Purpose of Audit
A General Audit is a review of a sample of content from the main content areas of a website, the results of which are generalized to the whole site. It is usually too time-consuming and expensive to review all pages on a website; many pages would be similar which would result in a very long repetitive report. Generalizing results to the whole site should be emphasized in the audit report.
Process of Audit: Selecting a Review Sample
Reviewing a representative sample of pages is the most efficient approach for a General Audit. When choosing pages for the sample, be sure to include pages that are key to the operation of the website, such as:
- the home page
- a registration page
- a product purchase page, etc.
Also choose pages with different types of content such as:
- a page with multimedia
- a page presenting data laid out in a table
- a form-based page
- pages with embedded objects such as Java or Flash
- a page with a structured article, etc.
The sample should provide a complete cross-section of the different types of content on the site.
Depending on the size of the site, and the different types of content it contains, a sample might include 10 pages for a smaller site, and up to 20–25 pages for a larger site with a broad variety of content. For more information about choosing a representative sample, refer to the Website Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Methodology produced by the W3C.
When choosing pages for the sample, a thorough scan of the site should be done by methodically clicking from page to page, viewing the content quickly, and copying the URL and title for each of the pages that will be included in the sample. It is often helpful to choose the sample pages in cooperation with the developers of the website, who will have a better idea of the types of content found on the site, and where they might be located within a complex site structure. Alternatively, you can scan through the site yourself, gather the sample, and send that list to the owner of the site for their confirmation of whether the sample is representative of the content on the site.
Additional Scope Considerations
If a Template Audit has not been conducted, elements of the template will need to be included as part of the General Audit. A Template Audit should be recommended to a client to avoid complicating a General Audit.
Time Required for the Audit
You should estimate how much of your time will be required for the audit before beginning. Your general sense of the complexity of the content on the sample pages, the number of issues identified while assembling the sample, whether a Template Audit will accompany the General Audit, as well as the effort required to gather the sample will all help you to establish a rough time-per-page estimate. A simple site with basic content may take 10–15 minutes per page, while larger, more complex sites may take an hour or more per page. Performing a review and writing a report on 15 website pages might take a total of 10 to 15 hours.
With your first few audits, time estimates will likely be higher. As you begin accumulating reports, there will be elements that can be reused to save time. For example, the executive summary will tend to follow the same format, introducing the report, providing a description of the report and how to use it, with just the summary of key issues changing from report to report. You will also find that similar issues will arise from website to website, and the descriptions for those issues can also be reused in many cases. Likewise, when describing solutions to issues within reports, the time you initially invest to develop solutions is time you will save later on.
Assuming a Template Audit is being conducted along with the General Audit, the audit procedure will be much like that of a Template Audit, but in this case will focus on the main content area of each of the sampled pages (see figure on the previous “Template Audits” page). The high level procedures are reiterated here; refer back to the procedure outlined with the Template Audit for details.
- Tab Key Navigation test
- Use an automated accessibility checker
- Markup validation
- Screen reader scan
- Other test (colour, readability)
In most cases testing the main content is much simpler than testing the templates. The main content tends to be less complex so it is likely that a quick scan will yield no issues. For example, an article presented on a website may simply be a collection of headings and paragraph text; checking the headings to be sure they are HTML headings and nested properly takes only a few moments. On the other hand, if the site has more complex elements and there are issues with those elements, it may take just a few moments to discover the issues, but significantly more time to describe them.
For a more detailed look at web accessibility auditing methods, see the following resource.