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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Standards and Validation
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.
Check all browser variations
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" />
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.