If you’ve ever been involved in making a website “live” then you know this can be an arduous process. Developers get nervous, project managers get finicky, and clients are generally about one step away from pulling their hair out. In an attempt to mitigate some of this stress, we’ve developed an in-house checklist to use whenever we make a website live or transfer to a different host. Over the years we’ve modified this checklist and come out with several different versions (landing page, eCommerce, small business) but have more or less settled on a “general” version.
Even for smaller websites these days, there is a lot that could go wrong during the website transfer process. Also a lot of times even the savviest of professional website development companies will forget something, in a rush to make a website live. Whatever the case, we wanted to share this with you. You can download a PDF at the bottom of this post. Before we do, let’s review a few of the main categories. We broke up this checklist into 4 main categories:
If you are big into CRO / PPC or things like email marketing landing pages I suppose you might add a section for that as well but for most websites this will do just fine.
The first part of the website live checklist focuses on compatibility and functionality from a general perspective. Making sure it works with different browsers, operating systems and other devices. We dig into spell and grammar checking and give it a solid “stress test” to see if it breaks. If SSL is in the picture, we’ll test that too.
During this time we like to start off with a basic sitemap, and click through each page. We ask someone who has not been involved in the development or assembly of the website to click through the website and look for glaring details. Note, this is not the time to bring up design or UX ideas, save those for later. Remember, your website is never “done” it can always be updated, changed, tested, or modified.
After you’ve clicked through all the pages and posts, start by filling out forms, testing live chat boxes and making sure it works on all devices. It helps if you have an office with a lot of different devices such as:
You get the idea. There is always “that one guy” who has a Packard Bell PC from 2004 running IE version 6 that wonders why the menu doesn’t drop down :).
If it is an eCommerce website, we’ll normally do several ‘test orders’ just to make sure things are working. We use an actual credit card and actually ship the product to test this process from A-Z. The test order phase will generally weed out most of the issues, but we still do a few other tests as well. We make sure all receipts and confirmation emails are being sent, that all the categories are in the right place, and all sorting options are working correctly.
This part can get really tricky, especially when you have products with multiple options, multiple merchants, multiple shipping options and lots of preferences. It might take a few weeks to pull out some of these bugs, this is why we recommend putting a site in beta mode until you get the kinks worked out, but this isn’t always possible.
WordPress / CMS
Sometime last year we added a “WordPress” section since we do so many sites in WordPress. This is where we see a lot of other companies slip up, especially by forgetting to delete old websites and other common pitfalls. Its also a great idea to slim down as much as possible, without removing the actual functionality of the website. We like to keep the front end portion of the website running smoothly, but we also like to optimize the back-end as well.
This is also a good time to check your versions. Make sure WP is updated to the latest version. Do you have a child theme installed? Is your theme up to date? Are your plugins up to date? Are you using vulnerable plugins? As of now, there are over 5000 vulnerabilities in WordPress, so make sure to check that out. We also recommend hardening your WordPress installation, more on that later.
Ideally you want to integrate most of the SEO techniques into the website prior to launch, but as most of you know this isn’t always possible due to several reasons (time constraints, budget, size of website etc). Whenever possible, we try to make this happen. If not, the sooner the better. By no means is this meant to be an all inclusive on-page SEO guide (but if you need one of those, you can checkout our on-page SEO guide). During this process, we’ll do basic stuff like title tags and meta descriptions, permalink beautification, and Google Analytics. We’ve worked on 5 page websites and 500,000 page websites, so again all of this depends on time, budget, and size.
Again, this list is by no means comprehensive. There are many factors that come into play when making a website live that simply can’t be templated:
We use a lot of other tips and tricks we’ve picked up over the years. One of which is running a Screaming Frog audit on the sandbox site to do a full title and meta tag audit. This way, we can get a baseline of all the title tags and meta descriptions (as well as Hx tags etc) and fully scrape the website. In the future you can go back and check to see how many pages there are, and see how your Googlebot crawl budget is going.
Depending on the scenario, a given website might take 30 seconds to make live, or 30 days. One thing I like to tell people is a quote from Wired.com in 2015 when they did a (very major) website redesign project:
“But we didn’t design the new WIRED [website] to be perfect. We designed it to be perfected. “
Without further delay: the website live checklist. It is what you make of it. If you casually glance at this when making a website live vs printing it out and double checking each point with a project manager.
One method that I’ve seen employed in the past is to have the checklist done departmentally i.e:
Website Developers > General Section / Ecom
Content Writers > WordPress Section
SEO’s: > SEO section
This method employs group accountability, and each department focuses on what they do best. Remember, making a website live is a process, not an event. Most websites are in a constant state of being modified, updated and changed so if you are waiting for a website to be “done” you will be waiting a long time.
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