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A new website is exciting.
Colors to choose and logos to design.
Customers to plan for and content to create.
But how do you know when it’s time to really let that website go live?
The timing is easily different for different businesses, but one thing is certain – you never want to let your site go live before you’ve checked some critical items off the list.
Make a list before digging in.
Before you get too involved in your website design, you had best have a list of things you need to do. The excitement of the new website can very easily overshadow all of the details that you need to do that aren’t quite as exciting.
Make a list of items that are necessary to be successful with your new business ranging from registering the domain name to ordering the champagne for the launch party. Then start crossing things off the list, using your plans to guide your attention and focus.
Focus on content.
There are many aspects to a website, and some are definitely more fun than others. Designing a logo and letterhead and absolutely worthwhile, but you should spend as much time – if not more – working on the words and images on your website as you do the design and the name of it.
Often the coding, colors and designs take center stage in the website design process and the copy gets pushed farther down the list of priorities. While the content may be one of the last things developed, it should be one of the highest quality things on your site – not something you slapped together to fill a page you spend quite a bit of time and money developing.
Prepare for the worst case… and the best case.
What is your plan if your website is so popular you get millions of visitors in a short amount of time? What happens if it crashes? Who is in charge of monitoring the traffic and checking for errors and concerns? You should have a plan in place before the site goes live to deal with any issues that arise.
Think of this as a sort of fire drill. Who grabs the fire extinguisher and who calls the police? Your team should have jobs if an emergency does happen with your site to ensure it is off-line for the absolute least amount of time possible. While emergencies happen at bad times, they can happen at the best of times as well if your site buckles under the sheer weight of the traffic arriving. Plan for that contingency as well.
Use a staging site for planning and development.
As you are building the different components of the website, it shouldn’t be live. When you make your website live for the first time it should be absolutely perfect. All tests should be finished, all content created and all images quality-controlled.
You do all of this testing in a staging site that exactly mimics your own website. This allows your team to place things, move things and test things in a risk-free environment. Setting up a staging site is easy on a private server. When you’re ready to make it live, you’ll simply push the final product you’ve created onto your new domain name and you’ll be ready to go.
Check your load speed.
On the internet, load speed is one of the big anchors that can hold you back or even sink you. If you have a beautiful site that takes forever to load, nobody is going to stick around to see what you’re trying to say. Focus on reducing your loading times and use as many tricks as you can to improve them – powerful servers, smaller images, whatever it takes.
Compress your images.
Images are huge on websites in every sense of the word. Customers like seeing images and they enjoy being able to add their own to certain websites. Those same images that are so hugely popular are also hugely sized.
Images are easily one of the heaviest things on a website, but that doesn’t mean you should cut them all out of the site. People like looking at them, so you just need to compress the images to make them as small as possible while maintaining the look you’re going for.
You don’t need absolute clarity on a website image – unless you’re selling images, perhaps. Instead compress all of your images to take up as little space as possible and help those sites load quickly.
Optimize for mobile.
Roughly half of all internet use is done through mobile devices. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile, you’re losing customers. Fortunately finding designs that are both desktop and mobile popular isn’t hard at all, and it’s often simply a matter of starting with the right design idea when you first begin your website build.
If you’ve managed to make a website without accounting for mobile users, it is a mistake that will need to be corrected as quickly as possible to maximize your impact and profits.
Check that your XML sitemap is on the server.
Your XML sitemap is created as a copy of your site code. It lives on the server and lists all of the URLS that are relevant to your shiny new website. This sitemap is a significant feature for website optimization because it allows web crawlers to find and determine the structure of your website.
Once they have found the XML sitemap, the crawlers can find all of the relevant parts of your website, crawl it correctly and rank those pages appropriately.
Become a customer.
Your website should not go anywhere close to live until you’ve had a chance to act as a customer. Log onto your website in the test environment and go through the steps to order whatever it is you’re ordering. Check that the site does what it is supposed to do, that the order forms are in good shape and that the item ordered is registered correctly in the back office.
You aren’t completed with this process until you’ve ordered the item, checked to see that the item ships correctly, the payment is recorded appropriately and the item is delivered as expected. If there are any hiccups in the process, it is certainly not time for a launch. This is the most critical part of the site, after all.
When you think you’re finished with the website, close it up and go to bed. Then, in the morning with fresh eyes, start reading. Look for typos, misspellings, awkward sentences and phrases and unbalanced phrasing. When you finish looking through the site, have others do the same.
The more eyes you have reading through every word of your content, the more likely you are to catch the mistakes that will become a huge turn off for your customers when they notice the typo or the punctuation error. Your best editors are those who have not had any hand in creating the content itself – they are unbiased.
Check your links.
Sometimes developing a website takes a few days. Sometimes it takes months. Regardless of how long it take for your team to put the site together, it takes only a moment for a link to stop working. If you have outbound links on your website (and who doesn’t) you need to be sure to check those links periodically.
Spend a few minutes clicking on all of the links, noting where they are going and if they are still valid. This is especially important if you have rearranged pages and repurposed old content on the new site. While you’re focusing on links, you’ll also want to be sure that you have a 404 Error page set up in case you do run into a link issue in the future.
Confirm your SSL Certificate
Something that may have escaped your attention, but definitely shouldn’t, is your SSL certificate. The SSL certificate ensures your website is secured and protected from hackers and gives your visitors that extra level of security.
The SSL certificate is also now a part of Google’s SEO algorithm, so there is an even greater incentive to go those few extra steps to be sure that your site includes an SSL certification. If your website does not, purchase one and install it correctly. This process can take up to two weeks, so be sure that you take care of this task well in advance of your launch date.
Your website is at the least and extension of your business, and at the most the business in its entirety. Why jeopardize your livelihood and reputation by rushing such a critical process?