Areas to Test
There are several different aspects and services of a website that need to be checked, some on a regular basis. Tools available now days make it possible for virtually any site operator to do these checks themselves without undue difficulty.
As the basis of virtually everything on your website, the coding must be flawless to have a website in proper working order. There are different types of coding languages for websites, also known as markup languages, one or more of which may be used on your own virtual presence.
- HTML (HyperText Markup Language): The most common coding language, HTML is used on most sites to create the pages the website is made up of. This is accomplished via tags that the browser interprets, defining what is displayed on the page. These pages are connected via hyperlinks accessed in a variety of places on each page,
- XML(eXtensible Markup Language): XML also uses tags to communicate with the web browser. XML is usually used in addition to HTML, and is the basis for popular features like RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds.
- XHTML: A hybrid of HTML and XML, XHTML is commonly used for content displayed on portable devices, such as smartphones and tablets.
CSS, which stands for Cascading Style Sheet, deals primarily with different elements that dictate how various HTML elements look, such as color, size, or font. A single CSS file can define elements on multiple pages, allowing you to make changes across the board instead of one at a time. Errors usually either affect the style sheet syntax or formatting.
Virtually all websites are chock full of links that allow you to access other pages on the site, or different internal and external resources. If a link is broken, meaning that clicking on it does not take you to the intended target page or resource, a customer is unable to access what they need and will likely go somewhere else.
There is a wide variety of web browsers available today, which virtually ensures that not all visitors will be using the same one to access your site. Not all browsers display things exactly the same, which makes it important to ensure your layout looks top notch no matter which browser is being used.
The concept here is the same as using a different browser, making sure that your website looks perfect if your visitor is using a handheld device, such as a smartphone or tablet. However, mobile compatibility goes much further, since the display parameters and methods are much more different than what is seen across different browsers. Another browser may present things a bit differently, while a mobile device may be unable to display your site at all.
Speed and Accessibility
A website that is slow to load, or contains text that is difficult to understand by all types of people, are both prime reasons for losing a potential customer. No one has the time anymore to wait for excessively-slow pages to load, nor to try and decipher the points and information you are trying to relay.
Resources for Testing Your Website for Errors
Given how many individuals and businesses now have websites, many of which are created or enhanced in house, the number of services and websites dedicated to testing them has risen exponentially. Virtually every problem you can think of now has a solution easy enough for the average person to use without too much difficulty, most of which are free.
The best place to start is testing the backbone of your website, the coding language itself. This is known as validating, and can be accomplished for free at the following sites.
- W3C: Perhaps the best all-around resource for testing virtually every aspect of your website is W3C, or World Wide Web Consortium. This is the official website for coding standards found throughout the internet, and can catch any aspects or areas of your site that do not conform to those standards, regardless of which coding language you have used. The individual resource for validating on W3C’s site is called the Markup Validation Service.
- HTML Tidy: Another free resource, HTML Tidy is useful for both validating and cleaning up excessively-long or complicated HTML code.
W3C is also the spot to visit if you need to check your CSS files. A separate resource on the site, the aptly-named CSS Validation Service, checks the submitted style sheets for errors, and returns both actual errors, and warnings for potential problems. Another section gives you the proper CSS info needed to correct things. After this is completed, simply run the checker again until your CSS files are given a clean bill of health.
Check Your Links
Identifying and fixing broken links on your website is something you can do on your own, which entails simply clicking on each one and making sure it hits its target. However, there is more than one quality service available to go through and check all your links at once, saving you valuable time you can use on other tasks. These include:
- Link Checker: Another gem from W3C, Link Checker analyzes all of your links, anchors, and individual objects in CSS files and HTML code. Bad links are returned, which you can either delete, or enter the correct destination.
- Dead Link Checker: The name says it all, Dead Link Checker allows you to enter in the URL of your website, and it will comb through it in its entirety for any dead links. Handy features here include the ability to check multiple sites at once, and have a check done on your site regularly to proactively find any bad links that crop up.
Check Browser Compatibility
As with checking for broken links yourself, it is easy to download and install each of the major web browsers and visit your site on each one to see how it looks. However, if you want snapshots of each one all at once, BrowserShots is likely the best selection.
BrowserShots takes a screenshot of individual pages as they look on all major browsers and operating systems. If your site contains Java or Flash elements, you can opt to view what it would look like with or without them included.
Since mobile devices are different across both hardware and software, it is likely not very efficient to try and do this step by hand. mobiReady is a free service that gives you targeted information on whether or not your site will work on mobile devices, as well as why it does or does not. It can also give you images of exactly what your site will look like on different mobile platforms.
Check Speed and Accessibility
There are a wide range of resources designed specifically to see how fast your website loads, and how accommodating and accessible it is.
- Pingdom: Pingdom is a free service that duplicates the loading process, to find out how quickly each element loads. Information on each object contained on the page is given, alerting you to potential culprits of slow loading times.
- WebPagetest: Developed and tested by Google, WebPagetest simulates loading your website in a variety of browsers, OS platforms, and areas of the world. This service allows for both extremely simple tests, and more advanced ones that include multiple steps.
- Readability Test Tool: If you want to make sure that the style and format of the content on your site are easy for visitors to read and understand, the Readability Test Tool is an excellent resource. This service uses different, standard indicators to return a score on how easy your text is to read and comprehend.
Testing a website involves a lot of work and dedication, whether you do it by hand yourself, use any of the resources mentioned here, or collaborate with a fellow professional. However, it is worth any amount of time and aggravation, as a properly-working website is one of the surest ways to keep online customers happy and coming back for more.