8 Critical Tests to Run Before Launching Your New Website
Drag and drop website builders like Wix and Weebly have many people thinking that publishing a website is as simple as pressing a button and basking in the gloriousness of your perfect live site.
Of course, most serious web developers scoff at these beginner website builders and the instant gratification mindset behind those who choose to use them.
The fact of the matter is that no website worth its hosting was set up in minutes, or even a few hours. Looking behind the scenes, it’s easy to see how taxing and lengthy the process to build a website really is.
Even once you’ve built the website and added all the content, you’re really only about halfway to a fully launched product. Before flipping the switch to take your website live, it’s necessary to undergo a number of tests to ensure proper functionality across a wide spectrum of activities.
The stakes only get higher if you’re dealing with a large or popular website, with many pages to comb through.
Though it may be overwhelming to imagine going through this list of tests to run prior to launching a website, you’ll be glad to have gone through them ahead of launch. No matter how excited you might be about an impending website launch, you should first make sure that there are no issues that may cause big problems in need of fixing once you’re already live.
Here are the most essential tests to run before launching a new WordPress website.
Though many of these WordPress tests focus on the technical aspects of launching a website, this one focuses specifically on auditing the website’s content.
Don’t be tempted to underestimate the importance of having professionally polished content on your website at launch.
Specifically, make sure that content when launching a website is:
- Large enough to be read by your target audience,
- Broken up into readable chunks with short sentences, bullet points, and lots of whitespace, and
- Free of spelling or grammatical errors.
A readability test should be executed on a regular basis as you add new content to your website, but especially as a major one-time effort before website launch.
Luckily, there are tools to empower your efforts in bulk, so you don’t have to dissect each page or post, word by word.
Hemingway App is one such tool that helps you to improve sentences, and fix other related readability issues in your content. This free app highlights complex, lengthy, and common errors. Here’s how Hemingway App communicates necessary changes via color:
- A yellow highlight means you should shorten or split your sentence.
- A red highlight means the sentence is dense and complicated to read.
- A purple highlight on a single word means you should use a shorter word (just hover the mouse over the word to get hints about replacements).
- A blue highlight signifies adverbs and weak phrases.
- A green highlight calls out phrases in passive voice.
If content plays a major role in your website’s success, consider Grammarly’s paid plan for slightly more advanced readability checks.
Browser testing is the process of checking how your website looks in different major browsers, different versions of said browsers, and even on different operating systems. This test for launching a website is mainly done on desktop computers, as there’s a separate but important test for mobile responsiveness. Chrome, Firefox and Safari are considered as the most important browsers for browser testing.
Conducting a browser test would be pretty difficult if you had to find your own access to all these different browser permutations. Luckily, there are a number of tools for browser testing that you can employ the use of for a low monthly subscription fee:
- Browserstack: Access and test all the browsers mentioned above using desktop browsers (and mobile browsers, too). This tool offers a free trial and pricing starts at $29/month for the Live plan.
- Browsershots: This tool is free, but provides a lot of essential features you’re probably looking for. It offers functionalities that aren’t included in the other tools mentioned here—even paid options. There is also a paid plan available for $29.95/month, allowing you to level up your access to Browsershots’ useful browser testing tools.
- Browser Sandbox: A Windows cross-browsing tool. Browser Sandbox supports the testing of many browsers including IE, Firefox, Chrome, Chromium Canary, Firefox Mobile, Safari, Opera, and Firefox Nightly. As with Browsershots, this tool is free and upgradable to a paid version—this one for the low price of $4.95/month.
Thanks to Google’s mobile-first indexing focus as of late 2016, mobile testing is now more important than ever when launching a website. If you’re out of the loop, this initiative boils down to the fact that the Google search engine preferentially ranks websites with useable mobile responsiveness.
If clients haven’t been asking for mobile ready websites before, it’s all but a requirement now. As such, it’s in your best interests to create websites that are just as functional (and aesthetically pleasing) on mobile as they are on desktop.
Besides giving your website a better chance of ranking on search, statistics show that mobile responsiveness is leading over desktop in different factors such as website visits and market share. Looping back to search, over half of search traffic comes from mobile devices (a number that continues to rise).
Essentially, mobile testing involves testing the mobile-friendliness and responsiveness of your website. This includes elements such as:
- Does your WordPress theme work on mobile?
- Is text easy to read on mobile?
- Is navigation functional on mobile?
To determine if your website is mobile-friendly, it’s best to start with Google’s own tests and definitions of mobile-friendliness. Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool is the easiest and simplest tool for assessing any related issues. It’s easy to use—just paste in your website URL and the tool will check if it is mobile-friendly or needs improvement (with suggestions for how to implement improvements).
Another Google tool, Search Console, has a “mobile usability” section that searches for errors and issues for the mobile version of your website.
If you want additional insight into the how’s and why’s of Google determining mobile-friendliness of a website, consider their newest certification program: the Mobile Sites certification.
Compared to Adwords and Analytics certifications, it requires a relatively small investment of time.
Hand-in-hand with providing a great user experience, especially on mobile devices, is creating a website that loads quickly and efficiently. A site load speed longer than 3 seconds poses the risk that people will leave your website immediately—and never look back.
Like readability tests, speed tests should be executed intermittently as new content is added to your website. Of course, it’s especially important for your website’s speed to be optimized before going live. After all, if a person has a bad initial experience with your website, they may never waste their time coming back.
Tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights are very helpful for determining if your website is loading fast enough on desktop and on mobile. If it gives you a low rating, it will also give you possible optimization ideas for improving your overall loading speed.
For a more advanced speed testing tool, consider Pingdom. This tool offers a free trial, with paid plans starting at $11.95/month. In addition to a focus on page load speed, Pingdom provides a number of additional insights for optimizing your website. GTmetrix is another popular tool for web developers trying to optimize page speed.
Consider employing plugins for assistance with speeding up your website. Hummingbird is one such plugin that automatically helps you find speed optimization opportunities.
If you’re helping a client to rank high on search engines, these related tests are some of the most important to conduct before launching a website. To put your best foot forward with search engine performance, make sure that these items are on your SEO audit checklist:
- Keyword audit: Be able to answer the questions: Is there a keyword (or more than one keyword) that you’re attempting to rank for on each page and post? Are they implemented with on page SEO best practices? What are the website’s current rankings for this keyword?
- Backlink audit: Be able to answer the questions: Who’s linking to you? Are any of the website’s backlinks negatively impacting SEO? Are there additional opportunities to create backlinks that you’re not yet exploring?
- Social media audit: Is there a clear link between your website and company social media channels? Setup social sharing buttons and Click to Tweet calls to action on blog posts. Additionally, make sure that when someone shares a website’s content on Twitter, the handle is automatically added.
- Double check your XML Sitemaps/HTML Sitemap: WordPress usually builds a sitemap for you automatically, but you’ll want to periodically check it to see if there are any issues.
- Use Google Analytics to determine any major website issues or opportunities.
There are SEO tools for every budget that can help you with many of these tasks and more, but Moz, SEMRush, and Ahrefs are amongst the most popular. Additionally, consider SEO plugins like SmartCrawl for assisting with on-site SEO efforts.
This article has briefly touched on the concept of usability testing, though not yet in-depth. This process considers the overall experience of the actual user consuming content on your website—a human. Bad usability can affect your conversions, and can also result in negative effects for your overall SEO strategy.
To conduct a usability test, there’s no way around recruiting actual human beings to give a detailed analysis of their site usage. It’s best to give users certain tasks to complete and collect their opinions as to site functionality throughout the process.
Inspectlet is a helpful tool for usability testing, with free and paid options available. User Testing is a more premium option for companies with larger budgets. For a complete rundown of tools at every budget, consider WPMU DEV’s article about usability testing.
Broken Link Testing
You may not be aware of broken links that exist on your website, but they’re a common element in need of fixing on all websites—new and old. Because of this, it’s important to run broken link tests to make sure that all the links (both internal and external) are in working order, to contribute to the best possible user experience.
Google recommends that you check your website for broken links on a regular basis. In order to do that, you’ll want to employ the use of tools that will make the task easier. Manually checking for broken links can take forever to finish, especially on a large website.
Some tools you can use to test broken links:
- Broken Link Check: A free online broken link checker. No need to download an app, and no need to install a plugin. Just enter your website URL and check for broken links!
- Broken Link Checker (plugin): This WordPress plugin has over 500,000 active users. Because it’s a WordPress plugin, using this tool makes it easier to track broken links directly on your website.
- Xenu’s Link Sleuth: A free Windows app that scans whole website for broken links.
- Screaming Frog: A popular SEO tool that looks for errors like broken links, with both a free and paid version (£149.00/Year).
Not all plugins and themes in WordPress are compatible with each other, and not all plugins and themes are compatible with all WordPress versions. Most developers have come across a situation when plugins and themes (and WordPress updates) clash and create compatibility issues that cause glitches and errors on the website they’re working on.
Most of the time, these issues are minor. Of course, there are plenty of instances where compatibility issues can cause your website to stop working. Whenever you activate new plugins, themes, or WordPress versions, it’s necessary to run compatibility tests.
The following plugins can help you to run a compatibility test:
- PHP Compatibility Checker: A WordPress plugin that checks the theme and plugin codes of your website and report back if there are issues.
- Theme Check: Another WordPress plugin that checks if the theme you are using meets the current theme review standards.
Bonus: A/B Testing
Here’s one more test to run, but after you launch your site. There’s no point doing A/B tests if you don’t have users to test yet!
According to Optimizely, A/B testing is a way to compare two different versions of a webpage with an eye on specific page elements to see which version performs the best.
There are essentially three different types of A/B testing:
- Split testing: Testing a single element on a page and comparing it to alternate versions of the same element to see which one performs better.
- Multivariate testing: Testing several page elements against each other at once to determine combinations that can be reworked simultaneously.
- Experimental testing: Checking/considering every single element on pages of your website and analyzing them.
Always Test Your Websites Before You Launch Them
Sometimes, websites are launched first, then tests are implemented post-launch. This can be problematic if there are existing issues that you failed to check first, and visitors are already starting to go to your website.
To preserve the best possible experience for your users, do your due diligence in running some version of each of the aforementioned tests before launching a website. While all of these tests are important at the onset, most are also necessary as you update a website over time.