The ultimate checklist for a successful website launch - marketer's edition
Digital marketers should be involved in a website's design and development from the beginning - these are their responsibilities during the process.
23 June 2016
It’s the 11th hour and the launch of the new website is imminent. You’ve primed your prospects and customers. Work colleagues and senior management are stood in the wings, waiting in anticipation for this all-singing, all-dancing new website - god forbid that once it goes live something catastrophic happens. You want to make sure you’ve crossed every T and dotted every lower case I.
Our checklist is a sense check - an opportunity to make sure everything runs smoothly throughout the project lifespan, and launches without a hitch.
We’ve been designing and developing websites for over a decade years, and along the way we’ve had to learn a thing or two about what constitutes a successful digital project. But this doesn’t mean you have to. As marketers you put your faith in web designers and developers, but at the end of the day it’s worth knowing what to look out for, because sometimes the small things can get overlooked, and these can make all the difference to a successful website launch.
So we’ll go through each stage of the planning and implementation process with some tips and advice on how your input, as a marketer, can make all the difference.
Step 1 - Do your research
If you already have a website, the decision to update it may well be because you know it can work harder for you.
However, the site could have established a good level of traffic that you wouldn’t want to lose all together and so it’s important to understand where it’s coming from and what factors (on and off) the website are contributing towards it. You can use your Google Analytics to understand more about this.
You know the phrase "don’t reinvent the wheel" - well, this is certainly the case, and by using certain tools you can take the opportunity to understand what is working well on your website and what could be enhanced.
If SEO is important to you, then it’s also worth carrying out some keyword research to understand where the search demand lies and the level of competition for certain keywords. You can then incorporate this into the design and content going forward.
- Carry out keyword research
- Analyse the current performance on the website and which keywords it’s ranking well for
- Use Screaming Frog to index your website – you will have a record of the meta-data on all the pages of the website
Step 2 - Putting together your website specification
There is, without a doubt, going to be a number of stakeholders with a vested interest in the development of the project. It's guaranteed they’ll have differing opinions about what the website should be. But let's get this clear right from the start - you cannot create a website through comittee - it isn’t going to happen. The best you can do is ask for everyone’s input and categorise this into what’s a priority, what’s important and what’s just nice to have.
Establish this from the start, make your business case clear and ensure everyone is on board with the final brief. It can be costly to change the specification and the design mid-way through the project.
Establishing a clear specification also means that there are no hidden costs or surprises along the way - if you know roughly what you are looking for, it’s always worth talking to your digital agency to ensure what you want to do is achievable within the budget.
Have a site plan in mind as well, while modern websites are usually designed to accommodate a growing number of pages, creating content alone can be time consuming. By mapping out the pages and content of your site, you can start to understand what investment will need to be made into content creation and sourcing assets like images, videos, PDF and other marketing material.
- Establish a brief
- Put together a specification
- Create a site plan with a visualisation of how users might navigate through the site
Step 3 - Designing the site
This is the exciting part - realising the vision! Be clear with your aims and objectives but be receptive to a designer's creative concepts. Remember, they’ve got a lot of experience and know a thing or two about what constitutes good web design, how to create a positive user experience and most importantly, what works from a development point of view.
Saying this, don’t be ruled by homogenised designs. There is a tendency for designers to revert to templates, especially when designing for WordPress. This needn’t be the case - no two companies are the same, each has nuances and slight variations in the way they do businesses, so why shouldn’t the website design reflect this?
There is a happy medium and here at Splitpixel we have a policy of designing a website until the client is 100% happy.
The initial concept may have been signed off, but this is not the end of the design process. There are a few other considerations that you need to bear in mind.
The internal page designs
Your website may require different types of templates for different purposes. If your site is for B2B services, the experience is going to be very different to that of an ecommerce, but in both cases, bear in mind the users experience - what do they want to be able to do/find out? Is the page of the site for awareness, decision-making or conversion? Whichever stage of the buyer's journey - you should be able to give your users some reason to remember you.
The responsive breakdown
This is techie talk for what your website will look like when viewed on a mobile or tablet. It’s easy to get engrossed in the look and feel of the desktop version and neglect the designs for other devices. Now, with the mobile market increasing on an exponential scale, it’s really worth taking time to consider these.
Designing the responsive breakdowns is all part of the process at Splitpixel and it’s very important to look at and sign off these variations of the designs too.
Designing with content in mind
Most designers and developers will request that you have, at the very least, put some time and consideration to the content and length thereof, as this can affect the design.
- Be clear when briefing the designer
- Allow them creative reign and be receptive to their ideas
- Consider all internal pages of a site; what’s the purpose of each one, what sort of content will need to be included on them
- Review the responsive breakdowns of the website designs
- Provide your design agency with the content for the site, both text and images
Step 4 - Development
The development of a website - the mysterious part of the project. The part of the project when you really just have to relinquish control and hope that your developers are building the site to best practices.
Once your website has been built and is ready for testing, there are some fundamental things you can check for which will ensure that, when it’s live, your users get the best possible experience.
Ensure your website works well on all browsers. You might have a leaning towards Chrome, maybe Microsoft Edge or Firefox, but each browser has its own idiosyncrasies, and where one page layout can render well on one browser, it might look very different on another.
Simple things like web fonts can render differently on browsers and can throw out the design and template, so also bear this in mind.
Of course, it’s important that the responsive breakdown works ok too. More people, especially in the design industry, are using high resolution or retina displays, which can make your website look amazing, but in reality many users look at sites on smaller screens, tablets and mobile phones - so it’s important that your website functions well across all these platforms.
Make sure your assets have been optimised for use on the website. If you have an image rich website this is a real consideration - hi-res images can take longer to render on a website and slow down site speed. You can use tools like compressor.io to optimise your images so they have the same impact but not at the detriment of loading speeds.
- Make sure your website is working well on all browsers
- Check that the responsive breakdowns of the site work and deliver the same impact and user experience as your desktop version
Step 5 - Adding in your content
Many websites will now include a CMS, empowering marketers to populate content themselves. It's a great opportunity to get to grips with the ins and outs of the system, so that going forward adding new fresh products and articles is nice and easy.
This is also the perfect opportunity to look at the aspects that will influence your digital marketing.
Updating your meta-data
Make sure that you’ve added page titles and meta descriptions to the site to help search engines to index the site and understand the content and themes. In addition, it’s a good to take advantage of headings on pages, to make sure that they are populated with keyword-rich content. Don’t forget your images too - alt-tags on images will help for these to appear in search engine image searches.
Also, refer back to your buyers journey to check to make sure each page contains those all important CTAs, signposts and in page links – the mechanics designed to make the site the ultimate lead generation tool. Check the forms too, as there would be nothing worse than a website with forms that didn’t submit properly.
- Add page title and meta descriptions to each page based on your site’s history and keyword research
- Include keyword-rich headers
- Make sure each image has a text alternative
- Add internal links throughout the site to encourage user discovery
- Cross-reference your content with your buyers journey to ensure that the touchpoints and CTAs are there
- Check your forms are working
- Make sure you’ve included privacy and cookies policies, website T&Cs, and a sitemap
- Purchase any images you may have sourced from stock sites
- Include social share icons on news and product pages using a site like addthis.com to facilitate this
Step 6 - Nearly ready to launch your website
So you are over the moon with your new website, and you’ve shown it to the management. They’re happy, and the sales team are delighted - this means more potential leads... yes?
There are some final bits that need addressing - things that can be overlooked but are so integral, and so obvious once brought to your attention.
Make sure you have domain login information to supply to your design agency. All-too-often this gets overlooked because it’s usually the remit of the IT department to look after.
You will need to repoint the domain to the new site. It can take from two to 24 hours to do this, so don’t do it on a Friday! Should anything be wrong with the transfer it would be better to deal with it within the next business working day, rather than a site being down for a weekend.
As well as redirecting your domain, you will need to redirect the pages from your current website. As website structures change and new navigations are introduced, page URLs can also change. Existing pages will have previously been indexed by Google, and may also feature on third party websites, social media and elsewhere on the internet.
We can’t express enough how important it is to create 301 redirects. You can use a tool like Screaming Frog to index your existing website to ensure you have redirected every page that exists. A high number of crawl errors on your website as a result of pages not being found - usually pages that have not been redirected - can have a negative impact on SEO.
Where is the site being hosted? Many agencies will recommend that a site is hosted on their dedicated servers, so that they can ensure the integrity and security of the website.
If you have a dedicated server to host your website from, it’s important that provisions are made early on so that your agency can gain access. Not having hosting in place can delay the launch of your site.
Remember to add any tracking tools such as Google Analytics or Lead Forensics for a seamless collection of web traffic data. Also make sure other online plugins, like live chat, are all working correctly.
- Provide domain login details to your agency, so that they can point it to your new website
- Set up redirects from all your old website pages to the most relevant new pages
- Secure arrangements for hosting
- Add Google Analytics and any other online tools
No one process fits all
Of course, every project is different and there are many other considerations to bear in mind. From our experience, we have found that clients tend to overlook some of these points. Of course, we have very stringent processes here at Splitpixel, and while a project may have many more complexities that require additional attention, we ensure that everything is checked off to ensure that you have the best possible solution, and a realisation of your initial digital vision.