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I recently had a conversation with a potential client and when I mentioned website testing he stopped me and asked, “Why does a website need testing?” His tone was dubious.  Was I trying to pull a fast one on him?  Certainly not.  Any website designer worth his or her salt will test any website before it goes live.

Why we have to test a website

If we all had identical computers running identical software website testing would be a breeze.  But we don’t.

Do your website visitors have a PC or a Mac?  What browser are they using? Internet Explorer? Firefox? Safari? Chrome?  And what version is that browser? Do they have javascript turned off?  Do they allow images?  What font size do they use as their default?  Do they have a user-defined stylesheet? What is their screen resolution?  What about your handicapped and impaired visitors?  What will their experience be?

As you can see, unlike printed media a website can be viewed on any number of systems that offer seemingly endless variables to take into account when designing a website.  And this is why website designers have to test.

What exactly do you test?

The goal of any website testing is to make sure that a visitor – regardless of what system they have – has a good experience on the website.  Now there are entire books written on the subject but I’m going to scale it down to three main areas.

1. Browser bugs

Older browsers (and even some newer ones) don’t adhere quite as strictly to established standards as they should.  So identical code may look great in one browser and not so great in another.  These bugs manifest themselves in different ways: broken page layouts, incorrectly sized fonts, alignment issues and incorrect spacing are all common.  After testing for browser bugs, code is revised to fix such issues to ensure compatibility on all popular browsers.

2. Functionality issues

A website may look great but if it doesn’t function as it should it’s doomed.  For example, if there is a registration form what happens when a user doesn’t complete a required field?  Or enters incorrect data in an email field?  If there is an ecommerce component is the checkout process easy to understand and bug free?  Testing functionality ensures users aren’t getting tripped up anywhere on the website.  The experience should be smooth throughout.

3. Accessibility concerns

Accessibility testing ensures that handicapped and impaired visitors are able to use your website.  Do all images have alt tags?  Does navigation have accessibility enhancements such as access key definitions?  Accessibility testing also takes into account screen readers and the contrast of colors used (for the color blind).  Many of these enhancements are easy to make on a standards based website and testing these enhancements ensures a good experience.

Risks of not testing your website

Still not convinced?  Well, let’s look at the risks of not testing.  A website that has not been thoroughly tested may look fine in one browser but break apart in another.  It may alienate the handicapped and the impaired.  And if it functionally doesn’t work I can guarantee users will simply go elsewhere.  Those are some pretty big risks and all of them can be avoided by simply testing before the website goes live.

Now, the next time someone mentions website testing you have a better idea what they are talking about and why it is important to conduct it.

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