Website Conformance Check Best Practices

Forrester Research has executed a web-site check on 6 Canadian banks. The results were very bad. The most common short comings were misplaced content and functionality, inefficient task flows, illegible text and poor use of space.

According to Forrester researcher Ron Rogowski:

“To improve the on-line customer experience, Canadian banks need to prioritize fixing problems with known solutions, focus on scenario design, and differentiate the brand experience”.

The Forrester website check reminded me to a question I recently got: When do you know a website is optimal? The real consultancy answer to that is simple: When the site fits your goals.

Obviously this answer is true, and does not satisfy anybody. The task of a business consultant in this case is:

  1. To help a website owner to define his goals in terms of Key Business Requirements (KBR’s) and Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s).
  2. To make sure that there is a website management process in place that provides to the point feedback.
  3. To check that there adequate website validation tools in place to measure the KPI’s.

If you look at the optimal website question from a best practice perspective there are a number of sensible requirements that always should be fulfilled. I will provide a few important ones from a business and technical perspective.

The Website Channel Example

Let me give an example. My website owner uses the website as a lead generation tool for the channel website visitor. He defines 2 interest groups: Website visitors and search engines. He will define a marketing campaign. He will measure the leads coming through the website, by email, and by telephone. Each month he assesses his campaign, and checks the website performance. This leads to Key Business Requirements (KBR‘s), each resulting in 1 or more Key Performance Indicators (KPI‘s). The global business requirements are:

  • Website must be suitable for business usage (clear texts, clear HTML head section, visually attractive).
  • Website visitors must be monitored and monthly reported. All leads are consolidated in 1 report.
  • Monthly all leads, the website management process, and website management tools are evaluated, and acted upon findings.

The global requirements will now be refined into business and technical requirements.

Website Business Requirements Checklist

The most important checks from my favorite best practices checklist for website business requirements involve:

  1. Perform a visual inspection of the website with your favorite browser.
    Does the website look visually well designed? Does it behave well with different browsers and different screen resolutions? Did you test in a character based browser to see what message it conveys without images, JavaScript, and Flash?
  2. Be immediately aware of what the site has offer to you.
    Is the content clear? Are the headings clear? Is the site slogan clear in its positioning?
  3. Test whether the http://www.{domain} and http://{domain} names point to the same web site.
    Obviously you want all traffic to be combined in one destination: Your choice for the domain name. Are the domains joined or separated?
  4. Find the number of web-pages, and the number indexed by the Search Engines Google, Yahoo and Bing.
    How many web-pages are there, and how popular is the site with Search Engines?
  5. Examine the (normally invisible) head part of the web-page.
    If a site has a lot of pages, it becomes increasingly difficult for each page to be unique. Structure helps. How does the structure look like of the head attributes page title, keywords, and abstract?

Website Technical Requirements Checklist

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) have issued website requirements. You are advised to use them, because that greatly increases the transparency of your intentions and the portability in case of actual interpretation by web browsers and search engines. Technical requirements concern:

  1. Design practices
    Examples are accessibility and duplicate site links.
  2. Server, HTTP and site considerations
    An example is browser tolerance.
  3. Body information
    Examples are international considerations, dead links, and graphical images.

You are also advised to use specialized tools to check the web-pages of your website. I will mention 3 of them here.

Website Validation Tools

OpenValidator: The Web Conformance Tool

OpenValidator is written by Luis Andre Dutra E Silva. OpenValidator checks almost all technical requirements of a website. Be in for shock if you use this the first time.

OpenValidator has a very steep learning curve, so make sure that you implement it in phases, slowly increasing your ambition level.

Xenu’s Link Sleuth

Xenu’s Link Sleuth is written by Tilman Hausherr. Xenu’s Link Sleuth is very good in finding broke links, orphans on your site, and generating a specs conforming sitemap.xml file. You can send this site-map directly to the Search Engines. Google encourages website owners to check their sites with Xenu’s Link Sleuth.

HTML Tidy

HTML Tidy was originally written by Dave Raggett. HTML Tidy cannot only find flaws in the HTML of your web-pages, but can also correct them.

In this limited article space I can only present to you a few, but important points of my best practices. By checking the references on the mentioned tools you can find more in-depth information.

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