Don’t Forget to Test Your Website

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Yesterday I received an automated call from PG & E, as I have monthly for the last 2 1/2 years. The automated voice told me their records indicated I was a dog owner and that I needed to make sure my dog wouldn’t interfere with the meter reader. It then gave me the option of pressing “1” if I no longer had a dog. I have never had a dog so I pressed “1” but I knew it was futile. Because pressing “1” in the past hasn’t made the calls stop. Not to mention that I now have one of those “smart meters” that doesn’t require a meter reader. I guess I am just doomed to receive these calls as long as I live here.

Doesn’t that kind of stuff drive you crazy? Well you might be doing something similar to your website visitors. QA, short for quality assurance, is the discipline of making sure a given project meets certain quality criteria. In my years working for technology firms, I found that software got plenty of QA attention, however the company’s websites got very little. Why? Because it’s easy to quickly fix a problem on a website, where a piece of software often has to be recompiled and rebuilt, costing money. There was always a tug of war between marketing’s need to get messaging or a program out quickly and the engineering need to do it right. Marketing often won.

I’m quite guilty of not testing my own website. With the pressure of enhancing its functionality to make it more useful to visitors and keeping to my posting schedule, making sure everything works always falls through the cracks. Of course using WordPress you get a platform that has been battle tested by thousands (maybe millions), however that doesn’t mean you are completely off the hook. Here are a few “quality” issues to pay attention to:

  • Browsers You should view your websites in a few browsers, especially after changing themes and installing plugins that have a visual impact. Also pay attention to your sidebars. I recommend viewing your site in Internet Explorer (7 or 8), Firefox and Chrome. If your audience is not tech saavy, unfortunately you probably need to check IE 6 as well. I wouldn’t spend a lot of time fixing IE 6 issues, but it would be good to be aware of them.
  • Comments Comment on one of your posts and make sure the experience works as you think it should. There are several moderation options, for example you can only moderate comments that have 2 links or more (a sign of spammy comments). Check the spam queue and see if Akismet is doing it’s job correctly. When I reset up Akismet for this site I found it marked as spam several valid comments. So I’m checking the spam queue every so often.
  • Opt-ins Any integration with another system requires QA attention. Whether your opt-in box comes from aweber or some other email service provider, it is a good idea to walk through each step of the opt-in process. Usually the process works fine, but the user experience leaves something to be desired. Does the pages that the user ends up on make sense or are jarring? Is it clear what the next step is to the user (for example to click on a link in an email to confirm the subscription).

Quality Assurance isn’t just about making the functionality works, that’s the first step. You need to put yourself in the shoes of your visitor and evaluate the user experience. You can take this further and test separate elements of your website to see whether a given headline converts better (this is very useful if your website primary’s purpose is to sell a product). This is called split testing (some visitors see one version and others see another version) and can be done with themes, titles etc. There are plugins that facilitate split testing WordPress.

If you are planning to make massive changes to your website, it’s a good idea to preview your plans on a local install of WordPress so you can hack away without breaking anything public.

Of course there is no way to make sure everything works perfectly. Giving your users an avenue to let you know when things aren’t working is prudent. As my experience shows with PG & E there is nothing more frustrating than to have no one listening when things aren’t working. Since I send out my posts as aweber blogcasts, those readers can respond letting me know it there are problems. It is also a good idea to monitor the comments on your posts. A contact form is another channel to get feedback, I haven’t put one on this blog yet, but it is only a matter of time before I do. Now I just need to prioritize this task ahead of everything else.

About the Author Kathy Alice

Kathy Alice Brown is a SEO expert specializing in Technical SEO and Content. In her spare time she loves to get outside.

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1 comment
create barcode says April 1, 2011

The Website testing phase is most important because 1) you become more sure about the quality assurance of your project or 2) to know whether it works to attain required goals or not.

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