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I am invited to a workshop to review and giving advice for website upgrades and enhancement. I am invited for being a person who works in IT. I am a programmer and I work in windows application development, also I am learning PHP now, so I don't have much experience in Web development.

The website I am asked to review and give my opinion about is a website which covers news and interest of a local area or local region (for example: website for Brooklyn in New York). I reviewed the website, the website contains a Radio, photo gallery, Blogs and a stores directory, I have found something to tell about websites also I saw similar websites but I thought about hearing from more experienced people, and making sure I am doing it the right way.

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Optimize for what exactly? Speed? Conversions? SEO? Design? Code Compliance? A little more detail would result in a better answer... –  Mike Hudson Dec 24 '11 at 10:58
    
@Mike: Given that they've asked someone without any web development/design or SEO/inbound marketing experience to do this "analysis", the client probably doesn't know what they're asking for either, I'm guessing. –  Lèse majesté Dec 24 '11 at 12:38
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up vote 3 down vote accepted

I would focus on these areas:

  • Usability:
    1. Is the information architecture well designed?
    2. Are appropriate page titles and URLs used?
    3. Is the navigation and user flow well designed?
    4. Are there any usability-contributed conversion bottlenecks?
    5. Perform some user tests to verify your intuition.
  • Accessibility
    1. Is the website 508-compliant?
    2. Is the website WCAG 1 & 2 compliant?
    3. Is the website exploiting accessibility features of WIA-ARIA/HTML5 semantics?
    4. Is it following other accessibility best-practices such as skip-navigation/skip-to-content links and non-visual CAPTCHA options?
    5. Test the site with screen readers and browser zoom to confirm its accessibility to the visually-impaired.
  • Cross-browser/platform compatibility
    1. Identify your target platforms based on demographics data (perhaps through server logs or through market research).
    2. Test on all target platforms (not just a single browsers version on a single OS; tools like BrowserShots and Adobe Browser Lab can help).
  • Performance
    1. Are graphics and multimedia well-compressed (e.g. using the appropriate compression format)?
    2. What's the actual page performance in the browser for critical pages?
    3. Are you taking max advantage of caching (bytecode caching, query caching, page caching, etc.)?
    4. Are other performance enhancements needed (e.g. aggregating and minifying CSS and JS, using a lightweight webserver to serve static content, using a CDN, load balancing, precompiling, etc.)?
  • Security
    1. Is the site protected against XSS, CSRF, session hijacking, SQL injections, information leakage, and other threats?
    2. Run some blackbox testing, fuzzing as well as whitebox testing w/ static source code analyzers.
    3. Evaluate security policies: password policy, use of encryption (HTTPS, SFTP/SCP), and data storage (PII and other sensitive data).
    4. Is the login form protected against cracking (retry delays, temporary IP bans triggered by repeated failed logins, use of CAPTCHAs to slow down crackers, not disclosing if a username exists, etc.), and is the login process protected against sniffing (forced HTTPS and not using basic HTTP authentication)?
    5. File/folder permissions, upload forms, email forms, spam protection, etc.
  • Other best practices (maintainability, semantics/SEO, online marketing)
    1. What does the (pre-minified) frontend and backend code look like? Is is modular, readable, and well commented/documented? Are they using MVC or similar architecture? Is it RESTful?
    2. Does the site use progressive enhancement/graceful degradation? Does the site still work without JavaScript (if this is a reasonable requirement for this niche)?
    3. Is there separation of content and presentation?
    4. Is the CSS well-designed, taking advantage of cascading styles and semantic classnames and IDs?
    5. Is the markup semantic and taking advantage of existing microformats? Are proper rel/rev attributes, sitemaps, product feeds, and other meta data defined to help browsers, crawlers, and other apps understand/use the content?
    6. Are CTAs prominently displayed, and is the site designed around a web strategy? Or is this just a generic brochure site built without determining specific business objectives? Are they using analytics data and other metrics to measure site performance? Is the site regularly updated with new content and actively used for marketing?
    7. Are they testing (to optimize web copy/design and marketing spending)?

There are infinitely many other potential areas of optimization (much of it is correcting bad practices, like duplicate URLs, poor web design, lack of documentation, table-based layouts, use of frames/iframes, non-bookmarkable pages, breaking browser navigation/history, etc.), so it's unlikely that a single Q&A thread will be able to cover it all.

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Some of the key things to analyse about a website with an intent of optimization are as follows:

  1. Try analyzing the heat map of the main indexed pages and see if the significance of the objects placed on the pages corresponds with the heat map (for example, the hot and trending news placed on the hottest spots on the site).
  2. See if the pages allow for enough of social media interaction for the current era is of social networking and the more the content is shared the more people tend to visit the site.
  3. Check if the site offers easy navigational facilities. The easier and better categorized the navigation and sitemap of the website, the more pages are liable to be viewed by the visitors. Not just that, a better sitemap offers a better search engine indexing.
  4. Check if the website is W3C compliant and is cross-browser compatible for a website that works fine or even great on a webkit/gecko browser is not necessarily going to be working the same way on other browsers (prominently IE).
  5. See if the website is rightly search engine optimized. The right title, meta tags and keywords ensure the reach of the page to the intended audience implicitly. A keyword analysis is recommended for picking the right keywords.
  6. And most important of all when it comes to optimization of a website- CONTENT. However good a website is, it's of no use without the content it offers.

    I know I might have not put up all the key aspects necessary here but these are the prima-facea factors that I remind myself every time I review a site for optimization. Others' contribution to the post is cordially invited.
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I wouldn't worry about W3C compliance so much as cross-browser/platform compatibility, semantic markup, and other practical optimizations. W3C compliance is naturally ideal, but not all projects are capable of this given budgetary/time constraints and browser inadequacies. But otherwise a very good list. –  Lèse majesté Dec 24 '11 at 13:33
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@Lèsemajesté: I included the W3C compliance check in the list just for the sake that it makes it easy for us to identify where the problems lie in the page. Otherwise, as you said it is not that important as compared to the other factors. Thanks, by the way. :) –  ikartik90 Dec 24 '11 at 13:42
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