It’s hard to overstate the importance of having a website for your brand. Today, your next customers are connecting with businesses and doing their product research online, via search engines, review platforms, and social media networks - which can all help funnel users directly to your personalized landing page.
Having a unique, handcrafted website that is functional, responsive, and optimized for search engines can go a long way in helping your business stand out from the crowd. Your brand website is also a powerful marketing tool. It’s your calling card, your elevator pitch, and your sales funnel, all rolled into one. Your website can help your brand reach new audiences on search engines like Google, and help convert curious visitors into lifelong customers.
If you’re nearing the end of your website design and development process, you’ve probably been over all this - and then some! You’ve talked about design. You’ve discussed creating compelling calls to action and functional conversion tools. You’ve thought long and hard about the importance of UX.
Now, it’s time to move into the last phase, and start fine-tuning your site so it’s ready to launch. It’s time to look over the little details, to make sure your website is going to appeal to audiences, and rank highly with search engines. Before your site goes live, it’s also important to start planning for the future, and develop a strategy for all of the maintenance, performance, and security tasks to come.
So, what should be on your “to-do” list as you head for the home stretch on your website project? Here are ten key questions we always ask as part of a website launch checklist:
1.) Are All Elements of the Site SEO-Ready?
When you want to find a local business or look for someone who knows the answer to your most pressing questions, do you turn to Google? Millions of people do exactly that every day - including your next set of customers!
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the art and science that goes into getting websites to rank highly on search engine results pages, or SERPs. It’s a crucial part of any website project, and will influence everything from the way you structure your site, to the choices you make with your written copy. In addition to these big picture elements, SEO is also about looking at the little details, including (but definitely not limited to):
- Establishing a site map, to ensure that your website is indexed correctly with Google (and other search engines)
- Setting up a permalink structure that emphasizes clarity and keyword optimization
- Adding appropriate headings and title tags to all content
- Adding meta-descriptions for all pages
- Turning on caching for quick load times
- Ensuring that all existing pages redirect properly, if necessary
- Creating alt-text for all images
2.) Have You Created a Custom 404 Page?
Sometimes, things go wrong. Despite all of your hard work and best intentions, your users may run into the occasional error on your website - especially in the early days after a launch, when you may still be adding pages or fine-tuning functionality. In many cases, these issues are also going to be caused by user-error - say, typing in a wrong word in the URL, or trying to access a website section that is simply not there.
Having a customized “error” message can help dissuade users from “bouncing” away from your site if they run into any of these issues. It’s a lovely finishing touch that can help prevent problems before they start, by reassuring your website visitors that they are in experienced, capable hands.
3.) Is the Information In Your Contact and “About Us” Sections Up to Date?
Having contact information that is up-to-date and accurate is incredibly important. For one thing, it’s a crucial aspect of SEO, particularly locally focused SEO. If your goal is to get users to come to your brick-and-mortar location, then it’s essential that your address and other relevant information is included on your site. It’s also crucial to ensure that your information is fully accurate, and set up with the appropriate schema to be found by search engines.
Similarly, if you have contact information elsewhere on the web - say, on social media or review platforms like Yelp - then it’s critical that all of these different sources line up, to reassure your users that you’re being honest and trustworthy. In some industries, having accessible, accurate contact information is also an important aspect of compliance, and must be disclosed on your site as standard practice.
At the same time, remember that these sections are some of the places on your site that users are most likely to visit. How can you make these sections stand out with compelling copy and informative, interesting design choices?
4.) Do You Have a Regular Backup Plan In Place?
Disaster recovery and emergency preparedness are some of the fundamentals of running a company, no matter how large or small. They are also essential concepts to keep in mind as you get ready to unveil a new website!
While most of us prefer not to think about anything going wrong with our websites, the reality is that, unfortunately, incidents do happen. Hosting servers go down for days at a time. Cyberattacks knock out a Wordpress feature or plugin. We’ve seen - and handled - it all.
When these situations arise, it’s crucial to have a backup of your files, so that you can get your website back online and operational as quickly as possible, without any interruption to the user experience - or your sales funnel.
A full-service web development company like Geek Chicago can take this important task off your hands, handling daily site backups with retention so that you never have to worry about losing data or going without your site for any period of time.
5.) Have You Set Up Your SSL (Security Certificate)?
How secure is your website? The answer to that question matters a great deal to Google - and to your future customers. In fact, research suggests that 84% of people say that they will not make a purchase if they are dealing with an unsecured website.
A fundamental aspect of modern site security is to set up an SSL (“Secured Sockets Layer”) certificate. To put it simply, SSL ensures that any data that your users exchange with your site goes through a secure connection. For websites, SSLs can be hugely beneficial when it comes to SEO - and, in fact, they are required for any sites requesting information or online payments from users.
6.) Are You Set Up for Ongoing Site Maintenance and Updates?
It’s quite common to think of a website as a “set it and forget it” project. That is, once you launch your site, it’s good to go - until it’s time to build a new website at some point down the line. In reality, websites need a lot of care, attention, oversight, and maintenance to keep looking and performing their best over time.
As an example? Consider what would happen if an image on your site somehow “broke.” In addition to throwing off the look and feel of your content, one study suggests that 39% of users simply stop engaging with a website if images won’t load, or take too long to load. In other words? That seemingly simple, insignificant issue can snowball - and actually end up costing you customers.
As you get ready to launch your site, it’s essential to think about how you’re going to handle ongoing site maintenance tasks, including:
- Updating relevant plugins
- Establishing a firewall and monitoring for abnormalities or attempted intrusions
- Running security scans to protect against potential threats
- Monitoring and taking action if a site goes down
- Running speed tests to evaluate and improve site load times and performance
- Performing routine backups
- Identifying broken links or images
- Catching and preventing spam messages and comments
7.) Have You Connected Your Social Media Accounts and Newsletter?
Your website isn’t just living off on its own! It’s an important part of the digital ecosystem - and it’s crucial to make sure that all of your brand’s digital elements are connected properly, so they can work together to win your next customers.
In some cases, if your brand is particularly active on social media, this may mean adding a plug-in that shares posts and updates from your preferred network, like Instagram or Twitter. It may also mean setting up clear links from your website to your social accounts, to make it easier for audiences to reach out to you or learn more about your business.
If you create a compelling digital newsletter or produce content like white papers or ebooks, it’s also important to have a section on your site where users can sign up and access this valuable content. Similarly, if you currently run or are interested in using digital ads, it’s important to add code to your site so that you can capture audience information and retarget potential customers.
8.) Have You Set Up Analytics Tools for Future Performance Monitoring?
Just as it’s important to monitor your site on an ongoing basis for critical errors or necessary updates, it’s also important to regularly check and ensure that your website is helping your brand complete your most important goals! As you get your site ready to launch, double-check that you’ve set up tools to monitor user behavior and site performance, so you can establish a baseline of data and keep tabs on results moving forward.
Setting up analytics tools can allow you to monitor your conversion rate and any growth in your audience over time. It can also help you track metrics like bounce rate or dwell time, which can indicate how users are engaging with your site and give you key insights on your content, conversion funnel, and UX features. You can also glean important information about your audience that can guide future decision making - including determining what devices they’re using to access your site, where they’re located, and what channels they’re using to get to your pages.
9.) Have You Tested Site Performance on Mobile?
In today’s digital landscape, mobile performance is the name of the game:
- Users spend an average of 69% of their media time on smartphones
- 57% of all mobile users will not recommend a business if their mobile website is poorly designed or unresponsive.
- Users tend to spend 70% longer on a mobile site that loads in 5 seconds or fewer
The odds are high that your next clients are finding your brand on their smartphone. As a result, it’s absolutely essential that your site is designed to be just as visually appealing and easy to use on mobile devices as it is on desktop. Similarly, Google prioritizes mobile responsiveness extremely highly when it comes to evaluating SEO.
So, before your site goes live, be sure to check it on multiple devices and screen sizes to ensure that it looks great and is simple to use. The screens you’re checking out may be small - but the impact this step will have in the long run certainly won’t be!
10.) Are You Comfortable and Familiar With Using the Site?
Whether or not you’re retaining an agency to handle your site updates and maintenance, there will certainly be times when you’re going to want to check or edit your website yourself. This may mean small tasks like adding a new blog post or an image, or updating the “team” page when business booms and you add a new colleague. Or it could simply mean having a working familiarity with the layout of your site, so you’re never nervous about clicking the wrong tab during a client meeting.
Before we launch a new website, we always take the time to perform a thorough walkthrough and training with our client, to ensure that they’re fully satisfied and know how to use the CMS or make small updates over time.
Want to Talk Web Design and Development With the Geeks?
Want to get in touch? Curious about what may go into creating a fully custom website for your business? Want to talk about implementing a website maintenance strategy tailored to your needs? Interested in any other facet of web design or development - including proven lead gen strategies like SEO and content marketing? We’re here and always happy to talk shop. Drop us a line today to keep the conversation going!