If you’ve been involved in a website project before, you know how nerve-racking it can be to finally give the go-ahead to “flip the switch” from the old website to the new one. There are a lot of things that need to be tested, double-checked and implemented before launch to ensure a smooth transition.
Your web development partner will have a pre-launch and a post-launch website checklist of their own, but you and your team have an important to-do list, too. Here is a list of items that need to be checked off before the big launch.
1. Cross browser testing
When you use a certain browser every day, you might assume that everyone else uses the same one and can see exactly what you see on your computer. This, however, is not the case, as not all browsers work the same way, and your website may display and act differently on each one. Therefore you need to thoroughly test your website on all browsers (i.e. Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari, etc.) and all different mobile devices (i.e. iPad, iPhone, Android, etc.). The best way to go about testing is to share the staging site link for your website with a few people on your team and ask them to click through every page and every link, making note of anything that seems off or broken. It’s important that one person doesn’t do all the testing by themselves so that you don’t miss anything! Then, this process needs to be repeated after the website goes live to be sure nothing broke during the launch process.
2. Proofread content
Most websites today are set up with a content management system, and copy changes can be made quickly and easily – but no one wants to launch a website with a spelling error. So be sure you and your web team proofread the website thoroughly before launch. It’s a good idea to get another set of eyes who wasn’t directly involved in the process to review the copy as well. In addition to spelling errors, check that all phone numbers, addresses and other contact information is correct.
3. Test forms
During testing, make sure you fill out and test all of the forms on the site, such as contact forms, job applications or email subscriptions. To test, change the notification email to your own and then fill out each form on all desktop, tablet and mobile versions. Just because a form works in one place doesn’t always mean that it works everywhere. If the forms are integrated with a third-party tool such as CRM, marketing automation or email marketing, you want to make sure that all fields are properly pushing information into those platforms. After testing, don’t forget to change back all of the form notifications to alert the right people. There’s nothing worse than a prospect filling out a form on your website but no one knows because you forgot to set up the notifications.
4. Implement necessary SEO
It’s essential to set your website up for search engine optimization (SEO) success before launch. One of the most important aspects of SEO is making sure each page of your website has a unique title tag and meta description. This helps tell the search engines what content is on the page so people can search for your firm and your capabilities. Another common SEO oversight is the omission of image ALT tags, robots.txt and other technical factors. Here are some important SEO practices to remember when launching a site.
5. Set up 301 redirects
Creating a new website or redesigning your current one means that some of your page URLs will change. For example, your old website might have the URL ‘/team’ for all of your team member bios but use ‘/professionals’ on your new site. Making sure that those URLs redirect correctly after launch is critical to ensure that your users don’t land on any 404 error pages. It also helps with SEO because adding 301 redirects triggers search engines to remove the old page and only index the new page, therefore helping it rank organically. Before your old website goes away, be sure to record all of the current URLs in an excel spreadsheet and then designate the page on the new website where each URL to redirect.
6. Upload a favicon
Favicons are a small, but very important detail on any website. They are the little image of your logo or brand that appears in the address bar and tabs of your browser beside your page title. Favicons are important because they help with the credibility of your website and provide some additional branding for your company, improving user experience.
7. Page speed optimization
Your website’s page speed is just as important as the visual design and content. If a user visits your website and the page is slow to load, they more than likely will leave right away. The biggest cause of a slow website is related to image size and quality. Make sure that your images are compressed but still really good quality. The Imagify plugin on WordPress websites will do all the compressing for you and is very easy to use. Another way to help improve page speed is to enable a caching plugin such as WP Rocket. Caching plugins generate HTML pages of your website and save it on the server so that when a user accesses your site, it will pull the simple HTML instead of the heavy loaded PHP scripts.
8. Create a sitemap
When you launch a new website, search engines aren’t automatically aware of this change. In order to get them to correctly index your site and recognize the new pages you have published, you will need to create an XML sitemap. This is a specific file that lists all of the pages of your website, helping search engines understand your website’s structure and what pages are important. There are many SEO plugins, such as Yoast SEO for WordPress, that will automate the creation and maintenance of XML sitemaps.
9. Install tracking codes
Your beautiful new website just launched, but do you know how users are finding it and what pages they’re landing on the most? That is where Google Analytics comes into play. Any firm should utilize Google Analytics since it’s free and easy to set up, and it’s a powerful tool to help you better understand your website’s performance. It tracks the number of visitors that come to the website, what pages they are visiting, how long they are on certain pages, etc. There are also some really great paid tracking services, such as HotJar or marketing automation platforms, that can be added to provide even more in-depth analytics for websites. Each of these tools have a unique tracking code you’ll need to add to the code of your website in order to collect data. Add these right after launch to make sure you capture all data from the start of your new site!
10. Purchase SSL certificate
Making sure your website is secure is more important now than ever. An SSL certificate not only protects your website and keeps the data between the servers and your browsers private, but Google will penalize your site and mark it as “not secure” on its search results page if you don’t have an SSL, which deters users from visiting your site. Your business is credible and secure, so you want to make sure users know that when they view your website.
11. Update the Time To Live
Time To Live (TTL) is a very important setting in your DNS record because it tells the server how long the DNS information should be cached. This should always be checked before launching your new website because it will affect how long it takes the new site to propagate on the servers. You’ll want to communicate to your web person or your IT company where your domain is registered and how short you want to set the TTL. Ideally, you want to make sure that the TTL is set as short as possible—typically 30 seconds to a few minutes.
12. Website privacy/robots
Once the website has launched, it is critical that the privacy of the website is turned to public. During development, your website is normally set to “private,” which tells search engine robots not to index your website while its under development. However, once the website is ready, it’s incredibly important to make sure this is turned to public so that people can find your new website and search engines can begin to crawl your newly created sitemap to help you show up on search engines.
Launch with confidence
Communicating with your web development partner during the launch phase is extremely important. They should have their own detailed launch list that has the technical items that are typically beyond the marketing team’s understanding. And once the site is live, be sure that you or your development partner have a plan for properly maintaining the website moving forward. Depending on the complexity of the website, there could be more items on this pre-launch checklist, but this is a comprehensive list of items that tend to apply to the majority of website projects and will set you up for a smooth and successful launch!