Q: Is there a standard list of things to test on my site?

There really isn’t a standard list because each site tends to have slightly different features. Generally, though, there are three main areas that should be tested:

(A) Technical (do the features work correctly?)
(B) Usability (is the site easy to use?)
(C) Accessibility (can visitors access the site’s content without too much trouble?)

Here’s a common list of technical things to check that would apply to most of our clients’ site:

  1. Does the site display on different browsers and operating systems? (Which browsers depend on your target market but usually they’d be Internet Explorer 7, 8 & 9, Firefox 11 & 12, Safari 5, Chrome 18. Operating systems for the general market would be Windows and Mac. We don’t usually consider mobile access unless it’s a feature that clients specifically request.)
  2. Are there any broken links?
  3. Are all the pages formatted so that all content is visible?
  4. Does the search facility turn up the correct results?
  5. Can you click through to the content images and do they expand and close to return you to the article?

As you can see, this is all pretty basic stuff because most of our site’s features aren’t too complex.

Because of this, I suggest that your user testing should mostly be focusing on non-technical aspects like (B) and (C). However, because the bulk of these areas are subjective, it’s difficult to come up with an actual list. Therefore, I would suggest having free form comment boxes for people to leave their feedback.

Another thing to note is that the UK and EU have legislation covering web accessibility. You can find out more about this via the following links:

  • http://www.web-accessibility.co.uk/legal.asp
  • http://www.w3.org/WAI/Policy/#UK
  • http://www.w3.org/WAI/Policy/#EU

Unfortunately, this topic is quite a complex and time consuming area and most companies and web developers know little about the subject. There are also doubts about how these laws can actually be enforced. Furthermore, there are no specific definitions on what exact standards must be met within the UK. Thus it is my experience that many web owners and developers simply ignore the issue.

My policy is that we use web-standards compliant technologies where possible. This resolves most accessibility issues within reason for the amount invested in development. However, if a client wants to meet specific standards compliance, we do this under our standard hourly rate as an added service.

Ultimately, this is a business decision to be made on the client end whether this should be a focus.

Q: Can I use an email program such Outlook to send bulk mail?

Quite a few clients have asked if they can run an email marketing campaign through our servers using an email program like Microsoft Outlook. The main thing to note is that email accounts provided by our hosting company, Rackspace, are not really to be used for sending out bulk emails. Although it is technically possible this method is not recommended for several reasons:

  1. You may breach Rackspace’s terms of service
  2. It’s more error-prone and therefore the results are unreliable.
  3. There is no way to gather metrics such as view and click-through statistics.
  4. There is a risk of getting your domain blacklisted as a spam sender by ISPs. Once you’re on the blacklists, some or all of your email accounts will keep ending up in the recipient’s spam filters. It may be very difficult to get off the blacklists.

However, many of our clients are small and micro-business who send out nowhere near the levels of bulk mail as many larger corporations. I’ve therefore contacted Rackspace to ask what are the allowable limits under their Rackspace Cloud service. Based on their reply, you should be safe if you:

  • Send no more than 250 messages per 20 min
  • Send no more than 5,000 messages per day
  • Include an unsubscribe link in the messages (and act on the request)
  • Send only to people who’ve given you permission to contact them about this

Nevertheless, I recommend that you a dedicated bulk emailing service to send to your distribution lists. The catch is that there’s a fee and the legitimate ones are very strict with how you’ve gathered the email addresses. (They won’t allow you to send to people who haven’t given you their permission.) However, the messages are more professional and you’ll be able to track statistics such as the number of emails that have been opened, unsubscribed or bounced.

We use such a system and if you’re interested, I’ll be happy to put together a quotation for you. As a rough idea, our profile of clients tend to average approximately £10 per campaign to use the system.

For your reference, Rackspace have a Knowledge Center article that states the following:

If your application is going to be sending out single messages (or less than 25 messages at a time), we highly suggest using SMTP. SMTP is a better option for sending out small amounts of mail. If you have questions on configuring your application to use SMTP, please visit with a member of our support team.
On the other hand, you may need to use our mail relays if your application will be sending out messages to a larger mailing list. If that’s the case, please review the following rules for sending messages through our mail relays:
1. Your message must have a working unsubscribe link, which must be demonstrated to us upon request.
2. The message must have a valid Return Path. This means the message must have a valid from address listed in the message.
3. The message of the email can only refer to the domain the message is being sent from. This means “DomainA.com” cannot send messages for “DomainB.com.”
4. You must obtain Rackspace Site’s advance approval for any bulk or commercial e-mail, which will not be given unless you are able to demonstrate, at a minimum, that your intended recipients have given their consent to receive e-mail via some affirmative means, such as an opt-in procedure, your procedures for soliciting consent include reasonable means to ensure that the person giving consent is the owner of the e-mail address for which the consent is given, you retain evidence of the recipient’s consent in a form that may be promptly produced on request, and you honor the recipient’s and Rackspace Site’s requests to produce consent evidence within 72 hours of receipt of the request.
5. We do not allow bulk or commercial e-mail being sent to more than five-thousand (5,000) users per day at a rate of 250 messages every 20 minutes.
6. Rackspace Sites may test and otherwise monitor your compliance with its requirements, including requesting opt-in information from a random sample of your list at any time.