It’s a lot of little things. That’s what web design is all about. There is a staggering number of ways to screw up.
So quality is all about details. To make sure nothing is missed, professionals use checklists. We have a ton of these checklists here at Orbit.
Here is our website launch checklist. Actually, this is a combination of several checklists related to launching websites. We’ve removed some of the internal communication items and added a few items related to marketing.
This checklist includes items from years of hard-earned experiences, mistakes and lessons learned.
We hope this will save you some of that pain. If you know someone working on a web design project, you can probably save them some grief by sharing this with them.
Let’s start with the content itself. These steps will make sure that you follow on-page SEO best practices and that top content is all carefully migrated over.
You don’t necessarily need to move every page. But you need to find and move the top performing content based on traffic, rankings and link popularity.
Log into Google Analytics and go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. Be sure to adjust the calendar and select a long timeframe (maybe 2-3 years).
These are your top pages on your website. Now select “Show rows” in the bottom right of this report to show more pages (the number you choose depends on how many pages you have on your website).
In the top right above the graph, choose “Export” and select a file format.
Log into Google Search Console. In the left column select Links > External links > More.
Again, you’ll want to expand how many rows this report is showing and then download a list of “your most linked content.”
You might find that the high ranking pages are the same as the high traffic pages so this may not be necessary.
Caution! If the current site ranks well and gets a lot of traffic from search engines, be sure to follow each step in this post before going live with a new site: How to Relaunch a High Ranking Website. Your traffic depends on it!
Check the new site to make sure that these pages will still exist or that there is a closely related page for each. Make a list of all URLs for all the top pages on the old site and keep track of which URLs will be changed during the launch. Create 301 redirects from the old site pages to the new ones.
Make a list of all URLs for all pages on the old site and keep track of which URLs will be changed during the launch. At Orbit, we include all the keyphrases, the page type (blog post, service pages, product page, etc…), the redirection plan, the total links to those pages, the header tags, title tags, page descriptions, etc..
It might look something like this…
Be sure to create 301 redirects from the old site pages to the new ones or make a quick note if you decide not to redirect them.
As part of your content strategy workbook, create a column for the current title tag and the new title tag. Title tags should meet the following criteria:
Begin with the target keyphrase. Remember this is what shows up in the search results page so it should explain what that page is about.
Title tags should be unique to each page
It’s a good rule of thumb to keep your title tags around 55 characters including spaces. Anything much longer will get truncated in search results.
Meta descriptions are not a ranking factor but they do affect click through rates from search results pages so make them good!
Meta descriptions should meet the following criteria:
Include the target keyphrase for the page
Be unique to each page
Include around 120 characters including spaces
Check that each page includes headers and subheaders (H1 and H2 tags). H1 tags should include the target keyphrase for the page. Subheads should include semantically related phrases.
There should be internal links between pages throughout the site. When relevant, these links should include the target keyphrase of the page it’s linking to. Here’s a post with best practices for internal linking.
The content on the page should include the target keyphrase and semantically related phrases through the content.
Pages should have calls-to-action that guide the visitor toward the desired actions.
Images should include alt tags. These should contain simple descriptions of the image and include a target keyphrase when relevant. Note: this is not the most important aspect to implement. Prioritize other content first.
Time to make sure that the final design is faithful to the original plan. It’s common for formatting and images to be inconsistent with the approved designs, which can ruin a lot of effort from the web design process.
Review each template for inconsistencies in layout, header style, fonts, formatting and content.
Check that all images are compressed for web, image quality and image size consistency. Here’s a post on how to save images for the web.
Are there any stock photos on the website? If so, check to make sure licenses have been purchased for each.
Check font styles, line height, spacing, leading, imagery, navigation and colors for consistency. If new elements were added during content entry or development, make sure they match the site design style.
Here’s another area that requires special attention. Miss one thing and you won’t get all of your data. You can fix it later, but you won’t get historical reports, so do it right the first time.
If you need help properly setting up Analytics, here are five short videos that show how to set up Google Analytics. Set it and forget it!
Ensure that you have access to Analytics and have been added to the account in Admin > User Management with full access (Manage Users, Edit, Collaborate, Read & Analyze). If you don’t have full access, request that you be added at this level.
Note: the method of adding Analytics code to the website may vary depending on the content management system.
Find your IP address by typing “what is my IP” into Google.
You’ll need goals for each type of conversion (i.e, /contact-thank-you or /careers-thank-you or /checkout-receipt). It is recommended that you configure a Funnel as well.
The “query parameter” for site search features will vary depending on the content management system. It should be visible in the URL when testing your site search tool. In this example, the query parameter is “s.”
In Google Analytics go to Admin > Property Settings and link to your accounts. Need help? There’s a video here that shows you how.
If the site has an SSL, make sure that “https” is selected for BOTH the Property and View areas in the account.
Verify that each form on the website is functioning properly. Each form should do the following when submitted:
Submitter gets an auto-response email, which sets expectations about when you’ll be in touch.
Submitter arrives at a thank-you page, which includes an additional marketing message or links to relevant content.
The website stores the submission to a database, in case the email doesn’t get through.
Analytics records the submission as a conversion.
Test file upload feature within the CMS to ensure there are no permission errors.
Test pages for HTML/CSS errors and compatibility in all major, current browsers on all devices.
Test all programmed features, ensuring all functions are user-friendly across all devices.
Test performance grades on Google PageSpeed and Pingdom Tools and correct any relevant technical recommendations.
It’s time for the final testing checklist. These are technical items that have a huge impact on the ROI of the total effort. Missing even one of these could be a very expensive mistake.
Check that all third-party items are connected to the proper accounts. Newsletter signup, Flickr galleries, Social Media, etc.
Create a list of items not completed at the time of launch. Schedule a meeting to review and prioritize.
Download the current site using WebZip or a similar tool. Note: this step allows you to go back to the old site and recover things after you launch. This is often your last chance!
Are there other domains that need to point to the new site? If so, confirm that you have access to all domain registrars.
They should have access to the domain registrar and can point the A record for the domain to the new IP address.
Find the current registrar information with a WHOIS look up and the DNS information by opening Terminal and dig www.domain.com.
If you’ve checked every box on this list so far, you’re set for a successful launch. As you go through this next checklist for the final countdown, be sure NOT to launch on a Friday…
If the website is secure and includes an SSL certificate, migrate to the new server (or purchase, set up and apply a new SSL).
This ensures the webserver, CMS, and any third-party plugins are correctly configured for the website domains. This simple test prevents almost all the surprises that could occur post-launch.
Update the DNS record or send the launch IP address to the administrative contact for the domain with a request to update the DNS record or add an A record to the domain.
Once the DNS changes or A record setup is complete, the new site should become live within a few hours. But it can take up to 48 hours. This “propagation period” is inconsistent because the routers around the internet don’t update themselves at the same time.
During this time, you may see the new site on your phone but the old site from your desk. This is because your office network and your phone connect to the web through different routers.
Strange, right? That’s the internet!
Once it’s live, you have some more work to do.
Note: configure for https:// if the website has a security certificate.
Once in the Search Console account for setup for the domain, submit a new sitemap.xml. Ensure that the new sitemap passes with no errors.
After the sitemap passes, select Crawl > Fetch as Google, then enter the domain and click “Fetch and Render.”
Check the site’s pages to make sure they are NOT set to noindex, nofollow.
Check robots.txt file to make sure it is NOT set to noindex, nofollow.
Check that any login areas ARE set to noindex, nofollow and set to “disallow” in the sitemap.xml.
Congratulations! Your site is live and functioning properly. Among other things, websites are part of your marketing and need to be marketed. Here’s a quick marketing launch checklist.
Announce the launch of the website in your next newsletter. Note: In our experience, “Check out our new website” is actually a successful subject line!
Mention the challenges and thank the team members who contributed.
Typically, one to three shares per network over the space of a week.
Update the feature images on your social networks with an image that includes a note about the new website launch.
Add a “check out our new website” link to your email signature for the next two weeks.
I’d probably leave the press release off the list. Unless there’s something really unusual about the new site, a website launch is almost never newsworthy.
You just had a low-stress, high-confidence website launch. Well done. Give your team a pat on the back and celebrate. Here’s a little video that shows how we launch ‘em at Orbit…
Great thorough list. I will also keep this handy for new client website audits!
This is a wonderful checklist…but I notice that you don’t recommend using a backup service for your website. It can be very costly if your site is down from a mistake in updating or from being hacked, and restoring it can take a long time if you have no backup. Coincidentally, I represent a company that offers low-cost website backup (!), I wonder if you would be interested in a professional relationship? We could offer your customers a generaous discount from your referrals 🙂
Thanks for this! I am migrating to a self-hosted WordPress site from a free WordPress.com site and needed guidance!
Great reference. Good to see the old crew. The YouTube video doesn’t scale on mobile, so I can’t see the whole thing and I can’t get to the YouTube logo to open in app.
Awesome checklist you got here, Andy!
I have tried setting up my own blog a couple of months ago, and I tell you, it was really crazy. Enthusiasm is only one part of the entire equation and I have encountered a lot of setbacks when I just decided to go make one and jumped head first. Looking back, I can’t help but cringe. I should have thought a lot about the entire process and found or established a checklist for that mini project. Really crazy!
Still, a few months have passed and I am still stuck on some kind of rut and have only begun reading this articlethis article and this article of yours. You have some different takes but I definitely see the huge similarity on how to generally improve a website pre and post. I am going to take note both of your checklists.
So helpful! And that video at the end is awesome :))
mmm we also have a checklist, but no so detailed. The main issue is that the checklist is more a “disclaimer” or a ITOLDYOU document because they don’t pay attention and commit all the mistakes that you have to review again afterlaunch
Hi Andy, your list was so awesome, I made it into a Trello Board for my client, and for anyone who wants to copy and use it. https://trello.com/b/9YQr4QXJ It’s also a Trello card as a checklist if anyone prefers it that way! https://trello.com/c/DfTXsUd1
Did you see that explosion on Thursday, just a little east of you? That was my head. Exploding. From this blog post. I actually had a couple of people email last week that they saw Spin Sucks recommended here and they bought it. So thank you. I owe you guys. A ton.
Thank you for dropping by, Gini! Yes, we recommend you, the Spin Sucks blog and book all the time…
That means you, readers. If you haven’t read Spin Sucks yet, head over to Amazon and check out the reviews!
This is really a great check-list i have ever seen. I have one question regarding this. would recommend to use coming soon page before launching a new website or directly launching is full website. In my case when i do so the coming soon page gets indexed in google and after i launched it fully it takes time to update it
Good question! If the site is not a redesign and it didn’t exist before, then you might want to create a coming soon page, but only if it takes very little effort. I wouldn’t expect it to get much traffic or make much of a difference for SEO.
We’ve built coming soon pages with a signup box that allows visitors to leave an email address to be notified when the site goes live… but rarely does anyone sign up.
Generally speaking, any time taken away from the main project would be a negative. Rather than working on a coming soon page, just finish your site and launch it!
Very good question I had same question.
Andy, I share your posts all the time. You’re the Steve Stone of the digital marketing world. Always a unique angle and something new to talk about.
Thanks, Dan. The sharing is always appreciated.
I love that we’re still connected after all these years. I’m glad if these articles have helped us keep in touch!
Or just hire Orbit. Quicker Faster Easier Stronger Better.
Is there a way to upvote comments here? Thanks, Howie!!
I love that you provide your clients and the world with such succinct valuable information Andy, you are the best of the best!
Great post! We use this checklist that my coworker Rene Fiel put together before launching a site. Saved me many times.
56 – test for money passing into your bank & PayPal
57 – test checkout for a dozen package dimensions & weights
58 – strip out all social media icons – you have a new site why are you putting links on it sending visitors away to places like facebook where all your competitors hang out
59 – check for broken images & links internally
60 – click on every category tree, navigation bar, header & footer link
61 – check for address changes – old pricing & policies
off the top of my head
This is an awesome comment. Thanks for contributing, Mitch! I say that on behalf of Orbit and our readers. Well done…
Really helpful, well done list. Relevant to current work. Thanks, Andy!
Although it’s big, this was actually a pretty easy post to write. I just repurposed a big spreadsheet the team uses all the time. It makes me wonder what other great content is lying around here…
Thanks, as always, for dropping by, Jill!
This is so good…. thank you very much! I have forwarded it to friends in a few Facebook groups I belong to and they too are very grateful.
On a related note, I also just purchased your book “Content Chemistry” and look forward to diving into it next week. 😉
Thank you for sharing this, Linda. It’s appreciated.
Let me know what you think of the book!
Damn, no wonder I’m not still around; I thought all you had to do was open a free wordpress account and the rest was easy. I can tell there is a lot more work involved and maybe that is the real reason I’m not around much anymore…:).
Good post, good info; especially if you want to be serious about this.
Yes, it always amazes me how many details there are in this industry. Sooo many little things, any of which can make a big difference.
If your goal is to “have a website” then the free WordPress account is fine. But if your goal is to drive real marketing results, there’s a lot more involved…
What are your thoughts?