Yes, there are a lot of great website audit tools and monitoring services out there. But I firmly believe there’s nothing quite like a manual website audit. Why? Read on.
Reason #1: Check your tone
A manual audit of your website forces you to see, read and experience ALL of the content on your website. By going page-by-page, making notes of your findings, not only are you able to find compliance and formatting issues, but you are also able to see patterns in your tone (see my example above).
Writing for the web is a skill that not everyone has. There should be a strategy behind your web content in terms of messaging and there should be guidelines in place before you start the audit because it can get overwhelming very quickly. For example, do you write AP-style, or are you an Oxford comma fan? Manually auditing the site gives you the opportunity to make note of what needs to be changed, rewritten or deleted.
Reason #2: Spring cleaning
When you’re browsing a website, do you ever get the feeling that you’ve read that content somewhere else? Guess what? You probably did…somewhere else on that same site.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve audited a website only to find pages upon pages of repetition, which often happens when there are too many content editors on the site. When the site’s maintenance is not controlled by one person or a central office, it’s a free-for-all. I once audited a website that had 180 content editors (and with so many hands in the pot, it was a mess after only a year). The audit itself took three weeks of full-time work, and then another two weeks of restructuring the site to get rid of redundancies. Imagine how much easier that task would have been if the district audited the site once every six months (or even annually!)?
Reason #3: Ensure compliance
I feel like I could create an entire business just educating people on the importance of ADA-compliant websites. Having worked in educational communications for over 20 years, I am still shocked at the number of schools, colleges and districts that refuse to be compliant. I’ve seen cases where there have been visually-impaired students, staff and parents, and administrative leadership STILL thinks they don’t have to become compliant.
Let me be very clear: compliance is the right thing to do got ALL organizations. How would you feel if you were the parent of a student who couldn’t access your site? Or, an employee (and yes, sanctions against third-party sites and applications are coming)? Honestly, it sounds like a huge undertaking, but once you make your site compliant and create guidelines for compliance, it is REALLY easy to maintain.
Need more convincing? I have two friendly reminders: the lawsuit against Seattle Public Schools in 2015 by a blind parent and the Education Department’s recent announcement that it would no longer dismiss civil rights complaints on the basis that the filer had submitted other similar claims.
Reason #4: Take stock
Once you start digging through your site, you’ll notice how quickly small things add up. “Oh, it looks like the last Robotics Team photo posted was from 2016.” Or, “The links to our Education Foundation website are broken–no wonder we haven’t gotten any donations in the last three months!” Or, “We have 14 stories posted about ABC Middle School, 34 of XYZ Upper School, but only 12 of JKL Elementary School.”
Website auditing software and services will not tell you if your picture is too old or if your content is unbalanced. The only way to know for sure is by going through our site manually.
Reason #5: Serving your customers
Are you in Google Analytics regularly? And by regularly, I mean at least once a month (although, preferably, once a week)…? If not, you’re missing out in the fun.
Google Analytics is a communicator’s goody bad full of treats. From tracking how people are visiting your site (mobile versus desktop versus tablet), how frequently, what they are viewing, how they accessed your site and even their demographics and interests, you can REALLY get to know your audience and their behavior.
This tool is immensely helpful for not only content purposes, but also marketing purposes (“Did our visitors find us via Facebook or a link from our e-newsletter?”) and “cleaning house” exercises. This means that when you need to delete a page because it’s not getting the traffic, doesn’t align with the mission of your site or is redundant (see #2), Google Analytics has your back. It’s can be tricky to explain to someone that their page isn’t written or formatted for the web. But if it’s not getting the traffic and it doesn’t “fit” your site (and can’t be rewritten), you can show the content editor that X page only had Y visitors in the last year.
So, how do you conduct a website audit manually? You go through page by page starting with the header menu, working your way down through each section. Some people use a Word document to track what they’re finding; I prefer Google Sheets so I can update wherever I am and easily share it with others on my team.
If I was manually auditing my former consulting site’s website (below), I would start with the HOME page, checking links; reviewing tone/messaging; checking photos for ADA-compliance on the back end; ensuring that there are no uploaded, non-compliant PDFs or other documents; and making note of anything that is missing or needs to be updated. I would then move onto the ABOUT US landing page, and then the child pages in that section until I’ve gone through the entire site.
Looking for more info on ADA-compliance? Here are some additional detailed resources:
- NSPRA: Leading Off: Compliance is Not a Dirty Word: The What, Why and How of ADA-Compliant Websites
- Seattle Public Schools: ADA Accessible Documents
- Campus Suite: Website Accessibility Center (note: I haven’t been a Campus Suite personally, but I love this resource center)
I’ve completed dozens of website audits, restructuring and rewrites, so if you’d prefer a short video course to follow along with, sign up here for first access once the course launches this spring.