Whether I’m launching a website on a new domain or relaunching a client website, there are a number of steps that I take to ensure that the site is properly launched and fully accessible to users and search engines. I will mention some examples of plugins or applications in the following article, but this is not a platform-specific article.
This article assumes that you’ve built the site locally or on a staging area and are working to put the site into production where it can be publicly accessed.
Website Go-Live Prechecks
While built locally or on staging:
- Integrations – Have you audited all integrations on the current site and ensured they’re properly configured on the new site?
- Features – Does your new site have all of the features incorporated into it that you need to effectively communicate with your prospects and customers?
- Page Redirects – Check that previously accessed pages either exist or are properly redirected to pages on the new site. I crawl the existing site with Screaming Frog SEO Spider to get a comprehensive list of pages that exist as well as check Semrush for destination pages that have been backlinked to so that I can ensure ranking isn’t lost (and is sometimes regained with the discovery of old pages or assets that had been deleted.
- Broken Links – I check both the existing site and the new site for any broken links to pages or assets to ensure the new site doesn’t have internal navigation or links that will result in 404 Not Found pages.
- Grammar and Spelling – There’s nothing more embarrassing than launching a new site with a typo in it. We don’t trust ourselves on this and always use a grammar and spelling application to verify copy on all pages and emails.
- Image Compression – I compress all images on the new site to ensure I don’t significantly increase pageload times.
- Markup – I verify that the markup of my pages is optimized, ensuring one h1 tag per page, with proper usage of HTML5 elements like the asides, footers, headers, article tags, etc.
- Rich Snippets – I validate that all my rich snippet markup is valid and that any schema information is up to date, like address, hours, social media image, etc.
- Branding – Chances are that you’re launching a new site as part of keeping your brand fresh. Have you updated all visual and textual mentions of your brand on the new site?
- Forms – Have you configured and integrated all contact forms, email opt-in, and other necessary forms on your site?
- Mobile Responsive – While most sites are designed on desktop, it’s essential to use your site on a mobile device to ensure that pages are fully responsive and will pass all mobile responsive testing.
- Sitemap – I ensure that the XML sitemap for the site is being properly built to ensure the full site can be indexed by search engines once I register it after going live.
- Rank Audit – I take a snapshot of how the current site ranks in search engines using a tool like Semrush.
- Hyperlink Phone Numbers – I review all phone numbers on the site and ensure they’re hyperlinked properly for mobile users.
- Event Tagging – I ensure that any added code to capture analytics events (phone clicks, form submissions, call-to-action clicks) has been deployed and will work as soon as the site is live and analytics is enabled.
- Accessibility – Has your site been tested for accessibility by those with disabilities? Or have you integrated an accessibility solution?
- Access – Have you set up all the users on the new site with their proper permissions? Have you provided all infrastructure access you need to the internal team in the event they need to access it?
- Backup – I backup the existing site in preparation for any type of catastrophe which may require it to be immediately restored.
- Launch Plan – Have you notified all of the people responsible of the timeline for launch, their responsibilities, and how you will communicate with one another on any issues? This should include a list of internal and external testers for the site.
Website Go-Live Checks
As soon as the site is live:
- Security Certificate – Once all the DNS servers have been updated and propagated with the new site’s location, I install the security certificate (SSL). This sometimes takes a while and you really don’t have much control – so that’s why we often launch a site outside of peak usage times.
- Backup – I now back up the newly launched site to ensure that I have a fresh copy of the new site in the event we mess something up in the site launch process. You’d be surprised at how a simple thing like messing up a search and replace can destroy a newly launched site. After just about every change from here on out I will do manual backups.
- Domain Search and Replace – If the site was on a staging server, there are typically domain paths that need updating throughout the site. Using a search and replace tool, I’ll update the site to ensure no links to the staging area exist and that all references are using a secure connection (https).
- Licensing – If I licensed themes, plugins, or other tools, I ensure that the live site is properly registered rath than the staging site so that everything is working properly and can be updated.
- SMTP – I configure the site to use an office email account for outbound messaging rather than the server, typically with an SMTP plugin.
- Conversion Testing – I test all forms on the site to ensure the data is properly captured and passed through any integration. If it’s an e-commerce site, I typically provide funds to testers throughout the country to test and make actual product purchases to ensure payment processing and shipping integrations are working. We also make sure all outbound, automated email notifications to users and internal are being received.
- Tagging – I ensure that Google Tag Manager is properly installed on the site and that Google Analytics is firing. This includes event monitoring such as form submissions, chat launches, or e-commerce events.
- Caching – I typically verify the cache configuration on the site, clear the cache, and ensure the site is performing well.
- Content Delivery Network – I configure a content delivery network (CDN) to increase the speed of the site and assets geographically.
- Crawl – Again, using Screaming Frog SEO Spider I crawl the site looking for any errors or other performance issues.
- Robots.txt – I ensure there’s nothing stopping the site from being accessed by search engines. As sites are being developed on staging areas, search engines are often discouraged from indexing the site. When you go live, you must ensure that setting is updated.
- Search Engines – Once I’m sure the site is up and running well, I register the site with Google Search Console and Bing Webmasters to ensure it’s properly crawled and the sitemaps are found.
- Session Recordings – Install a platform to get recorded user sessions and get in-depth heatmaps of how the site is being utilized to see if there’s any confusion.
- Launch Testing – Your internal and external teams should now be administering their testing of the site across mobile and desktop and various browsers to ensure it’s working properly. All feedback should be coming into a central repository where each issue can be prioritized and corrected.
- SEO Audit – I install and configure a tool like Semrush to audit and monitor the site for any issues.
Website Go-Live Postchecks
In the days following going live and the after the site has been up and getting visitors, I continue to work to optimize the site:
- Promotion – We ensure that the new site is announced to existing users, employees, and is publicly announced on company social media sites – welcoming feedback from all! This may even include public relations and advertising campaigns to promote the launch.
- Search Console Monitoring – I monitor Google Search Console and Bing Webmasters daily looking for any issues that they may be found on the site.
- 404 Monitoring – I monitor 404 pages using Google Analytics or an internal tool like WordPress’ RankMath SEO plugin.
- Analytics Monitoring – I review analytics daily looking for any issues that may be occurring. If it’s a replacement site, I often compare the user behavior before and after going live. This includes conversion event monitoring.
- Rank Monitoring – Site ranking may swing wildly within the first couple weeks of a launch so I observe ranking one month after the site is live with Semrush to see that we’ve not had significant losses and look for opportunities to increase ranking from here on out.
- Competitive Monitoring – Why have a new site if you’re not trying to win over some market share? Using a tool like Semrush, we set up all relevant competitors and then monitor how I site is ranking in comparison to theirs.
- Backups – I’m assuming you have a backup and restore solution on your site moving forward… but it needs to be part of your checklist just in case! For a site like WordPress, we use Flywheel managed hosting which has one-click backups and restores built in and automated.
- Reporting – While we typically have monthly reporting for our clients, during a launch like this we will typically report to them weekly on how the site is performing. We also keep the launch teams and testers informed on all issues and resolutions.
If you’re relying on an agency to launch your site, I wouldn’t leave it to them to ensure all of this is taken care of. You’d be surprised at how easily a third party can forget a few things in the process. I’m not saying this because I think agencies are lacking… it’s just that it’s your business and not theirs so you must take the lead to ensure everything is accomplished!
I’d also be remiss to offer my firm’s services. Highbridge does a ton of very large site redesigns, content and e-commerce migrations, and complex integrations.
Disclosure: Martech Zone is using various affiliate links in this article.