Why Quality Assurance Testing is Worth the Investment

Software and website quality assurance testingTo some companies, website and software quality assurance (QA) seems like an area that can be cut when budgets are tight. The problem is, without QA, you are sending your customers headfirst into an untested product. Would you sell a car before ever test driving it? Probably not. Why? Because it’s not worth taking the chance that the product is faulty. A faulty car would reflect poorly on your entire brand, not to mention be potentially dangerous. If a first-time customer is the one who discovers the faults, you’ve probably lost them forever. Repeat customers may give you the benefit of the doubt, but not forever. Patience is finite.

Whether you do QA testing or hire it out, make sure it happens. Utilizing external testers offers you the advantage of getting the perspective of someone who may be more like your customers—those who will actually be using your website or software program. They won’t know everything about your business like you do, and will question how things should work to ensure the application is as user-friendly as possible. Oh, yea, and they’re trained in how to break things, which is exactly what you want from a tester.

Developers, although generally amazingly smart and talented, are human—geekier, yes, but still human—and they sometimes make mistakes. Testing is the front line of defense in finding and fixing these mistakes and is a critical part of the whole software development process.

Most clients don’t have the time (or patience) to thoroughly evaluate every aspect of a new application or website. It’s a lot of work! It helps, though, to have experience and processes to make sure testing is thorough and efficient. We use a set of comprehensive checklists to make sure websites and applications are compliant with standards and that we verify a common set of scenarios every time.

Testers evaluate content, flow, functionality, and overall usability as they run a wide variety of scenarios that will imitate actual customer usage, allowing them to uncover issues customers are likely to find. Better to have a tester, whose job it is to uncover problems, find issues than a customer! Testers like to find issues. Customers? Not so much. If customers encounter too many problems with your app or website, they’ll pretty quickly move on to your competitors.

Here is an actual example that happened to me:

Recently, I placed an order online with a large retailer. I had ordered from the retailer before and did not have any issues, but this time was different. My kids would call it an “epic fail.”

The website had 2 places to set an address as my “default shipping address.” Unfortunately, one place worked and the other did not—and it took me 3 hours to figure this out.

During checkout, when I entered and selected my shipping address, the site couldn’t verify it—but it allowed me an option to “Verify it anyway,” which did not work. What it did was throw me into an endless loop of enter address, failed verification, verify it, and returning to the enter address screen. I used the chat option to work with a sales rep, who I hoped would solve my problem. I just wanted the experience to be over. He took my order and shipped it to another town with the same street address. Nice.

A week later, when I discovered my shipment went elsewhere, I returned to the website and discovered that the second place to set my default shipping address is the one that actually works. I clicked it and it was set. Easy peasy. Of course, it took almost 3 weeks to get my items—and multiple calls to the retailer to explain that my order shipped to the wrong address and I didn’t get it.

As a tester, I thought I would do the retailer a favor and submit a website feedback note. The note limited the number of characters that I could submit, which only made my impression of the whole experience even worse.

Sadly for this retailer, someone else is now getting my business because their ordering process is simpler. Situations like this don’t have to happen.

Doing your own testing, and supplementing it with external testing, can prevent your company from having to deal with a similar issue. Testers get paid to pay attention to the details. They will not only make sure everything works properly, but that it looks great, too.

Even with all that, you may think testing is too expensive. When you weigh costs vs. benefits, though, we think you’ll realize that’s not the case. You may also think your customers will test for you. That’s great if you don’t care about losing customers to frustration and irreparably tarnishing your brand. That approach will cost you much more in the end than investing in proper testing up front will.

QA testing is a valuable and necessary step in delivering a great product your customers will want to use. Let a qualified tester find errors in your product. They won’t judge you. Your customers will.

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Google Starts Penalizing Sites Without Mobile Optimization

You just spent months getting your website updated for SEO. You optimized in all the right places—title tags, images, header tags, etc. But did you optimize for mobile? If not, Google will dock your site in mobile searches.

It’s estimated that 10-15% of searches are on mobile devices. Did your SEO strategy intentionally leave out that chunk of your audience? Probably not, so now’s the time to get your strategy back on track with mobile.

Why Google Cares About Mobile

Google’s business model is to provide the best results for users. When someone is searching on a mobile device, Google feels user experience is better when the websites they show are optimized for mobile. If you’ve ever used a non-mobile website on a mobile device, you probably agree.

In its quest to provide the best search results, Google has altered its mysterious algorithm so when a search is conducted on a mobile device, sites optimized for mobile viewing get extra credit. And Google docks sites that aren’t mobile friendly.

How to Optimize Your Site for Mobile

Responsive Design

Responsive Web Design

With responsive design, we make one site that automatically optimizes for the viewer’s browser size. The same content can be viewed on desktops, tablets, and smartphones in a way that’s best on that device.

Google now recommends responsive design in its best practices recommendations.

Google Recommends Responsive Design

Forked Mobile Site

With a forked site, your mobile website is separate from your desktop website. Sometimes, you have to update content in two different places, doubling your content efforts. And if a forked site isn’t built correctly, Google flags the content on the mobile site and the content on the browser-based site as duplicate content. Duplicate content can cause a big negative hit in your site’s rating.

We continue to recommend responsive websites for organizations looking for a new website. However, forked sites are an acceptable solution if you’re not ready to invest in a full website redesign but want to optimize for mobile.

How Google’s Mobile Preference Affects You

As with most marketing, the effect will depend on your audience and your industry. This algorithm change affects the following types of organizations the most:

  • Local businesses – 50% of mobile searches on Google are for local information. If you’re not ranking, your competitors probably are.
  • Online Retailers – E-commerce sites are seeing the impact of this change even more. Make sure your catalog and shopping cart are streamlined for mobile use.
  • Brick and Mortar Retailers – 80% of customers use smartphones to shop. They’re looking for location information, bookmarking favorites, and comparison-shopping on mobile devices.
  • Restaurants – Consumers are looking for places to eat while they’re on the go. Does your mobile site include your menu, your hours, and your location?

Hopefully Google’s algorithm change will reinforce the importance of mobile optimization—not only for SEO, but also for user experience.

If you’re ready to go mobile, get in touch.

Posted in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Web Design & Development, Website Tips | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Tying it all together – Operation: Make a Difference

Saturday was a special day at Far Reach. It was our inaugural Operation: Make a Difference hackathon! Our whole team spent the day together, building a mobile-friendly online treatment binder for the Children’s Cancer Connection, a Des Moines-based nonprofit that serves the families of kids with cancer all over the state of Iowa.

We’re super excited about this project because it really ties together what we stand for at Far Reach. Each of our eleven Core Values is reflected in this one, very special project.

#FRCV1: Make a Difference

I won’t belabor this one too much because it should be fairly obvious. We try, every day, to make a difference for our team and our clients.  That’s great and everything, but we feel compelled to think even bigger and make a difference beyond that fairly intimate circle. What better way to do that than use our specialized skills to help people who really need it?

#FRCV2: Be Positive

I don’t know too many pessimists who spend a lot of time giving to others. It takes a certain amount of optimism, I think, to see the upside of helping those in need. The thing is, freely giving of oneself has been shown to improve happiness, which, in turn, increases optimism. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle of #winning for the giver and the recipients of their good deeds.

Be Positive, Far Reach Hackathon

#FRCV3: Open & Honest

We’ve found that communication is pretty much the foundation of every successful project we do. Without it, conveying the big picture and coordinating the details of a project, especially of this size, in this short amount of time, would literally be impossible. For projects like this to be successful, information has to flow freely so everyone knows what’s happening, who’s working on what, and where things are going.

#FRCV4: Embrace Change

Under the best of circumstances, projects are unpredictable. Add the constraint of a 12-hour project timeline to the mix and the effect of even the smallest change can be huge, requiring the team to take the unexpected in stride and make the most of whatever resources are at their disposal.

#FRCV5: Simplicity & Quality

The word “Hackathon” may conjure up images of an out-of-control free-for-all in which the focus is solely on cranking out a down-and-dirty solution. It certainly would be easier, with a project like this, to cut corners in an effort to get more done, faster. We don’t feel that’s a worthwhile trade-off, though. The people who will be using what we build are under amazing amounts of stress. The last thing we want is for them to struggle, even a little bit, with the application. The whole point is to make their lives easier, and by remaining focused on building a quality product that’s easy for them to use, we accomplish that goal.

#FRCV6: Learn & Grow

Because the work we do is custom for each client, the learning never ends around here. In a situation like this in which the whole team is chipping in to get the project done in a day, people are required to step out of their comfort zones. They will very likely have to do things they haven’t done before—learning on the fly and chipping in wherever needed, just to get it done. It can be challenging, for sure, but it can also be incredibly invigorating.

#FRCV7: We’re a Team

Projects always require a team effort to yield the best results, but, just as with communication, the need for working together toward a shared goal is amplified by the very short timeframe of a project like this. On the flipside, a project like this can do a lot to pull a team together. It’s a bonding experience the effects of which we hope linger for a long time.

We're a Team, Far Reach Hackathon

#FRCV8: Work Smarter, Do More, Kick Ass

12-hour project timeline—need I say more? :)

#FRCV9: Balance

We generally refer to work/life balance when we talk about this Core Value. In the case of Operation: MAD, though, balance comes in to play as we decide what can be done in such a short timeframe and what can’t. We have to balance the utility of a feature with its complexity and, consequently, the amount of time it will take to build. Identifying a set of features that is feasible to build in 12 hours, and that provides enough value to make the effort worthwhile, requires a somewhat delicate balancing act and some give and take.

#FRCV10: Have Fun!

It may come as a surprise to some of you that we could actually have fun working a whole Saturday doing the same thing we do all week long, but it’s true! Nerds are kind of funny that way, I guess. We get a real kick out of tackling challenging projects like this. It feeds our creative souls and inspires us to do our best work and to have fun with it, too.

Have Fun Far Reach Hackathon

#FRCV11: Be Humble

We were fortunate enough to have three Children’s Cancer Connection families come in to share their stories with us today during our hackathon. I can pretty safely say there is nothing more humbling than hearing about and observing the strength displayed by these kids and their families in the face of something so incredibly scary. It inspires not only humility, but admiration and a sense of awe as well.

The journey these families travel is a long and arduous one and if what we accomplish today makes life even a little bit easier for them, we will consider the first Operation: MAD a straight-up success.

Be Humble, Far Reach Hackathon

Look for updates on the project in the coming weeks and we round things up and get ready to share it with the world.

Posted in Community, Core Values | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Carousels Don’t Convert

Call them what you want: carousels, sliders, or image rotators, we’ve all seen those rotating slideshows on the homepages of websites. They grew in popularly a few years ago, but numerous usability studies now show they annoy users and are hurting your business’s bottom line.

The homepage of your website should be tailored to your goals. Strategic and practical, your website goals should be tracked and measured. However, too often the homepage becomes a mess of competing messages and offers that don’t align with company goals.

The Issues

99% of Users Won’t Click Through

99% of users won't click on website sliders

Studies show that on average only 1% of users will click on a Carousel slide. Of that 1%, the majority click on the first slide. Reviewing the analytics of our former homepage carousel (hey, no one is perfect), we saw similar results. However, when we compared our website to that of Mortgage MarketSmart, a website we recently developed with a single, focused call to action, we saw that their click through rate was 14 times higher than ours.

They are Ignored

Usability and eye tracking studies reveal that sliders receive very few eye fixations. In one study, participants reported that the company was not offering any promotions after reviewing a homepage with a carousel containing various promotional offers. Because homepage sliders often feel like digital billboards, they are treated as such and ignored. Do you remember any of the billboards you passed on your way to work this morning? Didn’t think so.

Lack of Strategy

Carousels are often used as a way to please multiple people or departments. When going through a website redesign, various departments all want to dominate the homepage—carousels are used to please everyone because, in theory, everyone gets to be dominant. However, sliders decrease click-throughs and impressions, making it a loss for everyone. This is commonly the result of a weak or nonexistent strategy.

Hidden Content

The nature of sliders is to hide and show content at various fixed intervals. This means relevant content is often hidden from users. Additionally, because everyone reads at different speeds, it can be difficult to get the timing right. This leads to user frustration and has a negative impact on accessibility and SEO.

Hidden Content in Website Sliders

Alternatives

Develop a Web Strategy

Develop strategic digital goals that relate to company objectives and challenges. By determining what your business is trying to accomplish—be it leads, awareness, engagement, or something else—having a clear strategy will make your website more effective.

Prioritize Content

Determine what is important and what is just filler content. If this is something your team is struggling with, try taking a Mobile First approach.

Try Alternative Layouts

Using Alternative Layouts Instead of Content SlidersIf you just can’t narrow your message down, try using a layout that allows you to display multiple blocks at once. In some circumstances, multiple pieces of information need to be displayed at once. News sites, for example, can leverage layouts to easily and clearly display relevant information simultaneously.

When carousels were popular—and before data was available—we used rotators on many of our sites, even our own. Things change. Web trends are constantly coming in and out of style and new research is always being conducted—and it’s our job to stay on top of everything to recommend the best strategies for our clients. We’re certainly not saying you should re-do your website right now solely because you have a web slider. But there’s no better time than now to work on your messaging and website goals.

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