How to Build and Use Quality Assurance Plans and Disaster Preparedness with Paul Thompson @thompsonpaul #VCBuzz

How to Build and Use Quality Assurance Plans and Disaster Preparedness with Paul Thompson @thompsonpaul #VCBuzzIf you’re responsible for a website, you need a plan for when things change, and when things go wrong.

In this week’s chat, we’ll be talking about what you need to know to understand, build and use Quality Assurance plans and Disaster Preparedness.

This will be especially timely for WordPress users with the next major Version 5 of WordPress coming up for release, or anyone still planning a migration to HTTPS.

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About Paul Thompson @thompsonpaul

Paul Thompson @thompsonpaul is an SEO and web marketing consultant who has been managing, optimising, and marketing websites for over 15 years. He’s applied talents to sites ranging from personal blogs to a collection of over a dozen international sites for a major Canadian tourism organisation.

With an extensive background in IT, he’s often called on to manage or help fix upgrades and migrations where Quality Assurance testing become critical. He’s made lots of the mistakes so you won’t have to! Connect with Paul at Buzzwords to Business or on LinkedIn

Questions we discussed

Q1 How did you become a digital marketer? Please share your career story!

I’ve been on the web since 2006 and have been managing & optimising websites since the beginning of blogging in 2002. I studied English at university, was a pro photographer for 15 yrs, and then a small business systems admin I.T. guy for several years.

Not so much an accident as a steady evolution – but yes, self taught as so many of oldtimer SEO are 🙂

That led into marketing and communications and now I combine that wide ranging background as a web marketing consultant with a specialty in technical SEO! Whew! Its’ been a roundabout route, but I love the challenge of the always changing landscape of digital marketing.

Q2 What is a Quality Assurance testing plan and why would I need one?

Plan is a standardised testing process you build for your own website – it’s customised to the way your site is built and the things that are important for your website to accomplish.

It makes it easier to remember all things you need to double-check each time your website undergoes minor or major changes – from plugin updates to an HTTPS migration to a full CMS upgrade.

The biggest advantage to prebuilding your QA plan is that you get time to calmly think through all the things you need to test ahead of time, instead of frantically clicking on things after a change and hoping you caught all the important stuff.

Cool – since lot’s of us don’t’ currently have a plan, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of building one!

Q3 What should I include in a QA plan and how do I build it?

The items to include in a QA plan will be very different for different types of sites. An e-commerce site will have a whole range of items to test that will vary significantly from what a lead-generation site or publisher site will do.

You’ll have to think through both the structure of your site & all the tasks you need your visitors to accomplish. For the structure, think about all the different “types” of pages on your site. You won’t’ need to test that every one of your blog posts displays properly.

But you will need to inspect a couple of representative blog posts, then check the main blog home page, the category archive pages and your about/contact pages- because they use a different template. For each page, you’ll want to check that the layout is correct.

For e-commerce sites, you’ll want to check the different types of product pages, the product category pages – any separate sections of the site that use different layouts of pages. You’ll look for correct image display, the right fonts/headers/colours etc.

Now your challenge – let’s hear the other page structure items you can think of that need testing after you’ve made a major change/upgrade to your website!

I’m thinking about: testing menus and dropdowns. Are the right sidebars on the right pages and do all the components work? Are the footers correct for each section of the site? Are ads displaying correctly in the right places? What else can you think of?

Now that we’ve got the visual elements to check, we need a list of the functionality that we have to confirm is working properly. This part is challenging because as the site owner we kinda take this stuff for granted, since we don’t’ use it regularly ourselves.

I’ve got scary stories of sites that saw months of huge losses in conversions until I was brought in to do conversion-optimisation work, only to discover that the site’s forms had a glitch! So, using forms as an example, we need to test SO much more than the submit button.

In addition, you’re also going to want to check that the submission confirmation message/thank-you page redirect comes up properly, that the email notification goes out and is received without landing in the spam folder, with the correct From: address and subject line

So suddenly a single item has 5 things to test associated with it! And if you’re being really thorough, you’ll also test that the Google Analytics event tracking for the form submission is also working correctly! (You are tracking form submissions, right?!)

Social share buttons working? Map on contact page displaying correctly? Analytics tracking working for visits & pageviews? Have you gone through the full login, product order, payment process?

These are the kinds of things to really think about in the way visitors interact with the site – then make CERTAIN they work properly!

And to manage all of this – you’re going to build a spreadsheet (tip: do it in Google Sheets or another cloud-based tool if multiple people will work on the process) You want columns for a task number, description of what’s to be tested and how, who should do the test.

You’ll also want a column for whether the test passed or failed, and a comment column for extra info, or instructions for how to fix. I like to colour-code any row that has a failed test in red so it can’t be missed when fixing issues.

Q4 So when do I use this thing, and how do I go about it?

The time to run through the plan is any time you make significant changes to the site that might affect how it operates. Obvious example-after migrating it to use HTTPS. Especially relevant currently – the upcoming upgrade to WordPRess to V5, if your site uses that.

But don’t get overwhelmed – you don’t necessarily need to run through the full list every time. If you just upgraded your WordPress forms plugin on your site, just run through the forms-related test section of your QA plan, for example.

If you do a theme update – concentrate more on the visual display aspects of your QA plan. If doing a major WP upgrade – test all the things!!!! 🙂

And the beauty of having a checklist process built into a shareable spreadsheet – you can get others to help do the testing! Especially other site editors etc.

Another example would be an ecommerce site – if you’re upgrading your WooCommerce plugin, focus your testing time on the product pages and ordering process. You won’t need to check the blog pages or contact page etc.

Q5 How is a Disaster Preparedness plan different from QA and do I need one? (Hint: the answer is Yup!)

The Disaster Preparedness plan is for when things really go sideways – the stuff that you couldn’t prepare for in your QA process. Again, the worst time to try to figure out what to do is when you’re in the middle of the crisis.

Disasters are the big stuff – what if your website’s host crashes and has been down for a full day, with no end in sight? Or worse yet, they go out of business with no warning (Yup, had that one happen to me) Or even a major malware infection?

Absolutely essential first step in your DP plan -have a complete offsite backup of your whole website – it’s not a backup unless it’s stored on a system completely separate from your host and owned by a totally different company. And that has been TESTED to be restorable!

I think a good QA plan should be able to deal with the Gutenberg/WP5 update. I’d REALLY STRONGLY suggest you get a staging version of your website set up for testing – that’s the ultimate QA test and mitigation against having a disaster on live site.

In addition to your backup, you do have ownership and logins for your domain name, your hosting account, your plugin licenses etc, right? If not, get them.

Hoo boy, have you ever hit it! Exactly.

Q6 What do I need to think about in a basic Disaster Preparation plan?

The utltimate disaster plan goal is to be able to restore your recent site backup to a whole new hosting provider within a few hours. That way no matter how bad things get, you have the option to move and get back on line. Worth researching other hosts in advance too.

And in your disaster plan – make CERTAIN you’ve also considered how you’ll keep your email running! This is one of the major reasons I strongly recommend your email not be run through your web hosting.

Office 365 is another alternative. Rackspave also offers a really solid email system which is quite affordable – $2 per mailbox. Being totally separate form the website, you can move your site hosting without any effect on email – so your site visits can still find you!

The key in all of this is – think it through calmly before hand, guessing at all the situations that could occur (Your host is in an area hit by a hurricane and won’t be back online for weeks? Need a tested plan to move quickly!)

We’ve kinda rolled A5 & A6 together but to keep in mind-a QA plan is for the controlled changes you make that you can test. Doing it on a staging site first is the ultimate control. A Disaster Plan is what you’ll do when the shit really hits the fan & beyond your control.

Our previous project launching and management chats:


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