Launching a website is a thrilling event. You’ve put in all the effort, and now you’re ready to reveal your treasures to the world! With drag & drop website builders, it’s easier than ever to create a beautiful consumer or client-facing foundation for your business. However, a website launch checklist still comes in handy to ensure you’ve considered performance and user experience (UX), as well as design aesthetics.
The following how to launch a new website checklist will cover essential pre-launch and post-launch steps all too often forgotten. Since the average web user has an 8-second attention span, that doesn’t give you much wiggle room for error—that is, if people can even find your website in the sea of digital clutter. Consideration of search engine optimization (SEO) in the pre-launch phase will assure your new website attracts the attention it deserves.
Ideally, you’ll give yourself a good 60 days to go over this pre-website launch checklist at a leisurely pace. If you have helpers and digital tools to streamline this process, you’re all the wiser! The weeks leading up to the launch are crucial to be proactive, prevent catastrophes, and build momentum with your team to get off to the best possible start.
1. Implement SEO
Prior to launching, you’ll need to research and include keywords and keyword phrases that connect search engine users to your pages. These traffic beacons can be industry-specific or plain-language terms but should speak directly to the needs of your target audience. Countless tools can aid with keyword research, although Google’s free Keyword Planner is a worthy place to start.
Ideal locations to insert keywords within the architecture of the site include SEO title tags, meta descriptions, internal links, blog headers and subheaders, landing page content, navigation breadcrumbs, and embedded file names. Be sure to sprinkle these spices lovingly, with great care, as to avoid angering the giant. You’re not trying to game the system, but rather to gently and helpfully nudge those who can benefit from your products and services in the right direction.
2. Integrate analytics
Website analytics will tell you how your site is performing. Google Analytics is the big elephant in the room, and rides are free, so hop on board—see who’s visiting your site, where they’re spending time, what makes some leave and others buy. Installing Google’s analytics code within your content management system will allow you the ability to measure your website activity without having to alter your precious code directly. Google Search Console is another ideal tool that will alert you to any broken links, XML sitemap errors, schema issues, or technical SEO shortcomings. Beyond Google, you can try tools by SEMrush, Matomo, Heap, Simple Analytics, Mixpanel, and more.
3. Prepare for 404s
A 404 message is bound to pop up from time to time, typically triggered when files, images, landing pages, or blog content get deleted or moved to a new URL without the internal links adjusting. Ordinarily, a plain, ugly “404: Content cannot be found” message greets the user—who will likely frown in disgust, never to return to your site again. Instead, you can treat users who stumble upon this misfortune with a witty, branded 404 redirect page that actually boosts UX and SEO. The best 404s add art and humor with a custom graphic, conversational language, a search bar, as well as navigation to the sitemap or most popular content.
4. Proofread copy and content
Web users who land on your site expect clean copy—free from spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors. If you don’t meet the bare minimum of standards, your new friends will bounce quicker than a pogo stick. A study by Website Planet showed the bounce rate for landing pages containing punctuation and grammar mistakes was 85% higher than error-free sites.
New visitors leaving your site in droves signals to Google that something is very wrong, triggering a loss of trust and a lowered ranking. If you lack the time or expertise to handle this task yourself, you might consider outsourcing to a content firm. Tools like PerfectIt and Slick Write can also take a holistic approach to combing your content for areas of improvement in spelling, grammar, sentence structure, diction, and tone.
5. Check internal links and navigation
We might forgive a broken link or 2, but an overabundance of broken links makes your website appear half-baked, stale, neglected. Simple, consistent, and clear navigation will help users get the information they need and invite them to stay a little longer—which, in turn, improves ranking.
Every page on the site should contain a link to another page on the site, but be careful about using internal link anchor text as a keyword-stuffing free-for-all. Avoid using “rel=nofollow” on internal links or linking to low-ranking pages off-site. Aim for most pages to be within 3 clicks of the homepage, if possible, and repair broken links in the Google Webmaster Tools dashboard. Additional tools like SEMrush, Deepcrawl, Screaming Frog, and SEO Powersuite from WebSite Auditor can help you check URL structure, anchor text, broken links, and navigability.
6. Include an email sign-up form
Email marketing is still the king of website marketing ROI, returning $42 for every dollar spent. Including an email sign-up form on your website is an easy step to invite new site visitors to build an ongoing relationship with your business. This form can be as simple as asking for a name and email address, but the best forms include a few check boxes for personalizing content.
Consider how you might segment audiences by interest or aspect of your business and what types of correspondence you’ll send out. Requesting a location or birthday can provide an opportunity to market with locally relevant updates and special offers. Once a person signs up, you’ll want to have a welcome drip campaign prepared that appeals to the buyer’s journey. Easily create personalized email sign-up forms using Twilio SendGrid’s Email Marketing platform.
7. Optimize for mobile
More than half of all web searches are on mobile devices, so it’s important to streamline websites for normal appearance on smaller screens. Mobile-friendly design includes a simple navigation bar along the top of the site, a diffused background with a lighter color palette, swiping/tapping/pinching functionality, and fast-loading animations. Try Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, PageSpeed Insights, and the “Mobile Overview” section of Analytics to gauge how well optimized for mobile your website is. You can then follow the prompts to make suggested improvements.
8. Monitor HTTP status codes
If you want to drive traffic to your new site, you’ll need to tighten up with sufficient technical SEO—the shiny Cadillac of your pre-launch efforts—as it makes your site polished and top-notch enough to attract repeat visitors. Since your website talks to search engines using HTTP codes, it’s one key technical aspect to monitor.
In a perfect world, the search engines will be perfectly accommodating, sending all lovely 2xx HTTP status codes (successful responses) back your way. Inaccessibility red flags like the 5xx (error response), 4xx (client error response), or 3xx (redirect) should be minimal. Built-in tools like browser plug-ins or Google Search Console’s URL Inspection tool will reveal all HTTP status codes. You’ll want to monitor HTTP status codes on a long-term basis using ContentKing’s real-time alerts.
9. Optimize the XML sitemap
Unless you’re creating a static portfolio or one-page site, adding and optimizing an XML sitemap is another crucial technical SEO activity to include in pre-launch. Sitemaps provide search engines with an organized compendium of your site’s hierarchy. Critically, XML sitemaps let search engines know important ranking metrics, like how often each page is updated, when there were last changes, and how important pages are to each other.
Google and Bing will accept sitemap files ranging from 10 MB to 50 MB with up to 50,000 URLs per sitemap—this number works for most sites, but you may need 2 to 5 separate sitemaps if you’re running a bustling ecommerce site. There are many paths to generate an XML, whether through auditing software or popular plug-ins like Yoast SEO and Google XML Sitemaps. Once created, remember to submit the sitemap from your Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
The new site checklist took you to launch. While the work up to the big kickoff may have felt like a tremendous amount of energy and effort, it pales in comparison to the post-launch phase of testing and tinkering, which never truly “ends.” Consider the following steps a “rinse and repeat” process that continues into eternity to optimize your website’s success.
1. Test site UX
UX testing comes in a variety of formats, but there’s no wrong answer. Any insight you can gain as to how people enjoy your site and what could make them happier is valuable data. Google Analytics is a natural place to begin looking at: Bounce pages (which fail to inspire a call to action), site routes (whether direct or chaotic), and high dwell time (where people get stuck). With this information, you can begin working on the pages in need of the most attention. A/B testing can help you test out different headlines, content, images, calls to action, links, offers, and other variables. As you build your email list, collecting interviews and survey responses can also help guide your website optimization.
2. Ensure site security
A hack occurs every 39 seconds in the US, so security’s no joke! Hopefully, at minimum, your homepage uses “HTTPS” instead of “HTTP,” as Google now penalizes sites deemed “insecure.” Ideally, you’ve purchased an SSL certificate through your website host to encrypt all passwords and payment data. Free tools like WordPress Security Scanner, Sucuri, Intruder, and Qualys will run quick tests for malware, spam, missing patches, and blocklisting. If you’re using WordPress, be sure to regularly update all plug-ins, as these add-ons can be a huge source of malicious attacks. Finally, choose a backup protection provider to protect site information—in case of corruption, hacking, or a security breach occurs.
3. Check Analytics
Google Analytics will help you evaluate key performance indicators, goals, and benchmarks in the weeks and months that follow. Expect slow and steady to win the race—it takes about 3 months to gain traction from content marketing and SEO efforts. Several metrics will let you know whether your website launch was successful or not, notably:
- Traffic sources: Should include a healthy mix of direct, organic, referral, email, and paid traffic
- Page views: Should increase month-over-month
- New and returning visitors: Should both increase over time
- Sessions and session duration vs. bounce rate: Should be high for sessions and session duration, while bounce rate should be low
- Click-through rate: Should be above the 1.91% benchmark average
To confirm that Google Analytics is properly set up, visit the admin page, click “Tracking Info,” and check to see that the current status says, “Receiving Data” or “Waiting for Data.” If you see “Tracking Not Installed” or “Not Verified,” then you’ll need to recheck your website code.
4. Promote the new site
Like a Tudor court performance, “the more, the merrier” when it comes to gathering an audience to your new site. There’s no shortage of tactics to drive awareness. Create posts, share blogs, run contests, network, and advertise on social media platforms. Offer special discounts and promo codes that reward new visitors. Use guest posts and press releases to expand your reach.
If you have a storefront, promote your website on receipts, flyers, coupons, and offline marketing materials. Add a link in your email signature, hand out business cards, and join cross-promotional events to disseminate information that your new site is up and running. Finally, automated email campaigns will help you maintain long-term engagement well after you address the pre-launch and launch checklists.
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