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Study: Top firms' Web sites error-ridden

Fortune 100 companies' Web sites are chock-full of errors, ranging from bad links to bad coding, according to a new study.

    Fortune 100 companies' Web sites are chock-full of errors, ranging from bad links to bad coding, according to a new study.

    The survey--conducted by programming tools company Parasoft and set to be released next Monday--examined Web sites of 95 of the Fortune 100 companies. It found that these sites had an average of one link error for every three-and-a-half Web pages--and an astounding 12.6 coding errors per page.

    Among the industries whose sites fared the worst in the survey: motor vehicles and parts, pharmaceuticals, general merchandisers, and computers and office equipment.

    "We were shocked at how bad they were overall," said Arthur Hicken, executive vice president at Parasoft.

    Flaws in Fortune 100 company sites
    In approximately 290,000 Web pages tested, roughly 84,000 links were broken--an average of one link error for every 3.5 Web pages.

    Of the same pages tested, roughly 3.7 million HTML coding errors showed up.

    The survey comes at a time when Web users are showing less tolerance for site delays caused by such coding errors. Zona Research, for instance, estimated this summer that e-commerce companies are losing more than $58 million per month from customers who abandon sites because they are unable to load Web pages.

    Using its own proprietary software, Parasoft surveyed the Web sites in June. The company examined nearly every page on each company's Web site for broken links and HTML coding that strayed from World Wide Web Consortium standards.

    Some of the coding errors came in the form of misplaced commands that may affect how a page appears on one browser, but not on another. Others included formatting errors that affect the page's layout.

    Hicken said one of the most surprising finds in the survey was how poorly computer and office equipment companies fared. Such firms, including IBM and Compaq Computer, average about one link error for every three pages and nearly 20 coding errors per page.

    Hicken suggested that the poor showing of the computer makers sites was in part the result of the sheer number of pages on their sites. The computer makers' sites average more 20,000 pages, or about two times the average number pages of the next largest set of sites, those of the electronics companies.

    "I think that after a certain size, a site really becomes unmanageable," Hicken said.

    One of the worst areas within sites for coding errors tend to be the companies' investor relations and corporate information pages, according to the report. Many of those pages look wrong because of coding errors, Hicken said, and seem to have an unusually high number of spelling errors, which Parasoft did not track.

    Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin said his company, which recently relaunched its Web site, tests each of its pages for coding errors and broken links before they go up.

    "Obviously, we want patients and visitors to our site to have a good experience with it," Polzin said. "Part of that is making sure there are no errors on the site."

    Polzin said he didn't know how many pages were on Walgreens' site, but said that hundreds of people inside and outside the company had worked on it.

    Hicken suggested that this fact may be part of the problem. The more people that work on a site, the greater chance errors will be introduced. "There's not just one person anymore [maintaining sites]," he said. "No one really understands the structure of the site."

    Parasofts' evaluation on pharmaceutical sites such as Walgreens extended only to coding and design issues within the site, excluding any potential health-related issues that could arise through content errors.

    Ultimately, Hicken said he expects that people will leave Web sites that don't look right or are filled with broken links.

    "It's become so easy to literally walk away. Click, click and you're gone," he said.