Tools to fine-tune Web sites
Tools to fine-tune Web sites<@VM>Use these Web site management tools to analyze your sites, point out flaws and spot bad links
Your Web site is up, content is strong, uptime is solid'but do users find it friendly? These small apps can help you see your sites through their eyesBY JOHN MCCORMICK
'|'SPECIAL TO GCN
In the rush to create Web sites that grant access to legacy data, it's important not to overlook one vital task'maintaining the Web pages themselves.
Servers and Web authoring software include some management tools, but they mostly address problems with a server or the look of a page, not the quality of a user's Web experience or how well a page accomplishes its goal of communicating with visitors.
But users have come to expect, even demand, good service.
Five years ago, having a Web site at all was an accomplishment for many agencies. Today, even purely informational Web sites are expected to be up and running 99.99 percent of the time.
Critical sites, such as IRS pages that provide downloads of tax forms, need to be available more than 99.99 percent of the time. Even then, the agency is likely to hear complaints about downtime.
As important as reliability is, there's more to managing Internet sites than merely keeping the server running. The fact that a page is on the Web doesn't mean it is functioning well. A site must be accessible, fast, up-to-date and easy to navigate.
Even the most experienced designer needs help managing all these diverse needs. This guide focuses on tools'many are inexpensive and a couple of them are free'that provide that help.
The rule of thumb for commercial Web sites is that if the page takes 10 seconds to load, the user will move on rather than wait.Don't make them wait
Users who want information or to complain to the government are more likely to wait for a page to load than some casual browser looking for Whitney Houston CD prices.
McWeb Software's Site Mongrel provides site management and analysis; it's priced at $44, and also is bundled in when you buy the company's Web Weaver Gold.
But if your agency's homepage takes longer than 20 or 30 seconds to load completely, your visitors will move on, and
they'll take with them a bad impression of your site, agency and the government in general.
Because a typical visitor uses a sub-30-Kbps dial-up connection, maintaining a 20-second loading time can be quite a challenge.
Poor performance often is the result of bad design choices, either made by the developer or forced on the developer by agency mandates. In other cases, sites that were originally well-designed might have grown beyond their capacity or are overburdened by heavy traffic. Fortunately, these problems can be corrected with better designs.
Except in cases where an unusual event, such as the release of an eagerly awaited report, temporarily overloads your site, you often can greatly improve performance by tweaking the design of some or all pages without completely redesigning the site.
Some tools are free
' What is it? The Web management tools in this guide help you analyze content and visitor paths, test Web pages, repair broken links and perform other tasks to optimize your site.
' Where do I start to improve performance? Optimize the home page first. It should load quickly, be universally accessible and, above all, contain only the most important information. Visitors will go to this page at least once until they bookmark the pages they really want. The less the first page contains, the faster it will load and the more likely people will be to forgive slower-loading pages deeper in the site.
' What about the rest of the site? You can speed your entire site by optimizing a fraction of your pages if you know which pages users access most often. Using a tool that tracks visits will reveal the most popular pages and what paths visitors use. Concentrate your efforts on those pages.
' What do I do with unpopular pages? You might find that your 'favorite' page is almost never accessed. Perhaps it has no useful information, or surfers can't find it or they don't recognize its importance. You can then decide to improve links to the page or eliminate it.
' Must-know info? The best way to speed most pages is to eliminate graphics elements. The second best way is to make use of one of the many separate graphics tools that can compress image files or make use of software that optimizes them.
The products listed in this guide are a bit out of the ordinary for government agencies, but they do a fine job of filling in the gaps left by large-scale commercial software. Managers used to shelling out $100,000 for a software license shouldn't ignore these inexpensive or free utilities.
Linux's popularity as a Web server operating system has prompted a resurgence in an old-fashioned idea'that problem-solvers can share solutions simply for the enjoyment of having done something clever.
This is an important aspect of Linux software tools because Linux itself is, in its raw form, freeware.
Managers interested in this kind of software need to take a different approach to acquisition. Some of these companies don't list'or, in some cases, don't even have'mailing addresses or telephone numbers; they can be contacted only through their uniform resource locators. Because many of them give away software they don't have a budget to maintain a business address or hire someone to answer phones.
Freeware comes from 14-year-old kids, university engineering professors and every kind of programmer in between. You might never learn who developed a particular program, but that doesn't mean it won't work. The same people who turned the Internet into the Web are responsible for lot of Web application freeware.Different angles
The programs in the chart offer a range of tools to measure, modify and improve Web sites. They address such topics as consistent layout, site navigation, compliance with the accessibility requirements of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, Web content, link management, load testing, site performance, making use of metalinks and promotion.
GCN has devoted several Buyers Guides this year to tools for Web page development and management.
The March 5 guide on network management tools focused on performance management from the server standpoint and included a number of useful Web monitoring tools.
Other useful recent guides include: XML tools, Jan. 8; electronic commerce tools, March 19; legacy-to-Web tools, April 2.John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at [email protected]
|Analyzes site content, verifies URL links, for small or very large Web sites|
|HTTP and URL response debugging tool|
|Edit, delete and test URLs on the fly from any ODBC-supported database,|
including Microsoft Access and Oracle
|ASP Login 2000 Pro|
|Single Web site password allows separate control for each page|
|ASPLogin 2000 Pro Server|
|NT 4.0, Microsoft|
IIS, Win 2000
|Same, but server edition|
|Exit 0 Digital Systems Inc. |
Bedford, Nova Scotia
|Blueprint Pro ||Windows ||Locates and helps repair broken links on large Web sites ||$300|
|Blueprint Personal ||Windows ||Same, for sites up to 200 pages ||$90|
|Win95 up, Mac OS, Linux, Solaris|
|Log analyzer measures visitor paths and page popularity|
|Coast Software Inc.|
|Maps, analyzes, verifies and updates site content|
West Palm Beach, Fla.
|Tests pages and server memory, e-mails problem reports to site manager|
|Generates IIS metabase information report|
|DomainReport It Pro|
|Same, but creates VBScript-driven .bat files that allow transfer of IIS installs|
|Log file management tool produces ASCII reports|
|Generates Visual Basic scripts to manage and delete IIS domains|
|Object-oriented tool manages metadata tags on five sites|
|Same, but for up to 30 sites|
|Same, but for a single site|
|Source Guard Enterprise|
|Security package protects Java code from reverse engineering attacks|
|GK Web Services|
Fair Oaks, Calif.
|9x Meta Magic|
|Updates metatags to improve performance and promote site on search engines|
|Edits the Alt text for Web page images so screen readers can identify objects|
4161 260 90 20
|Edits the Alt text for Web page images so screen readers can identify objects|
|Powerful analysis and link validation tool is included in Web Weaver Gold|
|Mercury Interactive Corp.|
|Pre-deployment load-testing tool simulates site performance for various user loads|
|Web Server Stress Tool|
|Inexpensive tool for load-testing your site after it is up and running|
|IPCheck Server Monitor|
|Inexpensive tool for monitoring uptime percentage|
|NT, Win 2000,|
Win Me, Linux,
|Spell-checks page content, tests XML and Java code, simulates user testing|
|Quest Software Inc.|
|Tracks and analyzes visitor paths through site, most popular pages|
|University of Cambridge|
|Ultra fast and scalable log analyzer|
|Scans for and analyzes 50 kinds of link problems; testing limited to 1,000 links|
|Finds and extracts key words in Microsoft Office, HTML and PDF files|
|NT, Win 2000,|
|Log analyzer for high-traffic Web sites or enterprise-level intranet|
|Emulates real-world connection and page loading times, identifies|
unexpected loading order
|Image Optimizer Standard|
|Creates smaller images for faster page loading|
|Image Optimizer Pro|
|Same but adds image enhancement tools to improve compressed images|
|Creates smaller JPEG files|
|Speeds site by resizing, indexing, compressing and thumbnailing JPEG files|
Carol Stream, Ill.
|ASP 2 DLL|
|Win 3.x up|
|Converts and optimizes server side VBScript, IIS ASP Web applications|
and client side Java and VBScript to Visual Basic 5.0Pro+, and 6.0Pro+
source code for improved security and performance