How do I know if my website is any good?
Your website should impress you only if it impresses your visitors.
The scope of an assessment
There are two parts to consider here:
- technical assessments
- user experience (UX)
There are a number of tools that you can use to make a finger-in-the-air assessment of your website. Through their very nature they will make objective assessments, though some do have an ‘opinion’ with which you may choose to disagree.
It’s harder for robotic tools to make an assessment of the user experience (UX) because computers don’t yet understand the human mind. For this you will probably need to talk to a web consultant or, at the very least, a competent person not connected with the agency that built your website.
Tools to test aspects of your website
In the following we’ve stuck to free tools, though most of these have a pay-for option with more facilities. And in order not to overload you, the suggestions for services to use has been limited.
Understanding ‘errors and warnings’
For the purposes of this document, errors and warnings will be shown as just errors.
Scope of the checker
Some tools analyse individual pages, others will do a whole website. In the latter case, a single error in a master/layout page may show as multiple errors as the same error is repeated on each page. So things may not be quite as catastrophic as they look initially.
Errors and serious errors
Less serious errors
Some errors may be barely noticeable because browsers are extremely forgiving when they render web pages and try really hard to show what was intended. The Caz website once showed this error:
The problem was the | character between Kaushan+Script and Noto+Sans in the highlighted section, yet the page was being rendered correctly. Once the | character was replaced with %7C the validation passed.
Some errors are quick to fix – like this one – and so should be done so that other more serious errors are not masked.
Serious errors are those that:
- cause a user to get fed up or click away to an alternative website – broken links are a good example
- upset a search engine crawler so that they can’t or don’t index the page
Tools and their checks
The tools vary in purpose, but usually fall into the following categories:
Available for Chrome, Firefox and Edge as an extension, this gives a quick overview of a website.
Once the extension is installed, the following icon will show in the toolbar
This open-source tool gives a quick overview of the technical state of a page. In this case, the page is shown has beeing just in the green, so it looks like it needs some attention.
On the other hand, you may decide that you don't need Facebook (Open Graph) integration or Apple touch icons - that's an operational decision.
If you use Twitter scripts on the page, then you'll get some apparent HTML errors relating to the iframe HTML element that it installs (or did at the time of writing). So there will be a trade off between errors (which should probably be warnings, not errors) and Twitter use.
There are two types of validation to consider:
The tolerance of website users to broken links is pretty low at the best of times and more than a few will cause them to leave the site very quickly.
Your first link check is best done on the whole website and usually you only want distinct errors reported.
Good website code makes it easier for search engines to index your website and also reduces unexpected effects in browsers.
The objective is to pass the coding check having fixed all errors. Presently, with the suggested tool, there is always one warning for HTML5 websites which relates to the conformance checker. This can be ignored.
The main functionality concern at the moment is compatibility with small-screen devices like smart phones. Google is very keen on mobile-friendly design so it makes a lot of sense to use the tool they make available.
All web pages and assets have to be downloaded into the browser before being rendered. Since visitors, particularly goal-oriented ones, can be impatient, it’s important that each page and all its assets load quickly. Also bear in mind that some users might be paying by the megabyte on their data contracts.
There are a number of ways of checking performance depending on the depth you want to get into. The Google PageSpeed Insights tool is a good start.
The results are comprehensive and you may want to take a view on some items as we have done in the example below. Our judgement is that the remaining items can be fixed in due course.
It can be useful to know the ratio of visible content to the supporting code.
This tool is loaded by dragging it to your bookmarks bar – which presumably has to be visible to be able to do so.
Once in your bookmarks bar, you can click on DOM Monster while browsing a page and you will get a report bouncing in at the bottom of the page. The example shows 58% content so a green indicator is shown. Orange and red indicators are used for less good pages.
Short pages or pages with forms are likely to have a lower content ratio because of the banner and menu overhead that comes with every page.
Ultimately a website has to be gauged by the job it's intended to do by humans, so don't leave them out of the equation.
Too often, the home page of a website leaves the visitor none the wiser as to what it's trying to promote. Replace meaningless waffle! Quite often one of the other pages on the site is meaningful and could be swapped in as the home page.
Ask real humans who know nothing about your organisation to give a 'comprehension report' on the website. Humans have prejudices that can completely change the apparent meaning, so it's good to get more than one opinion.
Personally, I am usually put off by carousels that change their content before I've finished reading the slide. Actually, carousels and large pictures or videos put me off anyway.
The main indicator for whether your website is any good is whether it’s attracting and, if necessary, converting visitors.
Objective tests are just one set of measures to make your website a success though it will take a while both to learn how to get the best out of them and also their limitations.
User experience (UX) testing requires a human third-party assessment too, so you will need to discuss this with a web person.
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