Web Informant #126, 2 October 1998:
How to clean up your web site with online tools


As many of you know, the hardest thing about running a web site isn't building it but keeping it up on a daily basis. Links come and go, HTML tags evolve, and it is easy to introduce small errors when you inadvertently make other changes to your pages. While there are plenty of products that will allow you to build a pretty capable web site from scratch, the harder task is finding a tool that will help you fix up an existing site. My friend Dave Piscitello at Core Competence (dave@corecom.com) had the experience of having to try some of the online-based web inspection tools for a new web site. These tools run across the Internet and examine your site from afar, then provide lots of reports and suggestions on how to clean up your act. Here is his report.

Recently, I went through the ordeal of revising and re- hosting a web site developed by another company's HTML programmer. The site was not overly large, but it was complicated, the HTML was sloppy, the graphics slow, and the changes I ultimately introduced were, well, massive. I normally use NetObjects Fusion for my HTML coding and site development. Fusion has the benefit of doing the lion's share of the grunt work for me, such as checking HTML syntax and spelling and verifying URLs and links. But for Fusion to work, you have to start a site and continue to live inside it. I needed something else for this other site, and decided to try out three online site inspection services. The three were:

I set out to quickly syntax check my web pages and verify my links. All three sites use various agents and bots to scan through your pages and provide reports that you view in a browser. But all three do more than just check for broken links. For example, they look at how you have written your META tags to predict how the search engines will process your site. They'll tell you whether your pages contain browser-specific HTML extensions. They'll also tell you how "popular" your pages are: in the case of Dr. Watson, a service bot queries Altavista to see what pages point to yours. Now, some of this stuff you could do yourself if you had the time or knew the right commands. But it is nice to have something automated scan through your site and provide reports.

Sometimes the reports are a bit tedious: if anything the inspections border on being too fussy than too lenient with your code. I guess that is a good thing: I'd rather have more information that I could ignore than incomplete reports.

There's more. Dr. Watson and SiteInspector will estimate page download speeds over various links. That is a good reminder that not everyone in the world is coming into your site from a T1. NetMechanic offers a service called GifBOT that cuts down on your image file size by removing unused color information. SiteInspector provides a link to the search engine registry site called Submit-It, and also has tools that help you create mailing lists and discussion groups for your site.

I set out to syntax check my web pages. Five hours later, I had a pristine and freshly registered site with fast images, lean clean HTML, correct links, and improved META tags. More help or more work? I suppose I can console myself with the thought that I've done the web at large a small service by reducing the number of inefficient sites by one. And, I managed to pick up a few good HTML coding habits in the process.

What about costs? Dr. Watson is a free service. LinkExchange offers their SiteInspector services without charge, but encourages you to join their site promotion cooperative for a fee. Monte Sano offers some services for free, while others, such as their 24 by 7 server monitoring and other software, are not free but aren't that expensive either. The most expensive thing is really your time to plow through the reports and make the changes to your pages.

So which site should you use? During my five-hour inspection spree, I used and compared results from all three services. All the services are worth a visit to verify your site. I'd give SiteInspector a small edge over Dr. Watson only because LinkExchange offers more services. Over time, if you're developing lots of web sites, the software from NetMechanic might be a good choice, especially if you're a dial-in user.

David Strom
+1 (516) 944-3407
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