Launching a website can be stressful. I think sometimes we forget just how stressful it can be for our clients. We often assume that they know what we know when launching a site.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many clients, while experts in their industry, are novices when it comes to launching a website. It’s not their focus.
In preparing for this post I consulted with two of the partners at Wood Street — creative director Jamie Stup, and production manager Derek Jubach. I asked them what they think is most important for the client when launching a website.
They both agreed that there are two areas that need to be addressed when launching a website:
- Technical — Have all the coding, hosting, email and other issues been addressed?
- Marketing — Is your site optimized for reach and conversion?
Website Launch: Technical Considerations
Whether launching or re-launching a website, your webmaster should have a checklist of technical issues to review.
While some sites will require very specific technical review, here are the items we feel should be on every pre-launch checklist.
For launching brand-new websites:
- Test your new website on a development server: It is best to test on a server that is configured the same as the final live server.
- Test the site in multiple browsers! (Multiple versions if possible.)
- Optimize/compress all images, HTML and external scripts: Site speed is important for both the user as well as for search engines. You want your site to load as quickly as possible.
- SEO: Double-check to make sure that all pages have been optimized for search engine visibility, including content, page title, ALT attributes and meta descriptions.
- Site Stats: Make sure Google analytics and/or other search engine accounts are set up ahead of time and the code is ready to be implemented.
- Social Media: Make sure all social media accounts are set up ahead of time and linked properly.
- Set up print style sheet: Yes, some people still like to print out a web page. This allows them to print the content without the layout messing things up.
- Create XML sitemap file: This is not your typical sitemap. It is specifically for search engines. It is a file of code that sits on the live server.
- Create Robots.txt file: This file works with the XML sitemap to tell the search engines where to look and what to look at.
- Create Favicon: This is the little graphic that appears in the tabs of the browsers.
- Retest once the site has launched to make sure nothing is broken (links/database paths/contact forms).
For launching a redesign of an old website:
- All of the above.
- Back up the old website and database: Even though you are replacing it, you want to have a backup in case something goes wrong and you need to put the old site back up. This is also important with email if you are moving to a new host and/or email provider.
- Create 301 redirects to map old pages to new pages: If you have added a blog, what used to be www.example.com/news/company-wins-award might change to www.example.com/blog/news/company-wins-award. You want to make sure the search engines can find the new page by placing a 301 redirect on the old one and point it to the new one.
Tip: Never launch on a Friday unless you have a team that will support you over the weekend to monitor the new website and email.
Website Launch: Marketing Considerations
Whether launching a site for your client or assisting them with the launch of the site you helped them build, it is a good idea to review your marketing goals prior to and immediately after launch.
The only sure-fire way to know that the new site will achieve its goals is to develop a plan for testing post-launch. You’ve identified what success looks like, now is the time to see if you are achieving it.
You’ve addressed the technical considerations listed above. You’ll now want to plan for testing the reach and conversion considerations. How much traffic do you need for this new site to succeed?
It helps to look at how much traffic you’ve generated in the past if this data is available. If not, you will need to track it as you go. Specifically, you will want to look at how many visits you need to achieve the desired level of conversion.
Typically this looks like a funnel — unique visitors at the open end of the funnel and conversions (sales, inquiries, registrations, whatever you call a success) at the bottom.
Over time as your site gets more traffic, you will start to see how many visitors it takes to get the desired number of conversions. In other words, you might see that 1,000 unique visitors a month will typically yield 10 closed sales.
So what does this have to do with launching a website? Everything.
Before you launch your website, you need to map this all out. Make sure that you’ve identified and planned for success.
Review the site once more to be certain that you have done the following:
- Developed a content strategy and optimized that content and the site’s code for search engine visibility.
- Placed obvious calls to action in the content and in the design that direct the user to conversion points like a form, phone number or purchasing event.
- Have something in place to track all of this like Google Analytics.
It’s easy to get lost in the technical aspects of a website and call it “IT.” But we know better. We know that a website is a marketing and communications tool with an ongoing strategy tied to trackable successes and failures.
The best way to prepare a client for a website launch is to remind them of the plan for success you’ve developed with them. You want to prepare them for what to do if the site fails and what to do if it succeeds.
This is not the end of a project. This is the beginning of an initiative. This is step one in the next phase of their online marketing strategy.
Get your clients excited about their new site. Get them excited about the fact that they are in control whether the site succeeds or fails, and that they are prepared for either scenario and can make course corrections as needed.
Remember — this is a big deal for them, and they will need handholding and reassurance that all will go well. Be patient, and be prepared for everything. The best website launches are the ones with NO SURPRISES.