What every good Webmaster knows – regularly schedule tasks to keep Websites running properly

What every good Webmaster knows – regularly schedule tasks to keep Websites running properly – Internet/Web/Online Service Information

Victoria Hall Smith

Your job isn’t done when you post a page to your Web site. Just as you need a preventative maintenance routine for your PC, you also need a regular schedule of tasks to keep your Web site in tip-top shape. We talked to Webmasters who run major sites as well as cyber-savvy entrepreneurs to develop a calendar that will help you keep your site in front of potential clients — without taking time away from running your business.

All our experts agreed that establishing and following a schedule is paramount. “However frequent,” advises Elizabeth Osder of New York Times Electronic Media (www.nytimes.com), “have a schedule and stick to it.” To avoid errors, Web Informant (www.strom.com) publisher David Strom recommends developing a regular system for handling maintenance chores in a set order. “As you grow and add personnel,” he says, “divide up the maintenance chores, making sure that the same person performs the same task each time so you’ll have consistency and accountability.”

To stay on top of your site, add the following tasks to this months to-do list and revisit them regularly.

October 3: Check your server. “If you’re a small site on an Internet service provider’s [ISP] server,” says John Caruso, director of system and network administration for CNet (www.cnet.com), “you can’t visually check to make sure your server is up and running.” Caruso suggests trying to access your site often. One easy way to do so is to change your browser’s home page to point to your URL. Every time you connect to your ISP, you’ll see your home page. If you get an error message that the site is down, call your ISP about the problem immediately. Slow performance also warrants a call.

October 6: Review your logs. CNet’s Caruso says frequent checking of your access and error logs is imperative. “Your site is often crawled by robots from search engines that are updating their information, and too often, those ‘bots get stuck on your site,” he warns. A stuck robot ties up your site, which could slow customer access speeds and cost you money if your ISP adds extra connect charges.

Since most small businesses host their Web sites with an ISP, however, you may not have access to the logs for your site. Glen Gerod, who handles TechWeb (www. techweb.com) advises asking your ISP for detailed reports. “Even if you get the information you specified,” he says, “ask your ISP for more details if you realize you need more.” He says there’s no need to be intimidated by all the detail. ISPs generally provide reports in electronic format and a good log-analysis program such as NetIntellect 2.5 (WebManage Technologies, 603-594-9226, www.web manage.com; Win 95; $199) can turn cryptic log statistics into meaningful information.

October 10: Automate replies. If you’re finding that you’re receiving more inquiries or e-mail than you can manually manage, maybe it’s time to automate. According to Barbara Cerf, manager of IBM’s North American Internet Program for Small Businesses, “adding an autoresponder, to send back requested info or acknowledge e-mail, is fairly simple in most Web publishing packages and will save you countless hours.”

October 13: Check your links. Don’t rely on Web authoring tools to check your links automatically. Automatic link checking can only verify that the link is good; it cannot judge content. “Check for yourself every week or so,” cautions Andy Goodman, executive producer at Paradesa Media’s online magazine LearnTheNet (www.learn thenet.com). “Make sure it’s going to the right site and the content is what you want.” Linked material could be replaced with something inappropriate.

Checking links also means checking performance, especially if you’ve exchanged links with another site. Jim Podhradsky, Webmaster for Dakota River Outfitters (www.dakotariver. com), recommends logging on to the linked site at different times. If you find any problems, e-mail your contact there and ask what can be done.

October 17: Add mailto links. “Put part of the burden on your visitors,” suggests Kendra Bonnett, author of IBM’s Guide to Doing Business on the Internet (McGraw-Hill). Bonnett recommends having your visitors inform you when operational problems arise. Add a mailto link to each page so your visitors can e-mail you directly.

October 20: Test CGI and Java scripts. Before posting a new page to the public, place it on your ISP’s server and if it includes a CGI or Java script, omit any links to or from other pages. “Go slow with scripting and animation,” warns Tim McCanna of Web Diner (www.webdiner.com). McCanna says animation slows down performance and studies show visitors generally won’t wait. By checking out the script on an unlinked page, you can judge it’s performance. TechWeb’s Gerod suggests following the rule of testing everything before you add it to your site.

Andrew Torgan, interactive producer of CNNfn.com (www.cnnfn.com), however, encourages small sites to add scripting and animation. “Your software will check to find bugs in your scripts, so your updating should concentrate on adding movement to as many sub pages as possible, no matter how thin your site,” he insists. Torgan advises trying to add a little with each update so you’re not overwhelmed by the work involved.

October 24: Cull guestbook info. Getting visitor input from your Web site into your database doesn’t have to be brain surgery. To reduce the hassle of collecting that information, “set up filters in your e-mail program to automatically organize your visitor’s input,” offers Podhradsky. For instance, a filter can place all messages coming from your site into one directory. Next, he says, set up tables in your database that match the forms you used on your site, then import the e-mail files.

October 27: Archive old graphics. In the graphics-rich World Wide Web, you’ll probably need to reuse graphics. Hyperski (www.hyperski.com) publisher Mark Greenstein advocates archiving graphics and images. “I have separate files for new, used, and to be used,” he offers. Don’t rely on your memory. Make sure your archives have information about usage dates and content. “The more graphics you use, the greater your need for a system.”

October 31: Get some help. Finally, Goodman recommends finding an expert to add new bells and whistles to your site. “The tools and capabilities are changing so rapidly,” he says, “that it’s worth seeking expert advice.”

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