Launching a new website is both exciting and stressful! The project is complete, you have a great new site, but there can so many things for everyone to check that it can be hard to know where to start. How can you be sure nothing gets missed and everything went as planned?
With this in mind, we have produced a basic website launch checklist. Depending on your requirements, we think it may be worth building your own website launch plan comprising a list of steps and a schedule for checking each based on what you need. Without further ado, here are our top points to check when launching a new website:
Post Development Checks
Once the core functionality of site site has been tested, it’s time to take that step back and review everything in it’s entirety. Only here do the really small things start start becoming visible.
- Check for Broken Links: Even smallest websites will often have many Urls. Checking each can be a challenge in itself, even a few broken links can hold your website back in the search rankings and also have a negative impact on your visitor’s experience. Luckily, there are some great tools such as Link Assist’s Website Auditor that will spider the site and log any crawl errors such as broken links (4xx) or pages that give errors (5xx). There is also a good free tool called Xenu.
- Custom Not Found and Error Pages: Even when things don’t go according to plan once the site is launched (such as visitors following dead links, or mistyping a web addresses), you still want to give visitors the best experience possible. Having custom not found / error pages not only tidy up the look and feel of your site, they also reinforce your brand and help create a very professional experience.
- Check Urls are search engine friendly and fully indexable: do you link to all places on the website? Are all pages either linked or included in the sitemap? Are there any pages with query strings that may be less easy for search engines to index and could those links be rewritten to look like a full Url? It’s worth checking that all your content is accessible.
- Check your site displays properly: It’s fine having a site that is indexing and handles error pages and broken links, however if you have forgotten to check all the pages across all the main browsers and mobile devices, you may be in trouble. Open all the pages, navigate through the site and ensure everything displays as it should. You should be particularly careful when testing on mobiles and tablets, the times we have seen content completely disappear upon mobiles is untrue – check, check and check again.
SEO Checklist (Site Content & Structure)
Content and structure are hard to separate; they are like two sides to the same penny. You want to ensure your sites Url structure is optimal for SEO. In turn, this will also depend on what content you have upon those pages.
- Keyword research and competitor research: This first vital step helps you identify your website’s target keywords and priorities. Whether you use the Google Keyword Planner Tool or any other, gathering together the different keywords by group and purpose, testing the levels of search and competition for each in turn provides the foundation for all other SEO activities.
- Structure: Being guided by the results of the previous step, you can now take a look at your website structure and see if the pages allow a visitor flow that mirrors the purpose of keywords. It is probably best to think of these as grouped keywords, each grouping being bound to a particular section of the website.
- Content optimised: In addition to structure, it’s important to check whether the content itself is well written and optimised. Does it read properly and convey your message back to your target audience in the way you need it to? Does it contain all the important information they will be interested in? Is it logically structured? Some people may visit your site with a very specific requirement, for this reason it’s always a good idea to break up the pages based on visitors need.
- Check for duplicate content: Duplicate content can hurt your SEO efforts and annoyingly, detecting it can be tricky. There are some great duplicate content detection services such as Copyscape which allow you to paste in some copy, and it will help identify if this same copy is found elsewhere on the web. Another way this can be tested is by copying a whole paragraph into the Google search bar and hit enter. Hopefully, your web page will be the only one that ranks (if it has been indexed) for this full paragraph search, if not then either you or someone else has copied the content.
- Check your internal link strategy: Once you have your overall content and structure, you can now also review your internal links which really details the relationship between your content and structure. This should be aimed at not only giving you more links between pages in your site, but should also allow you to include more keywords within these links to help quietly promote various sections of the site for particular topics. It should also be aimed at taking visitors directly to the information they came for. If you feel that one type of visitor may also be interested in another product or page, include a link in the content!
- Check robots.txt and sitemap.xml: Make sure these are present and correct and that they allow search engines to fully index all the pages you need. If you have a content management system (CMS) don’t feel the need to include each individual admin link in the robots.txt file as this can also volunteer sensitive information to attackers by informing them of your admin Url structure and files.
Website Optimisation Checklist
- Page load speed: This is a growing area of importance since Google announced they would take page load speed into account as a ranking signal for websites. Since then, there has been a bit of a mad scramble to see how many different ways websites can be made faster. Luckily, there are also some great tools to help test the speed of your pages. Pingdom have a page load speed test, and Google (via Webmaster Dashboard) also include their own testing tool, both of which can be used to work out where your site is failing.
- Image optimisation: This often overlooked aspect of website optimisation can offer seriously big savings in terms of page load times. There are a few things we suggest you check here:
- Is the format of my image appropriate? For instance, JPEGs are best for ‘real images’ that include a wide variety of similar colours i.e. photographs. PNGs have more generic compression but support transparency and are typically smaller in size.
- Is the (file) size of the image appropriate? Most image formats including JPEG have built in compression that can be finely tuned and can reduce most images by about 60 to 70% without a noticeable loss in quality when used.
- Are the dimensions of the image suitable? This is a common one we see many websites get wrong with 60% of websites we encounter rendering ridiculously large image sizes. Ideally images should be as large as needed, but no larger than they will actually be used. If you upload an image several times bigger than the slideshow it will be used in, the users will never see the full detail the image includes and your server will still need to serve the entire (large) file. In practice, this can often be many images, leading to some serious savings in page load times if images are optimised site-wide.
Just like launching a rocket, once launched, the biggest immediate risks appear over, and now it’s a case of staying the course and ensuring nothing unexpected happens further down the line.
Site Visitor Monitoring: It is important to have some kind of visitor tracking once your new site is launched. We recommend Google Analytics, but there are some other good free tools out there as alternatives. This kind of tracking is essential for monitoring your SEO and marketing efforts, but will also give you early warnings about some kinds of problems and usability issues visitors may encounter.
Site up-time monitoring: We would suggest that all websites have some kind of uptime and availability monitoring. Pingdom and Uptime Robot are two good services that will send alerts if your website appears to stop responding. When a site goes offline, Google and search engines will begin gradually demoting the website from the rankings until it comes back online. This is also tricky to spot, so having early warning alert systems are great ways to keep informed of serious issues.
Split testing / conversion tracking: To help monitor your SEO and marketing efforts, it’s important to have some kind of performance reporting and monitoring in place. Along with Web Analytics such as Google Analytics (mentioned earlier), it’s possible to set up ‘goal tracking’ as part of conversion optimisation. By analysing which visitors completed an action (such as completing a purchase), you can obtain vital feedback about which areas of your SEO are working particularly well, which can then be useful when reviewing your SEO strategy.
Performance reporting: In order to measure the much longer term marketing strategies for your website, it’s important to include some kind of performance reporting. This can help guide some of your decisions on where to focus your online marketing efforts and tweaks next.
Backup and Recovery
Now the site is live, with all the tracking and monitoring it could need. What could possibly go wrong? Regardless, we recommend having some kind of backup strategy in place.
Plan your backups: How often will the website be backed up? If your website includes a content management system (CMS) it will likely need both files and SQL data backing up. How do I get access to these files. Do I have an offsite copy of my website?
We hope this guide can provide a basic wbesite launch plan template which will offered a few helpful insights into common tasks that need carrying out when launching a website. Hopefully if you follow the points in this guide, you won’t go far wrong.