How to catch eyeballs

Written by Amit Agarwal | Updated: Mar 31 2008, 07:32am hrs
You may have developed your website using an expensive what you see is what you get editor but that doesnt guarantee that visitors will get the website as you see it.

Your site audience could be using a different browser or an operating system that you may have never worked on before, their system may not have certain fonts that are used in your site design, the resolution of their computer screen may be too low and so on. Designing a website is therefore just half the work done. You will need to extensively test the various elements and features of your website to ensure a good consistent experience so that visitors dont leave your site in a jiffy.

Here are some useful tools to help you check your website:

Browsershots is an online tool that automatically captures full page screenshot images of your website in various browsers across all different OS platforms. You also have the option to preview the website design in browsers with or without Flash, Java and JavaScript.

Browsershots is extremely popular and you may therefore have to wait a few minutes for this service to render screenshots of your website.

IE NetRenderer is another service thats much faster than Browsershots but it can check the rendering only for different versions of Internet Explorer. If your visitors are from the Mac site, you may also want to check out BrowsrCamp which is like Browsershot but for Mac OS browsers only.

To see how your website appears on the small screens of mobile phones like the BlackBerry or Windows Mobile, check out BrowserCam. Another good option is the Opera Simulator that lets you experience a mobile version of Opera from the desktop.

There are people who are on slow dial-up connections and their population in not insignificant especially in the developing world. You therefore need to make sure that the average loading time of your HTML web pages along with all the Javascript Ads, Images, CSS, Flash animations, etc is within reason limits.

Pingdom is a free online service that mimics the way a page is loaded in the web browser. It shows statistics (size, loading time) for every object on the web page so you know the culprits that may slow down the website.

Alternatively, you could use Firebug in Firefox to detect elements on your web page that are increasing the load time of your web pages (press F12, Goto All -> Net). For website and blogs that syndicate content via RSS feeds, load the website in IE or Firefox and look for that orange XML icon near the browser address bar. This ensures that other online services can successfully auto-discover your RSS feeds when given the site address.

If you have added email forms to your website (like Contact Us, or Suggest a friend)try some combinations in the form address field. For instance, is the email message delivered successfully if visitors add a semicolon instead of a comma to separate two or more email addresses.

You may also want to print some of your web pages to the local printer or save them as PDF to ensure that the Print CSS of your site is stripping the non-essential stuff like the sidebars and the ads. For accessibility, load the website inside html2txt to ensure that screen readers can interpret your website. This is an online Lynx simulator (text-only browser) and will also help you understand how your website appears to Google spiders and other search engine bots.

And finally, validate your web pages against online HTML validation and clean-up service like the W3C HTML Validator and HTML Tidy. The former service help you check the website for conformance to W3C HTML standards while the latter is for cleaning up HTML files that contain lot of nested tags.

The writer is a professional technology blogger at www.labnol.org