To-Do’s For Your Digital Due Date: 9 Tips For A New Website Launch
After months of planning, months more of development and fine tuning, your new website launch is finally upon you. It’s like when you’re expecting a baby: a time of great excitement, anticipation, and a whole lot of nervousness.
But what’s the digital development equivalent of packing the bag, mapping the drive to the hospital and saving the doctor’s cell phone number? Here are 9 things you can do.
Every website is unique to its owner and audience. But there are some best practices that are broad enough to apply almost universally.
Of course, the best way to make your new website a success is to serve your audience’s needs clearly and beautifully. In that sense, a successful launch starts when you have the initial idea for the website. But for our purposes we will focus on key activities towards the end of the process that have a direct impact on how smoothly launch day goes – and the days that follow.
LAY THE FOUNDATION
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening my axe.” Abraham Lincoln’s quote rings true today. In addition to answering the technical questions common to a new site, making your launch go as smoothly as possible often involves decisions and actions taken weeks or months earlier.
QA, QA, QA:
You really can’t have too much quality assurance testing. And it’s been our experience (and a common one in the industry, we’d wager) that QA gets short shrift more often than almost any phase of a site build. Too often QA ends up getting compressed by tiny increments every time a deadline is missed.
Do yourself a favor and prioritize QA over adding features. A simple site that works will outperform a feature-rich but glitchy site every day. And (foreshadowing) a new website launch shouldn’t be a one day event. Save that amazing new idea for Version 2 rather than squeezing QA.
Know thy audience:
This should have been step 1 when you kicked off your new website, but remember your site exists for one purpose only: to serve the needs of your audience, whether they are shoppers, or readers, or sharers. As you approach launch, don’t lose sight of them and where they are. A new website is a reason to reach out and get their attention.
In the final weeks before launch, take a fresh look at your audience. What’s interesting to them right now? Where are they congregating online? This is the environment into which you will be launching. Make sure you position yourself to fit their mindframe.
Double check SEO and then check it again:
Unless you’re well-practiced in magic, search engine optimization (SEO) has likely factored into your site build. But a late review is always worthwhile. For one thing, the algorithms used to move up (or down) your ranking change with some frequency. And if you’ve done only basic SEO like keywords, title and description, it’s never too late to bring in an expert for a review to show you some of the newer developments in the space.
Things like contextual tags (which help Google, for example, know which part of your page is the ingredient list of a recipe, and which is the star rating) are relatively easy to add and help a lot. And if your new website is replacing an old one, there are lots of ways to ensure your new site doesn’t lose the search equity your old site had.
PLAN THE DETAILS
A launch plan will have a number of components that you will want to decide upon and lock in.
Define launch roles:
Who “pushes the button” that moves your new website from staging to a live environment? Who decides that the site is working and that it can be announced publically? Who is on hand to respond to any comments about your new site on social media, and what will they say to compliments? How about complaints? Make sure everyone involved knows what is expected of them, and when. Which brings us to…
Clear calendars and make a schedule:
Have your critical launch team available the day you launch. (Duh.) Take the time to create a simple “tic toc” plan like those used by event planners – because a new website launch IS an event. Set a launch time that will have minimum impact on your audience but will still allow your team time to make sure everything is working correctly before you shout about it from the hilltops.
This might mean a launch time early on the morning of your slowest traffic day, or even (heaven forbid) a weekend. But be realistic – you don’t want people up at 2 a.m. launching your site while half asleep.
Come up with an announcement plan:
Remember your audience from the last section? Make a plan to reach them. Maybe you have their emails – if so, develop an announcement. Maybe you can reach them through paid social media posts, or give previews to relevant media or influencers (like industry groups.) The worst thing you can do is wait to be found. Your website will only be new for a little while, and that novelty will give your audience a reason to give you even a few minutes of their time. Don’t miss that window.
EXECUTE THE PLAN
Uh, pretty much what the subhead says. The actual day of launch should be fairly well scripted. But there is one critical tip that you can’t, by definition, plan for.
Be ready to play whack-a-mole:
Something will go wrong. Maybe a big thing, more likely a little thing if you’ve planned effectively. But something. Don’t let it phase you. Have a designated triage person who will be notified of the unexpected, and who has the authority to act. Broken link? Call the developer. Need to swap out an image post haste? Have a designer handy. Found that last frustrating typo? Be ready to dive into the CMS and fix it.
Back to the baby metaphor from the start of this article: The birth/launch is just the beginning. What really matters is its life afterwards. So just like the parent who arranges for child care the minute they find out they are expecting, be thinking about D-day +1, +30 and +60 before your new website launches.
Get that second visit:
Unless your new website generates a one-and-done transaction, you’ll want some repeat traffic – maybe interested customers who can be reminded they’re interested, or building a following for your witty blog posts.
Have something in the can for them soon after launch, and repeat parts of your communications plan to announce the update, be it a new feature, new content or new product. If you know your audience well and can target them effectively, keeping a steady drumbeat will do you more good than one big splash.
Have a maintenance plan:
No website is truly “set it and forget it.” Even the most static site should have regular reviews and updates. Server updates or changes to how search ranks you might require action on your part. Set a maintenance plan to define when those will happen and by whom.
A successful new website launch is often a matter of doing the little things right, keeping perspective and trusting your team. These tips aren’t everything you need to know – but if you can check each of these off with confidence, you’ve done a lot of things right.