Good websites should do more than just look pretty. Although people often judge books by their covers, they also eventually open the books and expect a good read. Websites are very similar. Appearance may be enough to draw in someone’s attention, but to keep it, your website needs to function well, be usable, load quickly, and deliver its content in the manner the creator originally intended.
There is no one tool that can automatically tell you if your website will do all of that, but there are many tools that can help you determine how well your site has been designed and how well it performs in various browsers and environments.
HTML is the language of the web, and according to dedicated hosting company 34sp.com, “It is the basis of all web pages on the Internet.” While it is possible to publish something on the web without using any HTML, anything more than a single line of text will require HTML coding. One of the best ways to ensure your site functions properly is to validate your code for W3C standards compliance.
The W3C provides validators for both HTML and CSS. You can upload your document or provide the link for it directly from the web.
Browser Compatibility Testing
In a perfect world, all browsers would view websites exactly as the authors intended, but we do not live in such a world. Web browser makers are competitors, and even under the best conditions, their browsers will sometimes display standards-compliant HTML code differently from one another.
The best way to view your site in various browsers is to download and install each one. However, not all may be compatible with your operating system. The following tools allow you to view your site in different web browsers, just as they would actually appear.
In terms of the web, accessibility is the ability of every person, regardless of their physical or other condition, to access the content on your website. Visually impaired people, for example, should be able to access your site using screen readers. Someone with sensitivity to flickering lights should not be inundated with flickering ads on your site. For accessibility, there is no one automated tool to check all requirements, but you can use a combination of self-checking, using accessibility guidelines, along with automated checkers that will identify some, but not all, problems with your site.
Computers generally do not have problems interpreting their own code. Therefore, an automated usability test would be a waste of time. The only way to truly find out if your site is usable is to have people use it and give feedback. The tests can formal, using observation and analysis, or simple and straightforward, with unscripted feedback The important thing is to test early and test people who fit your target audience.
You can find a 25-point website usability checklist at this site. If you can fit it into your budget, you might also want to consider hiring a consulting firm to evaluate your site’s usability and help you make the necessary changes.
A website can be standards-compliant, accessible, and still be slow. We live in an era when people expect content without delay. They are impatient and want to get in and out as quickly as possible. Waiting for images, plugins, and other rich content can discourage people from using your site. They may even leave it before the loading finishes. This is especially true for Flash-based sites that load and buffer before they appear.
Those are obvious speed issues, but some may not be so immediately apparent. Your site may be relatively fast, but there is always room for improvement. Some speed tests, like iWebTool will give you a simple load time average that may help you decide if your site is fast enough. Others, like Pingdom, provide comprehensive data about the components that are fast on your site and those that are not.
Testing your website is one of the most important steps in web design, yet many people fail to do it. The result is a large number of websites that people cannot stand to use. If you have content you feel is important for people to use, nothing is worse than people getting so frustrated by your site’s design that they give up trying to find the information. With the right evaluation and revisions, your site can be fast, accessible, compatible with most devices, and easy to use.
Tavis J. Hampton is a librarian and writer with a decade of experience in information technology, web hosting, and Linux system administration. He currently works for LanternTorch.Net, which offers writing, editing, tech training, and information architecture services.