Website Launch Checklist Overview
During development of any website, you or your team will be focusing on the different aspects that make your website amazing, primarily:
- The Functionality
- The Design
- The Content
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and Analytics
- DNS (Domain Name System), SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), and Hosting provider
Each of the items in this website launch checklist plays a key role in your website’s success and should be started as early as possible. Work with your team to understand and define responsibilities.
1) The Functionality
Using a predefined Sitemap will help in keeping expected pages and their required functionality consistent. A few examples of functional elements would be:
- Navigation menus (desktop and mobile)
- Sign-up forms and downloadables
- Dropdowns and Tabular structured elements
- Lazy-loaded images
- Pop-ups / Modal display boxes
- Dynamically loaded content
Your site may or may not incorporate all of these elements, but it’s pertinent to make sure that each utilized, or any not listed, function properly. Check your staging website with different browsers and on multiple devices and look for any issues that would give a less-than-optimal user experience.
It’s possible an element’s functionality works as expected in Google Chrome but does not in Safari or another browser. Be sure to have regular check-ins with your developers or go through QA processes throughout the development cycle to make sure everything is working.
When checking your website functionality across platforms, be sure to check that:
- Navigation to pages works (e.g.; not displaying a 404 error page)
- Submission forms submit correctly
- Scripts are optimized
2) The Design
The appearance of your website works in tandem with its functionality. Your website should excite and encourage visitors to stay on the page and read more of your offers and/or insights.
Although modern browsers have become more advanced with better standards, there are still inconsistencies for what each browser actually supports. Like functionality, you or your team should check the pages of your website during the development process for consistency. This will ensure the assets utilized render correctly across multiple browsers and devices.
The best way to keep a website’s design uniform is the agreed upon style guide. A style guide defines the color scheme, fonts and sizing for a variety of common elements that will be found on the site. This will also include different use case scenarios, such as how a button appears on a colored background versus on top of an image.
When checking your website design across platforms be sure to check that:
- Site pages are compatible across devices, like Android, iPhone and tablets
- Site pages are compatible across browsers, like Firefox, Chrome and Safari
- Header, Paragraph, Link, and Button styles are styled correctly where used
- Images are compressed for web, and the right file type is in use (e.g: SVGs for vector graphics like icons. PNGs and GIFs support transparency, but JPGs do not)
3) The Content
Content is the primary reason why visitors come back to your site, so make sure all assets are loading properly on your website. We’ve all been disappointed when missing images don’t load, video files that do not play or file downloads don’t exist.
Optimizing your content is likely one of the longest processes within the development of your website. Depending on the configuration of your site, you may have pages for general content, category listings for blogs or products, custom landing pages, contact pages and more. Creating and optimizing launch-ready content early on will make you better prepared for website launch.
For a blog site, it is recommended to have at least 5 to 7 blog articles published. For podcasts and video content, having at least 3 to 5 episodes is a good start. Visitors to your site will be able to get a better gauge on the content you produce as you continue to develop and release more. Be thorough and double-check that important assets - like images, documents and files for download, and general copy - are all accessible and legible.
When checking your content, be sure to check:
- Content is organized
- Pages is accessible and content legible
- Images and downloadable documents are accessible
4) SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and Analytics
We’re almost there. As you’re optimizing your website’s functionality, design and content, be sure that the search engines can crawl your website efficiently and suggest your content in search results. The most efficient way to optimize SEO ranking is by having rich and non-duplicate content within your pages with relevant meta-data describing the content within each.
You will want to setup your analytics tools, such as Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager, to capture beneficial metadata to better understand your audience. This includes what pages receive the highest traffic and how well your goal tracking events are working. Getting these analytic tools set up and embedded into your website prior to launch will help you hit the ground running.
At a basic level, every page should include a Meta Title (around 50-60 characters) and Meta Description (no more than 120 words). These are the first pieces of content rendered when search engine bots and crawlers explore your website and subsequently define how relevant your pages will display within search results.
Your pages can also benefit by embedding Structured Data Markup (also referred to as Schema data or Rich Snippets) within your site. These snippets can greatly improve the searchability of your site and even display additional elements in search results.
Ever seen a Google search result with its own search bar, or a bulleted list in the top result? The Structured Data within the page lets Google or other search engines know to provide that functionality in their search results. As a disclaimer however, Structured Data does not guarantee that Google or other search engines will include any special formatting in their search results defined by the snippets.
When checking your SEO, be sure to check:
- Analytics tools are embedded and working
- Meta Title and Meta Description are present
- Structured Data Markup is properly configured
5) DNS (Domain Name System), SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), and Hosting provider
The last piece to take into consideration is also one of the most important; where are you going to be hosting your website? Unless your website will be hosted on a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) platform like HubSpot or BigCommerce, your website will require its own server. Depending on your requirements, your website’s server would be provided within a shared, virtual, or dedicated hosting environment.
If you do not already have a domain name, you can register for one by searching any domain name registrars at sites like Google Domains or Namecheap. The DNS settings will determine how you manage website accessibility records with your hosting provider. When considering hosting providers, you will want to start researching early, as different providers have many options to fit a variety of needs.
Unless starting a brand new website, consider looking at your current hosting provider, along with your current website traffic to gauge the server resources you should pursue. Research the pros and cons of shared, virtual or dedicated hosting and determine which type will meet your needs or standards.
To give a rough example, a basic Wordpress powered blog site would need around 1GB of Ram and 25GB of disk space in server resources to get started. Websites such as Bluehost, HostGator, and DigitalOcean provide affordable and scalable hosting services.
Lastly, you will want to install an SSL certificate to your website. Since 2014 when Google announced that it would start ranking https sites higher in search results, secure websites have received a better ranking and appear more often in search results.
To put it simply, an SSL certificate is what makes a website work as https:// instead of http://. Most of the time, your hosting provider will have a way to install an SSL certificate, whether you purchase one directly from them or manually install it to your server. Contact your hosting provider to get the most accurate instructions for installing an SSL certificate.
When you’re ready to start launching your website:
- Purchase your domain name
- Purchase hosting service from a hosting provider
- Acquire an SSL certificate
You’ve tested all functionality, confirmed the appearance, optimized your content, embedded your structured-data and SEO optimizations, and have your domain name, hosting, and SSL ready to go. It’s now the day of launch and time to flip the switch to LIVE.
- Log into your hosting provider and follow their instructions for enabling a domain name on their service
- Depending on your server provider, your website files will be served through an Apache or Nginx configuration file. These are likely already created by your hosting provider. If not, consult with your hosting provider or server administrator.
- Setup any record data for your domain name that may be necessary. The most likely types would be an A record of your root domain name pointing to the server’s IP address, any additional A records or CNAME records for subdomains, and any MX records for email.
- Update the TTL (Time to Live) value for any records to their lowest values available (5-10mins should suffice and then can be adjusted after the website is live). This value determines how often Domain Name Systems updates the caching of this record, ensuring that whenever it’s requested that the same view is being provided to each request.
- Save your DNS settings and wait for these changes to propagate. Your physical location in proximity to a DNS hub will be the most likely determination for how quickly your website URL will be accessible. This can sometimes take up to 24-48hrs to fully propagate.
After your new website has propagated across the internet, it should be accessible to anyone that visits the url. Test by visiting the homepage and any interior pages. Also test submissions to your sign-up/contact forms and that they are working as expected. If your website utilizes any eCommerce functionality, ensure that a visitor can add products to their cart and checkout properly. Lastly, check your analytics data to verify data from visits or events for goals are tracking.
Once you determine that your website is visible and the functionalities built into it are working, you’re done! Pat yourself on the back and enjoy the fact you’ve completed your website launch! From here on forward, you’ll want to focus efforts on marketing and content generation to drive traffic to your site, keep your visitors and customers interested in your content or the services provided and keep your website present in search results.