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15 Essential Checks Before Launching Your Website

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.

You may also be interested in the following related posts:

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" />


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" />

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.



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?



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.



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 validate14, 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.



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" />


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 Analytics19 is a free favorite among website owners. Others to consider are Clicky20, Kissmetrics21 (still in closed beta yet), Mint22 and StatCounter23.



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-Sitemaps25 automatically creates a sitemap.xml file for you. After creating the file, upload it to your root directory so that its location is

If you use WordPress, install the Google XML Sitemaps plug-in26, which automatically updates the sitemap when you write new posts. Also, add your website and sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools27. This tells Google that you have a sitemap, and the service provides useful statistics on how and when your website was last indexed.



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.



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 performance31.

Yahoo Best Practices32


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 Backup35, 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 Checklist38 contains checks related to content and style, standards and validation, search engine visibility, functional testing, security/risk, performance and marketing.

Ultimate Check List39

The pdf-version40 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 List41 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 List42


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!


Footnotes Link

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Lee Munroe is a web developer and creator of based in San Francisco.

  1. 1

    Great ;-)

  2. 2

    thanks so much that

  3. 3

    Mike Rundle

    April 7, 2009 1:53 pm

    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!

  4. 4

    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.

  5. 5

    Josh Cooper

    April 7, 2009 1:56 pm

    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!

  6. 6

    Thank you, this is very useful.

  7. 7

    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.

  8. 8

    Elijah Grey

    April 7, 2009 2:08 pm

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

  9. 9

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

  10. 10

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

  11. 11

    Very useful! Thanks!

  12. 12

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

  13. 13

    John Faulds

    April 7, 2009 5:08 pm

    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

  14. 14

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

  15. 15

    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:-(

  16. 16

    great article and great timing… thank you very much!

  17. 17

    Martin Jensen

    April 7, 2009 2:51 pm

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

  18. 18

    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!

  19. 19

    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?

  20. 20

    Nice and useful! Thanks!


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