Ideally, websites should be designed for the greatest variety of users. While users with the latest and greatest personal computing technology may have a faster and richer experience than those with old fashioned browsers and modem connection speeds, all users should be able to access the basic content on a site.
There are three kinds of testing that are important to gauge the functionality of a website:
- Base requirement testing
- Usability testing
- Special needs testing
Base Requirement Testing
Base requirement testing will reveal if a site is compatible with typical tools used for browsing.
Methodology: Create a definition of the minimum software a user is expected to use to access the website. Will 4.0 and higher browsers be the minimum or does the site require a Flash enabled browser that can be viewed on WebTV? Using the base requirements, go to every page on the site. Is everything working? Is the content viewable? From this starting point, begin testing with various combinations of software and hardware the entire site. After viewing all of the site, start categorizing problems. Can this bug be fixed in days, weeks, etc.? Fix the short term problems and then test again.
Base requirement testing with browsers and screen readers only shows that the pages load properly. It does not reveal whether typical users can find content on your site. For this, the NewMedia Mill empanels a roster of typical users who are asked to execute likely tasks. Can users complete basic tasks? Do users get lost? Is the content easy to understand? This testing is one of the few quantitative tools one can use to evaluate the navigational structure of a site.
Methodology: Recruit testers who reflect the basic makeup of a website's audience . These should be people who are familiar with your content, but not familiar with the site. Split the group in half. Test half on the old site and the other half on the redesigned site. Each user is asked to complete a series of typical tasks on the site: find a specific article, sign up for an email list, find mailing information, donate money, etc. Each user is timed to see how long it takes to complete the tasks. Does it take longer to find the mailing address on the new site as compared to the old?
Using this information, you are now armed with quantitative data as to how the website has improved and by how much. If the site has not improved, or not at the expected rate, this testing enables an organization to fix problems before the site is unveiled to the general public.
Special Needs Testing
The testing is undertaken to ensure a site is accesible by those with special needs.
Methodology: For users with disabilities, the US Government passed Section 508 of the 1998 Rehabilitation Act. This acts sets forth guidelines for making technology accessible to people with disabilities. This is a good starting point, but should not be used as a substitute for real world testing with screen readers and/or magnifiers.
Base requirement testing examines the technology of the site. Usability testing examines whether or not the site completes its ultimate goal of conveying information. Special needs testing has become increasingly important as non-profits make efforts to comply with government accessibility requirements. All forms of testing should be undertaken to get a true understanding of how a site might work in the real world under multiple conditions.