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When I’m reading blog posts, news articles or Twitter discussions concerning the testing of websites, the article or discussion in question actually relate to a single aspect of testing and gives the impression that there is only one form of website testing that we should be concerned with.

At the moment that testing subject of choice is known as Conversion Rate Testing, or sometimes called CRO (Conversion Rate Optimisation). This would normally mean that the tests being carried out are Split Tests or Multivariate Tests, using software such as Google Weboptimizer.

Don’t get me wrong, conversion rate testing is really important and can greatly increase the number of conversions on a particular page, which can raise sales, enquiries, profits or whatever aspect of conversion you are trying to improve.

But there are other forms of testing websites, quite a few in fact, and some that are quite basic that get overlooked. I wanted to give a brief description for each type of testing to help you understand all the areas that can (and should) be tested when launching a new website, rolling out a set of updates or at least checking on a regular basis.

Different Forms of Testing

Functional testing

This form of testing aims to ensure that the website works correctly or as it was intended to. You click on a link, does the website display the correct page? You complete a search, does the website return the correct search results? You add a product to the basket, does the website add the correct product to the basket? Functional testing is going through the entire website, including content management system or admin area, to make sure that each function within the website is performing as it should be.

Browser compatibility testing

Different web browsers display web pages differently from each other. This is one of the least helpful aspects of the Internet and browser compatibility testing or browser checking involves testing the website on each of the major browsers (or each browser that you have decided to support), which generally includes IE6, IE7, IE8, Firefox 3, Chrome, Safari 3 and Safari 4 on both PCs and Macs. You could possibly include Opera 9 and Opera 10 in that list in addition to testing your website on Linux as well as Windows and OSX. You could also check your analytics to see which browsers are most commonly visiting your site. There are several decent browser checking tools listed in our testing tools directory.

Usability testing

Usability testing assumes that your website works correctly and displays in each major browser correctly. However, a website that functions correctly is not necessarily a usable website for your target audience. Usability testing enables you to show your website to a group of users, ask them to perform certain actions and see how they accomplish those tasks. There are many reasonably priced usability testing tools on the market that have made this type of testing much more straightforward, many of which are listed in our testing tools directory. It is possible to gain great insight into how people actually use your website and a lot of the experts agree that you can pick up most usability issues when testing with only 5 users.

Accessibility testing

Accessibility testing is extremely important to make sure that your website complies with best practice and accessibility guidelines plus legislation surrounding accessible websites, which is in force in both the US and UK. In the US there is Section 508, which is part of the Rehabilitation Act and in the UK we have the Disability Discrimination Act or DDA. A fully accessible website not only benefits those users that would otherwise have difficulty using your website but search engines will also be able to navigate and understand your content more easily, thereby helping your search engine rankings. To help you test your website’s accessibility there are some accessibility testing tools available in our directory although manual testing is still recommended.

Performance testing

Performance testing is an area that has always been important but possibly even more so now that Google is starting to incorporate the performance of a website into its ranking algorithms. There used to be an 8 second rule, which believed that a user will wait no longer than 8 seconds for a page to download before they click back and try another website. That rule is a long way out of date, it is now no more than 1 or 2 seconds. Performance testing can show you when your website is slowing down, which pages are taking time to load and what element of the page is causing the problem. Performance testing tools are covered in our testing tools directory.

Stress or load testing

There is a difference between stress and load testing in that stress testing concerns itself with trying to break the system you are testing whilst load testing aims to find out how much volume you can put through the system. Both of these forms of testing are generally for larger websites and web applications. A range of stress and load testing tools can be found in our testing tools directory.

Site monitoring

A really simple test that you can put in place is to automatically monitor your website to check for downtime or outages. Nobody likes a website to be down including users and search engines. Regular downtime will lower confidence in your website and they could be affecting your traffic levels and therefore sales or enquiries without you knowing. A selection of site monitoring tools can be found in our testing tools directory.

Conversion rate testing

The current favourite form of testing, and an important one too. Conversion rate testing or optimisation can greatly improve the amount of visitors your website converts into enquiries and/or sales. If your SEO brings in 100 visitors a day and your site currently converts 5 of those into becoming customers then, with successful conversion rate testing, you could convert more visitors into customers and make more sales. Conversion rate testing normally takes the form of running split or multivariate tests on your website, many of which are listed in our testing tools directory.

Security testing

Websites can have security holes that could be extremely damaging for your business if they were to be found and exploited. Security testing aims to find where those security holes exist so that you can do something about them.

Spelling and Grammar checking

It is always useful to fully read through all text on the website to ensure there are no typos or grammar mistakes. You will also spot how you can improve the readability of text and other areas that perhaps need some attention. Also make sure you read through all messages that appear when signing up for a newsletter, adding products to a basket, or registering including any error messages. Simple changes to the wording of an error message into a nicely worded error message can make a big difference.

So there you have it, website testing can take on many forms and all of them should be completed to a greater or lesser degree. At least by completing each type of testing you can be aware of any issues or areas for improvement so then properly plan out what action you are going to take and when. Good luck with whatever testing you complete.

Tom Batey
Tom Batey, founder of Testing Web Sites & WebDepend, is a hands on website tester focusing on quality across web, mobile and email.