Thorough, complete, website testing for major websites, spanning dozens of pages can cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars. However, this type of money and the rigorous testing that major corporate websites go through does not preclude the words “do-it-yourself”. Even with only a beginner’s knowledge of testing websites, starting from scratch, will take under a week for a moderately sized website (we’re not talking about testing Wikipedia here). As such there’s absolutely no excuse for checking and testing at least the basics.
This point can’t be stressed enough. If you wait until the website is complete, or nearly complete then it will be, almost guaranteed, a train wreck. Ideally, you should start testing as soon as you start coding. From day one, test and test again so that you can discover where things are going wrong, as they are going wrong. This helps avoid playing the part of detective as well as avoiding catastrophic errors before they become a catastrophe.
Baseline requirements and acceptable protocols
As with nearly everything to do with design – some parts are more subjective than others. It is important to know who your audience is and what they use primarily (to make sure it definitely works on their terms) and set acceptable limits on what you accept as a success or failure. Your idea of failure might be not working with the most current version of Mozilla, whereas one tester’s idea might be the website not working on Netscape 4.
Different strokes for different folks
That being said, there is a whole plethora of websites and operating systems in the big wide world. Make sure that, at the very least, it works on the big four: Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome, and Mozilla. However there are plenty of free programs that emulate browsers on mobile phones and tablets and it definitely pays to have responsive designs in our smartphone-enabled world.
CSS stress test
This is a big one – make sure, make sure and make sure again that you have validated all of your CSS. Not only each external sheet, but any embedded and in-line code as well. This is the ‘biggy’ that can really throw off a new website.
Make sure you optimize each webpage at every stage of development. Make sure every piece of code needs to be there and, if you followed the advice from point one, don’t be afraid of stripping out code that doesn’t seem to belong. It’s much easier to do during the development stages than a ‘house-of-cards’ situation when some seemingly redundant script turns out to be load-bearing and you can’t figure out why. There are plenty of html editors that can highlight suspected redundancies for you and these are fully recommended.
These are one of the biggest pitfalls of any developer and errors here, being quite common, will expose the amateur. These are easily tested by intentionally entering the wrong address into the browser. These are important because they help the user of the webpage know what’s wrong and what to do/where to go next.
While you’re at it – check all the links and downloads manually to make sure they point to the right places. There is software out there that can help with this.
This point can’t be stressed enough. While nothing to do with the code, this is what the user will see and if you don’t recognize the “your” from your “you’re” then they’ll notice.
Get a colleague or even partners and friends to use your website. Set them tasks (e.g., ask them to find a contact email) and ask them how easy it was to complete. There’s nothing like a fresh pair of eyes to highlight things you are too close to the project to see.
So these are the top things to look out for when writing a website. Obviously, there are hundreds more but these are the most common and by sorting these out you will have fixed 90% of the problems any new website can experience.
Itera Research team