Effective web-browsing experiences are absolutely necessary in this climate of competitive business and advancing technology. Finding a niche, making a good first impression and staying fresh are among the website owner’s goals. Maybe you’ve got a great concept, selected the perfect designer, brainstormed about design ideas, made decisions and worked hard to get great images and content onto a website.
Maybe you’re about to launch. Well, hold off for a moment and read this article before taking the final plunge. Things can go horribly wrong if you haven’t prepared a checklist and carried out certain tasks.
Many lists available on the Internet give advice on this topic, but few are thorough. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re in a hurry and your deadline is coming up fast. We’ll present you with as exhaustive a checklist as we can.
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To make a professional impression, content should be flawless and precise. While proofreading, review the following.
Use a spelling checker and review text before it goes live. Look for widowed or orphaned items in important paragraphs. Catching grammar and spelling errors in clients’ copy during the initial stages of a project will save time during the final review. Better yet, get your copywriter or project manager to proofread.
Ensure that the tone of voice is consistent on all pages. Your audience should be addressed in the same way everywhere on your website. If, for example, your services include research and development and you call it “R&D,” then capitalize the letters and include the ampersand every time you use the term. Likewise, if you display times and dates, follow a single format.
Check the details. Inaccuracies create problems. Make sure email addresses are correct, and be sure the client’s email address is specified after testing is completed; you don’t want it pointing at you when the website goes live. Call all the phone numbers you’ve been given by your client. Do they work? Does the right person or department answer? Are they aware that you’re going to launch a website that provides their phone number and invites the public to contact them? These are crucial questions because accuracy affects marketing and customer care.
Look at your alternative (
alt text can greatly improve their experience. An additional benefit is that
alt tags are valuable to the search engines that index your website.
Ensure that all of your pages are titled and displayed correctly; a page called untitled won’t rank well on search engines. A descriptive, catchy title is advantageous for SEO as well as to inform visitors.
Page titles are handled automatically by most content management systems (CMS), so you probably don’t have to worry about it. Owners of small websites, though, tend to copy pages and replace the content, and they sometimes forget to change the page titles.
Set up meta descriptions, and ensure that keywords are suitable; this is how search engines will find and display your website. Do your keywords appear in the website’s copy where appropriate? Turn off your style sheets and read your website as a search engine would; make sure keywords are written in HTML and are not all contained within images.
Google has taken considerable steps with its Webmaster Tools to reward website owners for declaring and being consistent about canonical URLs—that is, declaring to Google the URL structure that you’re going to maintain on your website in order to avoid the duplicate content penalty. If you use
example.com/products instead of
www.example.com/products, then make sure the links on your pages follow this convention.
Update and complete your site map. You might have used dummy data and products to fill the database on the working version of the website or on the development server. Now’s the time to change it; your site map must point to actual live pages.
A site map can inform search engines about your website and its pages. The Google XML Sitemaps generator automatically creates site maps for WordPress users. It updates the map when you add new content and informs major search engines about the updates.
If you’re not using WordPress, create a
sitemap.xml file that contains details about the pages of your website, and then put that file in your website’s root folder. XML-Sitemaps can automatically create a site map for you.
Having created your
sitemap.xml file, you can inform Google (via Google Webmaster Tools), Bing and Yahoo. You’ll learn some useful statistics about the indexing of your website, such as the last time the Google bots visited.
An RSS feed that visitors can subscribe to is a great advantage, especially if your website has a blog or newsreel. The feed should be easy to find and use. The convention is to put a small RSS icon in the browser’s address bar.
Put this code between your
<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="Website or RSS title" href="link-to-feed">
Set up analytics on your website, and schedule time to report to your clients (say, on a weekly basis). Set up statistical alerts as well to notify you of spikes in traffic that might signal malicious activity.
Pay attention to detail during the initial stages of a project, particularly when it comes to standards and validation. Just before launching, make a final sweep of your content for validation issues.
Validate your HTML and CSS to catch mistakes. If your website validates, great. If it doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world. Browser testing is key; if your website works well in all the major browsers, then who cares whether the code is perfectly valid? Validation tools catch errors such as missing closing tags—and you should care about stuff like that.
The Developer Toolbar for Firefox is a great time-saver when it comes to validating HTML and CSS, and the WAVE toolbar is indispensable when checking code against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). That said, there’s no substitute for a working knowledge of the WCAG. Many of the guidelines can’t be checked with plug-ins; it takes common sense and a keen eye.
Before your website goes live, test its functionality. That includes complex functionality, search functionality, browser compatibility, forms, screen resolutions and external links.
Is your website operational? You likely tested this long ago, but don’t go live without double-checking. You might have moved the website from a development server to a production server, and that could have upset your file structure. Maybe you have an API that relies on the address of a development server to work; you’ll need to change that to make it work on the live address.
Have you included a search function, and is it working the way you want it to?
Check for dead links. It’s easy to forget, for example, about a link in the footer that should contain the URL of the “Terms and Conditions” page instead of a random string of letters that you used as temporary filler. Xenu’s Link Checker is a handy tool that looks for broken links. W3C also provides a utility that automatically checks links on your website.
Make sure your forms work as well. They might have worked on the test server, but check again now that it’s live.
If you promised to support certain browsers, do it. It’s so annoying when, after having finished a lovely new design, you find out that it looks awful in another browser (if this happens, it’s probably in Internet Explorer 6 or 7). It’s frustrating, but remember that a lot of people still use these browsers, and your website should have a consistent appearance.
It’s alarming to realize just how often the print style is ignored. Insert this line into your
head tags, and create a print style sheet:
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="print.css" media="print">
Your website and its data need to be secure. Configure a back-up schedule (and test it), protect admin pages, use a robots.txt file, do a penetration test, set up email alerts and check bandwidth and disk space.
If your website uses a database, back it up. Most CMSs have plug-in utilities that can automatically back up content at set intervals. It might take a few minutes to set up, but if you ever have to use it, you’ll be glad.
Back up your website’s files as well as databases that contain customer data. Services and applications like SiteVault and Iron Mountain can automate this for you. SiteVault backs up on a regular basis.
Check your form fields against SQL injections, and test any anti-spam functions you’ve put in place to prevent spam bots.
Protect sensitive pages or folders from being indexed on search engines by adding robots.txt files and excluding them from within Google Webmaster Tools, Yahoo or Bing. Decide whether you need to use an htaccess file to disable the folder view in directories.
Optimize code and images. You can do several important performance tests before launch time: a load test, an image optimization test, speed tests, database indexing and server-based logging. Most importantly, test how well the code and image sizes are optimized.
Safari 4 has a great tool in its developer menu that checks the speed at which your pages download, and it highlights the elements that take a long time (and which, therefore, might need attention).
Smush is a tool that can be used to test image optimization and to compress images while maintaining quality.
I have come across numerous websites on which links to legal policies are added to the footer and given no further thought until moments before the website goes live. Pay due attention to the legal aspects of online business.
The copyright date should automatically refresh based on the time stamp on the server. Make sure the copyright owner is correctly stated (it’s not always the client or brand that should be credited).
If your website has promotional or e-commerce elements, you’ll have to write up some terms and conditions. Consult either the Institute of Sales Promotion or a lawyer if you have access to one; they’ll give the best advice.
If you are a registered company then you must display the registered company name, number and address on your website.
A favicon is a small icon associated uniquely with your website. It brands the browser tab, window and bookmark so that users can easily identify pages from your website (in a list of bookmarks or their browsing history, for example). You can create a favicon fairly easily with one of many online tools, such as favicon.cc, by uploading an image that you’ve designed or drawn.
While you’re at it, do you need another one for mobile devices? Then add this into the
<link rel="icon" type="image/x-icon" href="/favicon.ico" />
Add this for iPhones:
<link rel="apple-touch-icon" href="/favicon.png" />
Some browsers pick up the favicon if you save it in your root directory as favicon.ico, but include the following in the
head to be sure it’s picked up all the time:
<link rel="icon" type="image/x-icon" href="/favicon.ico" />
If you have an iPhone favicon, then use this:
<link rel="apple-touch-icon" href="/favicon.png" />
If you’ve renamed products, pages or categories, redirect traffic so that links to old URLs lead visitors to the new pages. Make sure the links work, otherwise you could lose a lot of traffic. Do the 301, 302 and 404 error pages work properly? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve launched a website and forgotten to check these pages and see how the website is displayed in search results. It’s the little things that count; don’t overlook them.
If a user requests a page that doesn’t exist, an error page is displayed. If the page has been moved, search engines will pull up a cached link to a page that no longer exists. Creating a custom error page is usually the best approach, but directing errors to the home page is still better than seeing a browser’s default error page. Use error pages to present users with links to the new locations of the information they seek. Google Webmaster Tools provides an easy way to produce error pages if you aren’t an experienced developer.
Set up social media profiles before the website goes live, even if you don’t plan to use them just yet. It could help with promotion and branding—and you’ll also ensure that no one else sets up an account under your name and promotes nonsense that you wouldn’t want to be associated with.
Do you have a blog? Post some eye-catching teaser images and information about your pending website launch. Don’t have a blog yet? Take advantage of Twitter or Facebook to make sure people are talking about your website and anticipating the launch. Opening your doors without any warning is fine, but if you create anticipation beforehand then your website will really make a splash.
Becoming popular on websites like Facebook, Delicious and Twitter will get you a huge amount of traffic, and nothing is worse than sending a lot of that precious traffic to a “Page cannot be displayed” screen. Find a host that can handle these things and that has experience with websites like yours.
Make a checklist of all the tasks to carry out before going live with the website. Your time and effort will reap benefits and result in maximum efficiency.
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