I remember back in the day when launching a website made me so anxious. It’s no wonder since I made plenty of mistakes back then. There was the time my client’s email went down for a day or so because I assumed her email was on her web hosting account, but it wasn’t. Whoopsie!
Then there was a time when it took 48 hours for the client’s website to come back up after changing hosts. That client called me every two hours worried about it.
The school of hard knocks is an excellent teacher if you live through the drama. We’ve learned a thing or two about being prepared and preparing our clients for the launch process. Although we’ve rarely had a hiccup in years, we don’t launch a website on a Friday, and we make sure we have everything we need in place to do the job right.
We now use a pre-launch checklist that helps us know that we have everything we need, that we’ve completed all of the work and have checked it thoroughly. We divided our pre-launch items into two lists. One list includes things about the site build itself. The second list is comprised of launch planning questions, gathering the necessary passwords and quality assurance.
We believe it’s crucial to include our clients in the pre-launch review process, so they are well informed and actively involved. Clear communication with the client about the fact that they need to approve the site before launching motivates them to proofread the website and provides a type of closure to the project. Having this formalized ending also minimizes requests for revisions coming in months later for a mistake your client never noticed before.
I’m sharing the questions we use in our three checklists. Let’s start with the list we give our clients to help guide them as to what areas of the website they need to cover before signing off on the launch.
Client’s Pre-Launch Checklist
Before we launch the site, we ask that you test all of the items listed below. Make notes in a Google spreadsheet as to any errors you find so that we can fix them and have you sign off before launching the site.
1. Check each of the pages and posts for accuracy.
2. Test all of the links on the site.
3. Check the pages and performance on your mobile device and tablets.
4. Test that the newsletter signup form works and that you receive the notification emails.
5. Test the contact form and confirm you received the notification email.
6. Test any additional functionality, such as e-commerce or membership plugins, to see that they work as expected.
Here are the items in our team’s pre-launch development checklist:
Development Team’s Pre-Launch Checklist
1. Refer back to the proposal to make sure you have met all of the outlined functionality and deliverables.
2. Take all New Tricks team members off as authors of Pages and Posts and transfer authorship to the client’s login.
3. Delete pages and posts that are no longer needed whether drafts or live. If you want to save a page you aren’t using as a draft, add “Don’t delete.” to the page’s title.
4. Set up Social Media Follow Icons to the footer or sidebar and add Social Media Share Buttons to posts.
5. Check that you have installed a Spam plugin.
6. Set up Google Analytics and install a plugin to add an SEO snapshot to the WordPress dashboard.
7. Set up Yoast WP-SEO with No Indexing of category archives. Just index the pages and single post views.
8. Edit Snippets: Refers to the Yoast WP-SEO plugin. Even if you’re not doing a full SEO project, we suggest editing the Title, Slug, and Description to focus on the keyword phrase for the post or page.
9. Set up 301 Redirects: If the client had a previous site, to avoid having 404 errors and your client losing their existing SEO ranking, you’d need to use a 301 Redirect plugin to redirect traffic from the URLs on the old site to the corresponding URLs or closest match to each, on the new site.
10. Remove all unused Plugins and Features: This is particularly applicable when for a site redesign where you’ve cloned their existing site. There may be plugins and features they no longer need and this could be slow the site’s load speed.
11. Make and upload a Favicon: Use photoshop or another source to create a favicon. If there isn’t an option to add the favicon using your theme, you can use the plugin All in One Favicon.
13. Clean up the client’s DropBox file and discard what you didn’t use.
14. Send the client copies of their final logo, artwork, branding guidelines or other items they contracted with you to produce for them.
15. Create a Final Backup and keep one copy of each client site backup on AmazonS3.
16. Test site on all browsers including mobile phones: In our proposal, we let them know which browsers we support. We test our sites in current versions of major desktop browsers including those made by Apple (Safari), Google (Chrome), and Mozilla Firefox. We’ll do not test for Internet Explorer because Microsoft no longer supports it.
17. Make the client an Admin on the website. Please create a username and login for the client and send it to them to create their password.
18. Make the site searchable by going to WP Settings and turn-off the “Discourage search engines” feature or Google won’t be able to index the site.
19. Check to make sure all URLs pages and media have updated to the new URL: Sometimes when launching a website, the URLs for links and media files can still be pointed to the dev site. Be sure to click through the links and media files to make sure the hyperlinks are pulling from the new site’s URL.
20. Capture screenshot and add to the portfolio and upcoming newsletter featured client: Be sure to get a before and after screenshot for your files.
21. Delete the dev site and check the new once more to make sure the links still work.
The following are examples of the items in our Quality Assurance checklist.
Quality Assurance Checklist
1. Ask the client where they have their email hosted, so you handle their DNS correctly.
2. Assess where they have their website hosted and where you want it hosted in the future. We find it is much preferable to host our maintenance clients on our developer’s web hosting account with a managed WordPress host. It saves time during the migration because we are familiar with our host and we don’t have headaches with performance problems later.
3. Have all user names and passwords for any accounts you will need for the launch.
• Domain Registrar
• Current Webhost Provider
• New Webhost Provider
• Email Host
4. Check that all of the client’s site’s passwords are stored and organized so that you can easily access them to provide technical support.
5. Test all forms and verify receipt f the form: Set up the contact forms and admin notifications to go to the client’s email address. Test the contact forms and other forms and follow up with the client to make sure they have received the forms. You will want to test again once the site is live.
6. Check all hyperlinks in site: Click through all the links, buttons and menu items to make sure the links are all set up correctly. Make sure external links open in a new tab. You will want to test again once the site is launched to make sure the links all transfer to the live domain and not the test site.
7. Check the site on different browsers and mobile phones: we have this item on both the development checklist and the quality assurance checklist.
8. Check that the Social Media Follow buttons are linked correctly and that the Social Share Buttons on the blog are installed and working.
9. Test all forms and verify receipt of the form: Set up the contact forms and admin notifications to go to the client’s email address. Test the contact forms and other forms and follow up with the client to make sure they have received the forms. You will want to test again once the site is live.
10. Schedule Training: Schedule a time to train users to make edits to the site, specifically to posts and pages on the site. Clients who want more advanced training can contract with us for what they need. This additional training may consist of how set-up and send out a newsletter, how to share blog posts on social media and how to optimize their pages and posts.
11. Send the client their final artwork and any other collateral they may need. Let them know you can’t be responsible for keeping it for them in the future.
12. Write a short post for the portfolio: It is an excellent practice to take a screenshot of your work before the client starts making changes and write up a 300-word description of the work you did for them with links to the site. This link will be good for the SEO on your client’s site. Also, it will show your web visitors the great work you do.
13. Include a brief update about the client’s project on your Newsletter and include a screenshot and a link to the site. Your readers will check out the website, giving it a little traffic boost and your prospects will get to see examples of your work.
14. Send out an end of contract letter that states your policy on fixes, maintenance, and future work.
15. Check to see that your client is on your client mailing list.
Once your client has given you a thumbs up, your team has signed off on their lists, and you have a solid plan, you’re ready to launch. Having a process in place to follow goes a long way towards eliminating those pre-launch jitters!