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Checklists Lay the Foundation for Web Site Quality

Magazine article Online

Checklists Lay the Foundation for Web Site Quality

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intranet librarian

A high-quality and usable site has significant payback on the development time invested.

Uneven Web site quality remains a major pitfall of Web site development. One area of the site is brilliantly executed, while another has sloppy coding and violates known usability principles. Even worse, some areas of the site conflict with other areas, using different navigation schemes. This leads to user frustration, dissatisfaction, and poor Web site performance. A high-quality and usable site has a significant payback on the development time invested.

Establishing a quality process for Web documents is one key to developing a successful and usable Web site. Setting up a quality process does not need to be onerous. In fact, you can probably find and reuse well-thought-out Web site checklists distributed freely on the Internet.

CHOOSING CHECKLISTS

Decide up front what you wish to evaluate and monitor to ensure a high-quality site. For most Webmasters, it boils down to two basic areas: The site should "work" and be error-free, and the site should be usable. Next, begin your search for recommended checklists for Web sites from reputable sources.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes there seems to be a factory of worker bees dreaming up dozens of checklists that you could use on your site. In attempts to be comprehensive, some developers have created lists with over 150 points. Indeed there are checklists for almost everything: graphics, navigation, writing, syntax, usability, accessibility, and so on. Consider using one of the comprehensive checkpoint lists or group of lists only when you're undertaking a major new design. In between major developments, a simpler checklist works best. If your checklist is too long and detailed, it'll be ignored.

SET YOUR PRIORITIES

Start establishing quality guidelines by focusing on the basics. You'd be surprised how often these are overlooked.

* Spell Checking. Ideally every page added to your Web site will be spell checked. This includes whenever anyone edits and updates pages. Remember to check ALT tags and metatags as well as the page content. Even with spell checking, you'll find that many misspellings can creep onto the site.

* Check Pages with an HTML Validator. An HTML validator checks your Web pages to ensure that the HTML syntax on your pages is correct. Mistakes in the HTML syntax are identified so that they can be easily corrected. Hypertext links are also checked by most validators to ensure that the links are operational. In addition, many validators point out cross-browser issues with your code.

* Link Checking. At least once a month, a link checking report should be run to identify broken or invalid links.

DEFINE YOUR HOUSE RULES

It is essential to determine and publicize the minimum standards for adding content to a Web site. You must also ensure that your guidelines or standards are followed. In some cases, compliance is mandatory-the page will simply not get posted unless it meets the standards. On other intranets, it will be a continuous process of educating and motivating Web site authors to follow guidelines.

At my firm, for example, it is absolutely essential when starting new HTML coders to explain the supported document syntax standards that we use for sites (in our case xHTML 1.0), the use of external style sheets, as well as conventions for ALT and TITLE tags.

Consider the standards that you might want to set in the following areas:

* HTML version

* Browsers supported

* Metadata

* Maximum page size

* Section 501c accessibility standards

* Stylistic and navigational elements

*Editorial

Most sites have established editorial and stylistic guidelines, such as the placement of the company logo and site-wide navigation. Usually, the default font styles, headings, and colors have been set for the site. …

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