Your 10 Pre-Launch Essentials for Releasing a New Website
The launch of a new website is always exciting; however, it can be a stressful process if the right elements aren’t in place prior to launch. There are many different components to take into consideration before releasing a site onto the web. With all of the chaos pre-launch, it can be easy to lose focus and forget multiple easy-to-implement, high-impact items. Don’t let that happen! Optimize your website for success by having everything prepped and ready to go prior to pushing a site live. The following 10 essential steps are a great place to start (or download the checklist).
- Install Analytics By installing an analytics tool, you are ensuring that you and your team will be able to measure the performance of your new site. There are many analytics tools to choose from but Google Analytics is a trusted, easy-to-implement platform that will give you reliable data and flexibility. Have this installed prior to launch so that you can begin tracking performance immediately. If you are updating an existing site that already uses analytics, make sure that the same tracking code has been included prior to launch to avoid any gaps in your data.
- Set Up Tag Manager, Event Tracking, and Goals In tandem with adding analytics, marketing savvy companies know that it is also important to implement Google Tag Manager and setup event tracking if they want to truly understand how their target audience is interacting with the new site. Tag manager can be fairly easy to set up (Visit Google’s Tag Manager Help page for installation instructions). Event and goal tracking require a bit more planning. As a marketing manager you will need to determine what achievements or conversions you want to monitor and how you would like to have that data reported to you. With event tracking you will have the ability to analyze how users are engaging with your site as a whole – what they click on, which videos they play, what they download, which contact forms are used most, etc. These insights can help you make actionable changes to your website to improve user experience and increase conversions. Spend some time before launching and think through your goals for the new site to have them tracking properly when the site goes live.
- Integrate Social Media Social media badges and links ensure that your users can reach you through all your social platforms. Social icons are most often placed in the header or footer of a website layout for consistency. Prior to launch, make sure each icon is properly linked to the appropriate accounts and are working properly. Want your blog readers to share your content on social media with ease? Incorporate social share icons onto pages of your website where users would be most likely to share content. Social share icons allow users to share a page of your website onto the social media platform of their choice without leaving your website. Depending on the content management system (CMS) your site is using, there are numerous plugins and widgets you can use to make this process simple to implement and manage.
- Check Mobile Compatibility With sixty percent of online traffic now coming from mobile users, it is crucial to that your new site is optimized for mobile devices. In fact, solving mobile capability issues is why many companies across the globe have embarked on new site designs. Prior to launch, conduct a final check on how the site is rendered in all screen variations. It’s best if you view the site on the hardware directly so you can see exactly how the new site appears. If you don’t have an array of phones, tablets and desktops at your disposal, you can leverage tools like Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool, Screenfly, or MobileTest.me to check responsiveness of the new site design.
- Check Browser Compatibility The challenge for web developers is that no two browsers work identically. Something may work perfectly in one browser, only to render jumbled in another. Make sure you check compatibility for each browser you set out to support. At Mad Fish, we ensure that all sites we develop are compatible with IE9+, Chrome, Safari and Firefox. Compatibility with older versions of IE (think 6-8) can be addressed but can be costly and may not be worth it for the small percentage of users still using those versions. Make sure you check compatibility for each browser you set out to support. We have tried a lot of tools in the past to simplify browser testing, and they have all had varying levels of reliability. Browsershots is a good resource to use to view how your site is loading in various browsers; however, nothing beats looking at the site directly in the browser. All browsers are free to download. Install them and view your new site through all variations if you want to be sure the site not only looks good, but functions flawlessly.
- Click Your Links Click everything! Even the best programmers in the world make mistakes! Broken links are an easy fix, but can be incredibly frustrating to a site user. We recommend using a link check tool like Xenu’s Link Sleuth. This app runs through your site and returns a full list of all links, both internal and external and identifies any broken links, 404 errors, and time out issues. Don’t let something as small as a broken link turn potential customers off. Before launching something new, make sure everything, absolutely everything, is working. Your users will thank you.
- Test The Sign Up and/or Purchasing Process For most websites contact forms are central to the company’s online success. Before launching a new site, make sure that every interactive element of your website is functional; including, newsletter sign-ups, PDF downloads, and contact. Confirm that the data is collected, stored, and sent to the right email address. If form submissions are integrated with Salesforce, or another lead management system, check that they are being received and categorized properly. For ecommerce sites, submit test orders to ensure that all the necessary messages are sent, data is submitted properly, and payment gateways work. When there are a lot of moving parts, errors can occur. Find those errors and get them fixed prior to launch.
- Leverage all On-Page Search Engine Optimization Elements On-page SEO elements are essential for maintaining and improving your site’s rankings. Double check that your title tags, meta descriptions, and alt tags have been implemented for all pages of the site. Moz.com has great resources for writing your title tags and meta descriptions. If your URL structure has changed in any way, or if you have removed pages from your site, make sure you have 301 redirects implemented to funnel your traffic to working pages in order to maintain your current rankings. Without the redirects, your site will have an increase in 404 errors that can negatively impact both your search rankings as well as detract from the user experience. No one wants to run into dead ends while surfing your site.Confused? Here is a quick cheat sheet on what those HTTP status codes mean.
- Set Up Structured Data Structured data (also known as rich snippets or schema markup) is a simple way to categorize your content so that search engines can understand it and display it in a meaningful way to users. For example, your company address should leverage structured data. Restaurants can use it for their menus and theaters for their showtimes. If your company holds regular events, displays reviews, or sells products, it can benefit from structured data. Structured data can be extensive depending on the nature of your website. Talk to your developer about putting this in place during the content population segment of your site build and check that the proper code is in place during your pre-launch check.
- Add a FAVICON Much like the name suggests, a favicon is the icon that is displayed in the window or tab of a user’s browser when they reach your site. It is also saved with your site when bookmarked, which is an attractive way to distinguish your site amongst others. The challenge that lies within the use of a favicon is finding an image that leaves a lasting impression within the small space given. Don’t be afraid to peruse your favorite sites as means of inspiration for adding to your own personal branding! Once you have found the perfect image for your favicon, we recommend making the process simple by using Favic-o-matic. This site takes your hi-res vector file and converts it into the 20 size variations you will need to ensure you meet all the various size ranges for mobile, tablets, and desktops. It has the added plus of also generating the code snippet you will need to plug the favicons into your site design. In most cases, simply uploading your favicon as favicon.ico to your root directory will be enough, though for extra certainty, add the following code to the <head> section of your website:<link rel=”icon” type=”image/x-icon” href=”/favicon.ico” /> Allot appropriate time to tackle the above 10 items and you, and your target audience, will reap the rewards. Most importantly, remember to celebrate the launch of your new site!