Website launches are exciting. Brimming with the promise of freshness and beauty, they can also cause panic and worry. They are often the result of weeks, months, even years of hard work, so for all parties involved, they must succeed. This website launch checklist will help you stay on track by pointing out the small details you need for a successful website launch.
It doesn’t matter how good you are. There’s always the probability that something will go wrong. This post contains a set of checks you should consider before launching your website.
By using the guidelines written here to create your own checklist, you’ll have a clear procedure to follow for each website you launch.
Make each website launch as smooth as possible. If you’re a web developer or designer, a hassle-free deployment will greatly reassure your client. It shows that you are good at what you do. On the other hand, when a website launch doesn’t go as planned, you may be surprised at how quickly you’ll burn through your client’s goodwill.
What’s needed for a successful website launch?
In general terms, a website launch occurs in three major stages
- Going live
For professional developers, the work will happen in three different environments
- A Development server
- A staging server
- A live server
For small projects, the development and staging environments might be the same.
You can never be too safe
Because programming environments differ, we’ll offer you things to remember and scenarios to watch out for, instead of step-by-step instructions. Our guide is also platform and host independent
What’s included in a website checklist
At a general level, a practical website checklist should cover at least five areas;
- Communicating client expectations
- Gathering credentials
- Following procedures
- Launching the website
- Transferring control over to the client
Expectations: Tell your client what to they’ll get
Keep your clients informed about deliverables and timelines. Let them know what they’ll get, and when they’ll get it, including potential challenges during the development and deployment process. Of course, you don’t want to scare your clients away, but for a genuinely fruitful partnership, they’ll need to know that there are things beyond your control. For instance, you may have to wait for DNS propagation before your website becomes accessible to everyone.
Gather the details you’ll need to launch the website and rectify any possible problems. Tell the client they shouldn’t change these until their site is deployed. You’ll need passwords and user names for the following.
- Domain registration
- DNS provisioning, if your client doesn’t want a registrar or web hosting provider
- An active web hosting account
Test the credentials early – at least a day before the planned deployment of the site. That way, you won’t run into authorization problems halfway through the launch of your website.
Airline pilots use checklists to make certain they never miss vital steps in the flight preparation process. Lists are so reliable that even retired pilots use them. This level of persistence is one of the main reasons air travel is safe and smooth. Thankfully, you won’t be flying a plane – just launching a website. But even then, it may be one that helps save people. Either way, the idea is the same. By adhering to a set of specific procedures, you’ll be less likely to miss essential steps.
Review: Check your site to ensure its design is consistent. The site header and footer, font settings, colour scheme, element spacing, and other repetitive design elements should remain consistent across all its pages.
Check all the images, text, media and links: Is everything functional? Do the links point to the right destinations? Are there spelling errors or grammar issues? Consider using a project management tool or spreadsheet to track inconsistencies discovered while you review your site.
Also, you’ll want your client to sort out any legal infringements. Though you built the site, so it belongs to your client, not you. Legal issues such as user agreements, privacy policies, and image licensing terms are your client’s duty. Have them verify everything before the site goes live.
If there’s a problem, your client should refer to their legal advisors, not you. You’re a web professional, not a lawyer.
Performance, speed and accessibility: Optimize your website so it will load quickly. To do this, you’ll have to optimize your images, cache settings, and use a CDN. Page loading speed is critical for site performance, user satisfaction, and SEO rankings, so it’s best to ensure your pages load as fast as possible.
Verify that the site displays the same way across all major devices and browsers. Test it on a Windows PC, Mac, Android phone, and iPhone. There are several options for running these tests; you could use software like the Browse’s development tools or services such as cross-browser testing and browser stack.
Check the site for any design choices that could hinder accessibility. An accessible website is convenient for all user groups. For some organizations, it’s even required by law. Try WebAim’s accessibility checklist for an ideal set of initial requirements
Spam & Security: Secure your website against spam and unauthorized intrusions. If your site is built using word press, use security plugins like Wordfence and Sucuri to prevent malware and brute force attacks. Plugins such as clean talk, Akismet, and the antispam bee will keep the spammers away. For clients who don’t want comments, you could remove them entirely with the disable comments plugin. You may also choose to disable comments on a page per page or post basis
Even if your site isn’t built with WordPress, you could integrate third-party security tools to monitor the site. Management and payments for the service will depend on the agreement with your client.
SEO and Google search console: Updating an existing website? Account for corresponding page content. The most important and popular pages on the existing site should have corresponding pages on the new website. This keeps you from losing traffic when Google’s search engine discovers missing content. Using URL redirects will help make the switch.
Make sure the site has been optimized for search engines. Meta descriptions, titles and page headings should include the keywords or topic the page aims to rank for:
Meta titles and descriptions: All your headings should have <h1> tags with the subheadings in <h2> and <h3>. The images should have alt tags, and where necessary, the alt descriptions should include the topic or target keyword of the page. For large websites, you could use a third-party tool such as Screaming Frog to check the site for broken links, duplicate Meta title and other possible site errors.
What to do for SEO: For WordPress sites, you may try add-ons such as the Yoast SEO plugin. For a quick guide, visit the Yoast SEO website. If you’re not using WordPress, your options will depend on the platform you’re using to build the site. For a development platform that isn’t locked down during construction, you could use a tool such as SEO analyzer for SEO analytics, or hire an independent agency to optimize your content. It would also be wise to connect your new website to Google search console after it has gone live. The search console is really helpful for troubleshooting SEO problems on Google.
Social Media: A successful website deployment must include social media optimization. What happens when someone shares a link from the website on Twitter, Facebook, or other social platforms? You’ll need to configure UTM tracking and check the configuration options for whatever platform you’re going to use. Check out this guide to social media image sizes to how large your preview images should be.
Add social media buttons: These will make it easy for visitors to share your site through social media. Again, if you’re developing on WordPress, then there are plenty of plugins that can handle it for you. Otherwise, you’ll need to work with whatever it is that your platform offers
Favicon: Add a favicon to your website. Also known as a site icon, the favicon appears in your browser tab and gives your webpages a unique identity. In WordPress, you can add a favicon under site identity in the customizer’s dashboard. Otherwise, the favicon will revert to the default platform configuration.
Configure Web Analytics: Analytics will help you know if the site is working if you can’t evaluate usage statistics. Google Analytics is the industry standard because it’s powerful and because the Google search engine accounts for about 80percent of all internet search traffic. That said, it’s not the only analytics tool there is. For an open-source alternative, check out Open web analytics and Matomo. If privacy is what you’re after, Simple analytics and fathom may suit your needs. Although these tools aren’t as powerful as Google analytics, they may be the right pick for your website. Evaluate their features, benefits and drawbacks against what your client needs.
Review your products, if any: Check descriptions, images, attributes, and reviews for accuracy. Remove any test products that may still be on the site
Test transactions: Verify that all your payment systems are working. While you test, ensure all the transactions are completed, and receipts generated as expected. You’ll also need to check the site’s logs for any serious errors
Review system emails: These are informational or transactional emails created after a user interacts with a specific element on your website. Confirmations, alerts, refunds, and invoices are all standard for online stores. Make sure the emails are delivered as expected, and that their composition is concise and accurate.
Test the site’s functionality from a consumer standpoint: Imagine yourself as a typical client. Better still, get someone whose judgment you trust, and ask them to try the site. Create an account, put items in the cart, cancel a purchase, and so on.
Look for oversights and gaps in the experience: Do any parts of the site feel unappealing or broken? It’s better to deal with them there and then than for a customer to find them and complain, or even worse, say nothing.
Review support content: Ecommerce websites typically have support, help, or customer service tools. Go through the material. Is it sub-par? Is there any placeholder content that should be removed or updated?
Set goals and funnels in Google Analytics: By enabling Ecommerce for your Google Analytics account, create goals and marketing funnels. These will help you create reports on purchases and other transactions
Note: don’t forget to reset your payment gateway. Check that the portal you’re using isn’t in test mode and that it isn’t using staging URLs. Depending on your strategy, you may want to update these before or after launching the site. In the same way, deploying an exact replica of the staging site might break the connection with your payment card processor. Keep a 1$ product in the catalogue so you can make a purchase just to test the payments system after the site has gone live.
SSL certificates: Secure your traffic with an SSL certificate. If your website handles sensitive information such as email addresses and billing accounts, it’s crucial that you install an SSL certificate. Use the right type; basic certificates verify that a user has a secure connection to the website. Advanced certifications, on the other hand, go a step further by proving the identity and ownership of the website. They are suitable for e-commerce and any other type of site that handles sensitive consumer data.
Note: acquire the SSL certificate ahead of time. Organization validation (OV) and Extended Validation (EV) certificates take a long time to verify. Make sure they’re ready to integrate well in advance
URL changes and redirects
If your deployment involves changing URLs. Prepare ahead. Let’s assume you have a client moving their site files from old.com to new.com. Of the process is not done correctly, the shift can have a large negative effect on the website’s performance. Google offers a useful Change of Address tool that will help you migrate sites from one domain to another. However, this solution only applies to the website – a domain change will affect more than just the site.
Here are the details you’ll need to consider
- Creating new SSL certificates
- Modifying DNS records
- Forwarding old email addresses to new email addresses and URL redirection
How do you change the landing page? Configure 301 redirects. If, for example, you’re launching a new design for an eCommerce website. Their domain won’t change, but the page URLs will (i.e. /store/old/ may change to shop/new)
Before you launch the site, gather a list of old and new page URLs, then on the new website, create URL redirects that point the old URLs to their more modern counterparts.
If you have a cPanel hosting plan, this may be achieved with the access file. WordPress offers plugins for this too. Plugins such as Yoast SEO and Redirection allow URL redirection.
Configure web font services, APIs and 3rd party tools. Services like Google fonts and Adobe Typekit will put thousands of fonts at your disposal. Google fonts offer universal compatibility. Typekit is a paid service, and will only load on sites linked to a Typekit account. This also applies to external tools such as the Facebook tracking pixel and Google analytics
Note: If the site domain doesn’t match their system records, the tool/services won’t function. To prevent this, configure the tools for both the staging environment and production site.
Emails: Verify that the server can send and receive emails. Depending on the hosting platform, emails generated by the site after it goes live may be treated as spam by Outlook or Gmail. The web host may block email functionality as well.
If your emails are treated as spam, update the site’s DNS records with an SPF record that whitelists the web host. If the emails aren’t even leaving the site, send them through a separate service. On WordPress, the WP Mail SMTP plugin can link your website to an SMTP service such as Mailgun, SendGrid or Gmail.
Deployment \ Launching the Website
Quick tip: never go live on Friday. No one wants to work through the weekend, and clients don’t want to receive calls on Friday night. Aim for early in the week. Like Monday or Tuesday – you’ll have more room to fix problems if they arise. Also, it’s easier to manage your team during the week. Let the client know when the deployment will begin. This ties back to the issues raised at the start of this article about setting expectations.
Transparency is key: Keep your clients informed on what is happening, and how long you think it will take. Clear communication will save you a lot of anxiety.
Make a backup: Before you launch the site, run a final backup, and where possible, the current site you want to replace. A common strategy is to deploy the new site to a new server, then point the old site domain to the new server’s IP address. The process takes about 24-48 hours.
Remove unnecessary files after the deployment has been completed. Any code, content, or plugins needed for the implementation, but not required for site maintenance should be discarded. This will reduce the amount of data to move during migration.
Make sure you’re not blocking search engines: This is a tricky one… if the site is built on WordPress, you may have kept search engines from indexing the site while it was in development. Check to ensure this option isn’t turned off after you’ve launched the website. Right about now, you’re going through the checklist again. This is ok – it has its purpose. You are only making sure everything is functional before you hand control over to your client.
Hand it over
So, your website has launched, and everything is working. There’s one more thing to do. Now you have to give your clients everything they need to manage and control their site. You shouldn’t end there… they may need routine maintenance, monitoring, and updates – but they shouldn’t feel like you’re the only one for the job.
Consider offering your clients the following
A zip archive of the site files: For WordPress, you can use a plugin like Duplicator to create a backup of the entire site
A copy of the site’s database: Assuming you’re using a database, export the raw .sql file from your database manager. Your client may be clueless as to what it does, but it’s a useful tool, especially if another developer is hired to work on the site
A copy of all communications: There are project management tools that allow you to export your projects. For instance, basecamp comes with the option to export all correspondence and files into a zip file, if you don’t mind, send it over too.
A “thank you” letter offering next steps: Tell your clients what happens next. Can they get a bonus for referring new leads? Will there be another invoice? A thank you letter offers the opportunity to convert your website launch into fresh opportunity.
Due diligence will reward you: You can never be completely confident of what will transpire while the site deploys. Power could go out the middle of your launch, or the server could crash. Events like this are beyond your control -they’re unknowns. But the advice shared in this article will help you stay on top of everything that’s within your reach