Quality Assurance - no more broken links
Without doubt a well organised Maintenance Team means a better quality website is more likely.
However, even if all procedures are strictly adhered to, errors can still arise that reduce the standard of the online experience. For example, a file may be moved by a developer or an image deleted. These can result in broken links. The problem is that unless someone is checking for such errors, they may go unnoticed until a customer complains.
Website Quality Assurance is the activity of making sure a website functions correctly and is in conformance with organisational standards. The responsibility for guaranteeing this is that of the Maintenance Co-ordinator.
Website Quality Assurance Activities
The activity of Website Quality Assurance encompasses two areas: Data Collection and Data Analysis.
The aim of this task is to collect data against which a website can be examined for issues of quality. In practical terms, this requires a site to validated against a series of checkpoints. These include:
* Checking for broken links.
* Checking for missing content, e.g. images.
* Checking for missing page titles.
* Checking the spelling and grammar of content.
* Checking for missing metadata.
* Checking the file sizes of pages to ensure they are not too large.
* Checking for browser compatibility.
* Checking that applications are functioning correctly, e.g. online forms.
* Checking that any Server Side Scripting or other languages function correctly.
* Checking that legal and regulatory guidelines are being adhered to, e.g. data protection and privacy.
* Checking that pages conform to your organisation's Web-Accessibility standard (if any), e.g. missing 'alt-tags'.
* Checking that the Website Design standard is maintained.
Data Analysis examines all of the information that has been collected and from that an 'Issues Log' is complied. The purpose of this log is to list all items found in violation of a QA checkpoint, e.g. broken links, oversized images, etc. These can then be allocated to Developers for adjustment.
The tasks of Website Quality Assurance should generally be undertaken on a weekly basis. However, this may change depending on the scale of your website or the importance of the content that is hosted. Nevertheless, experience suggests a week is a good window for catching errors. It is also useful for fitting in with a regular Website Maintenance Review Meeting.
Although it is an essential activity, Quality Assurance can be very time-consuming when carried out manually. This is especially so for websites that are large in size. Imagine trying to review all the links on www.ireland.com - every week! Practically impossible.
Fortunately, this has been recognised for some time and several software products are available to automate these activities. Some of the most popular include:
Web Governance Service from Hewlett-Packard®
The Web Governance Service is a QA system that operates via the internet. That is, you contract HP to scan your website at regular intervals in order to isolate quality problems. Among the elements tracked are:
* Privacy: privacy compliance, deviation from cookie policies, etc.
* Accessibility: compliance with WCAG 1.0, section 508 and international guidelines.
* Performance: highlight slow pages, broken links and source code errors.
* Content Integrity: isolate sensitive or offensive content.
* Conformance: help ensure compliance with legal standards.
* Searchability: identifies missing metadata, browser-titles and others.
The cost of this service is not clear from the HP website. However, given its comprehensive nature, somewhere around $5,000 per annum seems likely. A free trial is also available.
Dreamweaver™ from Adobe
Dreamweaver incorporates basic Quality Assurance capability, including link checking, filesize checking, accessibility monitoring.
Web Site Monitor™ from HiSoftware
Originally focussed on simple hyperlink validation, HiSoftware Web Site Monitor now includes additional tools for reviewing filesize, page titles, etc.
WebQA™ from Watchfire®
WebQA is one of the internet's most widely used Quality Assurance tools due to the comprehensive range of options it provides, including filesize, page titles, accessibility, privacy and metadata.
WebXM™ from Watchfire®
As the premium product from Watchfire, WebXM offers a much wider set of features than most tools. This includes advanced applications such as privacy, brand and legal checking.
The online assessment tool webXACT™ provides an introduction to the functionality in both WebQA and WebXM.
QA from Google
OK, I admit this is in jest! But given how Google have a foothold in almost every other web-space, it can't be too long before they begin to offer a QA service too (and for free?)
Web Content Management
Finally, WCM is now taking on many of the tasks of site maintenance - including several features of Quality Assurance. However, few WCM systems encompass the full suite of options necessary, which means an dedicated QA tool is generally necessary.
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