Three inexpensive and essential investments for website commissioners

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

An organisation’s website is now an essential part of the business. It is often the first point of contact for a prospective client and will be an important, if not the only, interface for that client going forward. It should therefore be obvious that the website should be effective and provide the user with an efficient and pleasing experience.

If an organisation is modifying their website, or considering building a new one, then the commissioner must be able to ensure that the site is a benefit to the business. How can they do that without being an expert in all aspects of web design, testing and implementation? The key is to know the right questions to ask.

I would therefore recommend reading and acting upon three documents: PAS 124, PAS 78 and The Bluffers guide to ISO 9241. An investment of less than £100 will reap significant benefits.

PAS 124

PAS 124 Defining, implementing and managing website standards: A statement of best practice” is the British Standards Institute’s (BSi) latest Publicly Available Specification (PAS).

The introduction says:

“Website standards are the library of standards specified by an organization to govern the content, function, and appearance of their website or group of websites. Managed effectively, they deliver tangible performance and operational benefits. However, defining, implementing and managing website standards presents organizations with common logistical challenges. Many organizations are also unaware of the extent to which they should be defining website standards, and the benefits they deliver.”

The document explains how to create website standards and then implement and manage them. Much of this description is true of setting up any set of internal standards but it puts it into the specific context of website design, test and implementation.

As far as I am concerned the critical part of the document is the annex: ‘Guide to the key categories of website standards’ which describes all the standards related to a website. This will enable a commissioner to set up the right governance structure and be able to ask the right questions of the organisation building the site. The areas of standards defined are:

  • Brand and visual
  • Editorial
  • Information architecture and navigation
  • Naming and metadata
  • Search engine optimisation
  • Usability
  • Accessibility
  • Legal
  • Rich Media and PDF
  • Code
  • Performance

PAS 124 is available from the BSi for £85. Considering how much a new website will cost even a small organisation this is a very small price for the benefits it will give.

The PAS was the brain child and has been developed by Magus, a leading provider of innovative web content engineering solutions to global corporations.

I helped in the review process and many of my suggestions have been included in the final document. I am sorry to say that my recommendations relating to the accessibility of the PDF document itself were not included. This is not a criticism the PAS but of the BSi internal standards. I think that the BSi should revisit their web standards based on the section of PAS 124 relating to Rich Media and PDF. Besides this small gripe I strongly recommend the investment.

PAS 78

PAS 78: Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible web sites is another BSi publication that I have written about before see ‘Removing road blocks to accessibility‘. It is now free and covers in more detail the specific issues relating to accessibility. PAS 124 reference PAS 78 so there is minimal overlap between the content of the two documents.

It has been announced recently that PAS 78 is to be upgraded to a full standard. The new standard will be available next year and I am sure will be essential reading when it is available. In the meantime PAS 78 is an essential investment.

The Bluffers’ Guide to ISO 9241

ISO 9241 is a set of international standards relating to usability, another of the key areas identified by PAS 124. The problem with ISO 9241 is that the set is large and relatively expensive. They are also more detailed than most commissioners would want.

The Bluffers’ Guide to ISO 9241, from Userfocus Ltd, is an introduction to ISO 9241. To quote from the introduction:

‘The truth is that few people would be interested in all of the parts of ISO 9241, which is why indeed it has been published as separate documents. But it is hard to work out which particular part you are interested in just from the title, and that is about all the information that is publicly available. Also, although you may be interested only in a few of the parts, it’s always nice to get an overview and see what you are missing in the other parts.

I hope this document comes to your rescue. View it as your Michelin travel guide to the various destinations of ISO 9241. If nothing else, it will help you bluff your way through a meeting.’

I would suggest that ‘bluffing’ is a rather dismissive term for being able to ask sensible questions. At £9 this is definitely a useful investment.

My only criticism is its name, although amusing it does not do justice to the real value of the document. I really think that it should be turned into an ‘Introduction to ISO 9241’ and be given away free by ISO as a document that markets the standard.

So three small investments at under £100 that can help ensure your new website is of the highest quality.