If you were asked how well your website’s content is written, what would you say? Do you know if it is compatible with the major browsers? How many seconds it takes to load on average in different parts of the world? Are there any broken links on your site right now?
It might not seem to make much difference to replace a rich text apostrophe with the HTML equivalent special character or for your website to meet some general accessibility guidelines, the reality is that the more accessible and polished your website is, the better the chance you have to gain not only more visitors, but more sales as well.
If you’re after a well-rounded, efficient website, the cheapest and perhaps best way to make sure you’re on the right track is to look at your website yourself and evaluate it from as many relevant angles as possible. To get you going, I’ve put together a list of great tools to assist in your evaluation.
One of the first things you want to look at is the validity of your website. If the code is valid, the more likely it is to not only be accessible, but to be search engine friendly and usable on most platforms.
A great place to begin is the World Wide Web Consortium validator which can be found at http://validator.w3.org/
This validator will check through the HTML/XHTML used on your website and bring up any errors that may be in the code. Some of these things can be extremely simple to fix, others can be a bit more complicated, either way though it can be very beneficial for your website to be entirely valid.
It is also worth validating the CSS used on your website with the World Wide Web Consortium validator at http://jigsaw.w3.org/css-validator/ to see if there are any errors. CSS errors are in general not as important as HTML/XHTML errors, but it is still worthwhile ensuring that your websites CSS is as valid as possible.
If your customers can't access your website, or the content of your website, then they can't pay for your services or buy your products. Your website may look attractive, but is it converting to sales? Are there any issues that may prevent customers from accessing what they are looking for? The World Wide Web Consortium have a set of guidelins called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG for short. There are 3 priority levels of these guidelines and it is recommended that every website at least meet WCAG priority level 1 except where parts of it do not apply to your website, for example if your website doesn't use image maps, then the image map section isn't applicable to you.
You can manually check things off from the guidelines at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/full-checklist.html or, you can use a number of available automated tests.
There are some great ones that I use regularly and recommend.
To start with, I would suggest running your website through WAVE - http://wave.webaim.org/
WAVE gives you a visual analysis of your website using icons to indicate errors, warnings or potential issues. It is a great starting point as it makes it easy to determine the most obvious issues and where any potential ones may arise.
There are also a couple of sites that allow you to test directly against the WCAG recommendation. One of these, Cynthia Says - http://www.cynthiasays.com/ - will give you a report based on the checklist I mentioned above showing what things your website passes, what things aren't relevant for your site, where your site fails and any potential warnings. This one can seem a bit complicated and can be a bit of a mouth full to chew through it all, but it is well worth it to ensure your website is accessible. There are instructions available on their website, but in short you just need to enter your website address and click "Test Your Site". I would suggest setting the "Accessibility Report Mode" to "WCAG Priority 1, 2, 3" and then check the box that says "Do not fail pages for WCAG 1.0 Priority 2 and 3 errors, simply warn me."
I wouldn't worry about their browser emulation, it is fairly outdated, but the reports are still very important despite this.
If you find the reports a bit much to try and make sense of, there is another site at http://www.sidar.org/hera/index.php.en which provides a similar service. It breaks the reports down into more manageable chunks and lets you jump to just the passes, fails, warnings and things that are not relevant to your site.
Another great accessiblity test is the CSS test at http://juicystudio.com/services/csstest.php which specifically checks colour contrast and units of measurement. This one is not as important as the others as you will be able to get an idea of colour contrasts just from using your site yourself.
How complicated is your site content to understand? It is important that the people you are targetting are going to understand what you have written. If you have engaged a professional copy writer this may not be an issue. If you've written up your content yourself, or even if you've just needed to use a lot of big words or terms related specifically to your industry, this could become more important. There is a test provided at http://juicystudio.com/services/readability.php which will run a particular page of a website through a number of tests to determine how complex your content is.
The Gunning-Fog Index will give you an idea of the level of education a reader will need to fully understand your content.
The Flesch Reading Ease gives you a number on a scale of 1 to 100, where 100 is the easiest to understand.
The Flesch-Kincaid grade level is similar to the Gunning-Fog Index. Exact details on all of these, how they compare and how they are worked out can be found on http://juicystudio.com/services/readability.php
Tested your website and not sure where to go from here or how to fix any errors that may have arisen? If you would like to have a chat about it, contact us today to have a chat about what we could do to help improve your existing website.
Stay tuned for the next part. We will be looking at a tool called Website Grader which builds on the concepts we've looked at here to assist in your own search engine optimisation and online marketing. Subscribe to our RSS feed to receive the next update straight to your RSS reader. Alternatively, check back soon!