How to Assess Your Website Performance from the Front End
Today we’ll examine how to test and assess your website performance from the front end.
Websites are comprised of code, text, images, and other media. Visitors view the website through a browser, and the code tells the browser how to display the site’s content.
The code says, “Put the logo up at the top. Below that, place a navigation menu. Over on the side, let’s display some links. And right in the middle, let’s put a big block of text.” The back end of your website is all that raw stuff from which your site is made — the stuff that your website designer built.
The front end is the side of your site that is publicly accessible. When you open a browser (such as Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, or Internet Explorer) and visit a website, what you’re seeing is the front end.
For metrics, we track website performance from the back end. How many visitors come to the site? Where do they come from? How long do they stay? This information helps us understand how the site is being used and whether it’s successfully selling our products and services.
Website Performance from a User’s Perspective
Front-end website performance assessment looks at a website from a user’s perspective. Also known as quality-assurance (QA) testing, these types of assessments provide insight that will help you keep your site friendly and functional so visitors will be more likely to stick around and soak up your content, products, and services.
Here are a few questions that are answered by looking at a website from a user’s perspective:
- How does the site look across different platforms and browsers?
- Are any links or images broken?
- Is the site user friendly and easy to navigate?
- Does the site clearly communicate its purpose?
- Is the content presentable and relevant?
Cross-platform and cross-browser testing involves viewing the site from different operating systems and browsers. The two most common platforms are Mac and PC. There are several popular browsers in use today and your site should be thoroughly checked through each browser and platform combination as well as from tablets and smart phones to ensure your mobile customers can access your content.
Broken Links and Images
For your website to be fully functional, you have to identify broken links and images, and then fix them. Broken links can be hard to catch, especially if your site has a lot of written content and external links. You have no control over external links — if someone moves a page or changes the content on another website, your link to that URL becomes faulty. You have more control over the images that are displayed on your site. Users have a better experience with your website when all links and images are fully functional.
Functionality and Navigation
User friendliness and a navigable structure are essential. If you site is difficult to use, visitors will quickly click away in search of friendlier pastures. Make sure it’s easy for users to get around the site with a clearly labeled navigation menu. Also, ensure that the site displays properly and that everything works as it should — for example, make sure that all videos play and contact forms work and issue confirmations – again, test these from various platforms and browsers.
It’s tempting to use clever language on a website, but this can confuse visitors. Nothing scares off a potential customer faster than cryptic sales messages they can’t decipher or vague offerings they don’t understand. Be especially conscious of using internal or industry-specific jargon. If you’re a web designer, you probably want to talk freely about FTP, HTML, stylesheets, and flash animation, but if your visitors already know all that stuff, do you really think they need your services?
Your site’s content should be easy to access and relevant to the site’s overall purpose. Every word, image, video, and link should be working toward a common goal. That goal might be to get more subscribers to your blog or newsletter. Perhaps you’re trying to sell products using e-commerce. Maybe you want visitors to pick up the phone and give you a call. Whatever your goals are, the content should be directly related to achieving them.
When to Assess Your Site
Your first quality-assurance review should take place after the design is done but before the site launches. You should also conduct an assessment after any major redesign. Whenever you update, add, or change the content, a quick check is in order to make sure it looks good and works properly.
You should also think about doing an annual assessment of both front-end and back-end website performance. It’s too easy to notice a broken link and think, “I’ll take care of that later,” only to completely forget. After all, you’re a busy entrepreneur. If you schedule regular reviews, you’ll be more likely to catch problems and get them fixed.