Whether you're putting up a brand new website, redesigning an existing one, or moving a site onto a new content management system (CMS) for a client, launching a website is both an exciting and daunting task.
There are a lot of moving parts to plan for and track. And the more attention you pay to all the little details, the better. This type of project requires close, effective communication among many different people and teams.
If you want your website launch to be a success, run through this checklist to sure you've got everything prepared.
The Ultimate Website Launch Checklist
1) Make a list of action items, due dates, and who's responsible for what.
What content needs to be written? What calls-to-action need to be created? Make a master list of what needs to be completed and by when. (You can start by asking these 90 website redesign questions.)
Then, assign each action item to an individual or team. It usually takes a lot of people to launch a website: You have marketers writing the content; designers choosing images and laying out the overall look and feel; a technical team doing all the back-end development. To ensure everyone's on the same page and there's no role confusion, you'll want to lay out a comprehensive plan for what each team or person is responsible for.
One great way to do this is by creating a responsibility assignment matrix, also called a RACI matrix. It's a powerful tool that'll help everyone understand which individual is responsible for completing which action items, which individual(s) or group(s) need to be consulted before any final decisions are made, and who needs to be consulted once a final decision has been made or an action has been taken. You can learn more about RACI matrices here.
2) Prepare for worst-case scenarios.
Poll everyone involved in your website launch on their concerns about what could go wrong, and then devise a few backup plans for what to do when -- not if -- some of these things go wrong.
3) Pick your launch date.
Once you have an idea of what needs to get done before the launch, pick a launch date. Give yourself at least a month. Most agencies plan for two-to-three months of research, design, and development.
4) Set up a staging site.
Staging sites are exact copies of your website on a private server that are used to prepare and proof content and code changes before they go live. The staging site is a place to edit and play around with updates in an environment that's almost identical to the one that will be live. This is so you don't have to worry about crashing your site or screwing something up when you make a change.
Later, you'll sync content and templates between the staging environment and your live website via your content management system (CMS). If you're a HubSpot customer with the website platform, you'll find there's a staging environment built right into the software. It allows you to generate a preview URL of the entire site, so you can click around and test things in context.
5) Confirm testing procedures.
Soon, you'll begin testing your website to make sure all the different components are working, everything flows, and there's a system for tracking bugs and enhancements. The folks at Digital Telepathy suggest putting only one person in charge of choosing which bugs to prioritize and filtering all the creative feedback they're getting. Use a form (like Google Forms) instead of asking people to email their thoughts so the feedback-gathering process is more streamlined. Or if you use a project management system, such as Basecamp, try out BugHerd or BugDigger.
6) Start a post-launch enhancement list.
The website you launch should be functional, well designed, and well positioned. But it probably won't be everything you hoped and dreamed on the first go -- and you certainly don't want to spend months of effort designing a site that people may not react well to. What if your client doesn't like it? What if conversion rates plummet? That could add up to lost money and effort.
Instead, it's best to publish a solid website, and then test and build on top of it -- a website creation approach known as growth-driven design. Create a document that lists out all the things you can't get done for the launch itself but want to add in the future, and add features and elements to it as you discover more about how users interact with the site. This you can do by using one of these user testing tools.
7) Figure out who's going to be part of the launch and get their on-call contact information.
This will probably include your engineering and technical leads.
8) Start testing.
Freeze the adjustments to content and code to begin testing. Here's what you should check:
Test Site Speed
Site speed (i.e., the time it takes to load each webpage) influences user experience, conversion rate, and even search engine ranking ever since Google made page load time a web search ranking factor back in 2010.
Use a site speed tester like Google PageSpeed Insights to see a broad picture of your website's load speed. If you're a HubSpot customer and want to see page speed of individual URLs, log in to your account and go to content > website > select a page > optimization tab.
Double-Check Your Images
Check that all the images on your site are compressed properly for the web, as this will help with page load time. (If you use HubSpot to upload your site's images, you don't need to worry -- images uploaded to HubSpot's software are automatically compressed. Otherwise, tools like TinyPNG will help you reduce file size.) Check that all your images are consistent in quality and size, too.
Be sure all your images have alt text, as that's how search engines will be able to identify and index your images.
Double-Check Your Content is Optimized for SEO
Does every page on your website have a unique title tag and meta description? While all the content on your website should be optimized for search, the five most important elements are titles, meta descriptions, headings and body content, image titles and alt text, and URLs. You can learn more in our step-by-step guide to on-page SEO management.
Ensure Your Website is Mobile Responsive
Google's algorithm now rewards mobile-friendly websites and penalizes sites that aren't mobile-friendly. Not to mention, companies who have responsive websites generate more leads and maintain a competitive advantage over companies that don't.
Read this blog post for tips on how to optimize your website for mobile.
Test Your Forms
Make sure all the forms on your site flow properly. When someone fills out your form, do they get an auto-response email? Does submitting a form lead the submitter to a thank-you page? Does your website software store each form submission in a database? Does your analytics software record the submission as a conversion?
Test Conversion Paths for Key Personas
Before you begin the website design process, you should have defined personas and should "bake in" paths that people within different personas can flow through to find the information they need. Generally, this starts with something high level at the top of the funnel and progresses through the bottom of the funnel. At this stage, test to make sure these conversion paths flow in ways that make sense to your website visitors.
Test Your Links
It's critical that every link on your website leads where it's supposed to. This is especially important if you restructure your site, so make sure all your website redirects. (If you're a HubSpot customer with the website platform, you have access to a staging environment that will look for and notify you of conflicting URLs before launching your site. Otherwise, you can try out ScreamingFrog's SEO Spider tool.)
While you're at it, be sure your 404 (error) page is set up. Here are some examples of fun 404 pages to inspire you.
Check Content for Spelling Errors, Typos, and Grammar Mistakes
Keep an eye out for placeholder text that you may have forgotten to replace with content.
Check Formatting Consistency
Sometimes, font codes get dropped into a page accidentally, so you'll want to scour your site for any of these weird formatting errors. Make sure all your formatting is consistent and there are no weird blips in your copy.
9) Ensure your website is secure and includes an SSL certificate.
An SSL certificate will ensure your website is encrypted so hackers can't intercept any of your data. Not only will this put your website visitors at ease, but it'll also boost your website's SEO since SSL is now part of Google's search ranking algorithm.
If your website is secure and includes an SSL certificate, then migrate your website to the new server. If not, then purchase, set up, and install a new SSL. This can take up to two weeks to kick into gear, so give yourself enough time prior to launch. (Learn more about SSL here.)
10) Ensure your XML Sitemap is on the server and configured properly.
Your XML sitemap is a file of code that lives on your server and lists all of the relevant URLs that are in the structure of your website. It's critical for optimizing your website for search because it helps search engine web crawlers determine the structure of the site so they can crawl it more intelligently. Read this blog post to learn how to create and submit an XML sitemap.
11) Set up filters to exclude traffic from the IP(s) of your office.
It's important to exclude your own traffic from your website analytics; otherwise, any visit from a member of your team will be counted in your analytics data.
Here's a little trick: Find your IP address by typing “what is my IP” into Google.
Image Credit: Orbit Media Studios
Then, create a filter. If you're a HubSpot customer, log in and go to Reports > Report Settings, then enter your IP address or IP ranges into the "exclude traffic from these IP addresses" option. (Click here for more detailed instructions.)
If you're not a HubSpot customer, you can create a filter using Google Analytics by following Google's instructions here.
12) Review the site content with your legal team.
13) Conduct a stress test.
In a typical website redesign, it may not be 100% necessary to do a stress test because the traffic spike may not overrun your server's capacity. But a stress test (also called a load test) is a must for any company that plans for a large influx of visitors during specific times -- such as the holidays or after a major press event. It'll help you figure out how much simultaneous traffic your website can handle by simulating up to tens of thousands of simultaneous virtual users from different locations around the world.
While stress tests simulate virtual users, the test won't be totally replicating a real-life scenario -- so you'll want to find a test that brings you as close to reality as possible. Ask a developer which load tests they recommend. Here at HubSpot, many of our developers use JMeter by Apache, but this is a pretty technical tool that's not ideal for someone who's new to the concept.
Be sure to notify your host or provider that you want to perform a stress test before you actually do one. Otherwise, your test might look like a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack on your provider. Many providers (including HubSpot) consider an unauthorized load test a violation of terms of service.
14) Just before launch, scour the site one last time.
When launch day arrives, repeat all the little tests outlined in No. 8 by spending at least an hour taking a final, detailed look at your website. You'd be surprised at the last-minute bugs and errors you might catch.
On the day of the launch, it should be all hands on deck. Prepare for things to go wrong so they can be fixed as quickly as possible. Then, spread the word about your website launch via email, social media, PR, and your blog. Remember to resubmit your XML sitemap to all major search engines once you're done, too.