Monday, June 17, 2024

Site Analysis

In a previous article I introduced the problems of testing your site for missing links and images. A common problem often relates to seeing your web site from the inside out. In other words, things that appear to work for you may not work for your visitors. This is often caused by file references that point back to your computer. When you test, your browser can easily find these files because they are where they are supposed to be. Visitors not having access to your directories will see the typical missing image box.

The obvious step in solving this problem is to get your friends, relatives, and colleagues to test your site. (Why do they often discover that they must have an often-put-off root canal when you ask?) In addition to finding missing images, they are usually more than happy to give you their subjective opinion, whether you want it or not.

The first step however, should be to test your site with a specialized program that will find and report on these and many other possible problems. If you have a large commercial site you probably already have an application designed specifically for this. If you do not, there are still several free testing sites that you can use.

The two sites I am familiar with are:
Web Site Garage
Net Mechanic

Both of these sites allow you to enter the URL of any page on your web site. You would normally start with your home page but there is no reason why you cannot enter any page that you have updated by simply appending its name to the URL of your site. (Don’t forget the .htm or .html extension.)

The generated report will include:

Browser Compatibility
Meta Tag readiness
Load Time
Dead Links
HTML Design

Web Site Garage will also check:

Link Popularity

So how useful are these reports and how should you interpret them?

The Dead Link check is obviously of value. It will quickly tell you which URLs or files could not be found and show you the code so that you can correct the problem. The Link Popularity generated by Web Site Garage is also useful for identifying how many sites have links to your site.

What about the other reports? Well they can be of value, but take them with a grain of salt.

Meta Tag readiness is valuable since it will show you the complete list of the Meta Tags on your page and report any obvious problems it finds. It will not, however, tell you how well your site will be ranked by the search engines or indexes. There are many other factors involved in this determination.

The Spelling Check will probably identify most of your misspelled words. It will also identify many other words that it thinks are misspelled. You should be using a good spell checker before you publish your web site.

Load Time and HTML design are the two reports that I put least stock in. Rating a web page based on how long it takes to load is like trying to judge a Mozart symphony by how many notes it uses. You can get an excellent rating in this category by putting nothing on your web site. Which is the better site, one that loads slowly with valuable content or one that loads fast with no content? Download time is important, however, and if this report can identify components that can be speeded up without sacrificing content, then it is of use.

HTML design is a technical assessment. Like load time, there is no way to get a high rating unless you are willing to throw away most of the advances in browser technology over the last few years. A Web Page designed to use CSS, DHTML, frames, etc., is going to have problems with older browsers. Again, it is of value when searching for obvious problems. Just don’t forget to do your own testing.

So how good a job do these Web Analysis tools do in the real world? We put Web Site Garage through two real world tests and Net Mechanic through one.

First, we used the Virtual Mechanics home page on Web Site Garage and rated a ‘Good’ score. Most categories were ‘Excellent’ but we only rated a ‘Fair’ for Load Time and a ‘Good’ rating for Meta Tags. We apparently have a duplicated tag, but we have never able to find it.

We next tried the Web Site Garage home page itself. Surprise! They only gave themselves a ‘Fair’ rating. Apparently their Browser Compatibility is ‘Poor’, their Register Readiness and Load Times are ‘Good’, and their HTML design is only ‘Fair’. Since they were just bought by Netscape, presumably for a profit, one can only assume that there is more to a Web Site than rating high in a Site Analysis program.

Finally we tested NetMechanic on itself with similar results as Web Site Garage. Net Mechanic gave itself 1 out of 5 stars for 22 bad links, 4 out of 5 stars for 6 HTML errors, 4 out of 5 stars for two browser problems, and 4 out of 5 stars for 5 possible spelling errors.

Steve White of Virtual Mechanics & IMSWebTips offers DHTML tools and information, and also publishes a web tips ezine with lots of great ideas, snippets of code, and HTML and DHTML tutorials for any webmaster, regardless of experience.

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