresses is a broken link; and the most common reaction from surfers is utter
frustration.


No matter how carefully new sites are designed and tested, broken links occur as a site
expands. The problem is prevalent on sites to which many people add content. Broken links
can arise because someone updated a document and gave it a new name, or moved or deleted a
file.


Even the most careful content management procedures may not eliminate the problem
entirely; changes in sites to which yours links may cause the problem. Whatever the
reason, administrators need an easy way to find and correct broken links.


Web site diagnostic software such as Astra SiteManager from Mercury Interactive Corp.
and SiteSweeper from Site Technologies Inc. test the site’s hyperlinks, both those
within the Web site and those to external sites. The programs click on each link on each
page you want to test. If a linked page requires user input such as a password, the
program will query the administrator to supply the information. The resulting data can be
saved so the next time the program tests the link, it automatically supplies the user
input.


To speed diagnosis and trim disk space requirements, the programs usually don’t
access linked pages. Instead, as soon as the server responds with the message that the
page is available, the program cancels the operation—much as a user clicks the stop
button on a browser—and moves to the next link.


After the test, the program can display results in text report and graphical displays.
To make it easier to home in on problems or sections of the site, the software also
provides filters that can limit the types of links depicted in the site map.


Web site diagnostic software provides easy ways to get to problem pages and tools for
fixing links. For example, the software lets administrators do a global search and replace
across a set of pages.


Eventus Software Inc.’s Control, which is geared to Web application assembly and
deployment, tests sites for broken links and displays graphical representations of linked
pages. Although Control is not an authoring tool, you can integrate any Java or Hypertext
Markup Language authoring tool into it.


Control provides a hypermap that graphically portrays the interrelationships among
pieces of the Web application and other applications or external Web resources.


When you’re ready to deploy an application, Control can replicate it to any number
of Control servers, automatically generating the appropriate links. The program can depict
how users move through the site, how many surfers visit each section of the site and each
application’s activity level.


Although a Web administrator usually builds and controls a site’s structure, the
content is increasingly in the hands of many people in an organization, who are
continually adding, deleting and revising pages. Such a decentralized approach to content
usually results in a more interesting site with the most up-to-date information. And by
letting those responsible for creating content post pages themselves, the Web development
team is relieved of a basic mechanical task.


But for such a system to work, webmasters must be able to ensure that only authorized
people change content, that all pages are properly authorized before posting and that
pages are coded correctly. Content management software, such as Core System from
Global-X-Change Communications Inc. and DynaBase from Inso Corp. automate collaboration on
content development.


Some groupware products, such as Lotus Notes, are Web-enabled and enhanced with
authoring tools, allowing their use for Web content development collaboration.


Although all products in this category provide authoring tools, including HTML
generators, their primary focus is management of content after the site has been created.
They route all pages to whoever needs to approve them and alert the Web administrator to
new pages.


The administrator can control who has access to areas and what authority each user has.
For example, the webmaster can specify that certain users can update only specific pages
or even specific fields within pages. The Web administrator also can limit the kinds of
pages that can be posted in each section of a site.


Many powerful content management products store documents in a database, giving
administrators a lot of control over content creation workflow. An accountant may be
authorized to update budget information in one place, and the revised figures can be
automatically posted in all relevant documents. The database approach simplifies version
control, automatically displaying only the document with the most recent date.


Database content managers have a few problems, however. Some data may be invisible to
Web crawlers such as Yahoo. With its Core System, Global-X-Change Communications Inc.
tries a hybrid approach to sidestep such difficulties. It uses a file system to store
content and a database system to store meta-information about each document.


DynaBase, which stores all files in a database, has an excellent version control
function. If a team is working on a group of related documents, the system can prevent any
of the documents from being displayed until all documents are available, ensuring that all
revisions are made public at the same time.


Even a perfectly administered Web site, with no missing links and well-managed content,
may frustrate users if the server doesn’t perform well. Network managers are familiar
with network monitoring software, which determines the status of network components and
measures network performance. Similar products, such as IPnetWatcher Java Edition from
Caravelle Inc., Astra SiteTest from Mercury Interactive Corp. and SQA Suite: LoadTest
Edition from Rational Software Corp., do the same for Web servers.


Most Web server monitoring products stress-test the site by simulating the actions of
hundreds of what SiteTest refers to as virtual users. The software lets you view the
number of virtual users and the speed of resources such as a search engine or completed
transactions per second over time.


Many performance monitors, such as IPnetWatcher Java Edition, can check for application
integrity, broken links and problem forms, and track trends. If performance is in the
acceptable range but degrading slowly, the administrator may be able to fix the problem
before it becomes serious. Most of the programs work unattended, alerting administrators
to problems via e-mail.


A smoothly functioning site with up-to-the-minute content and fast-loading pages will
help ensure a positive experience for surfers. But to optimize the site for visitors,
administrators must know how surfers are using the site. Knowing which pages are accessed
most frequently can help determine which sections to beef up and which to discontinue.


Administrators may want to know if users are wandering aimlessly from page to page, a
sure sign that they’re getting lost. If viewers quickly leave pages, it may indicate
poor content. Accrue Software Inc.’s Accrue Insight records such user behavior.


Unfortunately, no one product provides all the functions every webmaster needs.


But by carefully choosing among the various Web management applications, an
administrator can get a clear picture of the design, content and performance of even the
most complex site and use the information to optimize it.


Related Story: SiteSweeper can do the chores
that keep your site tidy


Larry Stevens is a free-lance reviewer of information technology products in
Monson, Mass.

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