Testing the usability of a website


How usable is a website? This largely depends on the perspective, are you the content manager, the marketeer, the customer, …. This means that we can test for usability from all these user perspectives. The main point to learn from this is that we need requirements for all these perspectives too. For instance: content managers should be involved when developing and testing a website. While developing a website, a lot of attention goes to the front-end, but the back-end is important too.

Marketeers will think the website is usable if it can easily be found on the internet. This brings up the aspect of search engine optimization. This subject is way too large to cover as a whole here, but I’ll cover some parts. It is a must that keyword can easily be added to a page. Make sure that internal linking in the website is used, use tooling to check how many internal and external links and where they are implemented. Check if all the URLs are user friendly, i.e. not like “www.polteq.com/index.php?page=123&lang=en” but “http://www.polteq.com/en/testing-services/test-automation/“. Make sure to check if all images have an alt-tag, since webspiders can only read text.will go to the ease of use of the front-end of the site, but the same kind of thinking should be used for the back-end. Every part of the website that shows content should be “easily” editable. This is not just limited to textual content, but is also demanded for images, banners and the order of items in the navigation.

End-users are only interested in achieving their personal goals. The website needs to help them as effectively as possible to achieve these goals. Think about disabled users that cannot use the mouse to navigate and need to do all with the keyboard. They will accept that it takes a bit more time to achieve the goals, but not too much. So keep the amount of tabs needed to reach the important places on the website to a minimum. The tester needs to check the difference in number of actions using the mouse and the keyboard, making sure that they are not too far apart. Keep in mind that this are checks which can also be automated. For a reference on accessibility see this page from W3C.


Testing a website

websiteWebsites exist for a long time now and they play a more and more important role in current society. When searching on how to test a website, I got very little hits. Most hits only dealt with performance or compliance, a good reason to write some more on website testing.

Every websites consists of one or more pages. When more pages exist, there usually are one or more design templates that give related pages the same look and feel. The templates should be reviewed to see if they meet the business requirements. Some suggestions for reviewing:

  • Does the template provide a spot for all the elements that are needed on the pages?
  • Are common elements identified (like navigation and footer)?
  •  Are all elements mandatory (if not what should be displayed when it’s not filled)?
  •  Does the template comply with style guidelines?

Of course it doesn’t stop with reviewing; the templates can be tested too. When you create a page based on the template, it should show the various elements in the intended order and format. When testing these templates you can make a decision table containing the possibilities of mandatory and optional fields. To see if the template really works, we need to put some content on the page. Play around with large and small texts to see how the template deals with wrapping and don’t forget to try some special characters too. If a content management system (CMS) is used to put content on the page, the CMS can be tested too. This may not be needed if it is proven technology, but we need to at least check the configuration of the CMS.

As I said, a page consists of various elements. Each element can be tested separately. Common elements like a search box, navigation bar, login box or footer links should be tested, since they appear on multiple (often all) pages. Do we need to test these elements on every single page?  Well, if we want to be absolutely sure that it works on all pages, then yes. Luckily, testing the elements for one page in all the templates should give quite an accurate view already.

Most websites also deal with user specific content which requires you to login. This introduces the aspect of security testing. The OWASP site gives a lot of information on security. A lot of the testing involved with security is technical and requires practice. The simpler parts are close to functional testing. Authorization and authentication should be tested! For authorization use tables containing roles and rights and make sure to cover the combinations.

This leaves us with other non-functional aspects as performance, continuity and usability. I’m still thinking on doing separate posts on these subjects, so keep checking  here.