Designing and developing websites is hard work, and at the end of your project, you will probably be relieved to finally launch it. All you have to do is find a hosting provider and move your site over, right? It can be a little more complicated than that. Many big issues can be avoided in the days pre-launch if you follow a well-thought-out plan. At WTM Digital, we have a full launch checklist we go through with each site to make sure every launch is as successful as possible, without dramatically affecting your search rankings. Here are a few key items to consider before you launch your site.
1. Complete Browser Testing
Before launching your site, always make sure to fully test your website on all modern browsers. When testing the website, confirm that it is responsive by viewing it on desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Test all the functionality on the site to make sure all browsers are working correctly.
If you are launching a new website, we recommend supporting browsers that are actively maintained by their creators. As of this writing, that includes Internet Explorer 11, Microsoft Edge, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera. If you are still not sure which browsers to support you can always check a website like http://gs.statcounter.com/ which displays Browser usage stats.
2. Add XML Sitemap
Sitemaps are important to make sure search engines are getting the correct organization and hierarchy for your pages. The sitemap also allows search engine crawlers to intelligently crawl your website. When creating your sitemap, make sure to correctly format your sitemap before allowing search engines to access the file.
If you are launching a WordPress site, popular SEO plugins, like Yoast SEO, will automatically build your sitemap. Other plugins, such as Google XML Sitemaps will create your sitemap automatically. After your sitemap is created, add the sitemap URL to your sites robots.txt file so the search engine crawler can find and access your sitemap.
3. Add Analytics Tracking
It is always important to add analytics tracking to your website to understand how users interact with your pages. The most popular analytics tracker is Google Analytics, which gives you a nice interface to view your analytics and provides the tracking script and instructs you where to place it after setting up your website in Google Analytics. Make sure to make a note of the launch date and time in analytics, so you can compare how your new site is functioning.
4. Make sure all links are updated
Before making your website live, make sure to go through all your links and check if they are updated from your development site URL to your live site URL. If your site is a WordPress site all your links will be updated to the correct domain after changing the site’s site URL to the live site URL. After the site URL is updated, you can check for any URLs missed by using a plugin like Velvet Blues Update URLs which will go through the database and find any URLs matching your specified URL.
5. Add Redirects
If you are launching an updated site, make sure to add 301 redirects for any pages that no longer exist, or do not match the current site’s URL. If the existing site has a URL indexed for a page that no longer exists, it is best practice to redirect to a similar page or the homepage. If there is an existing page indexed and the same page will have a new URL on the updated site, add a 301 redirect to point the old URL to the updated site’s new URL.
6. Allow search engines and update robots.txt
A robots.txt file allows your web pages to be crawled by search engines. It will also allow you to block any pages you specify to not be crawled by search engines. To allow all pages to be crawled, set your robots.txt file to either be empty or set the “Disallow” option to blank.
If your website is built using WordPress make sure to uncheck the “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” option in the Settings -> Reading menu. Unchecking this will update the robots.txt file to allow search engines the ability to crawl your website. This is an often overlooked step, as many development versions of sites will have this option selected.
7. Make a complete backup
It is always best practice to make a complete backup of your site before migrating your site to the live server. Having a working backup will allow you to quickly revert the site to the most recent working version in case issues arise after making the site live.