Spring is the traditional time to tidy up, discarding the no longer useful, dusting off what you decide to keep, and adding anything needed. But you can do spring cleaning any time of year, to a home as well as a home page.
Web experts advise you to periodically evaluate your site to determine what’s working and what needs to be improved, whether you have a home-spun Web site consisting of a few pages or a multilevel, multimedia-rich e-business site. You can use various software programs for this.
The two most popular programs for creating and maintaining Web sites are Macromedia Dreamweaver, a sophisticated program used more by professional designers [http://www.macromedia.com/dreamweaver], and Microsoft FrontPage, an easy-to-use program used more by home and small business do-it-yourselfers [http://www.microsoft.com/frontpage].
Adobe GoLive, the third-most-popular Web authoring program [http://www.adobe.com/golive], is a terrific program that’s both easy to use and sophisticated. It’s targeted to Web design newcomers as well seasoned pros.
I asked GoLive’s product manager, George Arriola, about sprucing up a Web site, using his program or any other, and he offered some good advice.
Clean Out the Garage
First, look for stale, outdated content, says Arriola. The Web is all about new. Because information is easily updatable, it should be up to date. If a site is cluttered up with musty detritus, it will only reflect poorly on you or your organization.
GoLive, Dreamweaver, and FrontPage all let you check which pages have been most recently, and least recently, updated.
Look for broken internal links, which point to pages within your site, and external links, which point to other Web sites. If more than a couple of links no longer work, this can create the impression that the rest of your site is obsolete as well. Many Web authoring programs automate this process.
Clean out folders of old files and scripts you’re no longer using. There’s no point wasting the disk space.
Update old contact information. The Internet Age is the age of connectivity. If people can’t reach you, why put up a Web site in the first place?
Add Fresh Paint
Give your site a face-lift to improve navigation, usability, and accessibility. Arriola is a proponent of Web design guru Jakob Nielsen’s two-click rule: Users should be able to find content they’re after in two clicks rather than having to burrow several levels down. If information at your site is too hard to find, users may look elsewhere, in a couple of clicks.
If you don’t already have one, consider adding an internal search engine to your site. Atomz Corp. [http://www.atomz.com] lets you easily add either a simple or sophisticated search engine and sends you a periodic report of what visitors are searching for. The simple search engine is free, though available only for sites with fewer than 500 pages.
Consider incorporating graphical and other enhancements, provided they don’t bog down users. Examples include animations, audio clips, or video clips that offer useful substance such as product demonstrations. Another option is adding a wireless interface for those accessing your site using a mobile device.
Gut the First Floor
Some Web experts say that active sites should be revamped every 2-3 years. Reasons to redesign a site include new directions in your organization, changing ways that people use your site, and new Web technology.
Depending on where your site is hosted, you may be able to use software to analyze which sections of your site are receiving the most and the least traffic and to identify any problems visitors may be experiencing in surfing your site. Virtual hosting companies and some ISPs can provide this information for you. If you’re hosting your site yourself, various software programs can do the trick.
For obtaining Web metrics and analytics about your site, a number of companies offer solutions, including NetIQ Corp. [http://www.netiq.com/webtrends], Accrue Software [http://www.accrue.com], and WebSideStory [http://www.websidestory.com].
Options in try-before-you-buy software include Absolute Log Analyzer from BitStrike Software [http://www.bitstrike.com], SiteVigil Pro from Silurian Software [http://www.silurian.com], and LinkTrakker DUO from Internet Total Solutions [http://www.affiliatesbusiness.com].
Using this information can prompt decisions to close down some areas of your site or move them to make them more accessible or to beef up your hardware.
Finally, consider doing usability testing, testing your site with real people. Whether you hire a company to do this for you or do it yourself more informally, such testing can help you make the most important decision in designing and maintaining a Web site: Adopt a users’ perspective.