Getting through the design and development phases can be the most time consuming stages in the life of a website. And rightfully so since these two steps determine functionality and user experience. However, there is a final stage that people frequently overlook. Two words: Quality Assurance. (Cue the dramatic music.)
In this final stage, your website should be put through the wringer and tested extensively. There’s nothing that makes our mascot panda more angry than finding broken links all over a site or forms that don’t work. It makes him turn into more of a gorilla, which can be rather scary at times.
So, having said that, here are a few things that you should consider before you press the big red launch button on your website.
1. Test All Links – Did I stutter? No. I did not. Broken links throughout a website are perhaps the most common issue that people just overlook simply because they didn’t click through them. Recently, a major event website (we’ll name no names here) for the city of Fredericksburg, Va. launched a website with the majority of main menu links broken or pointing to wrong pages. This will be the dagger that killed your website, and it will be well deserved because you didn’t test the menu links.
There are tools that will test your website links. It can crawl your entire website and look for links that point to pages that don’t exist or incorrect paths. A popular tool is Link Checker: http://validator.w3.org/checklink. Creative name right?
Doing this simple step will guarantee that users area able to happily navigate through your site without wanting to punch their computer screen out. That can become very expensive very quickly.
2. Add a Favicon – Favi-what? You know that little icon that shows up in your bookmarks or in the address bar of your favorite browser that represents a website? That’s called a favicon and it takes literally seconds to make one. Yet there are millions of websites that have failed put one up. While this has nothing to do with the functionality of your website, it has everything to do with brand recognition and marketing. Just look at your favorite social media or news sites. Facebook uses the square “f”. Twitter the bird. CNN has “CNN”. Even Google Plus has “g+”. If you want people to remember a logo, this is a good way to get that to happen.
A great tool for creating these little guys (16 x 16 to be exact) is here: http://www.favicon.cc/. You can create your own using the pixel by pixel canvas, or you can import and configure your own image. Enjoy.
3. Fix Broken Images – There are a number of reasons a broken image might show up. Wrong image format, incorrect image URL, and image file size exceeded are a few of the reasons I’d check first. Regardless, get the images working before launch date. And for the panda’s sake, please use images wisely. Nothing looks more overwhelming to a user than a page full of words. No one really likes to read that much. I kid, but not really. Reading a lot of text on a screen is much more tiring and boring than reading a book in print. Break the text up a little with some unbroken images.
4. Check for Development URLs – In some of NJI’s more robust websites, we’ve needed to hardcode test links in various applications and interactive areas simply for development purposes. It is paramount that these test links be removed upon launch. Otherwise the user may arrive at a password protected development server, a wrong page, or a “white screen of death.” At that point, a panda will burst into your room and smash your computer. I warned you.
5. Create a Sitemap – While not always needed, sitemaps can be a useful navigation aid to site visitors. A sitemap will list every link found in your site as well as top level menus and underlying content. In very large sites, sitemaps may simply be too large to consider this. However, in that case you can always create a scaled down sitemap of important links you feel users should be able to find. Above all, sitemaps must be accessible by site crawlers, which help your site to show up in search results. Google, Bing and Yahoo all require XML sitemaps to be accessible to their site crawlers so it can find those hidden or deep lying pages that most users can’t access without submitting a form or doing a search. You can read all about sitemaps here: http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=156184.
These QA steps will not prevent every problem, but they will help eliminate the obvious ones and give you more time to fix other issues. Not to mention this will save a lot of site issues post-launch. Come back later this week for five more steps to take before launching your website.