This article is designed to be a checklist of sorts, allowing you to go through your Web site and give it a checkup; look for potential issues that may affect user experience, conversion rates and liability with site security; and, also, diagnose other issues or problems that you may not have thought about.
Many of these 10 points do not require a major remedy. A few are more difficult to fix, but most can be investigated and rectified by submitting a request to your IT staff or calling your developer.
I suggest you undertake this checkup every six months—maybe on the same day you go to the dentist. Now that would make for a real fun day, no?
- The "www" prefix. Although the average person types in the "www" prefix, some lazy people (like me) and many Internet veterans do not. Test your own site. Type your URL into a browser window without the "www" prefix. Does it load? Most sites (probably 98%) do, but you would be shocked at how many sites do not. I was on a major pharmaceutical company Web site (one of about 30 it publishes) and noticed this oversight, which is usually an issue with the domain record—something that is usually easy to fix.
- Search for yourself. Type in the three words that you would enter in a search engine to find your company if you did not know it existed. Do not type in the name of the company… type in the name of your services or products. You want to get in the mindset of a user. If you worked for Staples, you might type in "office supplies"; if you worked for Ariba, you might type in "supply chain solutions."
Is your site in the top 10, 20, 30? Beyond? You might need help with search engine optimization. Pay-per-click is an easy start. Research the proper words and pay to be ranked. However, you should not ignore organic search optimization, which helps you rank naturally. Remember that on most search engines the majority of searchers click on the non-paid listings.
- Check your links. Procure a link-checking program. There are open source freebies and those that you can pay for; I suggest you go to a search engine and type in "link checker," for example; you'll find a ton. By the way, remember that a link checker may hammer your Web site, thus inflating your page views and other metrics, so make sure you filter them out of your reports.
- What's your conversion rate? Do you know, or do you have a rough estimate? It might be time to invest some time in analytics. How do you know if a campaign worked? More traffic does not always mean more sales. Get more exact with your conversion rates to make more scientific, data-influenced decisions about your site and its performance.
- Question usability. Ask four friends/family members in your target demographic (make sure that they haven't visited your site before!) to complete the number-one task you want your visitors to perform on the site. Ask them whether they completed the task, and how long it took them. Also ask whether they experienced any frustrations—and if so, where in the process? You may not be able to change the issues, but a functional perspective is invaluable.
- How does it look? Download Firefox, a popular alternative browser to IE. Also download Netscape versions 4.7x an 7.x and then use those browsers to go to your homepage and at least five other pages on your site. Do they work properly? Do they appear as they are designed to?
Call up a friend who owns a Mac and one who uses Linux. How does the site look to them? Users are turning to alternate browsers… slowly, but surely. Is your site ready for them?
Tip: Hitting the "print screen" key on your keyboard (it is usually to the left of the scroll lock key and above the insert key) will capture an image of the screen, open word (or your other word processor) and hit paste (ctrl + p). Have your friends do this (and send the word doc to you as an email attachment) so you can see an image of what your site looked like on their screens.
- Security blankets. If your site takes credit cards or asks for sensitive information like a social security number, go to the page where you ask for the credit card (or SSN). Is there any mention of security or privacy policies? Is there an "https://" before the domain in the URL bar?
If there is no "https://" then your credit card page is probably not secure. In the last three months I have stumbled upon several businesses asking for my credit card that did not appear to have a secure certificate. Guess what—I didn't buy from them.
Not having "https://" in the URL of the page where you collect credit card info means that someone can sniff on the connection and steal the credit card number and other transmitted data. Go to your bank's Web site; when you go to login, you'll notice the "https://" at the top and a lock icon at the bottom of the browser window. Why? Because the info you are transmitting must be encrypted (secure) to prevent unauthorized individuals from unencrypting the sensitive data and using it with ill intent. Always look for the lock when transferring sensitive information; if you don't see the lock or "https://" in the URL bar (only on pages that are asking for sensitive info), proceed with caution.
- Dial up delay? The next time you are "fortunate" enough to be on a dialup Internet connection, take a few extra moments to load your home page and five other pages. Are you looking at your watch while doing it? You just may need to trim some of the graphics or optimize them for the Web. Set a benchmark. Do you want your site to load in less than 5 seconds? 10 seconds? What do you think your users expect?
Consider your demographics. If you are targeting young to middle-aged males who tend to wait for nothing, you'd better make sure that your site loads—and loads fast! If you are targeting people who are likely to have older PCs and dialup access, you may not want to wow them with a graphics-intensive site, but instead focus on functionality.
- Link to Adobe for PDFs. Do you have PDFs on your site? If so, include a link to the Adobe site where the Adobe Reader can be downloaded.
- Offer confirmations. Fill out the forms on your site (contact form, order form, change of address form, etc.). Do your users get a response to their inboxes confirming that your Web site has received the form successfully? Just a simple "thanks we have your updated info" or "thanks for contacting us, someone will be with you in 24-48 hours" goes a long way in satisfying customer expectations.
Bonus 1: No more email addresses on the Web site. Use contact forms instead of email addresses on your site. Using email addresses on your site may open you up to email harvesters that search the Web looking for email addresses. Welcome to SPAM world, this is how spammers get a lot of their email addresses and how you end up with so much SPAM. Find the email addresses on your site and replace them with contact forms. The more SPAM you get, the more likely you are to accidentally delete legitimate emails from customers and clients.
Bonus 2: Multiple contacts. Make sure contact forms are sent to at least two people in your organization. If one person is unable to respond, another person in your company remains informed of customer/client inquiries. You don't want clients submitting through forms but not being followed up.
Bonus 3: Answering emails. When asking a user for an email address, offer two spots for addresses. It is not uncommon for people to have more than one email address. If you make a second email address optional, you can run an analysis to see if any of those that bounced have a second email address listed. Then you can try to send to the second email address. For some campaigns, this can be the difference between an OK campaign and a stellar one.
I hope these helped!