You’re so close. Your designer has sent over the finished website. It looks good and checks all the boxes you need it to. You’re almost ready to launch.
This is a big moment, but before you actually put your website out into the world, you want to be extra sure everything is just right. Devote a little more time to completing these 15 steps and you can launch with total confidence that your website is ready.
Review Every Page
Your first few steps can all be treated as one big project. You want to go through the entire website, page by page, and do each of the following on every page as you go. Keep a spreadsheet as you go through this process to help you keep up with which pages are complete and what updates you still need to make.
1. Proofread each page.
Even the best writers and editors know how easily a typo or misused word can slip through. Even if your copywriter or content team proofread everything once already, do it one more time. Read over every page on the website to make sure it makes sense, supports your brand strategy, and doesn’t include any embarrassing typos or grammatical errors.
2. Check that paragraph styles and spacing are working correctly.
Sometimes the formatting that looks just right in a word processor ends up looking funny on your website, or the spacing gets messed up in the transfer.
In addition to checking for typos, check to make sure the text on each page is formatted in a way that looks good and makes it easy to read, and that the spacing is consistent throughout.
3. Check the links on each page.
While you’re on each page of the site, go through and click on every link. You want to make sure that:
- None of the links are broken.
- They all take you to the page they’re supposed to.
In the future, you can use a free broken link checker tool to help, but for now when you want to check for all three things, you should do it manually.
4. Confirm that all images load correctly.
A website with images that don’t load looks sloppy and will tarnish your brand’s reputation. Review each page to ensure that all images are showing up as they should – both the important images that are large on the page, and the smaller stuff like social media icons.
Nothing turns a user away than arriving on a website that looks like this:
5. Confirm on-page optimization.
Search engines completely dominate the way people use the web today. Therefore, every website owner has to think about SEO. Hopefully, by the time you’ve reached this point your webpages are already optimized for SEO, but you should make a point to check that all of them have basic on-page optimization down.
That means that you’ve:
- Determined a keyword to optimize each page for based on research.
- Included the keyword in: the URL for each page, the title tag, the page headings, the copy for the page and the image names and alt text.
- Write a meta description that includes the keyword.
While you’re checking that each of these fields has been filled in and includes your keyword, also make sure that everything is spelled correctly. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to proofread the stuff that’s not on the page itself. Don’t make that mistake.
Keep in mind here that you don’t want to overdo it. Keyword stuffing is bad for SEO and more importantly, for the user experience. Make sure all uses of the keyword feel natural and don’t hinder how a visitor would experience and understand the page.
6. On each page, ask yourself: is it clear what you want the visitor to do next?
Before you move onto the next webpage, confirm that you know what the goal for the page is and feel confident that the design, copy, and images all work to support that goal. If you want people on that page to sign up for your email list, make sure the email signup form is easy to find and the page makes it clear why it’s worth it for visitors to do so.
If the goal of the page is to sell a product, make sure that the copy is persuasive and the next steps to complete a purchase are clear.
Your website as a whole should have a goal, but each individual webpage should as well. Use this step to make sure those goals are clear and the pages are ready to meet them.
Check the Website Functionality
The page-by-page review will take time, but it accomplishes some really important tasks. Once you’ve gotten through that, there are a few things you need to look into about how the site works as a whole.
7. Check how it looks on mobile.
A lot of the people that come to your website will be doing so on their mobile devices. You have to make sure your website is mobile friendly. If you are using a mobile responsive design theme (most are these days), you can mark this off your to-do list!
Start by simply pulling up your website on your own mobile phone and doing some browsing. Does it look ok? Is it easy to find what you need and move from one page to the next? Try filling out a form or making a purchase. Was any part of the process difficult to do? Are all the buttons large enough to easily tap with your finger?
You can also use Google’s mobile-friendly test tool to see if the search engine deems your website a good experience on mobile (which matters for SEO). If the tool determines that your website isn’t mobile friendly, it will give you tips on what changes to make.
8. Check the site speed.
People don’t have the patience for a slow loading website. In fact, people now expect websites to load in less than a second. If your website makes them wait, there’s a good chance they’ll click away and find themselves another website to visit instead, potentially one of your competitors.
Site speed is also an important ranking factor for search engine optimization. So you’ll want to make sure that your website loads quickly.
You can find a number of free site speed tools on the internet to test your site with, such as GTMetrix and Page Scoring, both of which provide reports that help you understand what’s working and what’s slowing your site down if it’s not fast enough.
9. Test it on different browsers.
Different visitors will be coming to your website through different browsers. By this point, you’ve checked how the website looks through the browser you use the most often. Now it’s time to go back and test it out in all the others.
The most popular browsers you should be sure to check are:
- Internet Explorer
Download each one of these browsers and test your site. Or you can use a browser testing tool to quickly manage the process.
As you did when checking your device on mobile, don’t just pull up the homepage on each. Do some browsing, fill out a form, and make a test purchase. You want to know now if something’s not working on a particular browser, instead of after it has caused frustrated visitors and lost sales.
10. Check that your favicon is in place and showing up.
Even if you haven’t heard the term favicon, you’ve seen them around. They’re the images that show up on the tab at the top of your browser. For example, the HostGator one looks like this:
A favicon won’t make or break your website, but it’s a nice little branding opportunity that’s good to get into place before you launch. If you already have a logo that will work as a Favicon, then this step will be easier, otherwise you’ll need to design one (or hire someone to design one for you).
Keep in mind when choosing the right favicon for your site that’s it’s going to show up tiny, so don’t bother with too much detail. Once you have an image ready, load it to your main directory and insert the proper code into each of your webpages.
By default, you website will have the HostGator logo as the favicon. Check out this article for how to update your favicon.
It’s easy to set up and your website will immediately appear that much more legitimate and established with a favicon in place.
11. Verify that any forms on the site are working correctly.
Most websites include contact forms or forms for lead generation (such as those people have to fill out to download an ebook). Every form on your website needs to be tested out before launch, not just to make sure that you can fill it out easily without problem, but also to make sure that the information the form collects is sent to the right place.
If it’s supposed to go to your CRM or be sent to you in an email, check that it ends up where it’s supposed to. If your forms don’t work, not only will you lose out on valuable leads and contact attempts, but you also risk providing a disappointing experience to prospects that are expecting something from you.
Last Minute Steps to Get Ready
You’re almost there! You just have a few more general steps to take in order to be ready to launch.
12. Set up a custom 404 page.
Hopefully, by fixing all your broken links in step #3, you won’t have to worry about your visitors ending up on an error page any time soon, but inevitably at some point they will. Be prepared.
Set up a custom 404 page that matches your branding and helps customers figure out where to go next.
As an example, ours gives people a few different action items they can follow, so we decrease the risk of losing them.
Your 404 page doesn’t have to be clever, but it doesn’t hurt. A 404 page with a cartoon alligator dressed like Sherlock Holmes or a clever message like the one NASA uses dulls the frustration of a broken link.
13. Set up a system for continual backups.
Technology’s done a lot to improve our lives, but it’s not perfect. Most of us have dealt with the dreaded experience of losing valuable digital data or documents in one fell swoop due to a technical failure of some sort.
The website you’ve worked so hard on should not suffer that fate. Most hosting platforms (including HostGator) offer a service for automatic backups. It’ll cost you a little money, but those few bucks a month can save you from the catastrophe of losing your website. You’ll be glad you spent that money if the day ever comes when you really need that backup.
HostGator’s backup service – Code Guard – will automatically backup your website as often as daily so you don’t have to think about managing backups.
It’s also equipped with features like one-click restore of your entire website, or just a single file. Finally, it has security features like 24/7 website monitoring and security scans, plus instant email alerts for any unauthorized changes that were made to your website.
If you’re using building website on WordPress, you can even use a plugin to handle your website backups, or you can manually backup your WordPress site if you don’t want to rely on a plugin to do the work for you.
14. Sign up for Google Search Console.
A Google Search Console account gives you the means to communicate certain things directly to Google. If you want to submit new content for crawling by Google or remove pages you don’t want to be indexed, this is an easy place for you to do that.
It’s also a good spot to check in to see if there are any issues with your site’s performance. You can get a quick snapshot of issues like manual penalties or detected malware. As such, it’s an important account to have set up before your launch.
15. Set up Google Analytics.
Finally, the most important tool for tracking your website’s performance over time is Google Analytics. Every site owner should have a Google Analytics account set up by the time their website launches. If you don’t have one already, time to get started.
You can set up an account by simply following the instructions here. You’ll be provided with a tracking code that needs to be added to every page on your website.
Once your website has launched and you start getting visitors, you’ll be able to access detailed data on who is visiting your site (demographically speaking), how they found you, and what they did once they reached your website.
Ready to launch?
Now it’s time. If you’ve fixed every error you encountered in the course of taking these 15 steps, then your website is as ready as it’s ever going to be. Unleash it onto the world and get ready!
Your website may be finished enough to launch, but once it’s out there, it’s time to start paying attention to what works so you can start the never-ending process of making your website better in the days to come.
Remember – your website is NOT print. So publish when you’re ready to go live, and make improvements later. After all, a successful website is never really done.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.