Checklists are an important part of our daily lives. They help organize everyday mundane tasks like household chores and grocery shopping. More importantly they can save lives and prevent injuries or death in activities like skydiving, or extreme dramatic events like emergency surgery.
As a Columbus Oh website design firm, we deal with routine to very complicated tasks, and with so many things that can go wrong, even with proper planning, something as simple as creating or using a checklist can easily be overlooked, especially when we're rushed or under pressure.
Building a website is certainly not surgery, and no one's life is in the hands of an web developer—thank goodness. But, our client's business and their livelihood can most certainly be in our hands, and without something as simple as a checklist for their new website could disastrous for their SEO, SEM or even customer service.
When a new website design goes live
When a new site goes live, there are already a few givens that can be controlled. URLs will change, titles of pages, SEO descriptions of pages, totally new pages, and some pages will completely be phased out in many instances. These changes big and small can create major issues if not addressed when the new site goes live.
If left unchecked, folks who find your site through a Google search, might navigate to a page that Google has indexed, but no longer exists. That's when the user is hit with the dreaded "Page not found message" or sometimes even worse, a completely blank page. That could potentially lose a customer right there and then. In the bleakest of terms, trust has been lost, and they will seek out what they were looking for, from someone they feel may be more reliable. Most likely, the person searching has an attention span that can be measured in nanoseconds, and after running into a single barrier, they may be ready to give up and watch more cat videos.
Submitting a new sitemap to Google and other search engines
This problem can easily be solved by submitting a new sitemap to Google and Bing as soon as the new website goes live. This lets Google know there has been changes to the website in terms of content on each page, as well as all the new URLs and new addresses to previously existing URLs. However, this doesn't fix anything. Even though the changes have been submitted to Google, it doesn't mean they will update their system immediately. It could take days, maybe even a week or longer. In our going live checklist, we have a few more tricks up our sleeve to ensure a smoother transition and better experience for your users.
That down right sinister page we mentioned earlier, the oh-so-very-fun Page Not Found, page. This is what web developers call a 404 page, and it doesn't have to be all that evil and scary. We like to give our 404 pages tools to help folks find the page or pages they might be looking for by adding helper links.
On many of our 404 pages, there is of course some kind of text telling you that you have come to a page that no longer exists, but we also follow that up with more of an explanation. "Sorry, our website has been updated, and some of our links have changed". Then we included a search bar, and a bulleted list of link to the more popular pages on the site, just in case that was what they were looking for in the first place. This way they can search your website internally, without ever once leaving your website to find what they were looking for. Sometimes we even add images to the page to give it more of a professional look, or even add a little humor to an otherwise boring page.
Some examples of 404 pages we like are:
A good 404 page can solve a lot of things
- Click the image below to visit the hilarious Steve Lambert 404 page.
- Click the image below to visit another one of our favorite 404 pages.
And finally one of our classic favorites. Click the image below to see the animation of this 404 page. Be sure to have your sound on, but not too loud. And move your cursor across the screen once it's up.
The devil is in the details when a new website goes live
It is these types of details that can be missed in the going live process. There are so many things to worry about when building a website, and then making it live for the client as well as the public. Before even fathoming a going live checklist, there are core basic things a web designer or developer must worry about:
- are there coding errors,
- does it work on an iPhone as well as an Android tablet,
- is the design good,
- has the SEO been researched properly,
- have all the clients wishes come true,
- is the little copyright year going to update itself after I've fallen asleep early on New Years Eve, and missed the ball drop again... for the third year in a row?
A going live checklist isn't supposed to cover those types of things.
Essentially 99% of the website is done, all of the major worries have been taken care of, but unfortunately, that 1% can still affect a lot of things—little things. Depending on the website, that 1% left to do, could be 40-50 small tasks—while other websites, it might be dozen small, yet very important tasks.
The little things in the contact forms are critical
- Are all contact forms emailing the right people?
- Have they been tested?
- are they going into your client's spam folder?
- Are the emails coming from the site labeled correctly, so the client knows right away by the subject line—this is a potential customer who has a question or needs help.
Google Analytics and AdWords
Did we make sure to transfer over the Google Analytics to the new site from the old? Did we block our IP address on their Google Analytics account, so that when we constantly visit their site to make updates and changes, we aren't affecting their bounce rate or page views?
Are there Google AdWords running that point to URLs that might no longer exist? THAT would be a true waste of the client's money if we let that happen.
There are so many things-big and small-that can be on a "going live checklist."
From making sure they get a passing grade on Google Speed Insights, to double checking their embedded Youtube videos are responsive, and work just as good on a handheld device, as well as a widescreen monitor.
No matter how long or detailed our checklists get, there is always something new, some little bump in the road we never thought of before.
A good web design agency should have a going live checklist that is always growing and ever-expanding. A checklist for a Drupal website, might be a little different than a site built with a Wordpress template, and both of those site would be slightly different than a SquareSpace website. An e-commerce website going live checklist would look a lot different than a home builder's website.
A going live checklist should be ever-evolving
Each checklist should have the tools in it to help their client's websites launch without any issues, or at least minimize against any major issues.
As I mentioned before, there will always be some kind of gremlin, or problem that pops up. Maybe Mercury is in retrograde and you are a Cancer and married to a Scorpio, and a butterfly flapped its wings in the Amazon Rain Forest. Things do happen, but a good Columbus Oh website design company can help them from ever getting out of hand, or even better—before anyone could even notice.
An example of one of our going live checklists
- Activate XML Sitemap Module - Create sitemap
- Start Webmaster Tools account - Submit sitemap
- Activate Google Analytics Module
- Copy over UA code from Google to connect to Analytics
- Overwrite Robots.txt
- Is it working in IE8, IE9 and IE10
- Custom 404 page
- Custom 403 page
- Passing Grade on Google Speed Insights
- Check all webforms are emailing to proper destinations
- Honeypot installed
- Test validation module on all webforms
- Test all webforms to make sure they are not being marked as spam
- Custom Thank You page for all webforms
- Any custom 301 redirects?
- All videos are set to be responsive - Copy over JS and CSS codes
- Check all "Home" links to make sure they link to domain name and not temp. server name
- Are we going to break any SEM campaigns?
- Is all SEO copied over or updated?
- Have we taken Screenshots of the old website for comparison? or (http://archive.org/web/)
- Block all fake traffic, e.g., SEMALT, with Apache rewrites
- Are there any DNS records that might need to be carried over to CIVI hosting?
- Block our IP Address from their Google Analytics
- Have all other tracking codes been placed on the site
If your website is your main marketing tool...
If you believe your website is your main marketing tool, and it has to be as good as you, make sure your web design firm has a list like this so the launch of your website goes smoothly.