15 Essential Checks Before Launching Your Website

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Your website is designed, the CMS works, content has been added and the client is happy. It’s time to take the website live. Or is it? When launching a website, you can often forget a number of things in your eagerness to make it live, so it’s useful to have a checklist to look through as you make your final touches and before you announce your website to the world.

This article reviews some important and necessary checks that web-sites should be checked against before the official launch — little details are often forgotten or ignored, but – if done in time – may sum up to an overall greater user experience and avoid unnecessary costs after the official site release.

Favicon

A favicon brands the tab or window in which your website is open in the user’s browser. It is also saved with the bookmark so that users can easily identify pages from your website. Some browsers pick up the favicon if you save it in your root directory as favicon.ico, but to be sure it’s picked up all the time, include the following in your head.

<link rel="icon" type="image/x-icon" href="http://media.mediatemple.netdna-cdn.com/favicon.ico" />

And if you have an iPhone favicon:

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

Description1

Titles And Meta Data

Your page title is the most important element for SEO and is also important so that users know what’s on the page. Make sure it changes on every page and relates to that page’s content.

<title>10 Things To Consider When Choosing The Perfect CMS | How-To | Smashing Magazine</title>

Meta description and keyword tags aren’t as important for SEO (at least for the major search engines anyway), but it’s still a good idea to include them. Change the description on each page to make it relate to that page’s content, because this is often what Google displays in its search result description.

<meta name="description" content="By Paul Boag Choosing a content management system can be tricky. Without a clearly defined set of requirements, you will be seduced by fancy functionality that you will never use. What then should you look" />

Description2

Cross-Browser Checks

Just when you think your design looks great, pixel perfect, you check it in IE and see that everything is broken. It’s important that your website works across browsers. It doesn’t have to be pixel perfect, but everything should work, and the user shouldn’t see any problems. The most popular browsers to check are Internet Explorer 6, 7 and 8, Firefox 3, Safari 3, Chrome, Opera and the iPhone.

Description3

Proofread

Read everything. Even if you’ve already read it, read it again. Get someone else to read it. There’s always something you’ll pick up on and have to change. See if you can reduce the amount of text by keeping it specific. Break up large text blocks into shorter paragraphs. Add clear headings throughout, and use lists so that users can scan easily. Don’t forget about dynamic text too, such as alert boxes.

Links

Don’t just assume all your links work. Click on them. You may often forget to add “http://” to links to external websites. Make sure your logo links to the home page, a common convention.

Also, think about how your links work. Is it obvious to new users that they are links? They should stand out from the other text on the page. Don’t underline text that isn’t a link because it will confuse users. And what happens to visited links?

Links7

Functionality Check

Test everything thoroughly. If you have a contact form, test it and copy yourself so that you can see what comes through. Get others to test your website, and not just family and friends but the website’s target market. Sit back and watch how a user uses the website. It’s amazing what you’ll pick up on when others use your website differently than how you assume they’d use it. Common things to check for are contact forms, search functions, shopping baskets and log-in areas.

Graceful Degradation

Your website should work with JavaScript turned off. Users often have JavaScript turned off for security, so you should be prepared for this. You can easily turn off JavaScript in Firefox. Test your forms to make sure they still perform server-side validation checks, and test any cool AJAX stuff you have going on.

Javascript10

Validation

You should aim for a 100% valid website. That said, it isn’t the end of the world if your website doesn’t validate11, but it’s important to know the reasons why it doesn’t so that you can fix any nasty errors. Common gotchas include no “alt” tags, no closing tags and using “&” instead of “&amp;” for ampersands.

Valid12

RSS Link

If your website has a blog or newsreel, you should have an RSS feed that users can subscribe to. Users should be able to easily find your RSS feed: the common convention is to put a small RSS icon in the browser’s address bar.

Put this code between your <head> tags.

<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="Site or RSS title" href="link-to-feed" />

RSS15

Analytics

Installing some sort of analytics tool is important for measuring statistics to see how your website performs and how successful your conversion rates are. Track daily unique hits, monthly page views and browser statistics, all useful data to start tracking from day 1. Google Analytics16 is a free favorite among website owners. Others to consider are Clicky17, Kissmetrics18 (still in closed beta yet), Mint19 and StatCounter20.

Analytics21

Sitemap

Adding a sitemap.xml file to your root directory allows the major search engines to easily index your website. The file points crawlers to all the pages on your website. XML-Sitemaps22 automatically creates a sitemap.xml file for you. After creating the file, upload it to your root directory so that its location is www.mydomain.com/sitemap.xml.

If you use WordPress, install the Google XML Sitemaps plug-in23, which automatically updates the sitemap when you write new posts. Also, add your website and sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools24. This tells Google that you have a sitemap, and the service provides useful statistics on how and when your website was last indexed.

Analytics25

Defensive Design

The most commonly overlooked defensive design element is the 404 page. If a user requests a page that doesn’t exist, your 404 page is displayed. This may happen for a variety of reasons, including another website linking to a page that doesn’t exist. Get your users back on track by providing a useful 404 page that directs them to the home page or suggests other pages they may be interested in.

Another defensive design technique is checking your forms for validation. Try submitting unusual information in your form fields (e.g. lots of characters, letters in number fields, etc.) and make sure that if there is an error, the user is provided with enough feedback to be able to fix it.

40426

Optimize

You’ll want to configure your website for optimal performance. You should do this on an ongoing basis after launch, but you can take a few simple steps before launch, too. Reducing HTTP requests, using CSS sprites wherever possible, optimizing images for the Web, compressing JavaScript and CSS files and so on can all help load your pages more quickly and use less server resources.

Besides, depending on the publishing engine that you are using, you may need to consider taking more specific measures – for instance, if you are using WordPress, you may need to consider useful caching techniques to speed up the performance28.

Yahoo Best Practices29

Back Up

If your website runs off a database, you need a back-up strategy. Or else, the day will come when you regret not having one. If you use WordPress, install WordPress Database Backup32, which you can set up to automatically email you backups.

Print Style Sheet

If a user wants to print a page from your website, chances are she or he wants only the main content and not the navigation or extra design elements. That’s why it is a good idea to create a print-specific style sheet. Also, certain CSS elements, such as floats, don’t come out well when printed.

To point to a special CSS style sheet that computers automatically use when users print a page, simply include the following code between your <head> tags.

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

Download the Ultimate Website Launch Checklist!

Just recently Dan Zambonini has published a very detailed checklist that covers both the pre-launch and the post-launch phase of the web site life cycle. Among other things his Ultimate Website Launch Checklist35 contains checks related to content and style, standards and validation, search engine visibility, functional testing, security/risk, performance and marketing.

Ultimate Check List36

The pdf-version37 is available as well. The checklist is a very useful reference that may help you in your daily projects and will help you to prevent errors and mistake once the site is released.

You may also want to consider the Quick Usability Check List38 by David Leggett that highlight some of the more common problems designers should address on their own sites in a Usability checklist of sorts. Not all of these items will apply to every website, these are just suggested things to look for in your own site design.

Quick Usability Check List39

What other checks would you list?

Make yourself a to-do list and keep it handy to check over before making any website live. Are there any other points you would add? Share them in the comments!

(al)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.9rules.com
  2. 2 http://www.google.de/search?rlz=1C1GGLS_deDE291DE303&ie=UTF-8&q=10+things+to+consider+when+choosing
  3. 3 http://freelancefolder.com/7-fresh-and-simple-ways-to-test-cross-browser-compatibility/
  4. 4 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/10/02/browser-tests-services-and-compatibility-test-suites/
  5. 5 http://freelancefolder.com/7-fresh-and-simple-ways-to-test-cross-browser-compatibility/
  6. 6 http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9703b.html
  7. 7 http://www.komodomedia.com/
  8. 8 http://validator.w3.org/checklink
  9. 9 http://silverbackapp.com/
  10. 10 http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/
  11. 11 http://www.leemunroe.com/how-important-is-valid-html-web-standards/
  12. 12 http://www.webstandardistas.com/
  13. 13 http://net.tutsplus.com/articles/web-roundups/10-reasons-why-your-code-wont-validate-and-how-to-fix-it/
  14. 14 http://validator.w3.org/
  15. 15 http://www.problogger.net/
  16. 16 http://www.google.com/analytics/
  17. 17 http://getclicky.com/
  18. 18 http://kissmetrics.com/
  19. 19 http://haveamint.com/
  20. 20 http://statcounter.com/
  21. 21 http://getclicky.com/
  22. 22 http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/
  23. 23 http://www.arnebrachhold.de/projects/wordpress-plugins/google-xml-sitemaps-generator/
  24. 24 https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools
  25. 25 http://www.arnebrachhold.de/projects/wordpress-plugins/google-xml-sitemaps-generator/
  26. 26 http://productplanner.com/
  27. 27 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/08/17/404-error-pages-reloaded/
  28. 28 http://www.arnebrachhold.de/2007/02/16/four-plus-one-ways-to-speed-up-the-performance-of-wordpress-with-caching/
  29. 29 http://developer.yahoo.com/performance/rules.html
  30. 30 http://developer.yahoo.com/performance/rules.html
  31. 31 http://www.websiteoptimization.com/services/analyze/
  32. 32 http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-db-backup/
  33. 33 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/02/21/printing-the-web-solutions-and-techniques/
  34. 34 http://www.alistapart.com/articles/goingtoprint/
  35. 35 http://www.boxuk.com/blog/the-ultimate-website-launch-checklist
  36. 36 http://www.boxuk.com/blog/the-ultimate-website-launch-checklist
  37. 37 http://www.boxuk.com/upload/website_launch_checklist_v1.pdf
  38. 38 http://www.uxbooth.com/blog/quick-usability-checklist/
  39. 39 http://www.uxbooth.com/blog/quick-usability-checklist/

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Lee Munroe is a freelance web designer from Belfast. You can see his other writings on web design on his blog.

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  1. 1

    @Disposable_Hero
    Dude (or gal),
    First of all comments like “nice” and “cool” are completely useless. Second, I’m working on that field for 11 years now and this is the reason why I find 90% of the articles here shallow and too general, telling nothing but bla bla which you can find in any other site. That’s ok, obviously most of the users here are not so long into the web design and they like it, that’s fine. But I DON”T have to agree and I CAN express whatever I feel about certain article, just the same way other people say “fantastic”. You are not the one to judge me, so please in the future keep your advises to yourself unless you have to say something on the topic.

    And on the topic – they missed even to say about testing different resolutions! But lol, the favicon is there! Nothign about choosing hosting provider, nothing about testing dbase queries, nothing about trying to access the site through various continents (I bet you never heard you can do that, try to find that service for yourself, I won’t do your homework for you mean little person:-)

    0
  2. 102

    Excellent Post. Thank you for the insite.

    0
  3. 203

    If adding a favicon is important to you, http://www.html-kit.com/favicon/ can do favicons and iPhone icons in one go. HTH.

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  4. 304

    Great post! Nice info.

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  5. 405

    Hi!

    This was a great article like almost every article on this page :)

    Im building a webpage for a hotel and followed this checklist which was great, I have one qustion though about adThis (share with facebook, delicious etc.) that wasn’t on the list:

    What do you guys think is it an important thing and accepted or will it on a hotel page be seen as unserious because the target auidance is mostly older people and companies?

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  6. 506

    Wonderful addition to the Ultimate Website Launch Checklist!. This is more in a simplistic way of things.

    0
  7. 607

    I have done some of these…thanks..

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  8. 708

    Very nice&useful list. Thanks!
    WordPressGala

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  9. 809

    you might wanna check your js code on debugger and console.log statements and at least outcomment them

    0
  10. 910

    Thanx! This is a perfect checklist, which we gladly used for checking.
    It’s a start to set up your own checklist. Quality & content are essential we like to think!

    0
  11. 1011

    o and check your outcommented try catch statements in your js code… for debugging these are often outcommented to be able to see where errors occur. But on live they should be capturing your js errors and report them in a userfriendly way to the visitor.
    Hmmm there might be a list of 15 things to check when you put your js code live…

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  12. 1112

    There you go. A small list for javascript code: 10 Checks Before Launching Your Javascript

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  13. 1213

    I think that all listed here is absolutely obvious and It’s really surprising that so many people found it useful :) nice post in any case

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  14. 1314

    Setting the write permissions for files and directories is also a thing I forget.

    0
  15. 1415

    Good, very much helpful for testing, Thanks

    0
  16. 1516

    Many thanks to provide this checklist.

    0
  17. 1617

    Great checklist, I second Icepick about Opuast (english and french): it’s a great tool for improving the quality of your websites!

    0
  18. 1718

    great stuff!!

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  19. 1819

    Vitaly/Sven – any chance of a post on JS degradation/enhancement best practices? Seems like it’s a bit of a ‘hot potato’…

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  20. 1920

    nice post :)

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  21. 2021

    Cross browser checks with IE are a waste of time. If my site looks good in Firefox, Opera, Chrome and Safari, I’m done. I don’t code for browsers that are not standards compliant. :)

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  22. 2122

    Thank you, very well done!

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  23. 2223

    I now have a favicon! Yeah!

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  24. 2324

    @Pandjarov (#33) and Johny (#37) : I quite agree.

    Surely one of the things that should be done before releasing a blog post is to check that the title is accurate – this stuff is general advice, not a pre-release checklist.
    Most of this stuff should be done as part of the initial site setup, and only needs to be done once.

    0
  25. 2425

    I personally believe this is a GREAT list, but checking this everytime MANUALLY is waste of time. I think there needs to be someway to Automating the Unit Testing, so that the validation is run everytime there is any chance.

    Automation Baby Automation….

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  26. 2526

    bloggeronline.net

    April 9, 2009 8:26 pm

    thanks
    great post

    0
  27. 2627

    @Brian #123
    It is necessary to cross browse/ test/ check within IE (6,7 and 8) because mostly in the East used IE as their browser including Asian or any web developers out there.

    So take a shot with IE first before you consider that your site was checked properly.

    Thanks,
    -Arjay

    0
  28. 2728

    Thanks very much! This really helps (again)!

    0
  29. 2829

    Hi. Also accessibility. this is a great list, but you need to make sure it is useable for disabled populations.

    0
  30. 2930

    Great article. I wrote a similar article a few months ago called, Launching Ruby on Rails projects, a checklist (Launching Ruby on Rails projects, a checklist) which covers a few of these topics along with some Rails-specific things to consider.

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  31. 3031

    Excelent post!!! I am using some of them right now and I will include the ones that not.

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  32. 3132

    i don’t know why i thought this could be useful i get here and you guys are are talking about double checking to see if you’ve created a favicon.. .wow! see-L an amature mistake at best :(

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  33. 3233

    nice article, thanks for sharing :D

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  34. 3334

    Very nice&helpful. I’ll try everything. Thanks!

    0
  35. 3435

    Excellent info we should all adhere to. Just missed one very important thing … robots.txt with a sitemap link.

    0
  36. 3536

    great information!

    0
  37. 3637

    wow ! Simply excellent !

    0
  38. 3738

    I believe you meant to say that you should use & instead of just &. I think you have it backwards. Great article, but I agree with most here that using JS is silly.

    0
  39. 3839

    good :)

    0
  40. 3940

    Jack Bremer - 3B Digital, London

    April 15, 2009 8:31 am

    FANTASTIC – am using some of these points as the central force in my new company-wide Best Practice Manual!

    0
  41. 4041

    Having a favicon in place for your site is important. Not *the* most important thing, but definitely something you don’t want to overlook. Not having a favicon in place will cause a 404 error in many browsers. And the 404 error has a negative impact on load time. Browsers handle favicons in different ways.
    IE7 will usually (but not always, for reasons unknown) follow the link in the head and download the image as specified. It’s best to actually include a second link in the head for IE: . If IE7 finds not link(s) in the head, it will try to fetch /favicon.ico.

    IE6 will ignore the link(s) in the head and always try to download /favicon.ico, but only actually show the icon after the website has been added to the Favorites of the browser. Weird stuff, but fits the profile…

    Firefox is a good boy: look for link in head and download the .ico file in the link. If no link is present, try to fetch /favicon.ico.

    IE browsers will not show .png files as a favicon. Only .ico files.
    So this for example will not work in IE:

    Last note: webservices such as Delicious and Google Toolbar will always look for /favicon.ico and ignore the link in the head.

    Conclusion: put the favicon.ico file in the root folder of your site and place two link tags in the head.

    2
  42. 4142

    Good article for those final checks. What I’d like to see added would be a check that the design is really maximising the value of the content and getting the desired message across – doing all it can to get a response. Sort of ‘Content functionality’ I’d say – that there’s focus on the right elements, no distractions in the design, there’s flow through the content, calls-to-action are reinforced etc.
    Oh, and proofreading is the checking of typographical/ ‘type-setting’ errors – what you described under this heading is copy-editing… a proofreader would’ve picked that up!

    0
  43. 4243

    Great Comprehensive List. Keep it up.

    0
  44. 4344

    Brilliant compilation. I always forget favicons and feed meta. Bookmarked.

    0
  45. 4445

    Great list!
    I was suprised that so many people are defensive of javascript. I guess I’m one of the “1 or 2″ people that leave JS turned off. This stops new window pop-ups, and some annoying windows that ask if you’re sure you want to leave the site. Sometimes I’ll turn JS on if a site needs it to function, but I can’t stand sites that don’t work without JS or Flash enabled and don’t provide alternatives.

    1
  46. 4546

    Валерий Дасаев

    May 26, 2009 12:37 am

    Хм… Ну у вас либо талант писать, или это стыбрено откуда-то! :)

    0
  47. 4647

    David Radovanovic

    May 26, 2009 4:15 pm

    SEOMOZ and Hubspot offer a membership fee for a suite of useful (up to date) SEO tools. It would be great if there were more like these two, especially with more emphasis on self serve SEO. Just a thought. Thanks for your very useful post!

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  48. 4748

    Great!…Very useful post

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  49. 4849

    haha i love bobs comment … this really is a lot of hullabaloo. throw your stupid PCs and Macs out the window and grab a surfboard and head out to some lonely mexican beach to get back in touch with real life.

    0
  50. 4950

    I am looking for checklist that lets a small bank check each of its web pages for FDIC compliance. Things such as is there as pop up indicating you are leaving a secure site for an open one.

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