Keep Your Perishables Fresh! - HTML 4

New content and active connections to current, relevant resources are the hallmarks of a well-tended Web site. You can’t achieve these goals without regular (and sometimes, constant) effort, so you plan for ongoing activity. The rewards can be great, starting with a genuine sense of user excitement at what new marvels and treasures may reveal themselves on their next visit to your site. This kind of anticipation is nearly impossible to imitate (without doing what you’ll have to do to keep things fresh in the first place).

Lack of live links — a loathsome legacy
We performed an unscientific, random-sample test to double-check our own suspicions; users told us that positive impressions of a particular site are proportional to the number of working links they find there. The moral of this survey: Always check your links. This step is as true after you publish your pages as it is before they’re made public. Nothing irritates users more than a link that produces the dreaded 404 File not found error instead of the good stuff they seek! Remember, too, that link checks are as indispensable to page maintenance as they are to testing.

If you’re long on 21st-century street smarts, hire a robot to do the job for you: They work really long hours (with no coffee breaks), don’t charge much, and check every last link in your site (and beyond, if you let them). The best thing about robots is that you can schedule them to do their jobs at regular intervals: They always show up on time, always do a good job, and never complain (though we haven’t yet found one that brings homemade cookies or remembers birthdays). All you have to do is search online for phrases like link checker. You’ll find lots to choose from!

We’re fond of a robot named MOMspider, created by Roy Fielding of the W3C. This spider takes some work to use, but you can set it to check only local links, and it does a bang-up job of catching stale links before users do. (Some HTML software, such as HomeSite, includes a built-in link checker to check your links both before and after you post your pages.)

If a URL points to one page that immediately points to another (a pointer), you’re not entitled to just leave the link alone. Sure, it technically works, but for how long? And how annoying! So if your link checking shows a pointer that points to a pointer (yikes), do yourself (and your users) a favor by
updating the URL to point directly to the real location. You save users time, reduce Internet traffic, and earn good cyberkarma.

When old links must linger
If you must leave a URL active even after it has become passé to give your users time to bookmark your new location, instruct browsers to jump straight from the old page to the new one by including the following HTML command in the old document’s <head> section:

<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”0”; url=”newurlhere” />

This nifty line of code tells a browser that it should refresh the page. The delay before switching to the new page is specified by the value of the content attribute, and the destination URL is determined by the value of the url attribute. If you must build such a page, be sure to include a plain-vanilla link in its <body> section, too, so users with older browsers can follow the link manually, instead of automatically. You might also want to add text that tells visitors to update their bookmarks with the new URL. Getting there may not be half the fun, but it’s the whole objective.

Make your content mirror your world
When it comes to content, the best way to keep things fresh is to keep up with the world in which your site resides. As things change, disappear, or pop up in that external world, similar events should occur on your Web site. Since something new is always happening, and old ways or beliefs fading away —even in studies of ancient cultures or beliefs — if you report on what’s new and muse on what’s fading from view, you’ll provide constant reasons for your visitors to keep coming back for more. What’s more, if you can accurately and honestly reflect (and reflect upon) what’s happening in your world of interest, you’ll grab loyalty and respect as well as continued patronage.

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