13 Steps to a Successful Website Launch
We all have been there, the client pushes for a launch date that is about 3 days before everyone had planned on. It is now Friday at 3:00pm and you are being pulled in all directions trying to get everything ready for the big launch. You keep asking yourself, “Did I forget anything?” “What else do I need to do?” Hopefully you pulled through and made the launch a successful one without anyone knowing otherwise, but for those who were not as lucky I hope this list can save you some headaches on your next big launch.
General Advice for All Website Launches
Avoid the temptation to prematurely launch the website. Even if a client is breathing down your neck, trying to push for a fast launch, and just wants you to publish files… don’t. Instead work as fast as you can, in a methodical other and do not cut any corners. You are ultimately the one who suffers if you launch the site early and forget to update the navigation thus rendering the site unusable, not the client who forced you to launch early.
Plan to launch early in the day and early in the week. If you have the liberty of scheduling a time to launch the site, try to shoot for a date early in the week rather than Friday at 3:00. More often than not if you have that launch at Friday at 3:00 everyone does a quick test and goes home for the weekend. On Monday you come back to the office with a inbox full of SOS’s from your client for an error that has been around all weekend. Even if your traffic is higher on Monday at 10:00am, you will have a better chance of being the first one to pick up on a problem and fix it quickly causing only minimal damage. An error that goes uncaught for the entire weekend could be very bad news.
Inform the entire team of the launch. Make it a point to inform every member of the team involved with the website launch of the time and date of the launch BEFORE the actual launching of the website. By making sure everyone is on the same page about the date and time of the launch it will reduce the risk of someone going out to lunch at that critical moment when they are suppose to be publishing files.
Website Launch Checklist
- Go through entire site and check for spelling and grammatical errors.
- Validate all code using W3C Validator http://validator.w3.org/ . Validate all style sheets using W3C CSS Validator http://jigsaw.w3.org/css-validator/ .
- Check all forms. If you have a contact form make sure that you have changed your email address, which you used for testing, to the clients requested email address. Make sure the reply to address on the forms is the clients and not yours.
- Test your .htaccess file. Make sure your website redirects to www, and make sure all existing pages you are replacing have been successfully 301’ed.
- Ensure that any images that have been referenced absolutely have the production URL and not the development URL. (i.e. html emails)
- If any dummy data was added to database or to site while testing make sure to remove prior to launch.
- If you are launching an ecommerce website, make sure that you’re using the cheapest merchant services to minimize on processing fees, and confirm that your merchant account is out of TEST mode and DEBUG mode is turned OFF when it’s time to launch.
- If client has requested, install Google Analytics and/or tracking scripts
- Make sure all email addresses associated with the website have been setup and tested prior to launching the website. (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Test website on multiple browsers and on multiple computers if possible. Make sure site degrades nicely for IE6. (tip: Ask the client what browser they are running along with what toolbars/plugins that they have. Even though you have built the website for the general public make sure to please your client first.)
- If you are using SVN a version control system, (which you should be) follow these last steps.
- Commit all final files to the repository, including user submitted images and content to the repository to publish for the initial launch. (i.e. FCKeditor/TinyMCE user_files, product images from CMS, uploaded PDFs, etc)
- Update/push all of latest files to production server.
- If you are using traditional FTP publishing follow these last steps.
- Create final backup of all files from development server. Ideally you could go to your hosting control panel and gzip entire site directory to download as one file.
- Upload all final files to production level FTP. Make sure to check your final log to see if any files failed to upload for one reason on another.
- Repeat steps 3,4 and 10 Even though you have already done these steps, take the time and do them again. It can never hurt to do 5 minutes more of testing.
This list may not work for everyone so if I left something out which you do every time you launch a new site please tell us about it. We all have to launch sites and we all want them to go as smoothly as possible, the more information that gets shared on successful launches the better.