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A Website Launch Check-List

A website launch often brings mixed emotions. Excitement to see all your weeks or even months of hard work made live to the world, but also some understandable anxiousness. Is everything really ready?

No matter what the scale of your website is the smoothest launches come from methodically following a comprehensive set of pre-launch checks. Hopefully you can rely on your web developers to take care of the technical details for you, but as a website owner or manager it’s useful to know what you should be looking for.

At The Pixel Parlour we have a 30-point website launch check-list we run through on every project prior to launch. We’ve boiled this down to the essentials to share in this post.

Proof your content

Even if all your content has been copied & pasted directly from a copy deck that’s been proofed and re-proofed you should still check it through in your pre-launch preview of the site. Some spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or inconsistencies in information or voice are bound to have slipped through. If your site’s content is particularly extensive start with key details such as phone numbers, addresses and pricing.

The same goes for other content types such as images and links. There are tools available which can automate some of this but they can only tell you if a link is broken or an image missing, not if the wrong content is in place. So again it’s important to back this up with some manual testing.

Another common mistake is to leave placeholder or test content in place when you launch so be on the lookout for any Lorem Ipsum or Hello World type text as you scan through. In our sites we try to use a common set of test names and placeholder content across a project which makes it easier to identify and even run a simple database search to find any Joe Bloggs or Acme Co. references.

Test functionality

A walk through of the main user journeys is a good place to start testing your website’s functionality. Everything from drop-down menus to email sign-up forms should be clicked and prodded. In fact this is a great opportunity to do some final Usability Testing to ensure that different visitor types will be able to quickly and easily access the information they are coming to your site for. If User Personnas were created in the early stages of your project you can refer back to these for some sample website visitor tasks to test.

Browser & device testing

Although standards compliance has got a lot better over recent years it’s still true that not all browsers will treat your website’s code the same way. Even between Chrome and Safari, which until recently shared the same rendering engine, there are some little display quirks, particularly on newer HTML5 and CSS3 elements.

The only real answer is to test your site across all the main browsers to identify any issues. Depending on your website’s audience a lot of visitors may still be using older versions of something like Internet Explorer and these usually need some particular attention to play nice with modern sites.

Today browser testing also means device testing. As the proportion people browsing the web on smartphones and tablets grows, it becomes increasingly important to check that your site is accessible to these visitors. Even if you haven’t implemented a dedicated mobile site or Responsive Design you should still endeavour to make sure that your site is touch friendly and that all main functionality is still usable.

Code validation

It’s just as easy to make simple typos when writing code as it is when writing content. Code validation is the process of checking a site’s HTML, CSS and other scripting markup for any coding errors which could cause problems – a bit like a spellchecker for HTML. Like a spelling or grammar checker it can be hard to achieve 100% compliance and some elements such as social widgets or plug-ins may be outside of your control, but you shouldn’t expect to see more than one or two validation errors on a page.

SEO Essentials

Getting all the search engine optimisation (SEO) essentials right from launch is important to ensure that your site gives a good impression when the Google site-crawler comes knocking for the first time – helping it get indexed quickly and accurately. Checking common errors such as duplicate or missing page titles and descriptions, ensuring that your XML sitemap is in place and Robots.txt file configured correctly are all worth dedicating some time to in your pre-launch preparation.

If you’re re-launching an existing site you’ll want to preserve all the ranking value you’ve built up to-date. Putting in place the relevant 301 redirects to point all the old URLs to their new equivalents is crucial to ensure a smooth transition, as is having a user-friendly 404 page in place to catch any that slip through the net.

You might also wish to do some pre-and-post launch benchmarking of your site’s rankings and to use tools like Google Analytics to see if traffic around particular keyword groups drop off in the weeks after launch.

Performance Testing

We know that the speed of a website can have a big impact on the user experience. So it makes sense to test and optimise the performance of your pages as far as is practical prior to launch.

Google, Pingdom and GTMetrix all offer some great free tools for testing performance and identifying areas for potential improvement. There are a number of factors at play, from the underlying performance of your hosting to the efficiency of your code, but often it’s simple stuff like big image sizes which can add unnecessary extra weight to a page.

For higher-traffic websites load testing can also be an important part of your pre-launch checks. Knowing how your website will cope with the number of visitors it will receive will make sure you’ve provisioned sufficient hosting resources and save any potentially embarrassing down-time.

Account setup

Most websites have various email, ftp and content management accounts associated with them all of which need to be in place and tested prior to launch. If you’re moving server or setting up a new site then you should also check your DNS settings are pointing your domain and any sub-domains correctly. DNS changes take some time to come into effect so you’ll need to build that time into planning the launch timing.

Other essential account setups to tick off your list are Google Analytics and Search Console, allowing you to see how your site performs from launch and quickly submit a new sitemap for Google to crawl.

Who needs to know?

Be sure that everyone who needs to know about your website launch is kept in the loop and that you know who to call if something goes wrong. It’s worth thinking carefully about your launch timing to both minimise any potential disruption to customers and ensure that the relevant support is available should you need it.

Rolling a new site out at 5pm on a Friday and then heading home can be a recipe for a spoilt weekend!

If your site relies on regular content updates, carrying out some pre-launch training with key staff to familiarise them with any changes to the CMS is usually time well spent. As is establishing a clear point of contact to collect both internal and external feedback that you can feed into short term updates or long term development plans.

I can’t do all that!

Now that might sound like a lot of i’s to dot and t’s to cross, some of which require a pretty deep technical understanding of how websites are built. But with the right development team at the helm your job should be as simple as double-checking your content, key functionality and making sure that the relevant people your end have seen and signed-off the site for launch. So as a client the most effective pre-launch check you can do is thorough walk-through of your site.

Chris Barron

Written by

Chris Barron

In his role as Technical Director Chris oversees all development work ensuring our creative ideas are translated into fast, reliable and elegant technical solutions.