Quality assurance comes in many forms. For some people, their career is quality assurance, affirming that products are up to par before shipping to customers. For your grandma on Thanksgiving Day, her quality assurance is testing the cranberry sauce one last time to see if it needs anymore orange zest before hitting the dinner table. Both are critical in ensuring customer satisfaction and brand reputation. (They don’t call it Grandma’s Famous Cranberry Sauce for nothing.)
Testing and affirming certain elements of your product is also applicable to your brand’s website. Once your site is ready for the Thanksgiving table, you want it to be functional, fast and user friendly. A website quality assurance checklist can help you stay organized to better set your site up for a seamless launch.
Today we’re covering the eight must-do items on any good web team’s checklist and how to make sure each site element is ready to roll. You can take this checklist offline and use it as a resource with your free download here.
1. Domain setup
If your IP address is the equivalent of your phone number in the address book of the internet, your domain is your first and last name. It’s what people type into the address bar to find you and how they can be sure it’s your brand’s site they’re interacting with.
If your website isn’t set up properly and you haven’t associated a domain with your site, you could end up with an error page. Ensure your domain is running properly and connected to your database. This should be evident if you type your domain into an address bar and your browser immediately loads up your functioning site. If everything looks good, you’re free to check this first step off the list.
2. SSL certification
A Secure Socket Layer (SSL certificate) ensures that all data that passes between your web server and the user’s browser remains private and secure. It’s an indication to the user that they are on a safe site and that they are actually interacting with your brand and not an impersonating site. An active SSL certificate is ideal for every website, but it’s especially ideal for e-commerce sites
where customer data is regularly being shared.
It’s become so important for a site to have an active SSL certificate that even Google Chrome requires it. If your site’s SSL is not authenticated, Chrome puts a warning in the address bar flagging your site as potentially unsafe to the user. The best way to QA your SSL certificate is simply to run an SSL checker tool. We suggest DigiCert.
3. SMTP setup
SMTP, or Simple Mail Transfer Protocol is a relay server for sending data. It’s required you set up SMTP in order to enable several site features that involve sending emails from your site to customers, owners and support teams.
For example, without SMTP you can’t send forgotten password reset links to users as these messages must go through email. You also wouldn’t be able to set up notifications when someone fills out a form on your site and your support team wouldn’t receive error notifications when the site has a problem.
For quality assurance, sending a test email from your site usually suffices. If you fill out a form and the correct email address receives notification of your submission, check this box off your list!
4. Robots.txt and sitemap setup
A sitemap gives you a data view of all the URLs on your site. Its presence on your site ensures that Google can see your web pages and index them for search engines to crawl. That way crawlers can present your site as a search result to their users. Your site’s Robots.txt tells the bots and crawlers that are scanning the sitemap pages which ones they are allowed to crawl and which are off limits.
Web and SEO teams
must work together to determine which pages should be blocked from being crawled. The most important pages to block are the ones with secure customer data that you wouldn’t want to appear on a search engine results page. For quality assurance before launch, double check that all pages are included in your site map and that your robot.txt is set up correctly to block pages you don’t want crawled.
For reference, here’s what Amazon’s robots.txt file looks like in a browser. This is a list of all the pages the e-commerce giant does not want to appear in search engine results pages.
5. Error handling and reporting
As mentioned above when talking about SMTP, errors and site reports are sent out to Support teams via email. Having time stamped error messages is nice when you’re trying to find a particular reason why your site went down. Just having a timestamp as to when it happened can sometimes solve the problem faster than jumping straight into the server to solve the problem.
That being said, there are more efficient ways to solve site errors than checking email reports. Set up reports and errors handling within your specific CMS, but think of them as a helpful tool rather than the default problem to solve in order to get your site back online.
6. Form testing
Again, as mentioned in the SMTP section of this article, form fill notifications require a site server setup for email delivery. These notifications should go to a prespecified email address of your choosing and the user experience when filling out the form should be seamless.
For notifications, test the form by submitting it and making sure the notification email is delivered to the right address in a timely manner. For contact forms, this could involve sending notification to a specific person within your company. For e-commerce orders, this could involve processing the form as an e-commerce order and moving it through the fulfillment process.
For form quality assurance, check that forms do not accept malicious code or show unnecessary errors to the user. Ensure that validation error messages, however, are implemented correctly and pop up appropriately to communicate that an answer on the form needs changed somehow before it can be submitted. Additionally, make sure that something on the screen changes when the form is submitted. For example, you could have a thank you message pop up or redirect to another page.
The last thing you want is for nothing on the screen to indicate the form was submitted. If the user can’t tell their information went through, their first instinct will be to click the “submit” button multiple times leaving you with multiple form submissions behind the scenes. This is bad enough for contact forms, but even worse when you receive 20 of the same order for the same person on your e-commerce site.
7. 301 redirects setup
There are two types of redirects. A 301 redirect is permanent and a 302 redirect is temporary. When you’re moving to a brand new site, many pages may end up with new URLs, meaning you’ll have to redirect any users who end up on the old URLs automatically over to their new, corresponding pages.
There’s no one way to handle your redirects. Most development teams have their own internal system for keeping track. The ultimate goal is to smoothly transfer all old site pages to the correct new page with the least number of “hops” from URL to URL as possible.
If you’re new to redirects, the best way to QA is to stay organized! Work with your SEO team and identify a list of what pages on your old site you want deleted and redirected. Double check each old URL correctly redirects prior to launch and you do not end up with any 404 errors.
8. SQL backup and maintenance plan scheduled
Just like your iPhone backs up its data every night, your website does the same. This ensures your cumulative order history, form fills and site changes are all saved somewhere safe. Without your backup plan, you may lose all that data if your site encounters a problem.
Setting up your backup depends on how your site is set up. Automatic plug and play sites like Wix usually generate backups in the background. But some CMS servers require manual action to initiate backups. Whatever your platform, check that backups are being created and can be accessed in case of emergency. Set your site to back itself up every day. To QA prior to launch take note of what’s being backed up and how often it’s being backed up. Schedule regular times to check in and make sure your backups are continuing regularly.
Are all of these steps always necessary?
All of these steps are necessary only if you’re launching a brand new site. After you’ve approved your new site’s content and finished development, you should implement a content freeze before initiating all quality assurance steps mentioned above. The content freeze is for your safety and sanity. With it, no one can go in and adjust URLs and mess up your carefully set redirects.
However, if you’re doing a large scale update to an existing site, your focus should be more on ensuring your site runs the same as it did prior to your update with only your expected changes made. This means your CMS still has the ability to create and delete pages, anything unchanged still looks the same from a user’s perspective and nothing is broken. With a site update, your website quality assurance checklist only needs to focus (at minimum) on retaining site functionality and checking form fills, redirects and SQL backups.
And with that, your brand new site has enough orange zest and is ready for the Thanksgiving table. Putting these strategic, QA barriers between your site’s development and launch can make or break your success. Always double check your work and create internal processes to make sure you’re launching a website that’s the best possible reflection of your brand.