It has been over three years since Dan launched the original Ultimate Website Launch Checklist, consisting of some 50 high level content, marketing and technical items that web managers/developers/product owners/digital marketers should always consider when launching (or re-launching) a website.
It remains one of our most popular blog posts and this, along with the feedback we continue to receive, suggests that the checklist still has value for people. We have therefore decided to revisit the post to accommodate the advancements in technology which have created a continually changing landscape of website development and release.
So, let’s dive directly into the checklist to see what remains relevant, what has changed and what can be added when launching a website in 2012.
Content and Style
This section largely remains unchanged, as the concepts originally covered are all still relevant. Since 2009, browser support for web fonts has increased and now all major browsers have support for embedding web fonts, as well as support for the Web Open Font Format (WOFF) standard in their most recent versions. Unfortunately older releases do not have the same level support for a common format, which has given rise to font services such as a https://typekit.com. If you’re planning to use embedded fonts you should be checking whether they’re readable across the major browsers; if not, are you considering using a service to manage it?
Content strategy, a relatively new discipline, is concerned with the creation, publication and governance of useful content. It may be the case that you have a dedicated content strategist who is responsible for planning the generation of content for the site’s launch. Although it is unlikely that the strategist would be generating the content themselves, their focus on providing tools which enable your team to create content should help ensure all points under the Content and Style section are covered. Having this role should also enable you to test the design with live content at an early stage, to uncover and potential issues with layout or performance before they become a problem.
Standards and Validations
As with the previous section, all points covered in the original checklist are still relevant. It could be argued that accessibility has actually increased in importance; since the checklist was first released, one of the biggest changes is the rapid expansion of people access content from alternative devices such as smartphones, games consoles and set-top boxes. Between 2009 and 2010, mobile traffic to website grew at a rate of over 500%.
This offers new challenges to ensure your website is accessible to all, and re-enforces the need to use validated markup and CSS. Browser support for HTML5 and CSS3 has dramatically increased since 2009, and although these are not yet official standards, W3C already offers validations for both. This allows web developers and designers to take advantage of the latest technologies to create a more engaging experience for their users.
Although not directly related to validation, another new consideration for accessibility is ensuring core content is not locked away in Flash. At present, Apple’s Safari browser for iPhone does not have support for Flash, something that is unlikely to change as Adobe has officially discontinued support for Flash on mobile devices.
Search Engine Visibility, SEO and Metrics
Although all the basics covered in the checklist remain important considerations for search, there is an additional relevant aspect: site performance. The Google Page Rank algorithm now takes site performance into consideration, and website performance features as part of Google Webmaster tools. Performance is also a consideration for mobile users who might not have access to high speed network connection. Therefore, websites need to be optimised so that content can be delivered effectively for mobile users.
Search engines are constantly updating and refining the way they assess pages to determine rankings, so it’s nearly impossible to offer definitive answers on the best tactics for optimising your site. However it is always a good idea to check that the length of your meta descriptions and page titles fall within the character limits of what is shown on SERPs (currently for Google this is between 155-160 characters for the description and 65-70 characters for the page title). You can also increase your chance of ranking highly by making sure that these are unique for each page, just as the body copy should be. Of course you should always be checking for the latest updates and the impact they can have, and the services of an SEO expert can significantly help filter through this noise to highlight the most important current trends and required actions.
As with the Standards and Variations section, the increasing variety of devices now has to be considered when undertaking functional testing. This should not just be restricted to smartphones but any other devices your audience may be accessing your content from, such as feature phones and smart TVs. The large number of devices that may need to be covered has given rise to tools such as BrowseStack, which allow teams to easily test websites across a wide variety of devices at a low monthly cost.
Security / Risk
Another consideration is whether to use a Platform as a Service (PaaS) option over traditional hosting solutions, which can dramatically reduce the need to perform these checks, as they can be bought as “add-ons” to the main service. However, this isn’t a risk free approach, as recent outages of popular service Heroku has helped illustrate, and often PaaS can be a costly approach for smaller organisations where website stability isn’t essential.
As previously mentioned, the way a website performs has become increasingly important over the past three years, and Google now considers this an important attribute when ranking a page for placement in search indexes.
One particular facet of performance, image optimisation, is particularly interesting due to the introduction of the expansion of a mobile audience, as well as catering for both traditional and retina displays. If not handled correctly, company logos / imagery may appear blurred on retina displays, so this needs to be checked to ensure they appear aesthetically pleasing on both types of display. Further iconography issues can be solved by the use of icon fonts; using embedded fonts to render icons which scale nicely and also support alpha transparency for Internet Explorer 6.
Caching still remains an important issue for high performance websites. The tools have improved to support fail states and clustering of cache buckets, but a new consideration before launching is to check that clustered caching can support a failure and still remain up. It’s also essential to ensure that additional caching resources can be added without any downtime to a site, e.g. confirm your caching layer is scalable.
As this post has shown, the fundamentals will always remain relevant when launching a website. However, the way in which users are now accessing content on the web has dramatically changed, which offers new challenges and additional considerations.
The new version of the checklist is available to download below; feel free to share this PDF as you wish but please credit the original source. As with the original post, we appreciate any feedback and would welcome others recommendations if we have missed anything essential to check to consider when launching a site in 2012. And remember, while the checklist comprehensively covers the most important considerations when launching a site, there’s still plenty of ongoing work to be done once your site is live, including maintenance, marketing and optimisation among other things.