If you’re like me, when you started your first business or online endeavor, you Googled [how to build a website] and went from there.
Or, you may have just started off with only your social media, and that’s cool, too.
But eventually, just about everyone trying to be successful online has to take the leap with a website.
And that can be daunting, especially since there’s so much pressure to get it right.
Then you add the wrinkle that sometimes you do it wrong the first time, and have to design and launch a new site that can grow your business.
This article will give you a foolproof method to help you get your website launched on the right foot. Or the left foot, if that’s your thing.
So let’s get started.
Website Launch Checklist
To help ensure that your launch goes smoothly, I’ve put together a master checklist that will help you determine what comes next, assign it to someone on your team, and track its status.
What to Do Pre-Launch
1. Choose the Right Website Platform
Whether you’re building or rebuilding, every website will rise or fall based on the platform you build it on.
Again, like me, when you started this process, you probably did a quick Google search and found some of the usual suspects like WordPress, Wix, and more.
The question is, which do you choose?
The answer is: it depends on who you are and what you’re doing.
Let me explain.
High on the list is WordPress.org (not to be confused with WordPress.com). This isn’t surprising, considering they own about 60 percent of the content management market share.
In fact, even Search Engine Journal is built on WordPress. It’s good to be king.
And being the king comes with perks. In this case, these perks look like flexibility when building a website.
It also means that you can have solid SEO from day one.
But what about other website building services?
It’s not uncommon to find reviews pitting Wix vs. WordPress.
So what does Wix have to offer in comparison?
One of the biggest pros in Wix’s favor is that it’s free.
But the praise from “serious” website builders stops there.
Heck, even Wix uses WordPress for their blog. That should tell you something.
Bottom line: SEO will take time for free builders.
Since you can’t do much of the dirty work involved in SEO on the free version, it’s hard to justify this as a solid choice. You can say the same of many other free website building tools.
The ultimate takeaway here:
No matter what platform you choose, you need to do your homework before just going with what the mainstream tells you. No gut decisions, only facts.
2. Choose Your Domain Name
Have you ever heard of IT Scrap? It stands for Information Technology Scrap, which was designed to convey the idea that IT professionals could get some good, gritty content to help them do their jobs.
When they first created their website, they decided to use a branded domain name. All well and good, right?
Not when the result is itscrap.com, or “it’s crap dot com.”
Not the best way to launch your site.
These days, they use the more tame, still on-brand regencytechnologies.com, but the original URL is still active.
While this seems like a relatively harmless example, the truth is that bad domain names are hard to recover from, especially when it’s a brand new site.
It may go without saying, but make sure something like this doesn’t fall through the cracks.
Because on a bigger level, the last thing you want to do is have to launch an entirely new site immediately after you launched the first one.
Talk about a waste of time, money, and SEO potential. Not to mention the lingering embarrassment.
3. Don’t Skimp on Hosting
And what about hosting? Where does that play in with your website launch?
Believe it or not, this may be one of the most under-considered aspects of building a website.
Most people want something that works, but don’t quite understand what it takes to make it work smoothly and with as much uptime as possible.
That’s where your hosting plays in.
Choosing the right hosting affects SEO aspects like site speed, and it touches on your long-term plans for expansion, flexibility, and even later redesigns.
So just like choosing a domain name, any old hosting service won’t do.
Make sure the option you choose can handle the traffic you throw at it as you grow your website traffic.
4. Set Standards from Your Current Site
If you’ve got a website that’s undergoing a redesign, you’ll want to take the time to measure its performance before you make the swap.
This will help you assess how your new site performs after launch and will give you a better idea of how your launch process goes.
Specifically, you’ll want to track metrics like your domain authority, indexed page count, and crawl errors.
These will allow you to set early benchmarks for your new site, and they’ll give you a better idea of whether your new launch is a success.
5. Map Out Redirects While Building
Once again, this tip is for those who are redesigning an old site.
When you switch everything from an old site to a new one, you’ll want to be reasonably sure that you’ll have somewhere to send them if they accidentally navigate to your old site.
To do that, you’ll need to map out a page for each old URL to redirect to. That doesn’t mean you have to recreate your website page-for-page, you just need someplace to send your old URLs.
While you won’t be able to set up your redirects until you launch your new site, it’s best to have a plan laid out while you’re building. This helps make sure you don’t miss anything and end up with frustrated visitors.
6. Publish Your ‘Coming Soon’ Page
It may be a no-brainer, but one of the best ways to hype your upcoming launch is to set up a coming soon page that you can direct people to in the interim.
This is especially useful if you’re doing a redesign, as it lets your audience know that you’re working hard to improve their experience.
It’s also a great way to let them know just how far away your launch day is, as you can add something like a countdown timer to build excitement.
There are tons of templates to choose from, or you can create your own.
Just be sure to have one. It’s easy to install and makes a huge difference leading up to launch.
7. Design Content Silos with Your Navigation
SEO and user experience on your website are inextricably linked. You can’t have one without the other tagging along.
Usually, this breaks down into two parts:
But these will only help your SEO (and give you the best website launch) if you get them in the right order. Here’s what I mean.
When you’re sitting down to map out your site, there’s a temptation to think about what you want from the design.
That often leads to non-linear, sales-hyped sites that have nothing to do with your customer’s true needs.
So the solution is to design your site’s navigation keeping in mind what your customer wants from you first.
The best way to do this is to create content silos that address the needs of your customer and push them to content or products that fill these needs.
Once you set this up, then you can start designing the pages and how they help users navigate your site.
If you reverse these approaches, you’ll have a fully designed site before you ever think about how your customers will find what they’re looking for.
That means your launch will go poorly, and the months after that will be just as bad while you redesign your entire site.
8. Test for Usability
Once you complete the previous step and have a fluid navigation, your next step should be to test your site for usability.
While usability testing can be pretty broad, there are a few vital aspects that should be at the top of your list for this step:
- Is it readable?
- Does it work in various browsers?
- Does it work on mobile?
- Will users know what to do?
If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then at least you’re on the right track. Keep polishing these elements until you’re ready to launch, and then keep tracking and polishing after that.
If the answer is no, then you need to go back to the drawing board and turn them into “yeses.” No exceptions.
9. Pick a Day to Launch & Spread the Word
This one may go without saying, but don’t just launch your website on any old day of the week.
This is a special event.
You’ve spent long weeks (or months) creating every aspect of your website.
This is an act to be celebrated and promoted, just like anything else you do as a business. A silent launch may sound humble, but it’s really a wasted opportunity.
Send out a press release to your industry’s major publications. Blast your pre-existing email list and social following if you have it. Just get aboard the hype train and toot your own horn.
A great example of a stellar prelaunch gameplan comes from the razor brand Harry’s. When they first announced their site launch, they used a two-page mini-site placeholder that allowed them to gather email addresses and for their eager audience to send referrals.
If a referral signed up, then the involved parties got free razors at launch. Who wouldn’t do that?
Because this kind of announcement really can work in the long term.
Just look at this SERP-topping redesign announcement if you want some inspiration.
It’s simple, easy to create, and can even bring in organic traffic if you do it well.
Of course, that’s only if you have a site that you’re redesigning. What if you’re completely new and have nothing?
The answer is simple: make something. You can still reach out to publications and other brands to get a little bit of exposure for launch day.
And, more importantly, don’t launch your site without anything on it.
Start creating helpful, rank-worthy content before you launch your official site.
That way when a visitor does find you, they have something to do besides admire your cool new design.
10. Don’t Neglect Meta Descriptions & Title Tags
When you’re building a new site, it’s tempting to want to cut corners for the sake of getting everything published quickly. But speed isn’t the goal.
SEO and long-term success are the goals for a redesigned or new site. Sacrificing those efforts for a quickly built website makes no sense.
If you’re on WordPress, you can even use SEO plugins to help out with this. Or find out how to edit them on your platform, and then do so.
11. Build for Mobile-First Indexing
Google made quite a splash this year when they officially announced the rollout of mobile-first indexing.
The short version of that is that if your site isn’t mobile-friendly, your SEO doesn’t stand a chance.
When you’re redesigning a website, mobile needs to be top-of-mind.
If you can, it’s recommended to try to build your site to be compatible with Google AMP. Not every website platform works with this though, so keep that in mind.
At the very least, build a responsive site that gives your mobile audience a good user experience. All the same principles apply, it just has to look and feel good on mobile.
What to Do During Launch
12. Implement Your 301 Redirects
If you built a map earlier, this is where you get to use it.
301 redirects are a tool you can use to capture visitors who may be clicking a link that leads to your old, now unused website.
Without a redirect set up, your potential visitor will merely hit an error page and be none the wiser of your new site. That’s bad for SEO and bad for business.
If you’re using a WordPress site, you can use the Redirection plugin or do it all manually.
And if you picked a different platform, then you’ll probably be able to find redirection tools in your backend or your platform’s app store.
13. Change Your Address in Google Search Console & Google Analytics
One other potential pitfall when launching a new website is not to have your Google Analytics and Google Search Console set up soon after launch.
For example, if you neglect to set up GSC until months down the line, then you’ll be submitting your sitemap well after you could be benefiting from it. Google won’t know how to index everything, which means you’ll be missing out on traffic.
My advice is to activate your Google Search Console on day one and upload your sitemap immediately.
You want to see the green “Success” light up as soon as possible because that means Google is crawling your site at 100 percent.
This will also give you an early jump on assessing the performance of your launch and the days thereafter.
Google Search Console can help you see potential errors that need fixing or pages that need more optimization.
Each of these data points (and everything else in Google Search Console) will help you grow in the aftermath of your launch day. That’s the ultimate goal, after all.
And what about Google Analytics?
The same principle applies. It won’t track anything until you set it up.
If the months after launch day come and go without your Google Analytics set up, you aren’t going to have any actionable insight on improving your site.
How are you going to know if your content and landing pages are successful?
And more importantly, how are you going to know what you need to improve for your SEO?
Setting up and using these two tools is a no-brainer when you’re launching a site. You’ll be better prepared for the day after launch day, and every day after.
What to Do Post-Launch
14. Check for Broken Links
In the aftermath of launch, it’s always possible for things to get broken.
The last thing you want for a website that’s supposed to help you is for your visitors to be unable to use it.
While it may seem weird that websites can just stop working at times, they are just jumbles of human-made code that need maintenance from time to time.
Part of that maintenance is some good old-fashioned link checking.
One way to do this is to check everything manually. Takes time, but at least it’s thorough.
A better way to do this would be to plug your URL into a broken link checker tool and see what it spits back.
This will give you a quick list of errors on your site, and then provide a plan for you to fix them.
Not bad for a few clicks and some copy/pasting.
15. Verify Your Site Speed
When you launch a new site, there will be things you need to repair, optimize, or otherwise edit.
Site speed is one of those things. And it’s absolutely vital to your SEO.
There’s no getting around site speed if you want to build your SEO up post-launch.
Check yourself out with tools like GTMetrix or PageSpeed Insights, and then follow their advice where it’s possible. You’ll be faster and better in the long run, just like Daft Punk.
16. Claim Your Local Listings
If you’re a brick-and-mortar business, you also want to make sure that you lay claim to the online tools that help you compete on a local level.
Or if you’ve done this already, you’ll want to ensure that your new site is the one that’s listed. You don’t want these listings to point to the website you’ve left behind.
This will help your local SEO and will make it easier for customers to find your physical location.
The two leading options for this are Google My Business and Yelp. These also provide a reviewing platform, which segues into reviews and how they impact your SEO.
But without these listings set up, you’ll be missing a huge part of what can make your website effective post-launch. They’re easy to create and edit, so don’t forget them.
17. Keep Promoting After Launch
Last but not least, don’t stop promoting the day after launch.
Your bright, shiny, and new website is going to be that way for a while. The feeling doesn’t wear off, and you probably won’t capture all of your audience on the first day.
Keep sending out emails to your lists. Workflow is better than a one-off celebration.
Post some more announcements on social media. Put it in a Facebook ad if you have to.
And speaking of ads, you can even run a Google Ads campaign. What better way to steal some traffic from the competition than by promoting your new site at the top of a search engine?
Keep pushing, growing, and improving your SEO over time. SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. But hopefully, you’ve got a new site that can endure that marathon.
Once everything’s in place, you’ve done what you could. Launch day has come and gone, and hopefully, you’ve followed this plan to help guide you through.
You picked the website platform that best suits your needs and goals.
In the greater scheme of things, you’ve avoided embarrassment and ridicule by giving some thought to your brand and domain name.
You pulled data from your old site to set benchmarks for the new one.
And, you ensured that you had a page-for-page equivalent for each significant part of your old site.
Plus, you’ve married your navigation and design in a way that provides the optimal user experience from day one.
By picking a set launch day and spreading the word, you ensure that your audience will be ready for you when you launch.
And with SEO essentials like a mobile site, meta descriptions, and title tags firmly in place, you’re ready for launch.
Once launch day comes, make sure you set up your 301 redirects and change your address in Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
And post-launch, make sure you check for broken links and verify your site speed. These can negatively impact SEO and are vital to keep tabs on.
Then don’t stop promoting. Launch day isn’t the only day you need to worry about.
Even if you’re not an immediate success, keep building on your successes.
Keep creating content, improving your SEO, and building your online brand. The results will come.
More Web Development Resources:
Featured Image: Pixabay.com
Screenshots taken by Brad Smith, September 2018
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ’s Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!