Creating a website has never been easier. There are many tools at your disposal allowing you to build a website for free, without any specialist knowledge.
With that said, the journey from building to launching your website will not always be easy. Even for the most seasoned professionals it can be stressful, so you always need to prepare for setbacks. Instead of worrying about what could go wrong, be prepared with the checklist below which will hopefully make your journey easier.
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1. Analyse Your Existing Website
This applies if you already have a website running and are simply trying to update it. Begin by looking for errors like outdated design, irrelevant content, and poor SEO scores, so you can avoid those mishaps with the next version of your site. Crawl your website to document its structure using a tool like Screaming Frog, which will give you a deep insight into how you can improve. You may also want to use something like Hotjar to show you common user issues and heatmaps.
2. Mark Key Performance Metrics
To measure the success or failure of your website, you need to establish key performance metrics (KPIs) that you can review later. Your KPIs can relate to bounce rate, traffic, conversion rate, goal completion, user experience, and other metrics that can be clearly defined. KPIs differ from company to company based on the goal for what the website needs to achieve, so keep your goal in mind (sales, leads, etc) when deciding which KPIs are the most important.
3. Get Your Branding Right
Branding can make or break your website. You have to make sure you have strict brand guidelines in place that you follow religiously, and your branding should be reflected not only on your website, but on any other platforms as well. Inconsistent branding is annoying for customers and will not achieve much in terms of making an impact on your audience. There are some companies that have very different branding on their website compared to their social media; this is bad practise that could lead to loss of authority and credibility. If you have created a branding guide, please apply it consistently across all your channels.
4. Choose a Solid Content Management System (CMS)
You cannot just launch a website and forget about it – you have to regularly upload content and ensure it’s always of a high standard. For this reason, you need a Content Management System – one that does not require heavy input from developers. It must be omnichannel and scalable in the long run. You can read more about how to manage and scale content here.
WordPress is the most popular CMS. It has thousands of extensions to add additional functionality and there are thousands of design templates available. Another advantage is that many web hosting providers offer managed WordPress packages, allowing you to skip the installation process and spend less time on maintenance. (For some tips and tricks on using WordPress, click here.) An alternative to WordPress is Joomla, which has a greater range of in-built functionality, removing the need to install extra plugins. It has good community support but is not as intuitive to use as WordPress. In addition, some of their advanced extensions are expensive.
5. SSL Certificate
Make sure your website has an SSL certificate. Transport Layer Security (TLS) formerly known as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is a mechanism through which websites secure and encrypt sensitive data. Having a valid SSL certificate means your website will be using Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), which will show in your web address as https. This gives your brand credibility, so make sure you have your SSL certificate set up in advance of the launch date.
6. Nail Down your Website’s Technical SEO Strategy
Your website should have a solid SEO strategy – without one, it will never be able to grow. You must have the basics down, such as knowing your target audience, using backlinks, and ensuring your website is quick to load. Also, make sure you strategize for local SEO purposes. (Local SEO means helping your site rank better in search results in your local area, which is crucial for businesses with a physical location.) Read more about best SEO practices here.
7. Conversion Paths
Have a clear roadmap for conversions. Think about top-of-funnel discounts to attract people, and always build quality landing pages. Consider the final action that you want your audience to take and how you’ll track conversions, and always make sure you create effective CTAs. Keep this journey as simple as possible and do not add too many unnecessary steps. Your goal should be to convert visitors into valuable leads, so go all in as this is the core purpose of your website. I’ll be publishing a piece on conversion rate optimisation (CRO) shortly.
8. Set Up Analytics
Analytics give you invaluable insights about your visitors. They tell you about everything – their age, gender, location, how they landed on your page, the most visited page on your website, conversion rate, bounce rate, and much more. Through analytics, you will be able to see what works and what doesn’t. You will have accurate and actionable information that will improve the quality of your website greatly if you make use of it. So, before your launch, make sure you have connected an efficient analytics tool to your website. Read my blog “The Best Analytics Platforms to Replace Google Universal Analytics”, to choose the perfect analytics tool for you.
9. Abide by the Law
You will have to take care of the boring legal stuff as well. Make sure that any necessary licenses for plugins, photos, fonts, and so on, are in place. To thoroughly describe your services, think about incorporating a “Terms of Service” section. Adhere to GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), and make sure you let your visitors know that their data is protected. In many countries, a cookie warning is required by law, so be sure to include one. Check out the other legal requirements based on the users’ location, including age verification, consent, and credit card processing.
10. Prepare Redirects
Sometimes things can go wrong, so be prepared to redirect your audience. Redirects are especially important if you are changing domains and in cases where there are multiple versions of your website (for instance, http://example.com/home, http://home.example.com, or http://www.example.com). It’s best to have a relevant redirect (i.e., your preferred landing page) so that you do not lose potential customers. For new websites, a redirect might not be necessary. However, mishaps can happen at any time, so it’s better to be cautious now instead of having regrets later on. Make sure your redirect pages have clear directions, explain the proper reason for the redirect, display your contact information, and most importantly, the correct link to your website.
A special shout out to the 301 redirects – they are useful when you change URLs for your website. When a URL is marked with a 301, it means that any users that request the old URL will be instantly redirected to the new URL but importantly, the SEO value is redirected too. This is a crucial redirect that you must keep in mind, so you don’t lose your audience and Google rankings.
11. Check Your XML Sitemap
A website’s important pages are listed in an XML sitemap file so that Google can easily identify and crawl them all. It also aids in the search engine’s understanding of the website’s structure. Every important page of your website should be crawled by Google, so before launch, make sure Google is identifying them all. A sitemap is typically created for you by SEO plugins you have installed. I suggest you install the Google XML Sitemaps plugin so you can send regular updates of XML Sitemaps. The plugin lets you choose how frequently you send your sitemap to search engines, or it can automatically submit a sitemap each time a new page is published.
12. Schema Markup to Enhance User Experience
Schema markup tells the search engine exactly what your webpage’s content is about. The outcome is that users are given additional information about a page, improving their experience. It also aids in search engine crawling, resulting in a higher position for your website. So, wherever you get a chance, structure your data so that people can get what they want from your website quicker. You can structure different types of content (like a blog, FAQs, etc) better with schema markup, so it’s worth setting up before launching.
13. Replace Placeholders with Images
With the workload involved in website development, small elements can easily be overlooked. Make sure all images used are of high quality and are appropriate for your content. Remember to change any placeholders with the correct images, and finally, make sure all the images are mobile responsive.
14. Consider AMP Integration
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) was developed to enhance the functionality of websites on mobile devices. This open-source initiative was spearheaded by Google and Twitter in an attempt to make the transition from traditional website to mobile much simpler for developers. For smartphone and tablet users, lightweight pages that load more rapidly are made possible by the technology underpinning AMP. AMP integration is not a necessity, but a recommendation, especially for content heavy pages.
15. Submit Your Sitemap and Request Indexing
Once your website is live, it needs to be indexed so that Google can recognise it. Log into Google Search Console and upload a fresh sitemap.xml to make sure your website is listed. All your efforts are useless if your website does not show up on Google search results.
16. Pre-Launch Testing
Right before the launch, there are a few tests you need to carry out.
- Speed Test: People do not have the time to wait for your website to load, so make sure it loads quickly. It’s a fundamental element that people often forget about in the rush of building a perfect website.
- Lighthouse Reports: Lighthouse is an open-source, automated platform that helps you improve the performance of your website. This software runs a barrage of tests on your website and lets you know the areas in which it can improve. Consider running these tests a week ahead of launch so you have sufficient time to make changes.
- Form Tests: A form test helps you analyse the effectiveness and performance of the forms on your website. An example of what you would test is the character limit for the form fields. The minimum number of characters users can enter might not be applicable to everyone e.g., if the name field requires a minimum number of characters that’s longer than the user’s name. As a result, users might not be able to submit their forms. It would be a shame to lose interested leads because of a minor mishap, so make sure you test all forms thoroughly.
Tracking user behaviour is a questionable matter. As marketers, it can be a very helpful way to understand customers better and when done correctly, it can benefit both users and businesses. Make sure pop-ups related to user consent for tracking are set up and functioning properly.
- Detect and Fix Bugs
Even after all the testing in the world, there could be some bugs left to resolve. I would suggest hiring a freelance bug tester close to the launch date so that you get a new perspective on the website and check for bugs.
From my experience, I suggest you never promote your website before it’s complete. Before promoting and launching, make sure you check all the minor details of your website and make sure everything is working correctly. After that, you can go all out with your promotions on all platforms. I recommend running ads to lead people to your landing page while simultaneously promoting through social media channels.
Launching a website can without a doubt be overwhelming, but it’s worth taking the time to make sure everything is done correctly in advance so that it brings in leads and establishes the authority of your business. Set aside some time to go through all the steps above before launch to make sure you leave no stone unturned.
If you still feel overwhelmed or confused, or you don’t have time to thoroughly prepare your launch, book a free consultation with me. I can help with this process and make your launch successful.