Site Launch Project: 27 Things to Do Before You Go Live
The ultimate checklist for testing a new website — from URLs to call-to-actions.
Launching a new website is always exciting — you've worked hard on that dazzling design, awesome content, and outstanding user interface. Obviously, you can't wait to share it with the whole world.
Why would you need to test your beautiful site before launching it? Because things like this can happen:
And even this:
I hope I haven't scared you out of your wits! All those issues could easily be avoided if webmasters follow simple best practices when launching websites. Don't worry — I'll explain these core activities and your site will be in perfect condition when you launch it.
Before we start, work out the launch schedule
Working without a schedule, but with a deadline is a dangerous thing. On the one hand, you get an illusion that everything will be completed by that marked date on your calendar. On the other, you often have to cope with more issues and tasks than you planned, so you feel stressed out right before the launch — eventually, you get nervous, blind to details, and miss something really important.
Besides, there are often many people working on a new website — developers, SEOs, testers, content writers, and product managers, each having their own tasks, goals, and deadlines. A comprehensive plan that defines roles and responsibilities of each team member is a must.
Table of contents:
For convenience, I've decided to split all check-up tips into categories, depending on the team/specialist responsible for the task. So, you're free to scroll to the part that's of biggest interest to you, or read everything from cover to cover!
Chapter 1. What developers and web designers need to do
1.1 Make sure all the site's URLs are live and function properly
It's often the case that a website's built using a special staging platform, where things can be tested in multiple ways. After the functionality and content are finalized, it's time to move the site to production and change all the URLs. This often doesn't go smoothly though.
If you have a small corporate website with a dozen of pages, you can simply check the live URLs and links manually, one by one, to make sure they work alright. If, however, we're talking about larger websites, the URL check has to be automated.
How to test a site's URLs for issues
Fire up WebSite Auditor, create a project for your website and let the tool collect the data; depending on the number of pages analyzed, the check can take from a minute to half an hour.
The tool will scan for multiple URL-related issues, including
- Resources with 4xx status codes
- Resources with 5xx status codes
- Pages with 302 redirects
- Broken links
Copy the URLs in question and then share the list with your dev team.
1.2 Check site speed
Do you know Google experienced a 20% traffic drop years ago as a result of a 0.5-second delay? There's no excuse today for pages loading a minute or two, it's one of your top priorities to serve content to users as fast as you can. On top of that, page load speed is an official Google ranking factor, and I bet your competitors are already working on this to outperform one another.
How to check your performance
There are lots of tools to do the job, you can either head to Google's PageSpeed Insights and check the pages there, or do a quick scan in WebSite Auditor. You'll find a list of your site's slower-loading pages (along with each page's size) right in the Site Audit dashboard under Too big pages.
For a more detailed analysis of page speed issues, go to the Content Analysis module, Pages, add or select a page you need to check, switch to Technical factors in the left section and scroll down to Page speed (Desktop).
Here, you'll see a bunch of factors that Google uses to evaluate page speed — page size, server response time, the number of redirects, uncompressed images and resources, etc. Ideally, you should aim to have all factors under this section marked with a green Correct sign.
A checklist to fix page load speed
It's important to look for page speed issues in as many places as possible. You can start with the following activities:
- 1. Store media files on a CDN (Content Delivery Network) — this will reduce the load on your servers.
- To minify HTML, try HTMLMinifier.
- To minify CSS, try CSSNano and csso.
Alternatively, the PageSpeed Module integrates with an Apache or Nginx web server to automatically optimize your site, including resource minification.
- 3. Look for a faster hosting solution. Test multiple vendors, read reviews on unbiased forums and communities and pick the winner.
- 4. If you launch a WordPress-based website, make sure you've enabled a caching plugin, such as W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache.
- 5. Add expires headers — that means you should add some code to tell browsers whether they should request a specific file from the server or whether they should grab it from the browser's cache.
- 6. Enable compression — you can zip large pages (using tools such as Gzip) to reduce the bandwidth.
- 7. Optimize images on your website. It's better to avoid BMP or TIFF images and stick to JPEGs and PNGs. Also, you should avoid empty image src code lines.
- 8. Reduce the number of pages with redirects (you should have collected such pages at Step 1.1), as they will also negatively impact the site's load time.
After you go through this optimization checklist, you may also check how fast your website loads from different countries and regions, especially if you target multiple locations.
1.3 Make sure the 404 page is set up correctly
Imagine a visitor comes to your website but doesn't really make it, because they've made a misprint in a page URL, or clicked on a bad link on someone else's website. The last thing you want this visitor to see is an ugly error warning.
To prevent this, make sure you've set up a custom 404 page on your website. By the way, you'll be hunted by WebSite Auditor if you haven't:
If you aren't familiar with PHP and HTML, it might be hard for you to modify the 404.php template or create the page from scratch. In that case, you'll have to assign this task to someone skilled.
Alternatively, you can use plugins to build a custom 404 page, using tools such as 404page (it'll work for WordPress-based websites only).
1.4 Ensure the site's multi-device ready
You have to accept we're living in a mobile-first world, so you should definitely consider the mobile layouts for your website.
To check if your website's mobile-friendly or not, go to the Page Audit module in Website Auditor and look through the Page usability (Mobile) information:
If you spot the problems, I'd recommend checking out Google's official guides for mobile optimization:
Also, consider implementing AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) to make your pages load super-fast on mobile devices. The official AMP Project help pages are the best starting point for those who want to try the new technology out.
However, you shouldn't stop at making your website responsive. You'd have much better results with your mobile traffic if you think in advance about the needs and wants of mobile users.
What does it take to make an order using the mobile version of your website? Do you really want your blog posts to occupy the larger part of the home page? Is it possible and convenient to send you a direct email right from your website? Marcus Miller has a great mobile site optimization checklist and mentions the following points:
- Keep calls-to-action front and center.
- Keep menus short and sweet.
- Streamline form menu.
- Don't make users pinch to zoom.
- Make product images expandable.
And even if you've already implemented all of the above, do not forget to test how well your mobile version is working — there's always something that could be improved.
1.5 Validate code and CSS
Although Google says some HTML/CSS errors won't harm your site's results, I'd still recommend checking how clean your code is. You can scan pages for errors using both online tools, such as W3C Markup Validator and W3C CSS Validator,and desktop tools, such as WebSite Auditor.
For a list of pages with W3C errors, go to WebSite Auditor's Site Audit dashboard and click on Pages with W3C HTML errors and warnings and Pages with W3C CSS errors and warnings. You'll see the list of pages with the errors in the right-hand part of your screen.
All fixed? Great, now it's time to do some proper SEO and make sure the search engines will fall in love with your site at first crawl.
Chapter 2. What SEOs need to do — along with an insightful website launch checklist
2.1 Check for possible indexation issues
If you could only do a single SEO task before launching your website, in my opinion, it should be this one — make sure that crawlers can easily access your pages and content.
To see if there are any pages blocked from indexing, go to WebSite Auditor and follow these steps:
1. At Step 1 of project creation/rebuild, check the Enable expert options box.
2. At Step 2, uncheck the Follow robots.txt instructions box, and hit Next.
2.2 Check for duplicate issues
Duplicate content is tricky and has many faces. No matter what causes a duplication issue, your site might suffer from wasted crawl budget, link dilution, and lower rankings. Nobody wants to fall into that trap so let's see what you could do to better protect your new website.
1. Choose the preferred (www or non-www) version for your domain
If you haven't defined the preferred version for your website, search engines might crawl and index multiple URLs with identical content. In WebSite Auditor, you'll see if you have to fix this in Site Audit, Fixed www and non-www versions.
2. Avoid scraped content
Now, let me talk to ecommerce website owners first! I know how hard it is to create unique product descriptions for thousands of items and pages, but that's exactly what you should do. And even though some part of that content (technical parameters, size data, etc.) will be identical on multiple websites, the larger part of your description must be unique.
And if you're eager to dive into more technical details of cleaning up an ecommerce website from duplicate issues, read this awesome guide by Dan Kern.
3. Avoid duplicate meta tags
Be careful with your CMS settings — make sure you're not using identical meta title tags and meta description tags for hundreds of pages.
You'll spot a page with duplicate meta tags in the Site Audit module, under Duplicate titles and Duplicate meta descriptions.
Whenever content on your website can be found at multiple URLs, it should be canonicalized for search engines — you can do that by either specifying the rel=canonical attribute or by using a 301 redirect.
2.3 Make sure the URLs are search-engine-friendly
Check if your site's URLs are clean-coded — you should avoid dynamic URLs and URLs that are too long. You can find these URL warnings in Site Audit, URLs.
2.4 Install Google Analytics and create an account in Search Console
Set up Google Analytics tracking for your website before you go live — you shouldn't postpone this, as you may easily forget it later, and lots of data will be lost for good. Please note that adding the tracking code may vary depending on your CMS configuration.
I'd also suggest adding filters to exclude traffic from the IP(s) of your office.
1. Sign in to Google Analytics
2. Click Admin, and choose All filters. Press +Add filter.
3. Specify the filtering criteria and click Save.
To link your Google Search console data with your Google Analytics account, sign into Google Analytics, go to Admin, Property settings and click the Adjust search console button.
Finally, configure goals for your conversions: log into your Google Analytics account, navigate to the Conversions module, choose Goals, and click the Set up goals button. After that, you'll fill in the data for your conversion pages.
2.5 Do keyword mapping for your website
Keyword research is the backbone of all your further SEO activities, and you can spend hours and hours building and editing your keyword lists. What I suggest you should do at this step is create a keyword map for your top important pages, aka homepage and category pages.
So after you do some initial keyword research, look again at your site's structure and map your keywords to the site's landing pages.
You can manage this using a simple spreadsheet:
Or if you manage keywords in Rank Tracker, you can go to the Keyword map module (under Target Keywords) and map queries with landing pages right there.
Why do you need this keyword map?
1. It'll streamline your on-page optimization activities.
2. It'll make it easier to check performance of the pages organized around certain topics
3. It'll help ensure all of the most important pages do target the necessary keywords.
4. It'll be useful for your content creators and editors.
2.6 Optimize meta tags and content
Optimizing titles and descriptions isn't the most entertaining activity you might have, but it surely pays off and luckily it's technically straightforward.
To quickly get a picture of the current state of your site's meta tags, go to WebSite Auditor, Site Audit and look through the On-page section factors:
After that, you can switch to the Page Audit module and get a more detailed overview of how well a page's optimized for your target keywords.
I'd strongly recommend you take a peek at the TF-IDF dashboard in WebSite Auditor to discover the most important terms that are relevant to your topic and that have been collected from your top competitors.
2.7 Use schema to mark up the content
Schema markup tells the search engines what your data means and helps them represent it in a more user-friendly way. Using the special microdata language, you can tell search engines much more about your content. Just take a look at this example:
The first result uses schema markup and it definitely stands out from the rest. By the way, this website is actually listed twice on the first page of Google results, getting into the featured snippet as well:
And this works not only for recipe websites — you can use markup for articles, local businesses, restaurants, TV episodes and ratings, book reviews, movies, software apps, events, products, etc.
In WebSite Auditor, you can check if a site's page already has structured data and Open Graph markup:
2.8 Check UX
Google cares a lot about user satisfaction, so it's logical to assume the search engine may collect some user experience data and then use it to deliver search results.
As you're just launching a website, you don't have any bounce rate or session time data to dwell on. Your web developer's job is to ensure the website loads fast and looks good on multiple devices — that's probably half of your UX success.
Don't forget link structure, no one likes the old bait-and-switch no matter where it happens.
If you want to learn more on how user behavior relates to SEO, read our guide on optimizing user metrics for better rankings.
Chapter 3. What copywriters and editors need to do
Exceptional content is the backbone of your site's success. Your website may lack some trendy design elements, but it simply cannot live without valuable and relatable content. Here is a checklist for your copywriters and editors before you spend a fortune on content promotion.
3.1 Make sure your content adds value
Before launching, you have to consider your content. Pure self-promotion doesn't work really well. You should provide expert advice and actionable takeaways, share your unique views, interview industry leaders, etc.
The important point here is that you should already have some of this valuable content before you go live. Otherwise, people will come to your website see the short "About" notice and a "Hello world!" blog post — do you think they'll subscribe to your updates? Nope, Internet surfers have too many distractions to keep waiting for the content you're only promising to create.
3.2 Proofread your content
Keeping your content free of grammar errors seems so obvious, but at the end of the day, it often gets ignored. Proofreading your site's content means you're showing respect to site's visitors, that you actually care what they'll think about your company and product. To streamline the process, use proofreading apps, such as Hemingway and Grammarly.
3.3 Use proper formatting
It's important your site's pages and articles don't look cluttered. Use headings, subheadings, lists, properly formatted and aligned images.
3.4 Ensure the content is factual
We live in the age of fake news — there's too much information available online and even Google had to introduce a fact-checking feature to serve not just the search results, but also the results proving authenticity. What do we get from that? Just backup your posts with research data, charts and check all the facts you mention.
3.5 Keep content style concise
The style of your content must be aligned with brand's editorial guidelines. No, it doesn't mean you have to write the whole book of guidelines; companies often have these guidelines stored somewhere and completely ignored. What's really important is to identify the voice and style that are truly yours and keep to them when creating content, marketing materials, videos, etc.
For example, here's an excerpt from Don Perignon wine description:
Dom Pérignon is vintage champagne only.
Each Vintage wine is created from the finest grapes grown in one single year. Reinventing itself by interpreting the unique character of the seasons. Daring not to release a Vintage if the harvest does not meet its ideal.
After at least eight years of elaboration in the cellars, the wine then embodies the perfect balance of Dom Pérignon, its greatest promise. This is Dom Pérignon Vintage, the Plénitude of harmony.
And now compare it to this "about us" text from Ovo's website:
OVO started as an idea around the kitchen table. A couple of friends listing what they wanted from their energy supplier, but weren't getting.
Things like fair pricing. Great service. Clear and simple information. Technology to make managing your energy easier.
And above all, honesty and openness.
I bet you've spotted the difference in the voice of these two copies. Bear in mind there's no single ideal type of tone for your content. If you're not sure whether you need to be formal or easy-going, stick to neutrality and develop your brand voice as you learn more about your target audience.
3.6 Create a content map
We don't create content for the sake of content, do we? Every page you're working on answers important questions and satisfies someone's need for this particular info. Content mapping will help you organize users' needs, company's goals, and your content plans.
Content mapping is similar to mind mapping techniques. Here's how it may look like:
[Image credit: sixrevisions.com]
A content map helps prioritize content creation activities and shows the gaps that need to be filled.
Marketing specialists, editors, and even C-level managers should all be involved in this process since it determines how the website will develop in the future. What's more, it also implies what kind of business goals have to be met in the first place.
3.7 Create social media accounts for your brand
Fast becoming a cornerstone of search engine optimization is social media. Why? Because people tend to spend most of their online time on social media websites, and they also expect a reputable company to have a proper social media presence. If there's no dedicated social media manager on your team, then some of your copywriters can manage the task.
They'll need to create unique bios, short and concise descriptions, prepare visuals for cover and logo images, add photos and videos, etc. This way, when your site gets launched, the social media pages won't have a sad and abandoned look.
Chapter 4. What marketing managers need to do
A marketing team doesn't merely work on launching a new website, they work on launching a product or a number of services and on presenting them to potential customers. Here's what they may be working on while the site's offline.
4.1 Formulate unique selling propositions
A unique selling (or value) proposition is a statement, which includes the description of your product benefits and explains how it solves your customers' needs. In other words, it helps people understand what distinguishes you from the similar companies.
When you're working on UPSs, consider the following steps:
- Analyze your target audience — who's likely to buy your products and order your services?
- Write down the list of all the needs that your products could meet — these are basically the draft versions of your USPs.
- Now do some competition research and study the USPs already used. Look through the list you've written and cross out the propositions that are being well used by the competition.
- Look for gaps — study niche forums and Q&A websites to look for some unique "needs" of your potential customers.
- Finalize the USPs using all the information you've collected and let other people on your team take a look and say if they are persuasive enough. If possible, ask someone who's never heard of your product but may belong to your target audience.
- Keep monitoring the trends and competition to identify new opportunities — you can get automatic email alerts for the necessary key phrases using a social media monitoring tool, such as Awario.
That's a universal and simplified approach to creating your USPs. If you want to get some more ideas and inspiration, check out these 7 value proposition templates by Tor Grønsund.
4.2 Plan outreach and advertising
Think about all types of people who might spread the word about your launch. These could be your colleagues, partners, friends, relatives, etc. You can ask people to follow your Facebook page and Twitter profile and share some links for instance.
Additionally, research social media influencers and bloggers and reach out to them before you launch. If you have a unique and interesting product to offer, people might be interested in covering it first. You can organize pre-launch interviews, let some people sign up and test the product. So when you go live, there will be some posts and reviews published for users to check out.
Finally, plan your advertising budget. Are you going to use pay-per-click campaigns? Banners? Paid reviews? You should check out the options and choose the ones you'll get started with.
4.3 Set up your marketing tools
The big day has come, but you're busy looking for the best email marketing solution? Imagine people have started visiting your website and signing up, but they are not getting any response because you completely forgot about it! Here are the things I'd recommend setting up before the launch:
- Enable conversion tracking in Google Analytics.
- Pick your email marketing tool.
- Choose a social listening tool to stay informed about real-time reviews and comments related to your product/company, so that you could respond as soon as possible.
- Think of a CRM tool to manage and process customers' orders.
Additionally, make sure you know how to contact software providers — by phone, email, Twitter, etc. — in case some tools stop working and you need urgent assistance.
Chapter 5. What system admins need to do
Last, but not least, your website must be managed, secured and updated on a regular basis. This is usually the responsibility of a system administrator, who focuses on the activities described below.
5.1 Create and manage site backups
Losing your business due to the lack of site backups is nightmarish. Especially, when there are a bunch of strategies to safeguard your website data:
- Manual backups. As simple as that, you can manually FTP the files to your hard drive, but as a downside, you'll have to do that on a regular basis, otherwise, the backups will quickly become outdated and you'll risk losing lots of content.
- Automatic backups. You can schedule the full site backup using plugins and tools, such as BackWPup (for a WordPress website) or Akeeba backup (for a Joomla website).
Whatever the solution you choose, make sure you're always using the most up-to-date version which functions properly.
5.2 Monitor site uptime
Your website's like a living creature — it needs care and support on a regular basis, it may also get sick from time to time and you'd better stay aware of what's going on. Using a site monitor app or a plugin will help you stay updated on any type of trouble that happens to your website.
Basically, these apps check pages regularly to make sure the content is available for site's visitors. If the checked page doesn't respond in the right way, the app will send you an email/SMS alert. You can try using the UptimeRobot app to set up this kind of site monitoring.
Later on, when your site goes live and starts getting traffic and conversions, you may need more profound checks — for your most important landing pages. So it'll be a good idea to ask your system administrator and web developer to set up form completion tracking. If some of the web forms stop working, you'll learn that before you lose dozens of sales.
5.3 Get ready for the big crowds
You never know if that new project will get a million hits on the first day of launch! Sounds unlikely, but you still have to think if your website's ready for the heavy traffic scenario. Ask your system administrator to carry out load tests beforehand. The good news is there are both free open-source and paid solutions to choose from.
5.4 Think security first
The number of hacked websites increased by 32% in 2016, which means webmasters are often too relaxed when it comes to web security issues. Surely, it's much better to secure your website before launching it than deal with the aftermath of a hacker attack. Here's how you can make your website less vulnerable:
- Make sure the admin's computer (or anyone's with admin access) is free of malware. Install and run several reputable virus scanners and let them check the system regularly. A hacker might install special spyware to hijack your login passwords and other sensitive data.
- Avoid weak passwords and never reuse the same password for multiple apps. If you suspect that somebody tried to crack your server, check the logs and you'll spot those suspicious commands. By the way, this will also help you identify which backup files are still clean and safe to use.
- Always use the most up-to-date versions of the software used to run your web infrastructure. Today you ignore an update alert of your CMS, tomorrow you get thousands of outgoing links of the unknown origin.
Finally, if you're launching an ecommerce website, it's an absolute must for you to use the HTTPS protocol, otherwise, you'll have to migrate your website in the future, which may pose risk to site's traffic and rankings.
Over to you
By now, you should've got a general idea of things to be tested before launching a website. To make things easier, I've also prepared a PDF version of this checklist to print out and hand out to your teammates. And if you are that unlucky guy who's responsible for everything (and that's a common situation for small business companies), brace yourself, get all the tools you need and get down to work.
Have you ever launched a new website? Which routine did you stick up to and what kind of challenges did you face? I'll be happy to hear your stories in the comments below!
By: Inessa Bokhan