How to Test a Website Before Launch

No matter how much you test a new website yourself, you won’t notice all bugs and things that need to be addressed prior to launch. This is why you need a true website test plan and a team.

Creating a test plan gives you valuable and organized insight to help improve the site before it launches. From bugs to design issues, you get feedback to create and launch a better site.

Allowing a testing phase with multiple testers will help ensure all elements are thoroughly tested multiple times before launch. The result is a smooth running site your visitors will love.

Determine Who Will Test the Website

Choosing the right test group(s) is important. You want testers who will delve deep and focus on different aspects of the website.

Invite a small group (or groups) of testers to go through every page, link, form, video and other elements of the site. For best results, use different testers who understand your business, some that don’t know your business as well, some who have some knowledge of web design and some who will act like your potential audience(s).

By utilizing different test groups, you will be sure to cover all areas of the website. Here are a few groups of people who make great website testers:

People Close to the Content

These may be people within your organization or who know your business or product well. These are the people who are more likely to catch missing information, erroneous information and other things such as brand or product inconsistencies.

People Not so Close to The Content

These may be customers, partners or other interested parties who will not be as critical of the exact content and brand but might be more apt to find usability issues. This kind of group is great at providing a usability test and giving higher-level critiques than those who are closer to the brand, product or service.

Your Web Development Team

The web development team should be testing your new web application though the entire build process. However I am here to tell you that we can get so into the weeds and so ingrained in the development side of things that we sometimes miss issues a more standard user would find.

The development team should be responsible for testing for broken links, search engine optimization, browser compatibility, accessibility, etc. As a developer I have a test strategy that I typically work through and one day will get that into a formal planning document.

Basically the development team should be focused on the technical aspects of the website. They should have a standard scope of testing that they follow and may even have test deliverables or reports that they provide. Many developers have tools to easily catch bad links and other more technical issues.

Create A Timeline For Testing the Website

There are two things you want to avoid when it comes to testing a website for launch:

  1. A forever review and feedback cycle. Remember this it’s a website and can always be changed and updated. The last thing you want is an indefinite testing period that delays the launch.
  2. A last minute rushed testing phase, i.e. right before launch. There is enough stress and stuff to focus on without looking for bugs that should have been caught earlier.

Create a timeline that includes several phases of testing and bug fixes. No matter how much you test, a few small flaws might escape notice.

Don’t worry. These issues can be fixed after launch. The key is to ensure the major issues are taken care of. Plan for several days or even weeks depending on the size of your organization, the size of the website and who the stakeholders are.

What to Test Before a Website Launch

You want your testers to look at every single element on your site. Have them click through and give each a focus such as content, branding, testing forms, usability critiques etc. Here is a list of things that should definitely be looked at:

  • Content accuracy
  • Browser compatibility across both PC and Mac.
  • Mobile responsiveness on popular phones, tablets and desktop sizes.
  • ADA / WCAG compliance
  • Menu navigation
  • All links
  • Video playback
  • Page loading times
  • General content – all dummy data removed, content makes sense, fonts easy to read
  • Ease of use of the design
  • Test all forms
  • Shopping carts
  • Member logins
  • Test all 3rd-party integrations such as social media tie-ins

Your exact checklist might vary, but include any elements visitors would use on a regular basis. If these don’t work properly, you need to know before they ruin your big launch day.

Your developer may, and probably should, have tools to test browser compatibility, ADA / WCAG compliance and mobile responsiveness across popular devices.

Setup a Feedback System

The feedback system is the most important part of the plan. Without an organized system things turn to chaos quickly.

Setup a special email account for bug reports, use a project management system with all testers and the developers involved, invite people to a shared Google Doc or any method that works well for you and your testers. The idea is to have an easy to way to receive feedback and organize problems so they can be fixed quickly.

Use a Project Manager

This is where a project manager comes in real handy. Having someone to organize issues into various areas like content, design, development, to remove duplicate issues or even make judgements to what is important and what should be ignored for the time being.

Establish A Schedule For Fixes

Once bugs or design issues are reported, they need to be fixed as quickly as possible. For instance, if the first stage of testing lasts three days, you may schedule any reported issues to be fixed within three more days if possible.

You can then start the second stage of testing by the seventh day. For any problems that you can’t fix yourself, talk to the developers or designers to see how quickly issues can be fixed so you can plan accordingly.

The important part here is to have a schedule. Your site and/or team may be small enough that days are not needed so adjust accordingly. Without a schedule the process can quickly become chaos.

Multiple Rounds of Website Testing is a Good Idea

One round of tests aren’t enough. A single bug fix might have repaired one issue, but created another. It takes several rounds of testing to ensure the site is running as smoothly as it possibly can.

Plan for at least three to four rounds. Testers might have overlooked a bug in the initial tests, but find a major issue during the third round. Spending this extra time is crucial to a site’s launch success.

Important: Decide Who Gets an Opinion on the Website

Here is the thing, everyone has an opinion and it’s these opinions that make a website testing plan so hard to coordinate and keep on track.

It’s just human nature. You will ask people to test the website to see if forms work, see if links work and they will write you back telling you how they feel the color combination is not pleasing to their eye. They will let you know that they don’t like some of the images and even suggest some alternatives. It happens.

Unless these people are stakeholders and “get” an opinion on such matters it’s important to pull this kind of opinion stuff out of their reviews. Why? Because it doesn’t matter what they think.

That sounds cold but trying to bend to each and every person’s opinion is a loosing game. Things like design, imagery and sometimes even wording is subjective, remember that. Taking into the account of everyone’s option will lead to NEVER launching your website.

Sure the CEO might be able to slip some opinions in because they are the boss, the marketing team may have seething to say about branding (even after the design is done) or sales might have an option on how lead generation works. You may want to listen to these people.

However when Joe from accounting says that he finds the product page “confusing” or Jane from HR says the colors a too bright… skip it. Don’t even send this to your developer or designer, appealing to Jane and Joe at this point is a looser’s game.

In Conclusion

A testing plan is a must for any website launch. While developers and the site owner test the site, the real test comes with genuine users. Getting their feedback helps you perfect your site. Establish your testing plan before the site is even complete and you’ll be ready to start testing the moment the developer gives you the go ahead.

Remember a website is never “done”. Real user testing is important, once you collect feedback from real-world users you may want revisit some areas of your new site. Expecting to catch all things prior to launch and real-world use is not going to happen.

That real user experience is invaluable and you will only get once the site launches. Unless of course you have the luxury (and budget) to run organized focus and testing groups which most organizations don’t.

Go ahead and let your new website into the wild and adapt moving forward.