SpannerIt’s important to test the various elements of your website as you build it, and double check everything both before you go live and after you’ve launched.

There are lots of free tools around that can make this easier. In no particular order, here are six of the best.

1. Firebug and the Firefox developer toolbar
Ok, so this is actually two different extensions for Firefox. Our resident developer reckons Firebug is the better of the two (see the comments), so we’ve added it to the list. You can use them together – essentially, they let you examine every aspect of a website.

See how your pages look with images disabled, or JavaScript turned off. You can edit and test JavaScript and view all HTTP requests made by images and other linked files (like Flash movies) … and that barely scratches the surface. If you design websites, you need these add-ons.

2. SEOMOZ keyword extractor
Enter a URL into this tool and it scans the relevant web page, before reporting back the keywords and terms which are most prominent on that page. Basically, you tell it where your website is, then it tells you which terms your site seems to be trying to rank highly in search engines for. If the results aren’t the keywords you’ve been targeting, you’ll probably want to make some changes.

3. Sloppy
Sloppy simulates a dial-up internet connection, so you can see how well your site loads over a slow connection. In fairness, this tool is less relevant these days because, in the UK at least, most people now use broadband rather than dial-up (see the figures). However, it’s a good reality check for your site, particularly if a higher-than-average proportion of your visitors use a slow connection.

4. Browsershots
Browsershots lets you see how your website looks in different types and versions of web browser. It takes a few minutes to do its stuff, but it has a comprehensive list of browsers and you can’t argue with the price. It’ll never be as good as setting up a proper testing environment and installing the browsers yourself, but it’s not bad – and a great way of avoiding the trap of only ever testing on the web browser you use yourself.

5. Wave
When building your website, it’s important to think about how accessible it is. (An accessible website is one which usable by as many people as possible.) It’s good practice to adhere to to accessibility guidelines, and means people with disabilities will find your website easier to use. Wave is a tool to evaluate how accessible your site is – it will show you what you’re doing right, and where you can improve.

6. W3C link checker
It’s easy to get links right when you first add them to your website. But as your site grows, pages change. The same happens to external sites too, so links which once worked often end up at a ‘page not found’ error. This link checker scans every link on your web pages, telling you which ones work, which ones don’t – and exactly what’s wrong with them.

Which website tools can’t you live without? Leave a comment and let us know.

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