Now that the design and development is finished on a new website, it’s time to launch the MOFO. Launching a website can be a very stressful experience, especially if it is an existing site that gets traffic. Losing traffic can mean lost sales, visitors, all of the above. There are also things that can be easily overlooked as the main focus is making sure the website looks as if it is visually working.
Things can get easily overlooked. I’ve overlooked things in the past and I launched my first website almost 20 years ago (yikes!). This is why at Dashal, we have a checklist. Think of it like launching a rocket or taking off in an airplane. You have your checklists.
Some of these items you can do and check while the website is in a staging environment (when it is being hosted on a private URL for private eyes only), but keep in mind when a site is launched in a production environment (your live website address that everyone sees) items that had been previously tested in stagingland should be re-tested.
The below is in no particular order.
The speed at which your website loads is critical in your websites success. It’s becoming more and more critical as mobile usage increases. Ideally, you want the site to load under 2 seconds.
When testing your site during development and staging it can vary a lot when the site launches because there are things that you can do only when a site is live. Also, the live site could be on another server and or have various server settings that can affect speed.
Here are some free public tools that can help you test the site.
Also, see our article on how to improve website speed.
Search engines aren’t a fan of duplicate content. It does a few things.
Check For Duplicate Content
- It might give the appearance that you are spamming.
- It can confuse search engines on which page to give priority to and weaken your results especially without canonical linkage.
Avoid duplicate content.
A company like ours would use more advanced premium tools, but here is a popular free tool to check out.
Mobile is vital for UX. I find it baffling that there are websites out there that aren’t responsive. It’s a good idea to test both iOs and Android phones. If one works, the other most likely will work, but different browsers have a few different quirks.
Also, I suggest using this Google test.
Install an SEO plugin
SEO is the gift that keeps on giving. There are plenty of tools out there. This will insure that your META description, page title and canonical links are taken care of.
Two popular ones for WordPress are:
Social Media Sharing
Most SEO and and social media plugins create OG tags for Facebook as well as tags for Twitter. This tells social media platforms what to share if there is a special title, description and/or image.
Yoast allows you to create unique social media titles and descriptions, and the plugin lets you select a default image which can be useful when users are sharing pages like the home page or other pages that don’t include large enough images.
Browsers are much better than they used to be and are rather consistent across the board. Enough time has passed where IE8 and even IE9 aren’t in the picture anymore. That is not to say that they don’t still have their quirks and it’s important to test Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Microsoft Edge.
When we launched this site, we noticed that the home page train background video wasn’t playing on Chrome. We had to make a fix, had we not tested all browsers, there is a good chance it would have gone undetected and users would have just thought that it was a background image.
Media and Internal Links
If you are using a CMS like WordPress, most often when you migrate your site from it’s development or staging environment to the production environment, all the links will be updated by resaving the permalink settings. This isn’t always the case though.
It’s a good idea to check them and fix them. Sure, you may see an image, but it could be pulling from your other environment and server. What happens when that other environment goes away?
There is an amazing plugin that re-writes your old links and file paths to the new site. It’s super easy to use (backup your database first).
Remove Unneeded Plugins and Media
During the development process, certain plugins can be added that are later not needed. If the plugin is deactivated does it really matter? Not really, but when you go to update your plugins, those will also need to be updated even though you don’t use them.
With media files, often times there are placeholders or images that are changed for various reasons during the development. Instead of having a bunch of images that you do not need or use, it can be a good idea to remove them for your website launch in order to start fresh and not keep unnecessary files on your server.
Google and Bing Webmaster Tools
These tools are important to have. They tell you that your website was crawled and if there were errors. They can also tell you if your site is under manual review.
It’s also a good idea to attach your sitemap location so that Google and Bing know when new pages have been developed and older pages have been modified. Search Engines will end up crawling your page anyway, but this helps. It also helps to make sure they find all of your pages.
There are plugins that will create a sitemap for you specifically, but if you are using a plugin like Yoast, it will create and update your sitemap when new pages are created or changed.
Unfortunately we live in a world where some people are assholes and feel the need to try to hack or hurt your website in some way. At launch it’s a great idea to install a security plugin for WordPress.
There are several out there, but I like using Wordfence.
Also, please make sure you are using passwords that are hard to figure out.
Cloudflare and Caching
Using a CDN like Cloudflare is a great way to reduce your server resources and improve your site speed. You can find more about that in our article about site speed.
I like to use Cloudflare along with a caching plugin which is another way to increase your website speed and cut down on server resources.
There are many caching plugins out there, but I like to use WP Super Cache
It’s a good idea to get these set up during launch because Cloudflare involves DNS settings.
Duplicate Titles and Descriptions
We discussed duplicate content above, but let’s not forget about duplicate META data. This includes META descriptions and most importantly your title tags.
Install a Maintenance Mode Plugin
Hopefully your website launch will go perfectly and be smooth. Sometimes no matter how much you plan, there could be a few things that could go wrong. It happens and often especially if you are switching hosting companies or your staging site is on a different server configuration than your production site.
Whatever the reason may be, being able to show visitors a ‘be back soon’ can be better than a website that looks as if it fell on a stick of dynamite.
Sometimes it is easy to go back to the previous working version, sometimes it isn’t. You have to be prepared.
Check HTML and CSS Markup
Clean code is always a good thing. While I can say that some of the warnings are rather meaningless and don’t affect anything, it’s a good idea to follow standard W3C guidelines and to try to achieve 100% or as close as possible.
By the time a website is complete, we are all in a rush to launch it and start promoting it. Because things can go wrong, because further testing needs to be done and triple-checked, it’s always a good practice to launch a website on a Friday night or Saturday giving you a few days where traffic is minimal so that you can have confidence when Monday rolls around that the site is in proper working order.
Make it Searchable
This is one of those things that seems so obvious, but it can often be overlooked. When a site is in a staging, development environment, often times the robot file is set for search engines to ignore the site and not crawl it.
When your site is launched, make sure it is set for search engines to index and crawl your site. The last thing you want is for your site to be launched for weeks without search engines crawling it.
If your website is a redesign, there will most likely be pages that have been deleted, URLs modified to existing pages or new pages created to replace existing pages. Google and people aren’t fans of broken links. Instead of sending the user to a 404 page, send them to a similar page.
The more stats and analytics you have the better and this especially holds true for new websites. The first few weeks can help tell you how your site is performing and if any changes need to be made. Don’t forget to install GA and/or any other analytics you use.
Website Launch Checklist Conclusion
The launch of a website can be stressful and it’s very easy to overlook things. Hopefully this checklist helps you with the things that are commonly overlooked.