Changing the oil on your web site
This quartet of content maintenance tools can keep your turbocharged site out of the garage.
Would you buy a used car with broken trim and squeaky brakes? Doubtful. Nor should you expect your Web site visitors to put up with broken links, stale pages and long, winding paths to the content they need. Active maintenance is necessary to keep even the best-constructed sites in showroom shape.We looked at four tools that help combat Web site problems. We found that when you're talking about content management, a picture isn't always worth a thousand words, broken links aren't the only things to watch for and continued vigilance is the best approach. Each product we tested provides site mapping and link checking. They offer a variety of other maintenance utilities, such as page quality checking, and all are relatively easy to install and use. They all also have a common defect: You can only view HTML files with these tools using the client's default Web browser or the program's limited built-in browser. We think this is a serious oversight, given the numerous cross-browser coding problems that occur in many sites.
ConclusionsWhen it comes right down to it, none of the products meet all of the challenges of Web site management. Most of the tools failed to identify every possible form of broken link. Most did not even address all URL types well. Despite the rising popularity of dynamic sites, only WebMaster really dealt with dynamic pages in a reasonable fashion. We found quality-assurance metrics lacking in most of the tools. And some tools focused almost entirely on broken links, which is not enough for today's Web sites. Mapping was part of nearly all the tools, but the products still lacked the ability to create custom site visualizations, though Astra SiteManager shows an interesting possibility of what could be provided. Even when problems were identified in a site, fixing them was better suited to an external HTML editor, except in the case of WebMaster. Our recommendations: Brooklyn North's Blueprint is better left alone until a new version is released that addresses its problems. Mercury Interactive's Astra SiteManager is suitable only for those who want an interesting visualization tool or have no budget. WatchFire's Linkbot Pro is a good choice for quality checking, but for overall site management, Coast Software's WebMaster is the closest thing we've found to Web content and link management nirvana. Scorecard
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Note: Individual category scores are based on a scale of 1-10. Percentages are the weight given each category in determining the total score. The World Class Award goes to products that earn 9.0 or above on our scorecard.
Coast Software Inc.
Pros: Seamless file management and link repair; Custom page checking rules; Powerful site searching and comparison
Cons: Missed some link types; Lacked quality metrics
Linkbot Pro 4.1
Pros: Extensive link checking; Provides quality metrics; Excellent HTML quality checking
Cons: File management is limited; Lacks good support for dynamic data; No site comparison
Brooklyn North Software Works, Inc.
Pros: Easy to use; Site mirroring
Cons: Few quality metrics; Failed to identify many forms of broken links
Astra SiteManager 2.0
Pros: Can't beat the price; Provides interesting visualization feature
Cons: Lacks quality metrics; Difficult to use with local sites
Powell is the founder and president of PINT, a San Diego Web development firm. He is also the author of Web Site Engineering, HTML: The Complete Reference, and the upcoming Web Design: The Complete Reference. He can be reached at tpowell@ pint.com.
Scorecard and NetResults
How we ranked the apps in various categories, pricing and vendor contact info.
Discuss Web management issues with Powell, who starts off the discussion with three tips on keeping your site running at peak performance.
Interactive buyer's guide
Our database has detailed product specs for 31 apps. Use our search form to find the one that best meets your specific criteria, or compare two or more of the apps in a variety of categories.
Issues and trends
Web site management isn't just monitoring Web speeds and feeds anymore. As Web sites have grown in size and scope, managing them has evolved into a complex job that entails not only controlling traffic, but also watching access to the site, speeding the delivery of content, tracking the steps that comprise commercial transactions and managing the data behind the site.
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