Even though launching a new website is exciting (albeit daunting), there’s a lot to accomplish, a ton of details that can’t be overlooked, and multiple people who need to work together as a team.
We followed all (and many more) of the tips I listed below before launching our site. Even though it took a ton of manpower, we’re seeing the fruits of our labor by already experiencing double the amount of unique page views, lower bounce rates, and higher organic searching.
Disclaimer: This isn’t a comprehensive list, there are many other details I don’t go into here, but I hope this provides a solid sample of the steps we took to ensure we had a successful website launch.
1. Spelling, Grammar, Punctuation
It’s cumbersome, but necessary to go through the site and check for typos, grammar, and proper punctuation sitewide. Pay special attention to new pages. Also, many times weird formatting can appear if you copy/paste from older pages, Word or Google Docs.
2. Web Forms
Checking forms is especially important if you have a marketing automation platform integrated in your site. Go through and fill out the forms and note the following questions:
- Are the forms passing lead information over to your marketing automation system?
- Can the flow be improved? Shortened? Or do they need to be updated to reflect your new business model/service offerings?
- Did you get stuck? Were there any errors?
- Does the completed form get sent to the right people or person?
- Was an automated response sent to the reader (i.e. Will they receive a thank you email after completing a contact form or receive the intended content after they download it from your website)?
3. Live URLs
When a site goes live, the URLs are transferred from a staging area to production. Every single URL on your site needs to be tested when the site goes live to make sure they lead to the correct destination. This is important from both a functionality standpoint and for SEO purposes; visitors will get frustrated, and your site will be penalized search engines if these URLs are incorrect.
Will your URL structure be changing significantly? If so what is the plan for redirecting them to prevent broken links? Here’s an example of a change we made on our new site:
4. Title Tags/Meta Data
This may sound old news to many, but make sure every page has a unique title tag. Also, make sure each has a meta description. This is still a common source for search engine spiders to draw from to understand what the page is about and provide visitors with a sneak peak into the page contents from the results.
5. Site speed
Site speed can make or break your users’ experience. The better performing your website is, the more efficiently a user will complete their desired tasks. Consider things like: How fast (in units of time, such as milliseconds) does it take to load an entire web page? How big is the webpage, in terms of file size? Does the website use web development best practices for website performance?
There are two main factors to consider when testing the speed of your site. 1) Initial page load - this will take longer because all of your images/css/js must be sent from the server to your browser. 2) Returning visitor - these users will have some, if not all, of the assets cached so they won’t have to download all these files again. Be sure to test for both scenarios where you want to get the initial page load size as small as possible and you want to have as many assets cached for returning visitors.
It’s also critical to test page load times on mobile devices.
As Dave Terry mentioned in his launch-day blog post, before even mocking-up wireframes we took a step back and reviewed our buyer personas. Frankly, some of our messaging and positioning had become outdated. Once we updated our personas, we built our content strategy, wireframes, and visual design around the needs of our target audience.
When giving a critical eye to the pages within the site, ask yourself:
- Why would your target audience visit this page?
- Does the page address the audience’s buying questions?
- Is there a clear call to action or conversion path?
Testing your design in advanced browsers as well as legacy browsers is a necessary part of any project. The old-school way to test code was to load your website on as many computers as you could find, using as many different combinations of browsers and operating systems as possible. That was fine if you had access to a bunch of different computers (and had some time to kill). But there are much more efficient ways to test across browsers, using either free or commercial Web services and software like Adobe Browserlab, Browsershots or SuperPreview.
8. Map all old pages to new
Sometimes content gets lost in the transition. New pages are added, deleted, and renamed. It’s not the most glamorous or challenging project, but mapping out your page redirects will have a significant impact on your new site. We did a basic Excel spreadsheet showing all the old pages and their corresponding new pages.
From time-to-time font codes get dropped into a page inadvertently and make a letter or a word look wacky. Go through the copy checking to see that the formatting is consistent, and look for odd blips in the copy.
Make sure all display text renders on the image when you hover over it (the alt attribute). Make sure the images display correctly. Understand the images you are posting and the correct format for them. While most people ignore the file type/extension they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. The most common types of images you’ll deal with are JPG, PNG and SVG. You’ll want to store photographs as JPG, simple images like logos, icons etc as PNG or SVG. If you use Adobe Photoshop or similar programs they’ll usually let you compare the different formats side by side so you can get the quality level you want while comparing it to the overall file size. Remember, you can get your image on your site looking perfect but if it’s a few megabytes in size most people aren’t going to want to look at it. Also don’t forget image optimizing programs like Imageoptim, which will losslessly compress your images much better than your photo editing software allowing you to shave off a few more kilobytes from your page load.
Make sure Google Analytics or the analytics package you’re using are set up and ready to go. Also ensure all Drupal modules (including marketing automation modules) have been installed correctly and are functioning.
12. Social Media Integration
Having your users share your content on social media is also a big portion of driving traffic (both organic and direct) to your site. Ensure that the social media icons on the site go to the correct pages. Are the right buttons and social plugins installed for what you are trying to accomplish? (For example, share a page versus “Like” you on Facebook.)
13. Stress Testing
It’s important to stress test your site to ensure it won’t error out from the surge in traffic from your initial publicity push or there after. This simply means by simulating the HTTP requests generated by simultaneous users, you can test your web server performance under normal and excessive loads. A suggested tool is Load Impact.
Launching is just the beginning. You should continue to iterate based on how your site is performing on analytics and customer feedback. Hopefully you can see that everyone on a marketing and web team can be assigned tasks to test leading up to a site launch- even if they aren't a developer..
The Mediacurrent team is here to help as well! From elegantly designing your site, developing it with Drupal best practices, to improving your overall lead generation strategy with content marketing and marketing automation, our team would love to discuss your organizations specific needs.