10 Measures for Continuous Website Maintenance
Post from June 24, 2008 (↻ September 23, 2022), filed under Web Development.
This and many other posts are also available as a pretty, well-behaved ebook: On Web Development. And speaking of which, here’s a short treatise just about managing the quality of websites: The Little Book of Website Quality Control (updated).
Website maintenance and quality assurance constitute the backbone of high-quality offers of information, and they make the difference between amateur and professional web design. Accordingly, guidelines for quality web design define maintenance and quality assurance as important process ingredients which have to be applied continuously. Let’s see what this means for our work.
The following list of measures does not cover “initial” quality assurance. It assumes that websites are displayed correctly in popular user agents, and that HTML elements are used according to their purpose. Additionally, it prefers web-based tools over software that has yet to be installed.
- Plausibility Checks
- User Tests
- Content Maintenance
- Link Checks
- Load Time Checks
- “Change, Measure, Change Again”
- Additional Tests
1. Plausibility Checks
One of the most important aspects of website maintenance and QA is to check on the necessity for all website parts, be it sections of the site, widgets and gadgets, or publications. And even though it’s advisable to have a clear picture in mind when creating and establishing a site, it pays off to regularly review if everything the website offers is useful and still provides value to the user. Questioning the use of a “Wallpapers” area on a personal website is useful, as is challenging the benefit of a prominent “Admin” section or the value of an imaginary “Links” collection. Checking on plausibility does not only help to avoid unnecessary work, it benefits your “face to the world” by giving it focus.
Tip: Ask yourself if you’d expect a particular feature on a comparable website.
2. User Tests
While tests with users are especially crucial in the early stages of website creation and revision, they are also important in operation. They provide important insight into the usability of a website. Continuous tests might not only reveal flaws in former tests—for example, when tested with only a few users—, but also indicate changes regarding conventions or general perception. There’s no alternative to testing with users, as testing is always helpful.
Tip: From time to time, ask a friend or colleague to, say, contact you via your website, and observe how they perform.
3. Content Maintenance
Any content being published should not only be double-checked before release, it should also be checked continuously after release. It really is important to keep content up-to-date. However, once an article or post truly gets “stale,” a quick update or comment might suffice to inform readers about the development; as a last resort, you could (prominently) note that the content in question is possibly outdated.
Tip: Check older articles if they still contain current information.
Copy-editing could be seen as a part of content maintenance, but it’s different for two reasons: On the one hand, orthographic mistakes can fly under the radar for a remarkably long time; on the other hand do spelling mistakes have a negative impact on credibility. Usually you want to make sure that what you write is true and correct.
Tip: Print some of your articles and check if they contain any typos (they probably do).
5. Link Checks
Cool URIs still don’t change, but reality doesn’t reflect that. And even though external resources feel like it’s others who are responsible for these links start pointing into nowhere, it’s easy to take care of links by regularly firing up W3C’s Link Checker or Site Valet’s Link Service, among others. Don’t let your visitors get upset about broken links—or you.
Tip: Schedule at least a monthly link check, if possible automated.
6. Load Time Checks
Load time is an important factor of the experience a user makes with a website; speed is an attribute of good web design. Not all visitors are waiting for a truck full of decorative elements; watch yourself. When it comes to continuous QA, load time and performance are especially interesting since, like user tests, they are necessary to be checked upfront, but useful to be tested regularly as well (for example, via PageSpeed or Pingdom) to avoid inefficiencies due to code or graphic changes.
Tip: Try to find a machine with a slow connection (or use your mobile) to recall the times when we had no broadband access.
Invalid documents and style sheets can often (but not always) be considered a result of sloppy, unprofessional work. Similar to a house, a website won’t necessarily collapse when there are a few bricks missing or not in the right place, but the web developer in charge should answer the same questions as the bricklayer. Quality assurance of websites explicitly includes validation. The more maintenance work there is and the more people work on a site, the more often tests should be carried out, for example by W3C’s HTML, WDG’s HTML (including the option to validate up to 100 pages of a site), or W3C’s CSS Validator. Issues should be fixed.
Tip: Make validation a routine, even with style sheets, and look for ways to automate this (maybe you or your company already runs a few tests that could piggyback on HTML/CSS validation as well).
8. “Change, Measure, Change Again”
As one of the key processes of web analytics, it’s not just beneficial for “website monetization” but also for website quality to repeatedly change things and then measure these changes. For example, you might change the position of the login and registration section, track the results, and change it again. You might add a “social bookmarks” widget, measure the outcome, and tweak something. Or you might adjust colors, confirm the impact on the element’s prominence, and modify colors once more. Performing and testing little changes will mean huge benefits for both your visitors and your site, and this process can be seen as the supreme discipline of professional website design and maintenance.
Tip: Play with your website ads by modifying their position or layout for a week; compare the results and feel the power of “change, measure, change again.”
9. Additional Tests
The quality of a website can be evaluated and improved by a whole bunch of additional tools. Depending on technologies in use and update frequency, this should be done regularly as well to avoid user frustration, technical issues, higher cost, as well as professional criticism.
The author just cannot share his experience with maintenance and QA without suggesting that it’s helpful to ask and reward visitors for pointing out mistakes in order to spot more of them and lessen their effect. Although Don Norman questions the commercial capability of this approach, encouraging and rewarding error reports easily increases the likelihood of noticing otherwise invisible mistakes by a factor of 10. (Donald Knuth demonstrated this years ago.) Quality has a price.
Tip: Offer your visitors some kind of incentive for mailing you when they notice typos and the like, and observe what impact that has on the frequency and quality of these mails.
I’m Jens, and I’m an engineering lead—currently manager for Developer Experience at LivePerson—and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
If you have a question or suggestion about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message. Thank you!
On the one hand, orthographc mistakes can fly under the radar for a remarkably long time, on the other hand do spelling mistakes evidently have a negative impact on credibility.
Were the spelling & grammatical mistakes in the above sentence intentional to illustrate a point? 😉
Maybe you should go to https://meiert.com/en/help/quality/ and list them.. then you’ll get a reward 😉
Good article BTW.
On April 9, 2010, 10:01 CEST, Garry Bernardy said:
Giving incentive is surely the last resort for me I think. I mean the typo or the grammars of the articles should be the responsibility of the writer and it should be checked by the writer himself. Putting incentive in hope for other people to correcting just make us seems incompetent to write I think.
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