September 2009 Newsletter

Five Tools to Diagnose Your Website

**** The 4specs Perspective

In this economic climate can you afford to put your website on a back burner?

Before starting on any changes to your website, I recommend you understand the current status of your website and the type of problems that exist. Each of these tools will lead into suggested corrective action you will want to undertake later on:

1. How fast is your website?
Users are frustrated by slow-to-display websites, and they may leave to go to a competitor's website. In these newsletters I will show you how to improve your page speed, step by step. The Website Optimization book written by the developer of the link below is an excellent resource that goes into greater detail than I plan to provide.

This tool will download one of your website pages and provide estimates of speed:

After submitting your website, at the bottom of the Website Optimization results page are suggestions. Print out the page, or save as a pdf, the starting status of your home page.

I recommend you plan to target 25-50,000 bytes as a maximum size for your pages. The 4specs home page is 11,206 bytes. This is not including the Google Analytics which is apparently not downloaded by this analyzer. As the 4specs home page is the most frequently downloaded page, I have given the home page a lot of thought to be fast. One of the largest pages on 4specs is 07-4100 - Metal Roof and Wall Panels - 156,029 bytes, with most of the size in the advertiser images.

2. Does your website have valid HTML code?
If your HTML code is not valid, you run the risk of having your site appearing incorrectly on some of the wide variety of browsers currently being used - Safari, Opera and Firefox. Here"s a great tool for checking your code's validity:

Each of the over 1,000 pages on 4specs validates using this tool. Upon our first validity check several years ago, we found the same errors repeated again and again on pages. As we worked on each page, we corrected the problems. In a later article, I will introduce another tool that will check your entire website in one pass. In the meantime, check your home page and one typical inside page and print out save the results as a pdf.

3. Are your pages cached?
Caching means that the user does not have to reload the page and images if they return to the page 10 minutes later. For most websites, bandwidth is not a limit. Here I am focused on the user's experience - fast. I frequently see websites that state that the page is not to be cached.
[link no longer valid]

All of the 4specs html, Cascading Style Sheet and Javascript files are set for 12 hour validity. This means that if the user returns within 12 hours, the page will NOT be checked to see if it is current. After 12 hours, the page will be checked using the ETag or Last Modified information to see if the page has been changed. If the page has not been changed, the server will return a 304-Not Modified response. If the page has changed, the server will return the new html. All the images are set for a 1 year validity. This speeds up 4specs for the repeat user.

I see some manufacturer websites that are set to force every page to be downloaded every time. The can be annoying when I have to download the flash again or a 1 megabyte pdf while reviewing a site to be added to 4specs.

4. Does your website work on an iPhone or other handheld?
Can the user access your online date using an iPhone? Can the user find your phone number on the website to call for tech support from a construction jobsite? When my wife got her iPhone this summer, I was pleasantly surprised to see that 4specs rendered fairly well. I am planning to research this further and perhaps develop some special code for the iPhone and other handhelds. No advice to provide today - this is future research. Ask an iPhone user to show your website.

5. How do the search engines see your site?
The Googlebot does not see your site as you do. Well designed pages and a well designed site will increase the number of visitors to your site. Here is one simulator to show what the search engine spyder or robot saves:

Here is an interesting article that explains this further:

Looking these over will provide you with some idea on what will be needed to improve the hidden performance of your website.

Questions and comments are always appreciated.


Colin Gilboy
Publisher - 4specs
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