We launched the original website launch checklist back in 2009 and, as is rapidly becoming tradition, have revisited it to check it's still relevant, valuable and useful. So, take a look and make sure you're ready to launch in style.
Why are you launching a website?
Let’s start by asking the most important question of all - why are you about to launch something new?
It’s only possible to measure success if there are defined goals and targets against which you can analyse and compare results. Answering the above question will help to shape those targets, and provide objectives that can be measured and used to influence decision-making going forward.
Those same targets are the basis for determining if new content is appropriate, if a design choice is likely to be effective, and helps drive testing of the underlying code as well.
- Website goals and supporting objectives are documented
What kind of website are you launching?
A website can come in all shapes and sizes and these days there are very few limits to what is possible, especially at Box UK!
It’s important to set realistic expectations for where, when and how you expect your website to work across the diverse ecosystem of devices, platforms and browsers.
- The boundaries of your expectations for launch have been defined. Below is a set of examples of what this may cover (although not an exhaustive list, as it will be unique to each project):
- Should the site be responsive?
- What is the browser/feature support matrix?
- Are there performance expectations that warrants a performance budget?
- Should the site degrade gracefully on browsers that are outside the core set supported?
- Objectives are in place which can be used to measure the success of the launch
- The scope of the launch is defined and expectations are documented
The foundations are now laid and we can move on to our launch checklist with confidence.
After your website is launched, you will likely want to release further changes over time to take advantage of areas that are successful, improve on sections that are underperforming and provide new features and content to the visitors.
With that in mind, the ability to measure the performance of the site against the original goals is vital, so we will start our checklist with ways to judge the success of your site.
- Website analytics are in place to report on general visitor numbers and behaviour taken on the site
- Real-time analytics are in place to provide reporting that allows you to react quickly to and take advantage of emerging trends
- Reporting is in place for in-page engagement - enabling dynamic content personalisation unique to visitors as they browse
- Monitoring is in place for engagement with the site/brand on social media.
- Monitoring is in place for page performance (page speed)
Your content should support your goals. It should be clear, useful, accessible and consistent.
- A content strategy is in place
- Content is proof read for:
- Spelling and grammar
- Consistency of writing style
- Recurring phrases
- Variations in words (e.g. Websites vs Web Sites)
- Tone of voice is appropriate
- Content is formatted and structured correctly
- Copyright dates are correct and will update automatically
- All links work
- Contact details are easy to find and accurate
- Images, audio and video will work across all supported devices
- Hidden content such as alternate text for images is present and correct
Ensure that your design promotes and enhances the content of your site. It should be mobile-friendly, and respond to the capabilities of the device it’s viewed on.
Here are some simple things to keep in mind when launching the new design:
- Layouts respond to changes in screen size
- The design adapts to the features and capabilities of devices (e.g. touch support)
- The Favicon is present
- Touch icons for mobile devices are present
- Line length is appropriate for reading
- Typography choices complement each other
- The design degrades gracefully on older browsers
- The site looks appropriate when printed
- There are appropriate designs in place for handling errors, such as the 404 page
Setting high standards
Much of the work behind a website can be validated against standards. I would never suggest aiming for perfection with these standards, as it can sometimes feel like a box-ticking exercise with little value. But aiming for high standards, and using the variety of validation tools that are available, can help to catch hidden mistakes or raise awareness of important improvements before launching a site.
- Use ARIA Landmark Roles to improve accessibility
- Declare the language attribute to improve screen reader pronunciation
- Use semantic HTML to better convey meaning and document structure on pages
- Ensure that links on pages are recognisable and have a defined focus state
- Make sure forms fields all have associated labels
- Provide transcripts and subtitles for audio media and video media
- Check that colour contrast is appropriate for your visitors’ needs (using tools like this one)
Supercharge your site
A high-performance website can have a significant impact both on user engagement and your search rankings. Fast websites are less likely to frustrate your visitors and more likely to see them through to achieving their (and hopefully your) goals.
With that in mind, have you considered the following?
- Files are combined where appropriate in order to reduce the number of file requests
- Image files are optimised and/or compressed
- A caching strategy is in place where necessary
- The site has been load tested
- Script execution is deferred during page download
- Page resources download asynchronously
- A strategy is in place to progressively enhance a page with features as support for those features is detected
Risks are an inevitable aspect of any launch, but they can be significantly reduced by planning ahead and making use of the tools available.
- Regular backups are scheduled
- Backup recovery has been tested
- SSL is used unless there’s a good reason not to
- Penetration testing has been performed
- Alerts are in place when downtime or other key indicators take place
- Server disk capacity is appropriate
- Malicious code injection and cross site scripting vulnerabilities have been tested
- The appropriate users and roles are set up, allowing access to the correct areas of the site
- If necessary, the site is PCI compliant
Search engine optimisation
The best possible advice I can think of for SEO, is don’t try to rank highly for something you’re not.
When someone uses Google to search, and then invariably clicks one of the top results, Google will reward that site if it’s appropriate to the original search the user performed. There are many indicators that search engines use to determine if the result was appropriate, but the key message is to write content and design your site to be genuinely useful to the end user.
Saying that though, there are a number of small checks that should be done before a launch to help your cause:
- Research has been undertaken to understand what your users are actually searching for instead of making assumptions
- Page titles are sensible and relevant
- Pages have canonical URLs
- Pages have a meta description that accurately and succinctly describes the page
- When a page cannot be found, or there are redirects, the site sends appropriate headers to inform search engines of the result
- URLs are reflective of the information architecture
- A sitemap has been produced and submitted to search engines
- The site is fast
- The site is mobile friendly
- Microdata is in place to help search engines
- Semantic HTML is used throughout
- Alt text is provided for images
Launching a website has often been considered a stressful event. But this would only be the case if there are aspects of the launch that are unknown. Give yourself confidence that the launch will be smooth and successful by regularly performing human testing and instantly performing automated tests when code changes.
Testing helps to remove unpleasant surprises from a launch. When an unpleasant surprise comes along, find a way of testing for it the next time so that you never have the same surprise twice.
Tests should be a mixture of automated tests as well as exploratory human testing to give the highest degree of confidence possible.
- Smoke testing has been carried out
- Bespoke/complex functionality works as expected
- All supported browsers have been tested
- Mobile devices have been tested
- Forms have been confirmed to validate, submit, report and respond as expected under all circumstances
- Automated accessibility testing/accessibility tools are in place
- Automated testing of the logic behind your features has been conducted
- Automated testing the outcomes of your features has been conducted
- Regression testing has been undertaken
- Load testing/stress testing has been completed
- Key user journeys have been tested time and time again
Plan the next launch
A launch should not be a one-off event. Large, infrequent launches tend to contain larger, harder-to-test features which can lead to considerably more nasty surprises.
Plan to launch small and launch often.
Smaller releases have the advantage of being better understood, more stringently tested, and can cause significantly less damage if something goes wrong.
Measuring the success of small releases is simpler as there are less new features that could be the cause of change. Build on the success of the previous launch by planning, developing and releasing further improvements quickly while they are still relevant.
Hopefully these final items are easy to check off the list and will encourage you to start work on the next website launch immediately:
- You have a long term set of goals and objectives for your site
- You’ve put content strategy is in place that means your site is genuinely useful
- You have a brilliant design and experience prepared for the visitor
- You’ve conducted automated testing of all new features
- There is absolute confidence in your ability to quickly launch new changes
- Reporting is in place to measure and celebrate the success of your launch