Whether something is broken, missing or just not fit for purpose – these are the questions a good quality assurance process can answer.
We all know how annoying it is when something doesn’t work as expected. Whether it’s the car that won’t start, the chicken curry with no chicken, or the teapot made out of chocolate, the negative effect on user experience can be long lasting… and websites are no different. So, is something broken, is something missing or is the thing just not fit for purpose – these are the questions a good quality assurance process can answer.
What is quality assurance?
Quality assurance is ‘The maintenance of a desired level of quality in a service or product, especially by means of attention to every stage of the process of delivery or production.’ It is a term often most closely associated with the manufacturing industry, but can be applied to the production of anything where a certain level of quality is necessary and/or desirable.
UX vs QA
User experience is key
Modern life is convenience – people want things quick, easy and enjoyable. The enormous amount of competition that most companies and products face means, it’s not enough for a kettle just to boil water: it needs to boil quickly, and quietly, and not spill, and feel nice, and look beautiful, all adding to the user experience.
Nielsen Norman Group, a leading UX research and consulting firm, define user experience as encompassing ‘all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.’ and at its fullest extent ‘comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use.’
User experience has become such an essential part of any business and product consideration that there are companies, associations and university courses entirely dedicated to it. And the science behind it is fascinating; for example, Space Between, an award-winning UX agency based in London, offers companies the chance to test key user experience journeys on their customers, using biometric testing, before analysing the results and suggesting improvements.
UX & QA forever
User experience and quality assurance go hand-in-hand. Anna Schmunk, Product Manager at Ramsey Solutions says that ‘QA and UX have a direct impact on what our customers experience, from flow to function. But more than that, they’re BFFs because both teams can have a symbiotic relationship. They have a huge opportunity to make each other better.’ There’s no point wasting time designing a beautiful website that isn’t built correctly, or one that is built correctly but doesn’t give the correct information. So before you go delving into the psychology of why a website is or isn’t working for your business, there are many more obvious things you can look at first.
Quality assurance on the web
What does it involve?
A website is a complex, many-layered creation, and therefore, the range of quality assurance checks involved must match the same level of detail. A website QA process will include visual checks (are images and text correctly displayed and formatted?), structure checks (are the sections on the page aligned and ordered correctly?), content checks (does the content make sense and is it spelt correctly?), usability checks (do the links work, do the forms work, does the site respond to changes in screen size?) and more general checks (does the built website match the design and does it do what you need it to?). The interesting and often challenging thing about these required checks is that they involve a variety of skill sets to identify and correct, which is why quality assurance at every stage in a manufacturing process can be more efficient and less costly.
QA should be performed on an entire website, on multiple browsers and multiple devices, and also on any email campaigns (even more vital as once they are sent, no further modifications can be made). While some checks can be carried out using computer programs, there is no substitute for a human-led quality assurance process that incorporates both automated and manual assessment.
Visual errors in a website’s operation are probably the easiest to identify, if you look; here are some good examples of things that can go wrong.
1.) Incorrect formatting/alignment:
2.) Spelling errors:
3.) Icons and images failing to load, and also copyright dates not being updated:
Other errors may only be identified through user feedback or a reduction in conversions from website traffic. One advantage of a website compared to other company outputs is that it can be corrected following release. However, with brand loyalty such a fragile thing in today’s overcrowded marketplace, it is much better to identify any issues before they are found and reported by customers.
The quality standard
One way to acknowledge, assess and maintain quality standards is through the use of ISO 9001. This standard, which has been utilised by over one million different companies in 170 countries, demonstrates how quality assurance processes can be adapted and applied to any type of organisation, ‘large or small, regardless of its field of activity’, including ExtraMile.
The relevance of ISO 9001 to the creation of websites and other electronic communications is not automatically obvious, as they are not built to exacting standards or particular guidelines, as industrial products would be for example. However, the same basic value lies in having quality production underpinned by processes that can be used to maintain, analyse and improve standards. While there are no specifics for website standards, there is a level of expectation from users that needs to be met if a company is to see any benefit from their website.
Why does it matter?
The complexity of human psychology in combination with that of a website’s design, construction and delivery means any number of ways an interaction can have negative outcomes for businesses.
Bounce rate is a metric used by businesses to measure the percentage of people who land on a website and don’t go any further, which can indicate the quality of a webpage. This is important for all websites, but especially e-commerce sites, where lost traffic can more directly mean lost revenue. While some of that traffic may just not be appropriate for the site, the loss of the rest may be due to any one of the above issues, or a combination, or other issues including:
- The site doesn’t answer their question.
- They don’t know what to do next.
- The site is ugly.
- The site has too many adverts.
A website needs to do and be so many things, in so many different ways, and sometimes in many different languages, that the to-do list can be almost incomprehensible. But if quality assurance is worked into every stage of a process, it is a lot less daunting.
It isn’t over…
That’s it – it isn’t ever over. Quality assurance on the web is and should be an ongoing process. Whether it’s adding more pages to a site, changing a company’s entire branding, or changes in online trends that a company can utilise and capitalise on, quality assurance should always play a part, not only as the last stage in the process, but throughout conception, construction and delivery.
Quality is everything
Just as with physical products, a drop in the quality of a website can negatively affect individual customer perception and long-term company reputation. Quality assurance takes care of the short game, in terms of online conversions, and the long game, with a consistent and clear website demonstrating reliability and trust for a company and its brand.