Why Manual Audits Matter
Why Manual Audits Matter
With all the incredible technology we have available to us nowadays, it would be sensible to think (or assume) that there must be an automated, plug-and-play tool that can perform an audit of your website for compliance issues. And, wasting no time taking advantage of this mentality, there are a number of companies and programmers out there who claim to have created exactly that – an automatic solution that puts technology to work, scanning your site for accessibility issues and doing so for a fraction of what such audits used to cost.
The problem—and of course there is a problem—with these types of scans is that even the best among them can only detect anywhere from 20-30% of the potential issues your site may have.
This lack of a comprehensive solution is not intentional on the part of the software or technology makers; they are simply utilizing the best information available to them, and then putting together an automated tool that touches on as much of the review process as is practicable. The limitations, then, are inherent in any automated solution. After all, there are limitations to every technology we rely on these days, from your garage door opener to your Netflix account.
The alternative, then? A manual audit. While we do have an awful lot of incredible technology at our disposal these days, some processes still require a thorough review by an experienced set of eyes. Manual audits also benefit from relying on someone outside of your organization; this is important because, when you’re as close to a project (say, a website) and you’ve spent a great deal of time working on it, you can miss things. An independent, outside auditor has to take the requirements and standards as written and then scrutinize your site, having never seen it before. This affords an important level of attention to detail, and also provides additional protection should you need it (for example, in a lawsuit).
What expert auditors do
Before getting started on a review/audit of your site, an expert reviewer will ask for a complete list of URLs for any and all pages you want to be audited. This is important for two reasons: 1, with large sites containing hundreds of pages, there are often budgetary reasons not to review every single page (product pages where each one is the same and utilizes a template, for example); and 2, auditors can instead look at all of the layout or template types that your site primarily uses, and then any and all changes/corrections can be applied across all pages once implemented.
Next up, the reviewer will need to check each page and the overall structure of your site for compliance with WCAG 2.0 and/or web accessibility standards. As you’d expect, this part of the process takes quite a bit of time but is definitely worth it in terms of results and compliance. An expert auditor will review the entire site according to the accessibility standards that you are aiming to comply with (see our article on creating an accessibility statement, [link to article/page] which includes a section on choosing and defining what level of compliance your site or app aspires to).
Part of this review process includes looking through the pages and code but also using/testing the various accessibility tools that users may employ to ensure that your site functions with them properly (such as keyboard navigation, screen readers, etc.).
Then comes the report. The report will include, first and foremost, a list of issues (if any) for each page template or layout that you requested a review of. These issues will be listed in order so that you or your team can more easily find and correct them as you progress through the site. One thing to note is that the report will not include pages or templates where there are no issues or changes to be made.
Following up on the list, the auditor’s report will include clear instructions or information about how to correct any of the issues that are identified. There may also be examples provided, such as code corrections or common fixes for accessibility compliance problems.
Each report will also include the results of an automated scan. Remember, automated scans are not without their benefits, but they are incomplete in terms of providing you with a complete picture of your site’s compliance or protecting you from potential legal action as a result of missed issues. This is why automated scans alone are not worth the price that many organizations charge for them – that money from your development or compliance budget is much better spent on a comprehensive review.
Finally, all of this critical information for you and your development team is compiled in an easy-to-read, easy-to-follow report that essentially provides a map for compliance. Follow that map and you are on your way to providing a more inclusive, more accessible, and more enjoyable experience for users of every background.
Depending on the size of your site and the number of pages to be reviewed, the process can take anywhere from one to three weeks. Generally, a two-week window is to be expected, though, in order to allow time for the final report to be compiled and organized best for your use.
They may take time, and they certainly are not the rapid-fire “automated” option that a lot of companies promise, but manual website compliance reviews give your company or organization the best path forward for compliance and the clearest steps to follow. From start to finish, the results speak for themselves and help to make your site or app better going forward.