13-pre-launch-essentialsLaunching a new website can be stressful. There are many things to take into consideration and it’s common to forget several easy-to-implement, high-impact items.
If you want your new website to soar, it’s important you have everything dialed in from the get-go.
Use the following as a sort of “new website checklist” prior to launch:

1. Install Analytics

It doesn’t have to be Google Analytics, but installing some sort of Analytics tool on your website is important for measuring overall statistics and performance. The earlier you can start collecting data on your site, the better. It’s always good to have a baseline.

2. Set Up Goals

This ties into essential #1, but it’s important enough to deserve special mention. Again, the earlier you can start collecting this sort of data, the better. Goals can consist of sign-ups, submitted forms, views of a key page, event tracking, number of pages visited, time spent on site, etc.
If you’re an eCommerce site, you’ll also want to make sure your sales are being tracked. Most eCommerce platforms will make setting this up fairly painless, but if you need more information on how to do this manually, here’s a great link.

3. Implement Social Sharing

This should be a given, but it’s easy to forget when first launching a site and your attention is focused on design, troubleshooting various technical issues, etc.
My go-to social sharing platform is still ShareThis. Sign up for an account, follow the steps and you’re good to go.
By adding st_via=’YOURTWITTERHANDLE’ to the code of the Twitter button, it will make it so that when people share your content, they also mention your Twitter handle (instead of using @sharethis).

4. Integrate Social Media

By this, I don’t mean social sharing buttons. If you have profiles on Facebook/Twitter/Google+ (and you should!), tastefully including their various widgets in your footer or sidebar can be a great way to further boost your community. (Look to your right for an example of this in action.)
Facebook: https://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/plugins/like-box/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/settings/widgets
Google+: https://developers.google.com/+/web/badge/

5. Add a FAVICON

A favicon is, as it sounds, an icon. It brands the window or tab of a user’s browser with whatever you’ve defined as your favicon. It’s also saved with your site when someone bookmarks your site, which helps distinguish it among long lists of other bookmarks.
In most cases, simply uploading your favicon as favicon.ico to your root directory will be enough; for extra certainty, add the following code to the <head> section of your website:
<link rel=”icon” type=”image/x-icon” href=”/favicon.ico” />
The challenge of a favicon is creating something that has impact within a 16×16 square. Take a look at some of your favorite sites for inspiration!

6. Provide Mobile Compatibility

With the number of mobile users skyrocketing, having a mobile-friendly site is a necessity. You can approach this one of two ways:

  • 1. Detect mobile users and redirect them to a separate site.
  • 2. Create a responsive design, which uses CSS to manipulate widths and positioning based on the width of the browser window that’s viewing the site.

Related: Why 2013 Is the Year of Responsive Web Design

7. Check Browser Compatibility

As a web developer, it can be extremely frustrating to have something work perfectly in one browser and break in another. Though ancient these days, there are still people (and internet cafés) using IE6, which is notoriously difficult to achieve full compatibility. (If you have your site working in all browsers besides IE6, I’d say you’re in extremely good shape.)
At a minimum, make sure everything looks OK in the last several versions of Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Safari. If you have the ability to check in other browsers as well, it’s always best to do so.
Browsershots is a great tool for at least seeing how your site loads in various browsers.

8. Click Your Links

Don’t just assume that all of your links work. Even if you’re the best programmer in the world, it’s still extremely easy to include a broken link here and there. Click everything. Make sure it’s working. Fix what isn’t. Your users will thank you.

9. Run Your Site Through GTmetrix

I was actually first turned on to this tool by HostGator, but it has since become an extremely valuable resource for testing the speed of a site, seeing if/where there are hangups, and determining what needs to be fixed.
Give it a try at http://gtmetrix.com/.

10. Test the Sign-up and/or Purchasing Process

Few things are worse than having a “perfect site” that doesn’t function. If there’s an error with the sign-up or purchasing process, it would be a shame to put all that time, effort and money into promoting the launch of your website/product(s) with no chance of return on investment.
Test it!

11. Pay Attention to Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) goes far beyond a few <title> tag alterations. The Beginners Guide to SEO is a great place to start. If you’re using WordPress, WordPress SEO by Yoast is a must! It’s a great way to make sure your <title> tags are in check, add Open Graph meta data, create a XML Sitemap, noindex possible duplicate content and much, much more.
Additonal tools: On-Page Grader (Moz), Screaming Frog

12. Generate & Submit a Sitemap

If you’re using WordPress and Yoast’s plugin (above), this becomes as easy as checking a box to enable functionality. You’ll also want to submit your sitemap to Google & Bing Webmaster Tools immediately upon launch.

13. Set Up rel=”author” and rel=”publisher”

This is great for gaining additional exposure and an increase in click-through rate (CTR) on Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Here are some quick tutorials to get you started: How to Set Up Google Authorship & How to Set Up Google Publisher Markup.

There’s always more you can do to help ensure a smooth launch, but by following the steps above you’ll be putting yourself in great shape moving forward.