28 Crucial Checks to Make Before Launching Your Web Site

web site functionality

Every day you come across Web sites that are just plain wrong. Either they’re over-designed with way too much going on or they look like someone built the site with their eyes closed. And even if they’re well-designed there are so many other things that go wrong -- from poor spelling and lousy grammar to broken images, missing content and broken links. Here’s a checklist of the stuff you need check before you set your Web site loose on the world.

web site functionality

Web experts that contributed to this review include: Marc Kupper, tech guru; Dave Fletcher, The Mechanism; Andre Manoel, Insite; Gregory Alan Bolcer, Bitvore; Steve Yost, QuickTopic.com; Anne Marie Merritt, Silicon Valley cat herder; and Ian Douglas of Zero 2 Infinity.

grammatical errors on web sites

Chuck for spolling and grammertical erros.

It’s kind of pathetic that this even needs to be said but it does: If you put any text online (or anywhere, for that matter) then you need to proofread it. Better yet, get someone else to proofread it. Does this really matter? You betcha! Not only do spelling and grammar errors make you look bad, they’re bad for business. A British Web site, tightsplease.co.uk, found that correcting a spelling error doubled its revenue per visitor! Also, make sure that error and exception messages are proofed (there’s nothing like a misspelled error message to reduce a user’s confidence in your competency).

Do your links stink?

Do your links stink?

This should be a no-brainer but, alas, it isn’t. While some percentage of your off-site links will break over the course of time, you should be constantly checking and fixing any that do. But the worst type of broken link is an in-site link because that’s just plain sloppy. And I don’t care how big your site is, link checking tools are easy to get your hands on! There’s no excuse for this. Period.

invalid URLs

Invalid URLs

Missing or invalid URLs should return a 404, says Web guru Marc Kupper. “I've run into people who say ‘we should never show an error’ and silently show a landing page. The problem is search engines index those.”

Are you primed for SEO?

Are you primed for SEO?

You want the world to find your site, right? Then you have to play the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) game. This means carefully and intelligently using Web page metadata to tell the search engines what you do so customers can find you. If you’re not sure how to do that then find an expert to do it for you. Suggestion: Run a search on Google for “SEO.” Whoever comes up on top could be the expert you’re looking for. Dave Fletcher of The Mechanism also says, “make sure you submit the site to Search Engines, and follow their algorithmic rules to increase [search engine result pages] ranking.”

Rise of the robots (dot text)

Rise of the robots (dot text)

Marc Kupper points out that all Web sites should have a robots.txt file because some search engines will not index your site if you don't have one. To make this as painless as possible there are a number of online services, such as McAnerin’s Robot Control Code Generation Tool, that will generate a robots.txt file for you. You can check whether your robots.txt file is properly formed using Google's robots.txt analysis tool.

Does it work in browser X?

Does it work in browser X?

Not all browsers were created equal, so the fancier your site’s user interface, the more likely it is it will break on some browser. If you have any doubt about how your site might be rendered by browsers out in the wild, run your site through a service such as Browsershots, which will make screenshots of your page as rendered by hundreds of browsers (you can even set up the Browsershots system on your own hardware). That said, don’t worry about really serving old browsers unless your name is Sisyphus. Finally, make sure your site absolutely works on mobile browsers!

Favicon? We don’t need no steekin’ favicon!

Favicon? We don’t need no steekin’ favicon!

Oh yes you do. Introduced in 1999 by Microsoft, favicons (16 by 16 pixel icons that get loaded into browser address bars) have become something you can't ignore, but they also come with potential problems that can include Web page performance issues and being suborned by hackers. Unfortunately, if you don't use them there are a couple of consequences. First, you’re throwing away a branding opportunity (small though it may be), and second, your hosting provider often winds up providing the default favicon which makes you look sloppy. Ian Douglas says, “Apple being Apple had to introduce their own [formats], so [you need to create all of the Apple favicons as well] ... see here.”

Do you have good form?

Do you have good form?

Testing often gets missed when forms are used. Make sure tabbing advances through the fields in a logical order (jumping from “first name” to “state” is really annoying). Make sure your users know what fields are for (asking for “postal code” is great in the UK, might be understandable in the US, but will probably generate a “Huh?” in many other countries). And when the form is submitted, where does the user get sent to? Do they get a confirmation? Should and can they edit their submission? Are you taking care of sensitive and or personally identifiable information? Can your form be gamed by spammers and hackers?

Does social work?

Does social work?

Social media support has become much more sophisticated, and a number of companies offer slick tools so users can post to social media from your site. If you use anything like this make sure you regularly test these facilities and know what their constraints are (e.g. a service that’s limited to some number of executions per day might be OK when you start out, but if you get Slashdotted it’s guaranteed to top out). Andre Manoel of Brazilian company Insite suggests, “If you want to be shared on Facebook, which is unavoidable, add the plugins, check that the way a share appears is good and, if not, add [the elements for the Open Graph protocol] so your pages look exactly like you want.” 

Don’t duplicate content

Don’t duplicate content

Andre Manoel points out that you should make “sure you don't have duplicated content, thus avoiding Google Panda penalties.”

Accessibility

Accessibility

Building a Web site for accessibility is actually quite difficult and can be tricky to maintain unless you have a rigorous content management framework and operational strategy. There are various levels of accessibility that can be designed for (see the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0). Check for accessibility for vision, hearing, physical, mental impairment, etc. (see the W3C’s Accessibility Evaluation Resources). The site should work for those with JavaScript disabled and for those that use text based browsers (blind people use text based browsers with text to speech converters).

Image is everything

Image is everything

It’s pretty common to find missing images on Web sites and, as time goes by and content gets moved around and ages, it’s easy for visual media to get disconnected. This is even more likely when media is retrieved from other servers. Routine scanning for broken links and images will detect problems but you’ve got to make it a routine maintenance job. Dave Fletcher says, “Ensure that images are properly sized for retinal/HD displays and are being fed to the proper device [and use] alt tags on all images.”

Video not vide-oh!

Video not vide-oh!

Video is indispensable in telling your story but brings its own set of problems and complexities, including increased page load times, browser compatibility issues, and platform performance limitations. Dave Fletcher says, “Any video files being fed from the website directly should feature the various formatted versions for HTML5 (webm, ogg, mp4) as well as fallback to Flash.”

Do your pages load fast enough?
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Do your pages load fast enough?

You have to consider the experience of the user and the kind of connection and platform they’re using, particularly when you’re selling. If a page takes more than a couple of seconds to load you run the risk of losing the user’s attention. How much content can be delivered depends on whether the user is on a top end PC on a fiber connection or out in the sticks on an old smartphone using LTE. You have to be aware and adjust for both.

Upping your blog game
Pimkle

Upping your blog game

Dave Fletcher suggests,“If there’s a blog on the site, make sure there’s an RSS feed in the header.” This is a good point because, even though RSS isn’t as popular as it once was, it’s another resource for those users who use RSS readers. Add to that there’s a lot of automatic content collection and distribution systems that rely on RSS feeds. An RSS feed makes you a little more visible for very little effort.

Give search engines directions

Give search engines directions

According to Wikipedia: “A Sitemap is an XML file that lists the URLs for a site. It allows webmasters to include additional information about each URL: when it was last updated, how often it changes, and how important it is in relation to other URLs in the site. This allows search engines to crawl the site more intelligently. Sitemaps are a URL inclusion protocol and complement robots.txt, a URL exclusion protocol.” Not having a sitemap can reduce your visibility in SEO and it’s not like it’s an expensive thing to do: Services such as https://xmlsitemapgenerator.org/ will build a site map of up to 1,000 pages for free.

Perfect printing

Perfect printing

There’s nothing more annoying than a site that produces a receipt or some other documentation that you’d like to print but fails to provide printing support. The result is you wind up printing multiple pages of content without a sensible layout. According to Dave Fletcher, the answer is simple; “make sure you have a proper print style sheet.”

Copyright is your right

Copyright is your right

Copyrights are, of course, only useful if you’re willing to take violators to court and have the money to do so. Even so, if you have original content that has value it’s worth making your ownership and copyright visible, if only to make it clear you have a clue.

Where is …?

Where is …?

Don’t forget on-site search, points out Ian Douglas of xxxx. Ian’s right; many sites with lots of content don’t provide sophisticated search and users who might be interested in your content will give up looking for stuff they’re interested in very quickly and then, most likely, leave.

Who came to my site from where?

Who came to my site from where?

Without having analytics properly configured and deployed throughout your site you will have poor and incomplete insight into how well your Web site is performing and how your content is trending. Particularly where sales are involved, you want to know what is happening in more or less real time. With services such as Google Analytics it’s cheap and easy to get started and, if you don’t like the idea of our Google overlords having such a deep insight into your business, there are lots of alternatives. The only alternative you shouldn’t choose would be to not deploy analytics.

Are you secured?

Are you secured?

Web sites get hacked and pwned every day and it’s nothing to laugh about as the consequence will be a huge time suck. Moreover, if you collect financial data or personally identifiable information on your Web site and you get hacked you could find yourself with serious problems that could cost you a lot of time, money and customer goodwill. Make sure you get expert help in “hardening” your site, and ensure everyone who works on and manages site content is careful when they make changes. Another thought from Dave Fletcher: “Ensure that the server is backing up databases and files on a regular basis.”

Putting in the framework

Putting in the framework

It’s amazing how hard it can be to find contact, legal and “about” pages on many sites, while on many more these simply don’t exist! This stuff is crucial in making you look like a serious company. The importance of the legal page cannot be overlooked. This page should state your terms and conditions of service, cookie policy, and whatever other regulatory or legal statements are required for your business or locale.

Do we have contact?

Do we have contact?

To expand on the need for a contact section on your Web site, Gregory Alan Bolcer of Bitvore says, “I can't tell you how many small city news sites and business sites don't understand that their web site is viewable by people well outside their little city, so if you don't tell them where you are, people just won't use you. Your web guys might tell you that you get really good ‘engagement' as people click on your site several times trying desperately to find your address or location before leaving in full frustration.”

Are we clear?

Are we clear?

Steve Yost, the founder of QuickTopic.com, noted you should “make sure that when reading the home page, I can understand what you do and what it might do for me, in as few words as possible. There are too many web sites done by obviously engineering-first startups that explain their technology first.” Greg’s right. Your homepage should at least have an elevator pitch that explains why your visitors should be interested in you.”

Is your user confuserd?

Is your user confuserd?

User experience engineering is crucial and the bigger and more complex your site is, the more important it becomes to make sure your user experience is consistent. It’s no good having one look and feel here, another there, yet another over time, and so on. The ideal strategy is to have real users test out your site and for you to evaluate how they interact with your content and what they find difficult or hard to understand. Consider including aids such as breadcrumbs, consistent navigation, and easily found help.

Keep it clean

Keep it clean

Marc Kupper recommends “Validating both the CSS and HTML using something like http://validator.w3.org/ [and] make sure directory browsing is disabled for all directories or add redirect or use index.htm files that do something that's under your control.”

Ya gotta have Secure Sockets!

Ya gotta have Secure Sockets!

… unless you’re just running a small blog that you don’t care if it’s noticed. In fact, recently Google announced that the use of Secured Sockets Layer encryption will be considered as a Page Rank factor so if you want to be up there with the big boys in the search results you’d better get SSL in place ASAP. Marc Kupper says, “Make sure your SSL pages also get all of their content and media via SSL. Sometimes I see a site that includes common content on all pages. The automatic includes result in http: fetches from https: pages resulting in browser warnings errors about potentially insecure issues. Make sure your SSL certificates include ownership or identity information.”

And finally, cats …

And finally, cats …

Anne Marie Merritt, pointed out what many might consider to be the No.1 rule in building a successful and effective Web site: “Please make sure the site contains plenty of adorable well-photographed cat pictures. I can't even count how many websites make this mistake.”