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Small Business Websites That Work newsletter, May 2002

Maintaining website quality

Sean McManus, author of 'Small Business Websites That Work', explains why every website needs a check-up once in a while.

Even if your website doesn't change much, it needs a regular check-up because the web and business environment are changing around it.

Accordingly to Linkquality.com, an average of 5.7% of links on websites are broken. The failure rate is 4.2% on business websites. Most surfers get irritated if they come across one broken link, but imagine the impact if 5% of the links on a large links page were broken. Some of these links might go to other pages on the same website, but it's more likely that failures are caused by sites that have been linked to either closing or moving to a different address.

Even if a link still technically works, there's the risk that the website has changed ownership and its content. You could be startled to find that a site you linked to in good faith some months or even years ago is now operated by a pornographer. Expired domain names with reasonable traffic levels are often bought to host inferior search engines which make money each time a search is performed and which tend to push gambling and home loans.

Before launching your site you should have tested it with a range of different browsers and on different platforms, to make sure the site can be used by everyone. But the chances are that browsers have been updated since you first commissioned your website design and the site hasn't been re-tested. Each generation of a new browser introduces a little more compliance with standards (good), and a few quirks (bad). It's the quirks that limit the freedom of your design. Even if every browser now complied with all the standards that are created to make the web easier to use and more efficient, there will still be a legacy of old browsers for a long time to come and you won't want to turn those customers away. Make sure your design still works as intended on all the major browsers in use.

Look out for your own business circumstances changing as well. Recently I've spotted:

  • Different prices for the same product on different pages of the same site. So the price has gone up then? That doesn't impress customers much and they'll be a lot less likely to buy if you can't be consistent about how much you want to charge them.
  • Competitions with expiry dates several months ago. If it's closed, remove it.
  • "We'll be relaunching this section of our site in October 2001". At least remove the date. And ideally remove the link so you don't lead visitors into obsolete sections of the site.
  • A section titled 'latest news' with headlines from months ago. If you're in a slow-moving business, don't call it latest news if you don't want to look stagnant.
  • Websites with old contact details for the company.

You might design your site to minimise update costs, but you can't stop the business and technical environment changing around you. Schedule regular checks on your website to make sure that you're giving the right first impression.

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