The Ultimate Website Prelaunch Checklist

All of a sudden the site you have been working on for months is approved and the client wants it live. However, things can still go horribly wrong if you are not prepared.

We’ve all been there.

After months of development, meetings, conference calls, protracted arguments over typography, photography, colour ways and copy. All of a sudden the site is approved and the client wants it live.

Do you think to yourself, ‘I know every pixel on this site inside out’ and put it live?

Hopefully not. You’ll have a printed checklist which you complete before you go public.

By no means is this an exhaustive list. Neither is it presented in any particular order. Your own checklist will be very much tailored towards your own individual clients and the type of project you are delivering. Be sure to add your thoughts and suggestions to the comments at the bottom of the page.

Either way, get your team together, get out the red pen and start ticking them off.

Copy Checks

Check your spelling.

If it comes down to a web designer to highlight the smelling pistakes of a copywriter then so be it. Show the world you are no slouch and run a spell check. Better still, get your copywriter / project manager to do this. Be sure you check for widows or orphaned items in important paragraphs too.

Check your tone of voice.

Ensure this is consistent across all your pages, that your audience is being addressed the same way throughout the site. If your services include ‘Research & Development’ ensure it is expressed using ‘&’ everywhere it appears, always with capitalisation, and if you display times and dates be sure to express them the same way throughout. This is a cornerstone of well-crafted, easily scannable copy.

Copywriting on the web workshop

Check your details.

I’m quite serious about this. Phone all phone numbers you have been supplied. Do they work? If you’re building a site for The Royal Albert Hall, do they answer? And are they aware you are shortly going to launch a site, with their number on it, inviting thousands of people to call for more information? These are crucial checks to ensure that the entire marketing process, right down to (phone) calls to action are prepared for the site going live. Check email addresses you have been supplied and make sure they work and are being received by someone. Oh, and check they are not still pointing at you for testing – make sure the clients email address is specified when the site goes live.

Check through any ‘hidden’ copy on site.

Look at ALT text and ensure it is descriptive and not just ‘XXX’ – read through any text within Javascript functions, failure or alert messages, and also and remove anything potentially embarrassing or plain unnecessary.

Make sure you are not going live with any test copy on your site.

Check for instances of ‘For more information call XXXX,’ or worse still, ‘At ACME and Co we pride ourselves on [Dave, has the client approved the mission statement yet]‘ You get the picture.

SEO

Check your keywords.

Ensure you have your meta description in place, and that any keywords are suitable for the site. Do the keywords appear in your site copy where appropriate? Turn off your style sheets and read your site as a search engine will, and check your keywords are written in HTML and not all contained within images.

Check your titles.

Do you pages have relevant and descriptive title tags, and are your page names suitably descriptive.

Check your URL structure

Google has taken considerable steps within Webmaster Tools to reward site owners for declaring, and being consistent about canonical URL’s. That is to declare to Google which URL structure you will maintain on your site, to avoid the duplicate content penalty. So if you choose example.com/products over www.example.com/products, then check to ensure the links within your pages follow this convention.

Check you have a sitemap.

Generate an XML sitemap and submit it to Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Gsite Crawler is a great tool to help create these automatically for you.

Set up analytics on your site and schedule any weekly reports that might need sending to your clients, and also set up any statistical alerts you might need to notify you of any spikes in traffic that might signify malicious activity. Stats packages worth your attention are listed in the URL’s below.

haveamint.com

Standards and Validation

Clearly this is not something that should be left until the last few days prior to launch. But you should always make one final sweep through your content to check for validation issues. You should be checking your HTML, CSS, Accessibility and your Javascript. Quite often you can encounter validation issues late in the project with the addition of javascripts from a third party if a client has reporting software they wish to use, or if you are carrying advertising or inviting referrals from an affiliate network. As these are so often just thrown in to the code at the last minute it is vital to check that they don’t interfere with functions that were (up until then) working just fine. The Developer Toolbar for Firefox is a great time saver when it comes to validating your HTML and CSS, with the WAVE toolbar being similarly indispensable for checking against WCAG guidelines. That said there is no substitute for a good working knowledge of the WCAG guidelines as so much of them cannot be checked against by a plug-in, and requires common sense and a keen eye to avoid problems.

Web Developers Toolbar

Site Functions

Does everything work?

Again, this should have been tested long before now, but don’t go live without checking it. Often you will have moved a site from a development server to a production server in the run up to putting it live, and that may have upset your file structure. Maybe you have an API which relies on the address of a development server to work and will need altering if it is to work at the live address.

Check your search facility

Check your search facility if you have one and make sure that is pulling in results. Also check for dead links across the site with something like Xenu’s Link Checker.

Screenshot of Xenu

Check all browser variations

Check all browser variations that you promised to support, all screen resolutions and ensure that your site degrades gracefully without the support of Javascript and Flash. Your site should be easily interpreted by a screen reader with CSS switched off, and this can be checked by downloading a text only browser such as Lynx for the PC.

Think about common web conventions and whether your site breaks them. Are all your links consistently styled? If all links are underlined, check that no text is underlined for presentational reasons that people might mistake for a link.

Don’t forget to set up a print style for your site.

It is stunning quite how often this ignored. Insert this line into your <head> tags and create your print style sheet.

<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="print.css" media="print" />

Security

Ensure you have your site files backed up, but assuming that this is something you do as a matter of course, ensure that you are backing up any databases on the website that might contain important customer data. There are services and applications who can automate this for you such as Site-Vault and Iron Mountain, providing you with the peace of mind that only a reliable backup can bring.

Screenshot of Site Vault website

Check your form fields against SQL injections, and test any anti-spam functions you have in place to prevent spam bots.

Protect any sensitive pages

Protect any sensitive pages or folders from being indexed on search engines by putting in place robots.txt files and by excluding them from within Webmaster Tools / Bing / Yahoo Site Explorer and also consider whether you need to use an htaccess file to disable folder view within directories.

Performance

Increasingly this is becoming more an issue. With rumours of Google rewarding faster sites with better rankings it is crucial that your pages load as swiftly as possible.

Safari 4 has a great tool within its developer menu which checks the speed of your pages downloading, and highlights which elements take the longest and therefore might need attention.

Check your image optimisation with a tool like Smushit.

Smush.it website

Check you have caching enabled if appropriate.

If possible consider the use of image sprites to reduce http requests to your site. SpriteMe.org offers simple online solution that might get you started.

Minify your Javascript and CSS files using a tool such as YUI or YSlow from Yahoo to ensure your code is delivered as swiftly as possible. Firefox add-ons such as Dust Me Selectors can help to remove unused selectors from style sheets, helping to keep file sizes down.

Legal

Those lawyers get everywhere. Links to legal policies are so often added to a footer element on a website and then given no further thought until moments before go live.

Copyright

Check that this is set to automatically refresh from the time stamp on the server, and that the copyright owner stated is correct. It won’t always be the client or brand who should be credited.

Terms and Conditions

If your site has a promotional element or takes payment then you will need to make available t’s and c’s. Always consult either the Institute of Sales Promotion or a lawyer for the best advice on these, or if they are supplied to you then make sure they have been checked.

Privacy Policies

If you use cookies, capture data, or distribute data, then you need one. The best advice is always to be honest, and to state clearly what you collect data for, how it is stored, and to whom might it be passed. So if you this might be you then be sure you have a clear statement explaining all of this, or least provide details of how you can be contacted for further information.

Company Registered Information

If you are a registered company then you must display on your website the registered company name, number, and address. Simple, but so often forgotten about. For more information visit either Companies House or Business Link online for more information.

Companies House website

Add icons and error pages

Add your favicon.

And while you’re at it, do you need one for mobile devices such as iPhones? Add this into the <head>

<link rel="icon" type="image/x-icon" href="/favicon.ico" />

And this for an iPhone

<link rel="apple-touch-icon" href="/favicon.png" />

Create 404 pages.

Crucial for so many reasons. If the project is a re-design then search engines will have cached links to pages that will no longer exist. Use 404 pages to present users with links to where that information is now located. Webmaster Tools provides an easy way to produce 404 pages if you aren’t an experienced developer, but ignore these at your peril.

Example error page

Further reading

Smashing Magazine wrote an excellent post entitled “45 Incredibly Useful Web Design Checklists and Questionnaires” that contains many more checklists worth reading. They have other launch checklists, web standards checklists and even a checklist for improving site performance.

  • http://www.gostomski.co.uk/ Damian Jakusz-Gostomski

    Great article, will definatly be printing this off for my next launch.
    Do you know of any tools or tips for doing some of these checks on a much bigger site with hundreds or thousands of pages?

    • ian

      Yes, great article. To check for mistakes, use spellcheck. Then read it twice. It’s not just about spelling. Most stuff on the web is simply poorly written. No rhythm. Good writing has style and cadence. That stuff is a joy to read, even if it’s a couple of hundred pages. Half a page of crap will send you to zzzzzzzzzzzz

  • http://www.friskdesign.com Matt Hill

    Great list, very handy. One to bookmark.

    I’d also add in an extra one: 301 redirects. If you’re doing a redesign on the same domain name, or moving from one domain to another as part of a re-design, then you absolutely must get all your redirects worked out before you go live — you don’t want to risk losing Google juice from dead pages, and it’s a massive help for visitors too, much better than serving up a 404.

    You mentioned the 404 pages for cached indexed pages that no longer exist — to be honest, you shouldn’t ever have this problem if you’ve taken care to handle the redirects properly.

  • http://www.wsol.com Dennis Kardys

    You have really outdone yourself this time, Mr. Boag.

    • http://headscape.co.uk/people/boag.html Paul Boag

      Actually I haven’t. If you notice I didn’t write it. :-)

  • http://orraclemedia.com Rob

    Great stuff – and a timely reminder as I have a new site that will go live this week!

  • http://www.amberweinberg.com Amber Weinberg

    Awesome checklist! There’s always something you forget until after the launch :)

  • Andy Wickes

    Hi Damian,

    Thanks! I haven’t found a reliable too yet for performing the checks above, site-wide across a large number of pages. There are some that cliam to do it, but in reality they just check the detail that only a machine can check, which is things like title tags, meta, headings, alt text and the like.

    Probably a good opportunity for someone to develop something, although I imagine it would be a mammoth task!

  • http://fan-tas-tic.com Tschai

    Check. Check. Check.

    And if I forget something…well that’s why they’ve invented the everlasting ‘beta’, I guess.

    ;)

  • Patrick

    FYI you mispellerized optimise.

  • Mike

    Nice work – and very useful.I think I will keep it alongside me for when I start the site to ensure I that I try and do these things as I go along – do not want a last minute shock to hit me !!
     - keep up the good work guys

  • http://un.org.nz/ Marcel T

    You should mention under SEO to make sure any tracking code, like Google Analytics for example, is in place and to follow up on adding and verifying the site through Webmaster Tools and/or similar.

  • http://www.synergeticweb.com Jenny

    Wow – This is such an extensive list. You’ve really outdone yourself. Thanks for being such a great resource to the web creation community.

  • http://momentify.com Andrew Flynn

    Great list. Short enough to be useable. Long enough to be useable. Someone should make a nice PDF version for us all to print out.

  • Lewis Walsh

    As I understand it, the copyright date refers to the year the content was created. So surely to have the date increment automatically (or even manually!) each year might not be the best solution, especially as we move to a more semantic way of doing things.

    If the site is not going to be updated, maybe it’s just a microsite driving traffic to a bigger site for example, then the date should remain static. And if the site is to be regularly updated, the copyright notice should show a date-range.

    With this in mind I always hard-code the year the site was launched and follow it by a hyphen and the current year (with a bit of logic to test if it differs from launch year, 2010-2010 just looks silly!).

    • http://un.org.nz/ Marcel T

      If this is true-the copyright date should be the date the content was originally created-then blog post pages could have a copyright in the footer which reflects the year the item was posted.

    • Lewis Walsh

      Hence the use of a date range, eg. 2008-2010

  • http://www.boxuk.com Dan Zambonini

    We published “The Ultimate Website Launch Checklist” almost exactly a year ago :)

    You can check it out (together with a downloadable PDF version) here:

    http://www.boxuk.com/blog/the-ultimate-website-launch-checklist

  • http://pshero.com HERO

    Great post and a very thorough checklist. Every web developer/designer should have a list like this to review prior to site launch. Thanks for posting such high quality content!

  • http://www.fruitpixel.com/ FruitPixel

    Great list – already bookmarked it for reference! Thanks.

  • http://mglenn.com Michael Glenn

    Awesome list. For sites that are replacing existing ones I would recommend load testing. Estimate the peak load of a site and test against that plus some headroom based on growth patterns. I missed that on a critical site once and had to pull several late nights re-coding and re-deploying on larger hardware to handle the strain and concurrency issues.

  • http://azizlight.tumblr.com/ Aziz Light

    Nice post, but I was expecting to see a PDF version of this checklist as a supplement..

  • http://www.codesquid.co.uk Codesquid

    Invaluable! I am printing this and checking against it before I get my current project signed off!

  • http://www.jordanwalker.net/index.php Jordan Walker

    That is a great checklist.

  • http://halltraining.wordpress.com Richard Powys

    This is an excellent list – but as Aziz said, a PDF or doc would be great. Still, I guess you can’t be expected to do all the work!
    I’d also add to check that none of the text has disappeared – in some designs it’s easy to find you have only part of the text fitted into the space available.

  • http://www.wearecupcake.com James Compton Boyce

    Excellent checklist, I’ll be using this on Friday afternoon signoff struggles!

  • Nepathean

    Wow, wow, wow! Such a great article! I really feel like I’ve just learned so much! Tnx for that :)

  • http://www.boxuk.com Amy

    Last February, Box UK published ‘The Ultimate Website Launch Checklist’ – very similar in content to this post but in a different list format. A PDF was also created and has been available in English and French on our website for months: http://www.boxuk.com/blog/the-ultimate-website-launch-checklist

    We had great coverage of this blog item – liked to by Robert Scoble and others.

  • http://www.loadverify.com Terence

    This is an excellent detailed list! Will definatley be using it.
    We at loadverify have come up with a sanity check that would compliment this one!

    http://blog.loadverify.com/2010/02/13/load-verifys-10-things-to-check-off-your-checklist-before-go-live-with-your-website/

  • Jonny

    I knew I would come back to this article. Again good work.

  • http://www.siteplanb.com Jim

    Andy Andy Andy! Great post. I’ve been a long time believer in Mint Analytics, great for tracking web traffic and analyzing new potential keywords to target new visitors. Thanks for the YSlow suggestion, that’s a new tool that has definitely proved it’s worth with the last website I worked on.

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  • http://adsenseblogtoolbox.com Adsense Toolbox

    Thanks Andy for sharing this superb list.

    I found the Launchlist tool very handy, I can’t wait to use it in one of my projects…

    And of course, this will be a great tool in combination to our all-in-one toolbox at http://adsenseblogtoolbox.com

    Hope you’ll keep posting more 50-ish list of powerful tools. :)

    • http://mathiasbynens.be/ Mathias Bynens

      Checking for unoptimized images is of course a very good idea, but there are many other performance checks available. I highly recommend Zoompf’s free performance scan which tests for caching problems, unoptimized images, and much much more.

  • http://www.siteconfidence.com Ben

    Looks like a pretty well thought out list! I’d be inclined to ensure that on launch date you have some kind of performance monitoring in place as well – just to keep an eye on the end users experience and make sure that no obvious bottlenecks slipped through the net. You can also use it to validate any of the performance tweaks that you mention.

    @ Michael Glenn I couldn’t agree more – but there is no reason that you shouldn’t be capacity planning for a brand new site either, it’s more than likely going to be a requirement from the client (I want the site to be brown, have some nice pictures of cows on and support more than X concurrent users / Y page impressions per hour etc.).

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  • http://www.vnwebsolutions.ca Alex Pupkin

    Great post!
    I will safe it for future reference.

    Thanks

  • http://www.fimedia.ca/ Calgary Web Design

    Typically when we wrap up a project, a lot of these usually apply. One thing I noticed with your posts’ items, a lot of these should be standard steps to a project, utilized before you get to the end of a project.

    For example, SEO should be something that is addressed at the beginning of a project. Proper SEO should look at the targeted keyphrase first off, then domain name selection, site sections and content. Otherwise what happens is the site looks good, but needs to be reinvented afterwards to bolster the SEO capabilities… but just my two cents :-)

    Tend to run across this a lot, so I apologize for the rant :-)

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  • http://moldtestingkits.us/ Mold Testing Kits

    great stuff, very useful. I’ll make sure to look at this again on my next launch, keep it up.

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    Very useful information you provided about
    website. This complete checklist is a treasure for not only all the
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    great stuff, very useful. I’ll make sure to look at this again on my next launch, keep it up.

  • Christiaan Nieuwlaat

    Hi Paul,

    thanks for the nice posting.
    I’m not trying to be a pain-in-the-ass or wiseguy, but there is however a minor thingie that got to my attention. In your post you state it’s really important to read your copy, to correct missing words etc before going live.

    It’s really good advice, but a few paragraphs later you have this passage:

    “So if you this might be you then be sure you have a clear statement explaining all of this, or least provide details of how you can be contacted for further information. ”

    It looks like you’ve missed a word in this passage. “if you this” doesn’t seem to be entirely correct..
    Just wanted to let you know this :-)

    Cheers,

    Chris

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  • http://www.seo.com David Scoville

    Wow, I wish we had had this list when we launched our new SEO.com. We had the SEO stuff down, but a lot of the other woes might have been avoided. Thanks for this!

  • http://jonathan-kim.com Jonathan Kim

    Wait, why not use http://launchlist.com as your go-to solution? A blog with detailed examples and such are nice, but when you already know what a 404 page looks like a tool like LaunchList is much more efficient.

    I have to admit, though, your list has a few things that LaunchList neglects. They may be worth passing on as suggestions for improvement. Great article, nonetheless.

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