Putting Web Site Quality and Accessibility into Context - Conclusion

If I were writing a report card for the Web industry as a whole for quality and accessibility, based on the survey results I’d be handing out a big fat “F.” But I think that’s somewhat misleading. We definitely need to get our act together but not by trying to be perfect in all areas. What the survey results show us first and foremost is that we fail to set targets by which we can measure success.This is where the problems start. This is the first step we need to take to be able to then look at issues of quality and accessibility. Without an understanding of where we are going, we have no way of knowing if the direction we are heading is correct. Quality is not something that stands alone. It has to be seen within the context of each and every Web site. Generic factors are useful guides, but they need to be assessed against the Web site you are working with and seen in the context of the targets the particular Web site is attempting to reach. Just look at accessibility: if we don’t know how much of our target market has a need for our Web site to be accessible and what type of accessibility is important to it, how are we supposed to know what measures to take when building our site? The guidelines for a quality outcome are not complex but also not easy:

  1. The first step is to be clear on the objectives of the site.

  2. The next step is to define clear, measurable targets.

  3. Then, for the main quality factors (i.e., usability, reliability, security, efficiency, and performance), establish how to design your solution to ensure it will meet the targets you have set; you also need to know how you will test that they are in place.

  4. This needs to be followed by actually testing the site against the quality factors before launch to ensure the site will achieve the targets.

  5. Finally, put in place a plan to maintain the site and retest at regular intervals.

These guidelines aren’t onerous and are based in common sense; however, it does take time and effort to make the important decisions up front as well as the diligence to follow through.

To summarize, if we first need to know our targets and then define quality and accessibility in the context of those targets, then the third step is actually making the effort to test what we build. Not only should we test the specifics we have defined before we launch the Web site, but we also need to remember to retest the site at regular intervals to make sure that we are maintaining the desired level of quality and accessibility.

It boils down to common sense: be clear about what you want to achieve, define how best to achieve it, and then test to make sure you have actually achieved it. Unfortunately, as an industry, we have a bad habit of not even getting past the first step. Until we do, we can only talk about quality and accessibility in a general sense with little confidence that we are practicing what we preach.