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Testing a website before launch

Testing a website is the last step prior to the definitive launch. Usually the developer will test the website regarding to a number of elements druing production. The last test phase gives the developer an opportunity to thoroughly walk through the site once again and check the content factually.

Who should test what?

Generally speaking, we can expect the web developer to run extensive tests on the site regarding accessibility, user-friendliness, et cetera. Testing the more technical aspects of the site (code validation, correct execution of functions) is the developer’s responsibility as well.

Testing a website prior to launch is not the same as evaluating the site. This is discussed in Evaluation. Evaluation helps principals determine to which extent to which the requirements have been met.

The test areas

The following test areas are identified:

  • Testing for general errors and imperfections
  • Testing for accessibility
  • Testing for usability
  • Testing for compatibility

Testing for general errors and imperfections

  • Testing content, such as spelling and the quality of images.
  • Testing user-interaction: forms, e-mail addresses, dead links.

Testing for accessibility

The accessibility of a site is tested by looking at the extent to which all components of the website can be reached by all users. This should principally be done 'manually' (by a person) which can be complemented by automatic test.

Automatic tests

Web Guideline QuickScan

On www.webrichtlijnen.nl/english/test/ you can enter up to ten URLs. The relevant pages are tested with regard to 47 Web Guidelines that can reliably be tested automatically. For a complete impression of the extent to which the pages comply with the Web Guidelines you need additional manual testing.

Cynthia Says

On www.cynthiasays.com, you can enter the URL of a page to see whether this page complies with a certain level of accessibility. Like the Web Guideline QuickSacan, this testing method never provides complete information on the accessibility of the site. It simply tests whether particular (measurable) parameters have been fulfilled.

Testing for usability

Usability can be defined as:
'The extent to which an application supports the user in carrying out a particular task, whereas user-unfriendliness actually hampers the performance of this task.'

Generally speaking, two methods for usability tests can be distinguished:

  • With real users
  • Without real users

Owing to the often high cost of performing usability tests with real users, sites are often tested by the production teams. The teams take on the roles of the users, and try to anticipate what users will think and do when performing a task.

A different method for testing usability is 'heuristic testing'. In heuristic testing, the site is evaluated by a usability expert. This involves expertise based on experience, and precludes time-consuming 'trial and error' investigations. Evaluation is based on generally accepted usability principles.

Testing for compatibility (exchangeability within other systems and browsers)

Validation of the site:

Validation is defined as the inspection of the source code of a website in order to assess whether the markup of the web pages corresponds with the language rules the document claims to use. This involves little more than a syntax check; an automatic system cannot determine whether the source code has been used in the correct manner (see Descriptive markup).

Source code validation is useful, as it enables us to determine whether the source code complies with the W3C specifications for (X)HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) (see Building according to web standards).

Validation of (X)HTML markup

Likewise, W3C has made an automated service (validator) available for checking the syntactic correctness of the (X)HTML source code (markup) of web pages. The URL of a page can be entered, whereupon the validator will indicate any syntax errors and suggest corrections. Users of this service can also upload an (X)HTML file to be assessed by the validator. The Web Guidelines Quickscan incorporates the W3C (X)HTML validator.

Validation of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)

Likewise, W3C has an automated service for checking the syntax of CSS files. This service works similar to the validator for (X)HTML markup. The Web Guidelines Quickscan incorporates the W3C CSS validator.

Testing in various browsers:

The display of a site on different systems and in different browsers may vary; it is important that the information is still accessible and understandable. Test the site in at least two different browsers. Browser tests are essential to test both the compatibility and the accessibility of the site.

  1. Mozilla
    Or another modern standards-compliant browser, for instance Opera 7, Konqueror for Linux or Safari for Apple Macintosh
  2. Internet Explorer 6 or higher
  3. A text browser like Lynx (open source; see http://lynx.isc.org)
  4. A screen reader like NVDA (open source; see http://www.nvda-project.org)


Web Guidelines version 1.3, November 2007.