Building a web page has never been easier with all the website builders and IDE software available nowadays. However, launching a website with a strong foundation and without any hiccups is an entirely different matter. For your website to hit the ground running, you need to take care of elements beyond setting up a few pages and writing copy.
Many site owners create a new website quickly, then spend a lot of time taking care of installing an SSL certificate, writing content and setting up analytics.
Ideally, those are all elements you should tackle before your site’s launch, so you can focus on what matters – growing your audience and publishing the best content you can.
In this article, we’ll guide you through a 17-point checklist of practically every element you’ll need to handle before launch day.
Let’s get ready for launching your website!
1. Make Sure Your SSL Certificate Works (HTTPS)
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates validate your website’s identity and enable you to use HTTPS for secure data transfer. It’s essential for e-commerce sites in particular, although there’s really no excuse for skipping this step regardless of your niche, particularly since you can generate an SSL certificate for free.
Many good web hosts will take care of setting up an SSL certificate for you.
If not, you can use a service such as Let’s Encrypt to generate a free certificate and set it up manually.
However, keep in mind that some websites require different types of certificates, in which case, you might need to purchase one. In either case, you’ll want to get your certificate up from the get-go.
Enabling HTTPS Traffic
Once your SSL certificate is in place, you can re-route all your website’s traffic through HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS.) As such, you ensure the security of all the data going back and forth from your site. Plus, most browsers will display whether your site is HTTPS enabled:
If you don’t configure your website to use HTTPS, visitors will get a warning when they try to access it, which is terrible for business and your traffic levels:
To avoid this big, problematic warning, we recommend following Google’s guidelines for enabling HTTPS. If you’re a WordPress user, we also wrote a guide on how to move your site to HTTPS, which you’ll want to take a look at.
2. Update Your Content Management System (CMS) to the Latest Version
Using a CMS can simplify your life in a lot of ways. This type of software usually provides you with a broad range of tools to create, update, and manage your pages, even if you don’t have web development knowledge.
However, much like other software, you’ll need to update your CMS to ensure it remains stable and provides you with its latest features. For a real-world example, see WordPress. This CMS rolls out updates frequently and includes new features every few months.
Before you launch your website, you want to double-check that you’re using the latest version of your CMS and whether it works fine with your site. This will practically ensure you won’t run into any nasty surprises on launch day and beyond.
Most CMSs will let you know when you need to update the software, so staying up with the latest releases shouldn’t be an issue. Even after your website goes live, we recommend you always update your CMS whenever a new version goes live, so keep an eye out for notices.
3. Set Up a Backup Solution
In short, backups can be a lifesaver. You should have a recent backup of your website, which you can restore if the worst happens to your website. Consider a backup as the last resort. It doesn’t prevent anything but becomes invaluable once something goes wrong.
There are a lot of ways you can backup your site. You can copy and download files manually, use a third-party service, or do it through your web host.
For peace of mind, we recommend using a web host that offers a backup solution by default. As such, you don’t have to worry about configuring anything, and if something goes wrong, you can restore your site with a few clicks. However, it’s always good to have a third-party solution available, in order to have an off-site backup as extra protection.
4. Integrate an Analytics Solution
Website analytics provide you with information about your website’s visitors. This includes traffic, behavior, demographic data, and much more. It’s not an exaggeration to say without analytics, you’re mostly flying blind. You might know if your website is getting traffic, but you won’t get any insights into what your visitors are doing and where they’re coming from.
To give you an example, look at your website’s bounce rate analytics. If the rate you see gets too high, you can infer there’s a problem with your website’s UX or performance, and take action before it gets worse.
There are a lot of analytics platforms to choose from, but we’re big fans of Google Analytics. Not only is it free, but it also throws a lot of data in your face.
While having too much data could be intimidating, it’s not a bad problem to have. Integrating Google Analytics into your website is simple, so we recommend you do it right from the start.
However, it’s worth spotlighting that new websites often don’t get a lot of traffic. This means it might be a while until your analytics tool starts to collect any valuable information. Even so, it’s better to have it up and running from the start, so you don’t have to play catch up later on.
5. Make Sure All The Pages You Need Are in Place
When you visit a site with unfinished pages, visitors are likely going to think it’s either abandoned or incomplete. Neither is a great look for any website, and it can impact the level of user trust and the semblance of professionalism.
A common problem with building websites is that we often think too ambitiously at first. Instead of thinking about the core pages your site needs from the get-go, you end up considering dozens of options in order to realize the ideal in your head. This level of ambition is great, but it can (and often does) delay your site’s launch.
Our advice is to return to the drawing board and outline which pages are critical to your website’s functionality. Stick to those for your launch and make sure they’re all ready for the public. Once your website is live, you can begin to think about expanding it.
6. Test Your Site’s Navigation and Internal Links
Another aspect that can make a website look half-baked is the presence of broken links. We might forgive a broken outward link or two, but if we run into a buggy navigation menu, it can be a deal-breaker.
However, unless your website’s page count is tiny, checking every link by hand can be incredibly time-consuming. Fortunately, there are plenty of online tools that do the link-checking for you:
Let the link-checker do its thing, and fix any broken links within your content, which should only take a few minutes.
7. Proofread Your Content and Copy
For the first element, let’s stick to the basics. No one wants to visit a website filled with typos, or with copy that reads as if a machine wrote it. Before your website goes public, you need to take a fine-toothed comb to it and make sure you catch aspects such as:
- Grammar and spelling mistakes
- Inconsistencies with your copy
- Redundant content
If you need a bit of help, you can use online grammar checking tools, such as Grammarly to help you weed out common errors:
Even the best grammar checking tools can’t make up for poor writing, though. If you think your copy is weak, take the time to rewrite the essential bits before launch. Otherwise, your website will look unprofessional.
8. Ensure Your Website is Accessible
A great website isn’t just about style or substance, it also has to offer a great User Experience (UX). This means being easy to interact with, read, and navigate. We’ve already covered several of these steps in the previous points. However, there are still a few accessibility guidelines you want to follow, including:
- Ensuring users can navigate your site using the keyboard
- Adding alt text to your images
- Using headers properly
- Making sure your forms work
All those small tweaks combined make for a highly-accessible website. This means close to 100 percent of your visitors can enjoy your site, and you provide a better all-around experience for those with impairments too.
9. Check Your Website on Mobile Devices
Most of the world interacts with the web mainly through mobile devices. However, not all websites are built with mobile devices in mind. Some issues your website might face include:
- Being hard to interact with (e.g. text that’s too large or small, difficult-to-click elements, etc.)
- Using media not optimized for small screen sizes
In a nutshell, you want your website to be mobile-friendly from day one. The easiest way to test this is by grabbing a mobile device of your own, checking to see if navigation is simple, and interacting with the site to root out any problems:
There’s also a wealth of tools and services you can use to test your site’s mobile-readiness. For example, Google offers a Mobile-Friendly Test you can run on your site for free. The test generates a thorough report which tells you what you’re doing right, wrong, and how to fix it. It’s perfect to quickly gauge your small-screen suitability.
10. Test for Problems with Different Browsers
You’ve likely come across a website that works on one browser, but not another (especially if you’re a 90s child.) Needless to say, you don’t want this to happen with your website, so it’s essential you test it using different browsers before launch.
There are hundreds of browsers you can test, but let’s be honest, most people use the big five. These are Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer/Edge, Firefox, and Opera. It’s easy enough to install all of them and test your website manually.
If you want to go the extra mile, there are also online services that provide you with many more obscure browser options to test your site. However, some quick in-house tests with the big five should be enough for most cases.
11. Check Your XML Sitemap
XML sitemaps are files that include all the URLs search engines should index on your site. For example, you can use sitemaps to ensure Google doesn’t miss any key pages, so they show up on the SERPs as you’d expect:
To put it another way, sitemaps are simple collections of URLs. You can easily use an online service to crawl your website and help you put together a sitemap automatically. Once it’s ready, you can submit it to search engines.
12. Generate a robots.txt File
While they’re not entirely the same, robots.txt files are similar in some ways to sitemaps. This file tells search engines which pages it should and shouldn’t crawl. With this file, you can also tell crawlers how to treat external links, block specific agents, and more. Here’s how a robots.txt file looks:
These types of files can get incredibly complicated, so we recommend you check out Google’s guidelines on what to include and how to format yours.
13. Add Metadata to All Your Posts and Pages
For the uninitiated, metadata is the collection of information that search engines use to determine whether your content is relevant. There is a broad range of metadata elements you can add to your posts and pages, but the two key ones are:
- Title tags: This is the title that shows up on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)
- Meta descriptions: These are the short descriptions below your title tags.
The goal is to create title and meta description combinations that entice users to click on your site when it shows up in SERPs.
Remember, you need to add metadata to all the pages on your website. The same also applies to any new content you publish down the road. The more your metadata is ‘on point,’ the greater the chance of organic traffic coming your way.
14. Use Schema Markup Whenever Possible
There’s a lot more data you can add to your pages to give search engines an even better idea of what type of content they’re dealing with. For example, Schema markup is a type of code you can include on your pages, which can help to dramatically improve your Click-Through Rate (CTR) within SERPs.
Using Schema, your pages can show up as rich snippets. These are results that offer more contextual information users might be interested in. For example, if you publish a recipe online, you can use Schema markup to generate a snippet that displays a photograph, calorie information, cooking time, and more:
There are hundreds of types of elements you can use with Schema markup, so it’s worth getting acquainted with the code before launch. It could be the difference between a slow launch and a successful one.
15. Configure Your Website’s Permalink Structure
At some point, you’ve probably run into websites that use complex URL structures, such as yourwebsite.com/public/2018/post=3463452
A quick glance can tell you what type of content you’re dealing with, but beyond this, the URL doesn’t tell you a lot. More importantly, URLs like this can be a bit unwieldy and unmemorable. Ideally, you’d go with a permalink such as yourwebsite.com/blog/classic-carbonara-recipe
Not only is a ‘pretty’ URL structure more memorable, but it also gives visitors a lot more information. Ideally, you want to adopt a permalink structure that works for your needs. That way, you won’t have to switch down the road once you’ve already published a broad library of content.
As with many other WordPress settings, changing your permalink structure is simple to do. In fact, WordPress has a full article on the subject, and you should be able to achieve it in a matter of minutes.
16. Consider AMP Integration
Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a framework that seeks to improve the performance of the web through a set of guidelines they believe makes for ‘better’ websites. As you’ll expect from the name, there’s a heavy focus on smaller screens, although you’re able to view these pages at any size.
There has been a lot of controversy around the project from its inception, as it can impact the style and experience for a lot of websites. In contrast, using AMP could net your pages a boost in the SERPs by appearing above organic content.
Even so, AMP is not a great fit for all types of websites, so you want to consider carefully whether to use it or not. If we’re talking about blogs or text-heavy content pages, AMP can be a great fit. Overall, it’s not a requirement (unlike most of the elements in this checklist,) but it is worth considering if you haven’t already.
17. Create Social Media Profiles for Your Website
Most successful websites also have a healthy presence on social media. In other words, they have active profiles that publish new content often, engages with followers, and generates some ‘buzz’.
The best time to start building your site’s social media presence is from day one. However, before you get started you want to figure out which platforms are the best fit for your content.
Take a restaurant, for example. You might not want a Twitter account, but a presence on Instagram is definitely a good idea.
Focusing on the platforms where your audience is likely to be will save you a lot of time and effort. Even so, building followers can take a while. Although you may not see much benefit from the start, it will pay off over the long-term, as you can direct those users back to your site.