It’s the 11th hour and the launch of the new website is imminent. Prospects and customers are primed and colleagues and senior management are stood in the wings, waiting in anticipation for this all-singing, all-dancing new website – god forbid that once it goes live something catastrophic happens. Every T should be crossed and each lowercase I dotted.
Marketers put complete faith in web designers and developers, but it’s worth knowing things to look out for – sometimes the small things get overlooked, and these can make all the difference to a successful website launch.
The checklist below is a sense check – an opportunity to make sure everything runs smoothly and launches without a hitch.
If a website already exists, the decision to update it may have arisen to make the site work better. By using different tools – such as Google Analytics – take the opportunity to understand what is working well on the site and what could be enhanced.
If SEO is important, then it’s also worth carrying out some keyword research, in order to understand where the search demand lies and the level of competition in existence for certain keywords. This can then be incorporated into the design and content moving forward.
Screaming Frog is a great tool for indexing the website – this provides a record of the meta-data on the different pages of the site.
Put together a website specification
There is, without a doubt, going to be a number of stakeholders with a vested interest in the development of the project. It's guaranteed they’ll have differing opinions about what the website should be. But this needs to be clear from the start – a site cannot be created through committee. The best method is to ask for and consider everyone’s input, then categorise this into what is a priority, what’s important and which elements are just nice to have.
Establishing this from the start and ensuring everyone is on board with the final brief is essential – it can be extremely costly to change the specification and design mid-way through a project.
It is important to also have a site plan in mind – whilst modern websites are usually designed to accommodate a growing number of pages, the creation of content alone can be time-consuming. By mapping out each page, it is possible to get to grips with the investment required for content creation, along with the sourcing of other assets such as images, videos, PDFs and other marketing material.
Design the site
This is the most exciting part – realising the vision! Be clear with the aims and objectives, but also remain receptive to a designer's creative concepts. Remember, they have the experience in this area and know what constitutes good web design, how to create a positive user experience and – most importantly – what works from a development point of view.
However, don’t be ruled by homogenised designs. There is a tendency for designers to revert to templates – especially when the site is for WordPress. This needn’t be the case. No two companies are the same – each has nuances and slight variations in the way they do businesses – so why shouldn’t the website design reflect this?
The initial concept may have been signed off, but this is certainly not the end of the creative process. There are a few other considerations that you need to bear in mind…
The internal page designs
A website may require different types of templates depending on its purpose. If the site is for B2B services, the experience will be very different to that of an ecommerce site – but in both cases, bear in mind the user’s experience – what do they want to be able to do/find out? Is the page of the site for awareness, decision-making or conversion? Whichever stage of the buyer's journey – always give users some reason to remember the brand.
The responsive breakdown
This is how the website will appear when viewed on a mobile or tablet device. It’s easy to get engrossed in the look and feel of the desktop version and neglect the designs for other devices. But now, with the mobile market increasing on an exponential scale, it’s really worth taking time to consider these.
Designing with content in mind
Most designers and developers request that some time and consideration has been given to the length and type of content that will be present, as this affects the design stage.
The development of a website is the mysterious part of the project. This is when marketers simply have to relinquish control, and hope that the developers are building the site to best practices.
Once a website has been built and is ready for testing, there are some fundamental things which can be checked to ensure that, when it’s live, users get the best possible experience.
Make sure the website works well on all browsers. Regardless of a leaning towards Chrome, Microsoft Edge or Firefox, remember each has its own idiosyncrasies – where a one-page layout or a certain font can render well on one browser, but might look very different on another.
Ensure assets have been optimised for use on the website. In the case of an image-rich website this is a real consideration – hi-res images can take longer to render and slow down site speed. Tools such as compressor.io are available to optimise your images, ensuring they have the same impact – but not to the detriment of loading speeds.
Add in content
Many websites will now include a CMS, empowering marketers to populate content themselves. It's a great opportunity to get to grips with the ins and outs of the system, so that going forward adding fresh products and articles is relatively easy.
This is also the perfect opportunity to look at the aspects that will influence digital marketing.
Updating your metadata
Ensure page titles and meta descriptions have been added to the site to enable search engines to index the site and understand the content and themes. In addition, it’s a good idea to take advantage of headings on pages, to make certain that they are populated with keyword-rich content. Don’t forget images too – alt-tags on these will help them to appear in search engine results.
Also, refer back to the buyer’s journey plan to make sure that each page contains those all-important CTAs, signposts and links – the mechanics designed to make the site the ultimate lead generation tool. Check the forms too, as there would be nothing worse than a website with forms
Get ready to launch
Before the final stage, there are some extra matters that need addressing – things that can be easily overlooked but are so integral.
Make sure domain login information is supplied to the design agency and repoint the domain to the new site. This can take from two to 24 hours, so avoid doing this on a Friday! Should anything be wrong with the transfer it would be better to deal with it within the next business working day, rather than a site being down for a whole weekend.
Redirect the pages from any current website. As website structures change and new navigations are introduced, URLs can also change. Existing pages will have previously been indexed by Google, and may also feature on third party websites, social media and elsewhere on the internet.
It is very important to create 301 redirects. You can use a tool like Screaming Frog to index your existing website, ensuring you have redirected every page that exists. A high number of crawl errors can occur on your site as a result of pages not being found – usually when they have not been redirected – which can have a negative impact on SEO.
Where is the site being hosted? Many agencies will recommend that this is carried out on their dedicated servers, so that they can ensure the integrity and security of the website. In this scenario, it’s important that provisions are made early on to ensure an agency can gain access. Remember, having no hosting in place can delay the launch of your site.
Add any tracking tools such as Google Analytics or Lead Forensics for a seamless collection of web traffic data. Also make sure other online plugins, such as live chat, are all working correctly.
And remember, there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to launching a website!