The launch or re-launch of your company website is a huge and exciting milestone (albeit a daunting one). It marks a new beginning for your brand. Your new website will also determine your potential customers’ first impressions of your brand, impact your lead generation efforts, and determine how you are perceived across the web. In this blog post, I’ll give you a checklist of things you should review before your website launches.
Disclaimer: This isn’t a comprehensive list, there are many other details I don’t go into here, but this will provide you with a solid base to ensure your website launches successfully.
1. Web forms and conversion points
Checking forms is especially important if you have a marketing automation platform integrated with your site. Go through and fill out the forms with the following questions in mind:
- Are the forms passing lead information over to your marketing automation system?
- Can the flow be improved? Shortened? Or do they need to be updated to reflect your new business model or service offerings?
- Did you get stuck? Were there any errors?
- Does the completed form get sent to the right people or person?
- Was an automated response sent to the reader (i.e. will they receive a thank-you email after completing a contact form or receive the intended content after they download it from your website)?
2. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation
It’s cumbersome, but it’s still necessary to go through the site and check for typos, grammar, and proper punctuation site-wide. Pay special attention to new pages. Also, keep an eye out for weird formatting if you copy and paste from older pages, Word documents, or Google Docs.
3. Mobile devices
It is imperative that your website is mobile-ready. Responsive design that resizes webpage elements to the user’s screen size is the best way to go. However, if your website does not lend itself to responsive design, make sure you adopt either a dynamic HTML serving strategy or create independent website versions for desktop and mobile.
4. Live URLs
When a site goes live, the URLs are transferred from a staging area to production. Every single URL on your site needs to be tested when the site goes live to make sure they lead to the correct destination. This is important from both a functionality standpoint and for SEO purposes; visitors will get frustrated, and your site will be penalized by search engines if these URLs are incorrect.
- Will your URL structure be changing significantly?
- If so, what is the plan for redirecting them to prevent broken links?
5. Title tags and metadata
This may sound like old news to many, but make sure every page has a unique title tag. Also make sure each page has a meta description. This is still a common source for search engine spiders to crawl in order to understand what the page is about and provide visitors with a sneak peek into the page contents from the results.
6. Site speed
Site speed can make or break your users’ experience. The better your website performs, the more efficiently a user can complete their desired tasks. Consider things like:
- How fast (in units of time, such as milliseconds) does it take to load an entire web page?
- How big is the webpage, in terms of file size?
- Does the website use web development best practices for website performance?
There are two main factors to consider when testing the speed of your site:
1) Initial page load – this will take longer because all of your images/css/js must be sent from the server to your browser.
2) Returning visitor – these users will have some, if not all, of the assets cached so they won’t have to download all these files again. Be sure to test for both scenarios. You want to get the initial page load size as small as possible and you want to have as many assets cached for returning visitors. It’s also critical to test page load times on mobile devices.
Before mocking up wireframes, take a step back and review your buyer personas. Frankly, you will likely find that some of your messaging and positioning have become outdated. Once you update your personas, build your content strategy, wireframes, and visual design around the needs of your target audience.
When giving a critical eye to the pages on your site, ask yourself:
- Why would your target audience visit this page?
- Does the page address the audience’s buying questions?
- Is there a clear call to action or conversion path?
Testing your design in advanced browsers as well as legacy browsers is a necessary part of any project. The old-school way to test code was to load your website on as many computers as you could find, using as many different combinations of browsers and operating systems as possible. That was fine if you had access to a bunch of different computers (and had some time to kill). But there are much more efficient ways to test across browsers, using either free or commercial Web services and softwares like Adobe Browserlab, Browsershots, or SuperPreview.
9. Map all old pages to your new pages
Sometimes content gets lost in the transition. New pages are added, deleted, and renamed. It’s not the most glamorous or challenging project, but mapping out your page redirects will have a significant impact on your new site. In the past, I’ve used a basic Excel spreadsheet to show all the old pages and their corresponding new pages.
From time to time, font codes inadvertently get dropped into a page and make a letter or word look wacky. Go through the copy to check that the formatting is consistent and that there aren’t any odd blips in the copy.
Make sure all display text renders on the image when you hover over it (the alt attribute) and that your images display correctly. Understand the images you are posting and the correct format for them. While most people ignore the file type and extension, they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. The most common types of images you’ll deal with are JPEG, PNG, and SVG. You’ll want to store photographs as JPEGs and simple images like logos and icons as PNGs or SVGs.
If you use Adobe Photoshop or similar programs, they’ll usually let you compare the different formats side by side so you can get the quality level you want while comparing it to the overall file size. Remember, your image might look perfect on your site, but if it’s a few megabytes in size, most people aren’t going to want to look at it.
Lastly, don’t forget image-optimizing programs like Imageoptim, which will losslessly compress your images much better than your photo editing software — and allow you to shave off a few more kilobytes from your page load.
Make sure Google Analytics or any other analytics package you’re using is set up and ready to go.
13. Social media integration
Enabling your users share your content on social media is also a big portion of driving traffic (both organic and direct) to your site. Ensure that the social media icons on the site go to the correct pages. Are the right buttons and social plug-ins installed for what you are trying to accomplish? (For example, share a page versus “Like” you on Facebook.)
14. Stress testing
It’s important to stress test your site to ensure it won’t error out from the surge in traffic from your initial publicity push. This simply means that by simulating the HTTP requests generated by simultaneous users, you can test your web server performance under normal and excessive loads. A suggested tool is Load Impact.
Launching is just the beginning. You should continue to iterate based on how your site is performing and customer feedback. Remember: anyone on a marketing or web team can be assigned tasks to test leading up to a site launch — even if they are not a developer.