Webmaster Resources

Useful Tools for Evaluating Your Website

You may think your website is great, but if you really want to know the truth, you need to call in some help. Whether you’re assessing your popularity, traffic, or usability, there are plenty of tools out there to do the job. Here, we’ve shared 50 of the best tools that will tell you just how good your site really is.

Search Engine Optimization :
Use these tools to make sure your site is receptive to search engine traffic.

1. Google Webmaster Tools: See how Google views your site, diagnose problems, and more, on this control panel for Google.
2. SEO Group Website Evaluation Tool: With this tool, you can track your search engine ranking and up to 3 keywords per report.
3. Indexed Pages Tool: Find out your total link count from major search engines.
4. GeoTargeting Detection: Determine how well your site is targeted to country-specific search engines.
5. Search Engine Positioning Tool: Track how well your websites rank for targeted keywords using this tool.
6. Keyword Density Analysis Tool: See how well you’re targeting keywords on your site site using the Keyword Density Analysis Tool.
7. Multiple Data Center Pagerank SEO Tool: Use this tool to check out your page rank in multiple Google data centers.
8. Niche Watch: See how you rank against competitors in your niche with Niche Watch.
9. Strongest Pages Tool: Determine which pages on your site offer the most strength to search engines.
10. Future PageRank: Use this tool to find out what your PageRank will be in the near future.

Popularity & Traffic Assessment :
Gauge the hotness of your traffic and reach using these tools.

1. URL Trends: Visit URL Trends to get an evaluation of your search engine popularity.
2. Alexa: Find out your traffic rank, reach, and compare your site with competitors on Alexa.
3. Technorati: Bloggers should check out their site on Technorati to see how they rank and get a glimpse into their popularity.
4. Link Popularity: Find out how many web pages link to your site with this tool.
5. Traffic Estimate: This site will simply give you an estimate of your traffic over the past few months.
6. Compete: Compete offers a great way for you to track your site’s performance against your competitors.
7. Quantcast: Check out Quantcast to get a look into your traffic demographics.
8. Website Popularity: With this utility, you’ll get reports of indexed pages, ranking, and more.
9. Backlink & Anchor Text Tool: Find out who is linking to you using this tool.

Statistics :
Put any of these great statistics tools on your site, and you’ll get a peek into search engine terms, usage, and more.

1. Google Analytics: Get clear and easy reports about visitors to your site with this tool.
2. StatCounter: With this web stats tool, you’ll be able to track your traffic, search engine terms, and more.
3. Measure Map: Understand what people do on your blog with Measure Map.
4. AWStats: Use this open source tool to format your log information in a readable way.
5. pMetrics: Performancing’s pMetrics offers detailed site and user statistics.
6. Mint: Identify where your site succeeds with this fully-featured tool.

Browser Tools:
Evaluate your site in your own browser with these tools.

1. Internet Explorer Developer Toolbar: With this toolbar, you can turn CSS and Javascript on and off to see how your site displays without them.
2. Firefox Web Developer: Use this add-on to get tools that will help you evaluate your site in Firefox.

Accessibility and Usability :
These tools will allow you to get a peek into just how well others can use your site.

1. Accessibility Extension: Download this accessibility extension for Firefox, and you’ll be able to check your site right in your browser.
2. Fangs: Download this text reader for Firefox to see how your site serves up.
3. Crazy Egg: Take a look at heat maps and other tools that will tell you where interest lies on your site.
4. Mobile-Readiness Evaluation: Find out if your site is ready to be viewed on a mobile browser.
5. WAVE: Have WAVE take a look at your site to see your original page with embedded icons that discuss accessibility issues.
6. Link Validation Spider: Make sure that all of the links on your site work with this spider tool.
7. Vischeck: Evaluate your site for vision-impaired users with this tool.
8. UITest: This tool will give your site a quick run-over to evaluate its accessibility.
9. Readability Test: Use this tester to find out if your site is easy to read or not.
10. Backward Compatibility Viewer: See how your site looks in older browsers using this tool.

Conversion Optimization :
Does your site make users do what you want them to? Find out with these tools.

1. Google Website Optimizer: Google’s Website Optimizer can tell you how well you’re converting visitors, and what you can do to improve your rate.
2. Verster: Verster will give you an analysis of your conversion rates on landing pages, internal marketing, and e-commerce.
3. UserVue: With this service, you can see the way users behave on your site.
4. Omniture SiteCatalyst: This tool will help you determine profitable paths on your site.

Performance Monitor:
Check your speed and user experience using these performance assessment tools.

1. Web Page Analyzer: With this tool, you’ll get a look at the loading speed of your site. It analyzes what loads first as well as your site’s overall speed.
2. YSlow: Check out your site’s overall performance with this developer tool from Yahoo!.
3. Load Time Analysis: Find out how long it takes to load all of your site with this tool.
4. StressTester: Check how much stress your site can take with this stress testing tool.
5. UXinsight: Check out your visitors’ user experience and website performance with UXinsight.
6. WebWait: Check your website’s speed using this tool.

Validation Check:
These tools offer a handy way to check your code.

1. W3C Semantic Data Extractor: This tool will evaluate how semantically rich your site is.
2. NetMechanic Toolbox: Use this toolbox to check for bad spelling, code, compatibility, and slow-loading pages.
3. W3C Markup Validator: Use this service to make sure your code is up to snuff.

Common Web Design Mistakes, You Should Avoid

There are several lists of web design mistakes around the Internet. Most of them, however, are the “Most common” or “Top 10” mistakes. Every time I crossed one of those lists I would think to myself: “Come on, there must be more than 10 mistakes…”. Then I decided to write down all the web design mistakes that would come into my head; within half an hour I had over thirty of them listed. Afterwards I did some research around the web and the list grew to 43 points.

The next step was to write a short description for each one, and the result is the collection of mistakes that you will find below. Some of the points are common sense, others are quite polemic. Most of them apply to any website though, whether we talk about a business entity or a blog. Enjoy!

Allow user to know what the site is about in seconds:
Attention is one the most valuable currencies on the Internet. If a visitor can not figure what your site is about in a couple of seconds, he will probably just go somewhere else. Your site must communicate why I should spend my time there, and FAST!

Make the content scannable:
This is the Internet, not a book, so forget large blocks of text. Probably I will be visiting your site while I work on other stuff so make sure that I can scan through the entire content. Bullet points, headers, subheaders, lists. Anything that will help the reader filter what he is looking for.

Do not use fancy fonts that are unreadable:

Sure there are some fonts that will give a sophisticated look to your website. But are they readable? If your main objective is to deliver a message and get the visitors reading your stuff, then you should make the process comfortable for them.

Do not use tiny fonts:
The previous point applies here, you want to make sure that readers are comfortable reading your content. My Firefox does have a zooming feature, but if I need to use on your website it will probably be the last time I visit it.
Do not open new browser windows:
I used to do that on my first websites. The logic was simple, if I open new browser windows for external links the user will never leave my site. WRONG! Let the user control where he wants the links to open. There is a reason why browsers have a huge “Back” button. Do not worry about sending the visitor to another website, he will get back if he wants to (even porn sites are starting to get conscious regarding this point lately…).

Do not resize the user’s browser windows:
the user should be in control of his browser. If you resize it you will risk to mess things up on his side, and what is worse you might lose your credibility in front of him.

Do not require a registration unless it is necessary:
Lets put this straight, when I browse around the Internet I want to get information, not the other way around. Do not force me to register up and leave my email address and other details unless it is absolutely necessary (i.e. unless what you offer is so good that I will bear with the registration).

Never subscribe the visitor for something without his consent:
do not automatically subscribe a visitor to newsletters when he registers up on your site. Sending unsolicited emails around is not the best way to make friends.

Do not overuse Flash:
apart from increasing the load time of your website, excessive usage of Flash might also annoy the visitors. Use it only if you must offer features that are not supported by static pages.

Do not play music:
on the early years of the Internet web developers always tried to successfully integrate music into websites. Guess what, they failed miserably. Do not use music, period.

If you MUST play an audio file let the user start it:
some situations might require an audio file. You might need to deliver a speech to the user or your guided tour might have an audio component. That is fine. Just make sure that the user is in control, let him push the “Play” button as opposed to jamming the music on his face right after he enters the website.

Do not clutter your website with badges:
first of all, badges of networks and communities make a site look very unprofessional. Even if we are talking about awards and recognition badges you should place them on the “About Us” page.

Do not use a homepage that just launches the “real” website:
the smaller the number of steps required for the user to access your content, the better.

Make sure to include contact details:
there is nothing worse than a website that has no contact details. This is not bad only for the visitors, but also for yourself. You might lose important feedback along the way.

Do not break the “Back” button:
this is a very basic principle of usability. Do not break the “Back” button under any circumstance. Opening new browser windows will break it, for instance, and some Javascript links might also break them.

Do not use blinking text:
unless your visitors are coming straight from 1996, that is.

Avoid complex URL structures:
a simple, keyword-based URL structure will not only improve your search engine rankings, but it will also make it easier for the reader to identify the content of your pages before visiting them.

Use CSS over HTML tables:
HTML tables were used to create page layouts. With the advent of CSS, however, there is no reason to stick to them. CSS is faster, more reliable and it offers many more features.

Make sure users can search the whole website:
there is a reason why search engines revolutionized the Internet. You probably guessed it, because they make it very easy to find the information we are looking for. Do not neglect this on your site.

Avoid “drop down” menus:
the user should be able to see all the navigation options straight way. Using “drop down” menus might confuse things and hide the information the reader was actually looking for.

Use text navigation:
text navigation is not only faster but it is also more reliable. Some users, for instance, browse the Internet with images turned off.

If you are linking to PDF files disclose it:
ever clicked on a link only to see your browser freezing while Acrobat Reader launches to open that (unrequested) PDF file? That is pretty annoying so make sure to explicit links pointing to PDF files so that users can handle them properly.

Do not confuse the visitor with many versions:
avoid confusing the visitor with too many versions of your website. What bandwidth do I prefer? 56Kbps? 128Kbps? Flash or HTML? Man, just give me the content!

Do not blend advertising inside the content:
blending advertising like Adsense units inside your content might increase your click-through rate on the short term. Over the long run, however, this will reduce your readership base. An annoyed visitor is a lost visitor.

Use a simple navigation structure:
sometimes less is more. This rule usually applies to people and choices. Make sure that your website has a single, clear navigation structure. The last thing you want is to confuse the reader regarding where he should go to find the information he is looking for.

Avoid “intros”:
do not force the user to watch or read something before he can access to the real content. This is plain annoying, and he will stay only if what you have to offer is really unique.

Do not use FrontPage:
this point extends to other cheap HTML editors. While they appear to make web design easier, the output will be a poorly crafted code, incompatible with different browsers and with several bugs.

Make sure your website is cross-browser compatible:
not all browsers are created equal, and not all of them interpret CSS and other languages on the same way. Like it or not, you will need to make your website compatible with the most used browsers on the market, else you will lose readers over the long term.

Make sure to include anchor text on links:
I confess I used to do that mistake until some time ago. It is easier to tell people to “click here”. But this is not efficient. Make sure to include a relevant anchor text on your links. It will ensure that the reader knows where he is going to if he clicks the link, and it will also create SEO benefits for the external site where the link is pointing.

Do not cloak links:
apart from having a clear anchor text, the user must also be able to see where the link is pointing on the status bar of his browser. If you cloak your links (either because they are affiliate ones or due to other reasons) your site will lose credibility.

Make links visible:
the visitor should be able to recognize what is clickable and what is not, easily. Make sure that your links have a contrasting color (the standard blue color is the optimal most of the times). Possibly also make them underlined.

Do not underline or color normal text:
do not underline normal text unless absolutely necessary. Just as users need to recognize links easily, they should not get the idea that something is clickable when in reality it is not.

Make clicked links change color:
this point is very important for the usability of your website. Clicked links that change color help the user to locate himself more easily around your site, making sure that he will not end up visiting the same pages unintentionally.

Do not use animated GIFs:
unless you have advertising banners that require animation, avoid animated GIFs. They make a site look unprofessional and detract the attention from the content.

Make sure to use the ALT and TITLE attributes for images:
apart from having SEO benefits the ALT and TITLE attributes for images will play an important role for blind users.

Do not use harsh colors:
if the user is getting a headache after visiting your site for 10 consecutive minutes, you probably should pick a better color scheme. Design the color palette around your objectives (i.e. deliver a mood, let the user focus on the content, etc.).

Do not use pop ups:
this point refers to pop ups of any kind. Even user requested pop ups are a bad idea given the increasing amount of pop blockers out there.

Avoid Javascript links:
those links execute a small Javascript when the user clicks on them. Stay away from them since they often create problems for the user.

Include functional links on your footer:
people are used to scrolling down to the footer of a website if they are not finding a specific information. At the very least you want to include a link to the Homepage and possibly a link to the “Contact Us” page.

Avoid long pages:
guess what, if the user needs to scroll down forever in order to read your content he will probably just skip it altogether. If that is the case with your website make it shorter and improve the navigation structure.

No horizontal scrolling:
while some vertical scrolling is tolerable, the same can not be said about horizontal scrolling. The most used screen resolution nowadays is 1024 x 768 pixels, so make sure that your website fits inside it.

No spelling or grammatical mistakes:
this is not a web design mistake, but it is one of the most important factors affecting the overall quality of a website. Make sure that your links and texts do not contain spelling or grammatical mistakes.

If you use CAPTCHA make sure the letters are readable:
several sites use CAPTCHA filters as a method of reducing spam on comments or on registration forms. There is just one problem with it, most of the times the user needs to call his whole family to decipher the letters.

How to Choose The Best Web Hosting Service

Choosing a host for your web-site is no small decision. Once committed to one, it will become very difficult to move your business elsewhere – not to mention the damage that can be done to your business if you make the wrong choice. This makes it very important to “get it right the first time”. Find out as much as you can about your prospective host before making any decisions.

When evaluating your host, you will obviously be considering price. But price is, of course, not the only important factor. You will also need to take into consideration:

1. the speed and reliability of the servers and hardware
2. the features the host offers and whether these mesh with your own requirements, and, of course
3. the quality of their support services.

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1. Speed and Reliability of the Servers and Hardware
The speed and reliability of your host’s servers will depend on several factors, including the quality of their connection to the internet, bandwidth, and the availability of back-up systems in case things go wrong. Here’s a checklist of points to consider when checking out your prospective host’s servers and hardware:

* A T3 Connection (or better), close to a primary internet backbone.
A T3 connection is approx 30 times as fast as a T1 connection. Smaller hosting providers – for example, the proverbial “garage operations” — will often use T1 connections, with no backup at all. They may be very cheap – but, be careful here, you can get what you pay for!

* Effective Bandwidth Management
In addition to having a fast connection to the internet, your host should be able to manage how its available bandwidth is used . As a guide, it should typically not be using more than 50 percent of its bandwidth.

* Backup Systems
If there is a systems, network or power failure, the last thing you want is to lose your data or to have your web-site go down for a long period. Good hosts will have back up systems in place to guard against this.

Look for a host who can provide:

* Regular, daily back up of your data
* Backup power supplies

Look for an uninterruptible power supply system (often referred to as “UPS”) – a back up power generator available in case of emergencies.

* Redundancy
Do they have more than one connection to the internet, in case one of their connections goes down.

* An “Uptime” Guarantee
These typically state “We guarantee 99% (or 99.5%) uptime”.

Here’s a sample of the kind of information that the web host should be supplying

“Our Internet connectivity is supplied by three separate diverse backbone providers: UUNET, SAAVIS and Goodnet. If one of these lines goes down, traffic is automatically routed through the lines that are still online. Our data center is supplied by multiple redundant power sources – centralized automatic UPS system with a battery-powered backup system. The batteries are also connected to three diesel power generators in the event of a power outage to the building.”

2. Features
As well as checking out the reliability of the servers and hardware you will also need to evaluate and compare the features provided by your host.

A full range of hosting features in http://akkhorsoft.com/linux-server-hosting-plan.php, which compares hosting providers on both price and features. This is an excellent facility for comparing features when choosing a host – but to make the best use of it, you will need first to prepare a list of features you require.

Here’s a checklist of things to consider:

* Shared or Dedicated Server?
Depending on your requirements, you may be better off with a dedicated server than a shared server. Dedicated servers are typically used in cases where there is a high level of traffic, there is a strong need for security, or the user wishes to run their own customised software and applications rather than the standard ones supplied by the host.

* Compatibility with Existing Software and Skills
Is your host’s server, software and support services compatible will the skills and software that you (or your design team) are using? If, for instance, you are used to working in a Unix environment, then it probably makes little sense to choose an NT host.

* Flexibility and Room for Growth
You do not need a database solution now, perhaps, but you may need one in the future. Similarly, a shared hosting arrangement may be fine for you now, but what if your traffic levels explode, and you need one in a years’ time? It is much easier to remain with one host than to change. So, when choosing a host, keep in mind your possible future needs, and whether the host will be able to accommodate them.

3. Support and Service
Once you have checked out the reliability of the servers and hardware, and located a host that provides the features you want, the final task is to evaluate the quality of their support services.

Most hosts now promise 24/7 support as a standard feature — but, do they really live up to that promise? It will be a good idea to find out before committing to them! Here’s a checklist of things to consider before making that all-important decision

* Quality of existing customers
What is the quality and calibre of the sites currently served by this host? If they generally host high-calibre commercial clients, then, if you are running a commercial web-site, they may be a better bet for you than if they mainly host, for instance, or small businesses with 2 or 3 page static web-sites. (There may, of course, be cost trade-off here.)

* Opinions of existing customers
A host may boast of its popularity, the fact that it hosts lots of web-sites. However, the most “popular” are not necessarily the best — they may just be the ones with the largest advertising budget!

Indeed “popularity” can be a double-edged sword — support resources may more thinly spread, and bandwidth may be squeezed as a result of the numbers hosted.

So don’t go on numbers alone. Get in touch with some of the host’s existing (or past) customers, and ask them what they really think of the service and reliability of their host.

* Stability
The last thing you want is for your host to go out of business. So try to get some idea of how stable they are. Number of years in business is sometimes (not always, of course) a good indicator.

* Support and Responsiveness
Try asking the support staff a few technical questions of the type you anticipate you will be asking when you host with them. Then monitor how quickly and efficiently they respond.

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