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

There's a lot more to managing Internet sites than keeping the server running

BY 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.

Customer's right

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.


The Lowdown

' 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.

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.

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.

Just following orders

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.

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.

The gift horses

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.

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.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at poweruser@mail.usa.com.






















































































































































































































































Company Product Platform Description Price
Aman Software

Ottawa, Ontario

613-224-5644

www.cyberspider.com
CyberSpider Link Windows Analyzes site content, verifies URL links, for small or very large Web sites $35
WebBug Windows HTTP and URL response debugging tool Free
Arclyte

Houston

No phone

www.arclyte.com
Link Check Windows Edit, delete and test URLs on the fly from any ODBC-supported database,

including Microsoft Access and Oracle
$20
ASPLogin.com Inc.

New York

No phone

www.asplogin.com
ASP Login 2000 Pro NT 4.0 Single Web site password allows separate control for each page $149
ASPLogin 2000 Pro Server NT 4.0, Microsoft

IIS, Win 2000
Same, but server edition $390
Exit 0 Digital Systems Inc.

Bedford, Nova Scotia

902-835-2867

www.exit0.com
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
Boutell.com Inc.
Seattle
206-658-8176
www.boutell.com
wUsage Win95 up, Mac OS, Linux, Solaris Log analyzer measures visitor paths and page popularity $75 up
Coast Software Inc.

Ottawa, Ontario

613-567-3201

www.coast.com
WebMaster Windows Maps, analyzes, verifies and updates site content $995
DSC Inc.

West Palm Beach, Fla.

No phone

www.serverautomationtools.com
WebPage Checker Windows Tests pages and server memory, e-mails problem reports to site manager $59
DomainReport It IIS Generates IIS metabase information report $20
DomainReport It Pro IIS Same, but creates VBScript-driven .bat files that allow transfer of IIS installs $40
LogFileManager IIS Log file management tool produces ASCII reports $40
DelDomains IIS Generates Visual Basic scripts to manage and delete IIS domains $25
Edime Ltd.

Forrest, Australia

61-2-62956300

www.metamanage.com
MetaManage Pro Win95 up Object-oriented tool manages metadata tags on five sites $1,750
MetaManage Enterprise Win95 up Same, but for up to 30 sites $3,450
MetaManage Lite Win95 up Same, but for a single site $495
4thpass Inc.

Seattle

206-749-9070

www.4thpass.com/
Source Guard Enterprise Java Virtual

Machine 1.4
Security package protects Java code from reverse engineering attacks $1,995
GK Web Services

Fair Oaks, Calif.

No phone

www.gkweb.com
9x Meta Magic Win95 up Updates metatags to improve performance and promote site on search engines Free
9x Alternator Win95 up Edits the Alt text for Web page images so screen readers can identify objects $30
Liebheart Systems

Basel, Switzerland

4161 260 90 20

www.cyberware-neotek.com/
webfeedback Linux Edits the Alt text for Web page images so screen readers can identify objects $298
McWeb Software

Brookline, Mass.

877-734-7638

www.mcwebsoftware.
com/mongrel.asp
Site Mongrel Win95 up Powerful analysis and link validation tool is included in Web Weaver Gold $44
Mercury Interactive Corp.

Sunnyvale, Calif.

408-944-1500

www.mercuryinteractive.com
LoadRunner Various servers Pre-deployment load-testing tool simulates site performance for various user loads $20,000

up
Paessler Tools

Furth, Germany

No phone

www.web-server-tools.com
Web Server Stress Tool Windows Inexpensive tool for load-testing your site after it is up and running $50
IPCheck Server Monitor Windows Inexpensive tool for monitoring uptime percentage $50
ParaSoft

Monrovia, Calif.

888-305-0041

www.parasoft.com/index.htm
WebKing NT, Win 2000,

Win Me, Linux,

Solaris
Spell-checks page content, tests XML and Java code, simulates user testing $3,495
Quest Software Inc.

Irvine, Calif.

949-754-8000

www.activeconcepts.com
Funnel Web Windows,

Linux, Unix
Tracks and analyzes visitor paths through site, most popular pages $1,199
University of Cambridge

Statistical Laboratory


Cambridge, England

www.analog.cx
Analog Any Ultra fast and scalable log analyzer Free
Watchfire Corp.

Lexington, Mass.

781-372-5900

www.watchfire.com
LinkBot Personal Windows Scans for and analyzes 50 kinds of link problems; testing limited to 1,000 links $295
Metadata Management Windows Finds and extracts key words in Microsoft Office, HTML and PDF files $5,200 up
Metadata

Management Enterprise
Windows Similar $5,400

per CPU
WebTrends Corp.

Portland, Ore.

503-294-7025

www.webtrends.com
Enterprise

Reporting Server
NT, Win 2000,

Red Hat

Linux,

Solaris
Log analyzer for high-traffic Web sites or enterprise-level intranet $1,499
XA Tech

Tavistock, England

No phone

www.xat.com
WebSpeed Optimizer Windows Emulates real-world connection and page loading times, identifies

unexpected loading order
$99
Image Optimizer Standard Windows Creates smaller images for faster page loading $39
Image Optimizer Pro Windows Same but adds image enhancement tools to improve compressed images $99
JPEG Optimizer Windows Creates smaller JPEG files $29
JPEG Disk

Optimizer
Windows,

Unix, Linux
Speeds site by resizing, indexing, compressing and thumbnailing JPEG files $500
XDE

Carol Stream, Ill.

630-552-3714

xde.net
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
$150

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