With the design and build of a new website complete, there is often some pressure to get it live as soon as possible. However, launching a website can be complex process with unforeseen inter-dependencies.
The good news is that you can take an agile, interative approach and change the website easily once its live. However, first impressions count and – especially if you’re marketing your launch – it’s key to get it right. Having a website launch checklist of the key things you need to get right is essential. Use this guide to create your checklist.
1) Spell out the expectations
There are usually a substantial number of parties involved in the creation and launch of a website. Each should have clear responsibilities and deadlines, drawn up against an overall timeline.
Creating a list is always going to be the first step in planning for success. Take it a step further by creating a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed) matrix spelling it out. This will be your masterplan of tasks and interdependencies, and a map for guidance through the process of preparing for launch.
2) Plan for things to go wrong
As negative as it sounds, preparing for the worst ensures you’re in a better position to deal with any bumps in the road on the journey to launch. Think about the biggest threats to the launch’s success and then work on planning for these eventualities.
3) Set a launch date
Only when you’ve completed a masterplan showing the full list of tasks to be completed are you in a position to name a launch date. If you have a fixed launch date, then you’re going to need to think about what can be delivered within that timescale, allowing for appropriate testing and amends.
Keep it realistic. It’s makes sense to be pragmatic and flexible once you’re getting close to launch, but when you’re creating your tasklist and setting up the plan, you need to allow a suitable amount of time for the work that needs to be done, especially for contributors around the business.
4) Mirror your live site for the build
A ‘staging’ site is a replica of your live site, but set up on a private server for testing purposes. It mirrors the live environment but has no impact on your live site until development is completed and transferred across.
5) Define how you’ll test the site before launch
Testing can be a complicated process. Deciding on the right level of testing very much depends on the nature of the website, but the key is always to be clear about the main processes (or use cases, in technical speak) that visitors will undertake. Alongside the functionality, you’ll need to make sure you have a checklist of all the content – has it been, supplied, implemented, checked, approved?
Decide who deals with suggestions and bug alerts and who decides on priorities and what happens when suggestions are in conflict with each other. The format in which you ask for issues, changes and bugs to be communicated is really important too. A well-designed form will encourage more consistency and clarity than inviting hundreds of emails. Use a shared document so that multiple people can report, amend and review issues. Google Docs is good for this purpose.
6) Draw a line in the development but plan for future iterations
Trying to cram a website with all the features and functionality you can dream of is asking for trouble. Of course quality and effectiveness shouldn’t be compromised but they will be if there just isn’t enough time in the plan. A good way to deal with challenge is to look to launch a solid site with essential functions in place but to plan for post-launch additions and improvements. Think about what the essential features are for the next (or first) phase of your website.
If you don’t want to risk the launch date slipping, keeping a firm hold on the scope will certainly help. It’s easy to get excited about potential new functionality but be aware that, as well as requiring additional design and build time, further features require more testing.
7) Ensure key personnel are contactable
Preparation for launch against set deadlines can mean a high-pressure environment, so it’s key to know how to get hold of the people who are essential to decision-making and implementation.
8) Test the page load speed
The time it takes each webpage to load impacts on usability and search engine ranking. So keep tabs on how development is affecting how fast pages are loading. Google PageSpeed Insights is a good place to start.
9) Are images optimised for the web?
Even if this should already have happened, double-check that the images you’ve chosen to use on your site are compressed correctly, of consistent quality and size, and assigned alt text (this also influences search engine optimisation).
10) Is the site and its content optimised for SEO
Content should have been written with search engine optimisation in mind and the page structure, URL formats and other elements should SEO-friendly too. Double-check titles as these are particularly important.
11) Have you made the site mobile-friendly?
Websites that are mobile-responsive – that’s to say they display the content is a way that is suitable to smsll screens – are proven to generate more sales leads than those that don’t. On top of this, Google now looks for mobile-responsiveness in determining its search results.
12) Ensure key customers are catered for
It’s likely that you have different customer types with different reasons for approaching your organisation. These various ‘key personas’ need to be considered to ensure that they can reach the information they require as easily as possible – so confirm that your site layout and navigation enables this.
13) Do your forms flow?
This needs to be considered from both the user and operator perspective. What happens when the user submits a form? Are they thanked, or automatically redirected? And how is the form saved, or its information processed for analysis? Can the user move around the form easily? Is it as short as it can possibly be?
14) Do your links work?
Clicking around your site and trying to make it fail can uncover linking errors. Spotting and correcting these pre-launch are critical to ensuring customers are not led down dead ends. Depending on the CMS you’re using, there may be plugins to help find broken links – Broken Link Checker in WordPress, for example.
15) Check for typos
Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and original or placeholder text that hasn’t been updated can all slip through the net. It sounds obvious but use a spell-checker and ensure that more than one person reads the copy. It can help to find someone who isn’t involved directly in the project and can view the content with a fresh pair of eyes.
16) Ensure formatting is correct
With so many development tweaks occurring, it’s easy to knock something out of place., make a coding error or simply choose an inconsistent presentation. Make sure you stick to your chosen styles across the site – heading sizes, sub-heading formats, how calls-to-action are presented – so that the information architecture of the site remains clear to users.
17) Do you need to make your site SSL secure?
Implementing SSL (which protects your website’s data, and is indicated by the ’s’ in ‘https’) not only reassures visitors, it acts as a factor in Google’s search ranking algorithm.
18) Get your XML sitemap and RSS feed(s) right
Your XML sitemap lists all of the URLs within your site in order for search engines to understand it properly (and rank it accordingly in search results). Like the XML sitemap, RSS feeds are automated ways of distributing your site’s content. Make sure they’ve been implemented and are displaying the correct data.
19) Don’t count yourself in traffic analytics
Particularly in the stages around launch, it’s common to visit your own website pages hundreds of times. Ensure filters are in place so that your team’s visits do not impact on analytics. Find out how to do this using Google Analytics here.
20) Are the legals in place?
21) See what your site can handle
A stress test or load test replicates a massive traffic surge to your website. It therefore helps you understand what levels of visitor viewing and interaction your site can deal with before it experiences problems: certain sites will expect a flurry of activity during a sale or following an announcement, for example. These tests must be agreed in advance with hosts or providers.
22) One final check
Repeat the tests outlined in stages 9-16 just prior to launch – and ensure your key personnel are on hand to deal with them!