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The Value of a Site Audit for Usability and Accessibility

My realtor, my husband and I rushed over to see a property for sale that looked promising from pictures and the description. Twenty minutes later it felt like I needed a shower.

Stepping over children’s toys in the damaged paved driveway bordered by the unmowed lawn, we found the entrance to the house, walked in and entered the year 1973. Several families with an army of kids shared the living space and we were hurrying because rounding up that many people and children off-site for a showing was difficult (their real estate agent made sure we knew that). To make the interior of the home look presentable, the focus was on the furniture. The mammoth king-sized beds with fancy, carved woodwork and colorful, puffy pillows and comforters dominated each bedroom. Every table, dresser, chair, hutch and every wall decoration was ornate, gold, enormous and exotic. The foundation of the house, walls, floors and roof needed repair or outright replacement. Outside was a horse, a shed for the horse and broken fences around the horse. The in-law suite had been a drug den.

They were asking nearly three quarters of a million dollars for the property. As we were leaving, while my realtor was rolling her eyes and I was trying to be polite to the other realtor tasked with showing the place, I was handed the professionally prepared brochure with plot plan, pictures and business card.  “It should be razed to the ground,” one of us said as we got into our car.

The proper protocol after a showing is for the real estate agent to report back on how it went to the real estate agency selling the property. They give their professional feedback and any remarks from the prospective buyers they have shown it to. I realized that what my realtor does is similar to site audit work. How do we tell a homeowner or a website owner their property is in terrible condition and won’t stand a fighting chance in search engines, let alone meet performance expectations?  Is it obvious there is pride in ownership? Will it convert as expected?  Can it be used by everyone who wishes to interact with its pages, forms or apps?

Problems are obvious to a trained professional hired to conduct a website audit. It’s their job to see what other people can’t see. My realtor has Wonder Woman abilities and can find the smallest defect to warn buyers about. Not only that, she already knows what we want and knows if a property is a good candidate or not. In other words, she does user research, just like I do. She troubleshoots and inspects on behalf of her client, just like I do.

That research extends when representing the seller too.  When we were selling a house, she had ideas about who might be a good fit and the kinds of things we could do to make the property more desirable for a specific target buyer.  She had us paint shutters and doors a specific blue color, because in her experience that shade sells more homes. I do the same thing when making recommendations on color choices in my site audits. It’s part of the site auditor’s job to do user behavior research on the target market and use the data for design decisions.

I Want It That Way

The property we visited with funky furniture fit the needs of its owners, which is fine, but they needed to sell it. One of the reasons websites don’t work is because they aren’t built for anyone other than the owner who doesn’t understand the importance of user behavior, search engine technology, and online marketing. Website owners capable of designing and building their own site are biased. They know where they put everything and why. Their personal skills sometimes dictate the final appearance, so that if they lack in one area, such as usability or accessibility, large groups of people are unable to use the site. When websites are made, the chances are good that able-bodied people did the work. They are likely young, able to see clearly, think fast, grew up typing and were raised on Google.  It’s not easy designing a website for dyslexia when you have no experience seeing letters and words doing somersaults on the page. But somebody along the development trail must plan for this anyway. In fact, planning for someone else’s interaction with websites and applications is the point if the goal is for them to use it.

100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

Take one down, pass it around – you know the song. By the time the bus arrives in Cleveland, the driver has his earphones in and the kids have no more beer on the wall.  You will never achieve this sort of ending with your website. There are thousands of ways to improve it and it will never be finished. There is always another potential conversion.

One of the ways we discover new opportunities for increasing conversions is by testing. Formal testing procedures vary and there are different methodologies, like Agile and LEAN. Sometimes I may propose a proof-of-concept approach very early on, because like LEAN, there are less resources required at the beginning and it allows a company to essentially send out a scout to ride ahead to inspect the surrounding territory. It’s logical to build something with confidence.

Software applications and website redesigns where massive changes to the code driving it are implemented require performance testing at the server level.  The one requirement that almost nobody ever bothers to test for in advance is their success. Should you, for example, offer a new, more efficient way to use an app, this increases the load on the server because there are more calls to it.

Going from desktop to mobile brings an entirely different and unexplored series of user behaviors. Now you have more data to analyze, which provides more opportunities to create more sales funnels, optimization adjustments and user interface changes. Your customers are used to interacting with your website or app in specific ways. Presenting a mobile design allows for on-the-go interactions in an infinite variety of environments and may remove barriers so that more people can use it. Plan for success. Never stop testing. Every change presents a shift in user behavior.

The Power of Site Audits

There are audits and then there are real in-depth audits that deep dive into websites.  When purchasing a new property, the buyer inspects it carefully. When was the roof last replaced? Chimney cleaned? Is it safe to inhabit? When you rent a car, there’s a walkaround to look for dings and marks that exist already so that you don’t get blamed for them when you return it. When selecting a hotel room, since you can’t inspect it first, you rely on the pictures and details provided, and user feedback if they offer it.

Nothing you build is perfect when it is rolled out and it will never stop needing some tweaks. Companies are (finally) starting to figure this out. The smarter ones hire experts to perform user testing and site audits during development in staging environments. They also know that no two audits are the same. Neither is testing. The biggest mistake business management makes is not allowing time for validation that their project is ready for use.

This is why audits are performed after alarms go off. No sales? No conversions? No traffic? Ignoring audits and various testing, such as functional, performance, user, keyword and competitive research and accessibility testing shows a lack of experience and expertise.

The house we walked through that was for sale with mold in the basement and copper ripped from the bathrooms should have been reviewed first before being put on the market. We weren’t shopping for a meth lab. When the website was first introduced, it bombed with users because it was so confusing to use.  The real shock was that it wasn’t even built to meet the legal requirements for Section 508 required for .gov web properties.  It wasn’t audited or tested by competent people and required a complete rebuild.

What Kind of Audit Do I Get?

No two site audits are the same. In fact, the people who perform them share many of the same terms but the actual procedures are very different. An SEO performing a usability audit has some knowledge of user experience design but their strength is SEO. Despite having been one, I don’t even try to say I include SEO in my usability and conversions audits. The skills and training are different and always changing. I know where my strengths are and I want to be hired for them.  Some expert SEO’s perform accessibility testing. That part is relatively easy, because software helps uncover issues with code. The money-maker is knowing how to fix issues that improve accessibility and being able to explain to clients why the recommendation is being made.

Research and be willing to pay for skills, reputation and put together a self-help package that covers the front and back end. Be prepared to implement recommendations. That means having the staff with not only the ability to  make improvements, but an understanding of why they are asked to. It’s not uncommon for developers to not know what to do and CEOs don’t understand why changes are recommended or how improvements will help. Be sure you have a gutsy project manager – one with drill instructor training will suffice, because they’ll get the job done efficiently.

The bottom line is that it takes a tribe to raise a web based project. Honor the rituals. Be realistic.

More Than Empathy

My realtor and I spoke about how we break bad news to our clients. Both of us have similar styles. We’re polite, look for opportunities, focus on positive and for every bit of bad news there is a solid reason behind it, not just an opinion. It’s not about what we like – it’s about doing what needs to be done to achieve goals.

One of the reasons why so many websites and software products fail to satisfy their goals is because they’re built to please someone’s opinion about how it should be, how it should look, how it is used and why it must be one way. Opinions severely limit opportunities.

It’s said that the most successful people in the usability, user experience and human factors fields are individuals who can empathize with the end users.  This is one of our greatest strengths. It is why there should never be any design or development project that doesn’t have a usability specialist on the team.  Empathy isn’t taught in college. You don’t get a degree or certification in it.  It doesn’t appear in a job description or resume. But it’s imperative to know everything there is to know about your target customers.

Everyone has their own way of performing audits and offering gems your team can work with.  Sometimes a basic review touches the surface but issues remain. Your data is playing games. You have more options like surveys, but sometimes the logical approach is to return to the basics and gather more information.  Is the site accessible?  Maybe it is, kind of, so let’s keep going to level WCAG2.1 AAA. Perhaps the target market consists of older users. In the real world, there are many people who struggle with mobile devices and computers of any size.  The needs of a global target user are not the same as local or national.  Researching the cultures of your global target market or the way your users speak, write and make decisions is vital information that turns up the power to convert.

Sometimes conversations are needed with stakeholders on topics like not selling to yourself or Google and not asking developers and designers to build something only you like. Time is another popular topic for discussion during a site audit.  Hard and fast deadlines spell doom for production. Sometimes – okay, most of the time – this is something I need to bring up with nearly every site audit I perform.

Every project, and every change to an existing one, must allow time to be performance tested, backwards-compatible tested, web standards and guideline tested, accessibility tested, customer satisfaction tested, user experience tested, computer device tested, content marketing tested, and then after released, continually monitored and re-tested. Look for new ways to grow it. Deep dive into case studies and research by others.  If you hire the right person for your site audit, website testing or software application usability and accessibility testing, they are an invaluable resource for you.

They can start by taking a walk around your online property to be sure everything is in order and ready for preparing the pretty brochure.


Sponsors for HR 620An Update on H.R. 620

There has been some movement on the progress of the proposed changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act called H.R. 620 with more sponsors and cost analysis. There hasn’t been a final vote to change the ADA yet.  H.R. 620 removes the ability for disabled persons to file a complaint with the Justice Department against a business they are prevented from having access to, due to their disability. Title III of the ADA applied to websites.  Since so many civil complaints were filed and there has been a spike in lawsuits against businesses, H.R. 620 sides with businesses and allows them time to consider changes.  It is thought that education for businesses is the proper path and they do not need to consider the needs of special needs people unless there is a complaint. As such, it’s considered a serious setback for disabled persons.

(See my post on H.R. 620)

Cost Analysis

“Based on an analysis of information from the DOJ and assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts, CBO estimates that the DOJ program would cost about $2 million in 2018 and $4 million each year thereafter. About half of those costs would be for additional personnel and specialists in accessibility issues and half for other costs to train state and local officials and private property owners. Over the 2018-2022 period CBO estimates that implementing the program would cost $18 million.”

WordPress Editor “Gutenberg”

Blocks are in the future for WordPress sites.  Yoast has a good article on the pros and cons of the Gutenberg editor coming to WordPress. One notable concern is that it doesn’t meet accessibility guidelines.

“Gutenberg introduces the concept of “blocks”. The new editor will be a block-editor: paragraphs, headings, images and YouTube video embeds will all be blocks. Blocks will make it easier to learn how to work with WordPress. People starting out with WordPress will only have to learn the concept of blocks, instead of 3 or 4 different concepts. When we make WordPress easier to use, we make it more accessible to a larger group of people.”


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