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 Link

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="/favicon.ico" />

And if you have an iPhone favicon:

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

Description1

Titles And Meta Data Link

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 Link

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 Link

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.

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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.

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! Link

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? Link

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 Link

  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

    This is an excellent list. If every site did these things first, the Internet would be a much happier place.

    One comment: Progressive enhancement might be a better approach than graceful degradation. The two are really the same thing (making pages look good in trimmed-down browsers), but take different approaches. Graceful degradation designs an insanely awesome site for the latest browsers, then hacks the stylesheets to not look awful on older browsers. Progressive enhancement designs a tasteful site for basic browsers, then hacks the stylesheets to look insanely awesome in the latest browsers. This way, backward compatibility is a step along the way rather than an afterthought.

    4
  2. 2

    This is a fantastic post! I strongly feel that there needs to be a post specifically on the speed optimization section of this checklist. There are so many loose resources out on the net, and to pull that all together would be great. Otherwise, this is a great complilation, Thanks!

    3
  3. 3

    I agree with most of these, but I disagree with #7. Users do not “often” have javascript turned off. Most don’t turn it off since it is on by default. Only among the comp savy is this even slightly the case.

    1
  4. 4

    Shouldn’t the iPhone apple-touch-image be a png file? I’ve never seen an ico file working on an iPhone before.

    0
  5. 5

    Great idea for a post! This is very useful and informative.
    Thanks Lee

    3
  6. 6

    SmashingMag, you never cease to amaze! Thanks for the awesome post!

    3
  7. 7

    From this checklist it seems that the most important thing to check…..is your favicon. LOL I wonder whether someone important has left SM. Posts are getting worse every day…

    -2
  8. 8

    Great ;-)

    2
  9. 9

    thanks so much that

    1
  10. 10

    Thanks for the 9rules screenshot! When it first popped up in my RSS reader I thought you were showing 9rules as an example of a site that didn’t do something right and I got real nervous, then I clicked over to read the article and I saw that wasn’t the case. Good thing!

    2
  11. 11

    Thank you, this is very useful.

    1
  12. 12

    Very useful! Thanks!

    0
  13. 13

    Nice article, maybe you could have included something about Robots.txt

    -1
  14. 14

    great article and great timing… thank you very much!

    0
  15. 15

    Nice with a usable post instead of all those “inspiration” posts :) Nice work SM!

    0
  16. 16

    Thanx – great post, helpful stuff here as I’d usually leave this for a developer to sort out ‘cos it seems too technical for a designer – you’ve just added some great tools to my web arsenal!

    0
  17. 17

    How can this awesome site not give users the ability to share these blog posts on facebook or send by email? Seems kind of ironic given the natures the posts, no?

    0
  18. 18

    Nice and useful! Thanks!

    0
  19. 19

    I love articles like this.

    SM you’ve been on fire lately !!

    0
  20. 20

    Nice article, thank you.

    0
  21. 21

    Other items on my list include:

    – Checking the layout on small screens
    – Testing Microformats if used
    – Minifying CSS/js
    – Testing accessibility with Total Validator, aDesigner, WebAIM etc.
    – Checking colour contrast
    – Checking for unused selectors with Dust Me Selectors (FF extension)
    – Checking robots.txt
    – As well as Google Analytics, also signing up for Google Webmaster tools, Yahoo Site Explorer, and Live Webmaster Center

    1
  22. 22

    Great post.

    Just a question… Did you have some sponsorship from Silverback?

    0
  23. 23

    The only thing I disagree with is the Javascript item. In this day and age, Javascript is absolutely essential, as are cookies. Don’t believe me? Fine. Go ahead and turn either of those off, and start surfing and using many sites you normally go to. You’ll be dead in the water.

    Now, Javascript often breaks, so that’s why we have jQuery — it gives us pretty much cross-browser functionality no matter what browser someone is using. And about 50% of the sites out there use cookies instead of session variables because they realized that session vars are either configured to use enormous amounts of server RAM, especially when you get slashdotted, or are slow because they are configured to go to the database. For me, encrypted, compressed cookies let you scale affordably unless you have invested a lot of cash in your backend — a suitable thing when you’re just starting your website out with one to three servers in the first couple years.

    0
  24. 24

    That’s very useful set of guiding final buttons to close tightly.
    Thank you very much!

    Agnes

    0
  25. 25

    Christopher Mena

    April 7, 2009 7:27 pm

    I love you Smashing, I really do. Thank you for being so awesome…

    0
  26. 26

    Awsum!

    0
  27. 27

    Great. I wish I had advice like this years and years ago when I was first starting web design. :D

    0
  28. 28

    The number one annoying oversight on websites – forgetting to include an easy-to-find contact email (preferably at the bottom of every page)! If I find a problem with a website I usually try to let the owner know, but some of them don’t want to be found…

    0
  29. 29

    nice post.. very useful for me as m going to live my site soon.. thnx for sharing …

    0
  30. 30

    fantastic post! i think all are covered point are impotent thankful for this this post

    0
  31. 31

    These things may come under proof read, but still good to mention:
    * check for junk data and meta data, inserted by the CMS/application/developer/designer
    * double check that contact info is correct and forms reach the correct mail id.

    For optimizing YSlow (http://developer.yahoo.com/yslow/) and http://www.smushit.com are worth mentioning.

    And John Faulds’ comments are notable.

    1
  32. 32

    Nice stuff. Going to print it out and paste it over my desk now =)

    0
  33. 33

    Thanks… great post!

    0
  34. 34

    Cross browser checks and title tags are hardly things one ‘checks’ at the end. how can you develop a site without checking IE constantly!?

    Otherwise, good post. Checking IE is like our company mantra… for the many times we forget. …stupid IE.

    0
  35. 35

    PAVAN NIMMARAJU

    April 7, 2009 11:12 pm

    Thaks a lot…………and its very useful guidence for every web designer and web developer for creating great web site or web applications.

    Thanks a million again…………………….

    0
  36. 36

    Waouw ! Great Post ! Thank you… As a web content strategist, I appreciate, of course, you integrated content (Tip 4) in your check-list ;-)

    0
  37. 37

    Very rubbish!
    IE6 is NOT one of the most commonly used browser, iPhone doesn’t worth mentioning at all (iphone? dude, really iphone???)
    Validation has NO LINK WHAT SO EVER with your site success and google indexing.
    Making site without JS because 0.1% of the users may turned it off??? Come one, we are 2009, it’s a ridiculous idea!
    Favicon as number one to check? Are you serious?

    Seems like the quality of the articles here is declining each day, so sad:-(

    -5
  38. 38

    thanks for useful post,.. I missed some of really important steps before launch my website

    0
  39. 39

    Great article I also use http://en.opquast.com/ which really helps in terms of quality checks :)

    0
  40. 40

    .htaccess file with directory listing disabled for the inner folders. I guess this is most important from security point of view.

    0
  41. 41

    Man, screw this… these days are over. SEO is BS and all of this stuff is a waste of time. A smoke screen on top of that. A lot of this is stuff designed to stall the competition and bog them down with details.

    The reality is nobody really gives a crap about most web sites. Short attention span is at an all time high. The internet is dead. Too many thieves stealing content and even if you do make a killer site with a billion hits a day advertising is pretty much dead so you’ll probably lose money on it.

    Best thing to do is turn off your computer and quit dicking around with this shit. Buy a guitar, take lessons and start a band. Or… play the lottery. Your odds of success at either of those will be much higher than wasting your life away on the Internet.

    P.S. Global warming is a scam

    -2
  42. 43

    very useful, thanks!
    just bookmarked! :)

    0
  43. 44

    Another smashing magazine post to pass on to my bosses to show how we should be doing things!

    2
  44. 45

    12: checking your form for validation.
    I used to have “helpful” diagnostics but the spammers used them to try to circumvent my anti-spam measures. I use javascript validation so those with JS enabled get on-the-fly error prompts and follow that with PHP validation. Spammers disable JS but 99.9% of “real” users” don’t so they get the helpful prompts. The PHP validation gives a less helpful error response that says something like “the message appears to have some characteristics in common with junk mail, please review your input and try again”.
    I also put a “JS disabled” alert on form pages because I agree with Volomike and others – Web without JS is like a kiss without a moustache (to paraphrase J P Sartre?).

    0
  45. 46

    I’d add http://www.reinvigorate.net under the “analytics” paragraph

    0
  46. 47

    Smashing Editorial

    April 8, 2009 12:27 am

    @Pandjarov (#33) and Johny (#37): why would you think that checking favicon is the most important thing? Why would you suggest that the items in this article are ranked according to their importance? And maybe you are not concerned about Gracefule Degradation of your web-site, but you certainly should be.

    -1
  47. 48

    You can detect if a user has JS turned off and serve them alternate content, and this is exactly what I do for a website that relys heavily on JS.

    For pages that absolutely won’t function without JS, the user gets a nicely designed and worded error message and not simply a broken page.

    1
  48. 49

    I would also advise to optimize -> minify scripts and css, gzip etc.
    http://developer.yahoo.com/yslow/

    1
  49. 50

    Dear Smashing Editorial,

    In many of the posts in this website you have spoken about the usability of a website and the way users scan/read through a page.

    Although experienced web designer, I read this article/post as a normal visitor. It has left me with the impression that the points in this check list are ordered. Maybe because they were numbered.

    I believe you will agree with me that the favicon is not the first thing you should check when publishing your website.

    If you don’t want users to think that the items in this article “are ranked according to their importance” you should not place numbers in front of them :) Just a common sense.

    Personally, I would advise the usage of the http://browsershots.org/ website. I have nothing to do with it, haven’t even added it as a link here but it is a fantastic way to check how your website looks in different browsers.

    As for the “Graceful Degradation” I agree with you. Never said anything bout that, I suppose you are quoting John.

    I would argue about the validation of your website. Although a good thing (having a new Porsche is good too but not all of us can afford it unfortunately) it is not “Essential”. You can try validating http://www.google.com and I believe they rank pretty hight in the SERPS :)

    In conclusion I think this article was written more in terms of SEO rather than web design. After all, visitors don’t read meta description, do they :)

    Cheerz

    -1
  50. 51

    For testing your site’s performance, you can use the free Page Test tool – this is a web based application: type in your site’s URL and a remote machine starts Internet Explorer, measures how long it takes to load the web page and presents results.
    You can test from two locations to see load times from different parts of the world:
    East Coast USA
    New Zealand

    1

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