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Aug 15, 2019

Final checklist to test a new website




Launching a new website is always exciting - you've worked hard on that dazzling design, impressive content and an exceptional user interface. Obviously, you can't wait to share it with the whole world.
Why would you need to try your beautiful site before launching it? You better do it because this can happen:

And that:

And even this:
I hope I didn't scare you, but all those problems could have been easily avoided if the webmasters had followed simple check steps. Do not worry - I will explain these basic activities and your site will be in perfect condition when you launch it.

Before you begin, prepare the release calendar

Working without a schedule, but with a deadline is a dangerous thing. On the one hand, you have the illusion that everything will be completed by that date marked on your calendar. On the other hand, you often have to deal with more problems and tasks than planned, so you feel stressed just before launching - eventually, you get nervous, blind to details, and lose something really important.
In addition, there are often many people working on a new website: developers, SEOs, testers, content writers and product managers, each with their own tasks, goals, and deadlines. A comprehensive plan that defines the roles and responsibilities of each team member is a must.
Table of Contents:
For convenience, I have decided to divide all the check tips into categories, depending on the team/specialist responsible for the task.
  • Chapter 1. What web developers and designers need to do
  • Chapter 2. What SEO should do
  • Chapter 3. What editors and editors should do
  • Chapter 4. What marketing managers need to do
  • Chapter 5. What should system administrators do

Chapter 1. What web developers and designers need to do


1.1 Make sure all site URLs are live and working correctly

It is often the case that a website is built with a special platform, where things can be tested in multiple ways. Once the functionality and content is finished, it is time to move the site to production and change all URLs. However, this is often not going well.
If you have a small corporate website with a dozen pages, you can simply check live URLs and links manually, one by one, to make sure they work well. However, if we are talking about larger websites, URL verification has to be automated.
How to test a site's URLs
Open WebSite Auditor (free version), create a project for your website and let the tool collect the data; Depending on the number of pages analyzed, it may take from one minute to half an hour.
The tool will search for various problems related to URLs, including
  • Resources with 4xx status codes
  • Resources with 5xx status codes
  • Pages with redirects 302
  • Broken links
Copy the URLs in question and then share the list with your development team.

1.2 Check site speed

Did you know that Google experienced a traffic drop of 20% years ago as a result of a 0.5-second delay in page load? There is no excuse today for slow loading pages, it is one of your top priorities to serve users as quickly as possible. On top of that, page loading speed is an official ranking factor for Google, and I bet your competitors are already working on this to outdo others.
How to check the performance of your site
There are many tools to do the job, you can use Google PageSpeed ​​Insights and check the pages there, or do a quick scan in WebSite Auditor. You will find a list of the slowest loading pages on your site (along with the size of each page) in the Site audit panel.
For a more detailed analysis of page speed problems, go to the Content Analysis, Pages module, add or select a page you need to check, switch to Technical Factors in the left section and scroll to Page Speed ​​(Desktop).
Here you will see a series of factors that Google uses to evaluate page speed: page size, server response time, number of redirects, uncompressed images and resources, etc. Ideally, you should try to have all the factors in this section marked with a correct green sign.
Ways to fix page load speed
It is important to look for page speed problems in as many places as possible. You can start with the following activities:
  1. Store multimedia files on a CDN (Content Delivery Network): this will reduce the load on your servers.
  2. Minify HTML / CSS / JavaScript resources. These are some of the tools recommended by Google to avoid redundant resources:
To minimize HTML, try HTMLMinifier (https://github.com/kangax/html-minifier).
To minimize CSS, try CSSNano (https://github.com/ben-eb/cssnano) and csso (https://github.com/css/csso).
To minimize JavaScript, try UglifyJS (https://github.com/mishoo/UglifyJS2). Closure Compiler (https://developers.google.com/closure/compiler) has also proven effective. You can create a compilation process that uses these tools to minify and rename development files and save them in a production directory.
Alternatively, the PageSpeed ​​module integrates with an Apache or Nginx webserver to automatically optimize your site, including resource minification.
  1. Find a faster hosting solution. Try several providers, read comments on forums and impartial communities and choose the winner.
  2. If you start a WordPress-based website, make sure you have enabled a cache add-on, such as W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache.
  3. Add the expiration of headers, which means that you must add some code to tell browsers if they should request a specific file from the server or if they should extract it from the browser's cache.
  4. Enable compression: you can compress large pages (with tools like Gzip ) to reduce bandwidth.
  5. Optimize the images on your website. It is better to avoid BMP or TIFF images and use the JPEG and PNG files. Also, you should avoid empty src code lines.
  6. Reduce the number of pages with redirects (you should have collected those pages in step 1.1), as they will also negatively affect the loading time of the site.
After going through these optimization steps, you can also check the loading speed of your website from different countries and regions, especially if it directs you to several locations.

1.3 Make sure page 404 is set correctly

Imagine that a visitor arrives at your website but does not, because you made a typo in a page URL or clicked on an incorrect link on someone else's website. The last thing you want this visitor to see is an ugly error warning.
To avoid this, make sure you have set up a custom 404 page on your website. By the way, the WebSite Auditor will tell you if you don't have one.

If you are not familiar with PHP and HTML, it can be difficult to modify the 404.php template or create the page from scratch. In that case, you will have to assign this task to someone skilled.
Alternatively, you can use plugins to create a custom 404 page, using tools such as 404 page (it will only work for WordPress-based websites).

1.4 Make sure the site is multi-device friendly

You have to accept that we are living in a mobile world, so you should definitely consider mobile designs for your website.
To check if the website is compatible with mobile devices or not, go to the Page Audit module in the Website Auditor and check the usability information of the (mobile) page:

If you notice problems, I recommend you check the official Google guides for mobile device optimization:
Also, consider implementing AMP (accelerated mobile pages) so that your pages load super fast on mobile devices. The official help pages of the AMP project are the best starting point for those who want to try this new technology.
However, you should not stop just by making your website responsive. You would have better results with your mobile traffic if you think in advance about the needs and desires of mobile users.
What does it take to place an order using the mobile version of your website? Do you really want your posts to occupy most of the home page? Is it possible and convenient to send emails directly from your website? Marcus Miller of Search Engine Land has a large mobile site optimization checklist and mentions the following points:
  • Keep calls to action in front and center.
  • Keep the menus short.
  • Optimize the form.
  • Do not make users need to zoom.
  • Make the product images can be enlarged.
And even if you've already implemented all of the above, don't forget to try how well your mobile version is working, there is always something that could be improved. 

1.5 Validate code and CSS

Although Google says that some HTML / CSS errors will not harm the results of your site, I still recommend checking the cleanliness of your code. You can analyze pages for errors using online tools, such as W3C Markup Validator and W3C CSS Validator, and desktop tools, such as WebSite Auditor.
For a list of pages with W3C errors, go to the audit panel of the WebSite auditor's website and click on Pages with W3C HTML errors and warnings and pages with W3C CSS errors and warnings. You will see the list of pages with the errors on the right side of your screen.

Is everything okay? Now is the time to do a good SEO and make sure that the search engines fall in love with your site in the first crawl.

Chapter 2. What SEOs should do


2.1 Search for possible indexing problems

If you could only do a single SEO task before launching a website, in my opinion, it should be this: make sure that crawlers can easily access your pages and content.
To see if there are blocked pages of indexing, go to WebSite Auditor and follow these steps:
  1. In step 1 of the project creation/reconstruction, check the Enable expert options box.
  2. In step 2, uncheck the Follow robots.txt instruction box and click Next.

  1. When the crawl is complete, click Restricted Resources in the indexing section to see which parts of your site cannot be crawled by search engines. Make sure that none of the important pages and resources on your site (such as CSS and JavaScript) appear there.

2.2 Check for duplicate problems

Duplicate content is complicated and has many faces. Regardless of what is causing a duplication problem, your site could suffer from a waste of crawl budget, link dilution, and lower rankings. Nobody wants to fall into that trap so let's see what you could do to better protect your new website.
  1. Choose the preferred version (www or non-www) for your domain
If you haven't defined the preferred version for your website, search engines can track and index multiple URLs with identical content. In WebSite Auditor, you will see if you have to fix this in the Site Audit, Fixed www and non-www.
  1. Avoid scraped content
Now, let me talk to the owners of e-commerce websites! I know how difficult it is to create unique product descriptions for thousands of articles and pages, but that is exactly what you should do. And although some of that content is identical on several websites, most of its description must be unique.
  1. Avoid duplicate meta tags
Be careful with your CMS configuration - make sure you're not using identical meta title tags and meta description tags on hundreds of pages.
You will find a page with duplicate meta tags in the Site Audit module, in Duplicate Titles and duplicate meta descriptions.
Whenever the content of your website can be found in several URLs, it must be “canonicalized” by the search engines - you can do so by specifying the rel = canonical attribute or by means of a 301 redirect.

2.3 Ensure that URLs are search engine friendly

Check if your site's URLs are clearly encoded: you should avoid dynamic URLs and URLs that are too long. You can find these URL warnings in Site Audit, URL.

2.4 Install Google Analytics and create an account in Search Console

Set up Google Analytics tracking for your website before you launch it - you shouldn't postpone this, since you can easily forget it later, and a lot of data will be lost forever. Note that the addition of the tracking code may vary depending on the CMS configuration.
I would also suggest adding filters to exclude traffic from the IP (s) of your office.
  1. Sign in to Google Analytics
  2. Click Admin and select All filters. Press + Add filter.
  3. Specify the filtering criteria and click Save.
To link your Google Search Console data with your Google Analytics account, log in to Google Analytics, go to Admin, Property and click on the All Products option and search for search console.
Finally, set the goals for your conversions: log in to your Google Analytics account, go to the Conversions module, select Goals and click on the Set goals button. After that, fill in the data for your conversion pages.

2.5 Map keywords for your website

Keyword research is the backbone of all your additional SEO activities and you can spend hours and hours building and editing your keyword lists. What I suggest you do this step is to create a keyword map for your important pages, also known as homepage and categories.
So after doing some initial keyword research, look again at the structure of your site and assign your keywords to the site’s landing pages.
You can manage this using a simple spreadsheet:

Or if you manage keywords in Rank Tracker, you can go to the Keyword Mapping module (under Target keywords).
Why do you need this keyword map?
  1. It will optimize your optimization activities on the page.
  2. It will help ensure that all the most important pages point to the necessary keywords.
  3. It will be useful for your content creators and publishers.

2.6 Optimize meta tags and content

The optimization of titles and descriptions is not the most entertaining activity you can have, but it is certainly worth it and luckily it is technically simple.
To quickly get a picture of the current status of your site's meta tags, go to WebSite Auditor, Site Audit and look for the on-page factors:
After that, you can switch to the page audit module and get a more detailed overview of how a page is optimized for your target keywords.
I strongly recommend that you take a look at the TF-IDF panel in WebSite Auditor to discover the most important terms that are relevant to your topic and that have been collected from your main competitors.

2.7 Use schema to mark the content

Schema marking tells search engines what the data means and helps them represent it in an easier way to use. Using special microdata language, you can tell search engines much more about your content.
The first result uses the scheme marking and definitely stands out from the rest. By the way, this website is listed twice on the first page of Google results, entering the featured snippet as well:
And this works not only for recipe websites - you can use tagging for articles, local businesses, restaurants, TV episodes, book reviews, movies, software applications, events, products, etc.
In WebSite Auditor, you can check if a site's page already has structured data and marked Open Graph:

2.8 Verify the user experience

Google cares a lot about user satisfaction, so it’s logical to assume that the search engine can collect some user experience data and then use it to deliver search results.
As you just launched a website, you don't have any bounce rate or session time data to analyze. The web developer's job is to ensure that the website loads quickly and looks good on several devices, this probably represents half of your success in the user experience.
You can also perform some usability tests through special services such as usertesting.com or do it yourself.

Chapter 3. What editors and editors should do


Content is the backbone of your site’s success. Your website may lack some design elements, but it simply cannot live without valuable content. Here are the things that your copywriters and copywriters should check before you spend a fortune on content promotion.

3.1 Make sure your content adds value

Pure self-promotion does not work very well. You should provide expert advice, share your unique views, interview industry leaders, etc.
The important point here is that you must already have some of this valuable content before launching your site. Otherwise, people will go to your website and see a post called “Hello world!” - Do you think they will subscribe to your newsletter? No, Internet users have too many distractions to keep waiting for the content you are only promising to create.

3.2 Review your content

Keep your content free of grammatical errors seems obvious, but at the end of the day, it is often overlooked. Correcting the content of your site means that you are showing respect to the visitors of the site, of which you really care what they think about your company and products. To optimize the process, use grammar correction applications.

3.3 Use the appropriate format

It is important that the pages and articles on your site do not appear messy. Use headings, subtitles, lists, correctly formatted and aligned images.

3.4 Ensures that the content is factual

We live in the era of fake news - there is too much information available online and even Google had to introduce a fact-checking feature to not only show search results but results that prove authenticity.

3.5 Keep the content style concise

The style of your content should be aligned with the editorial guidelines of the brand. No, it does not mean that you have to write an entire book of guidelines; Companies often have these guidelines stored somewhere and completely ignored. What is really important is to identify the voice and style that are really yours and keep them when creating content, marketing materials, videos, etc.

For example, here is an excerpt from the description of Don Perignon wine:
Dom Pérignon is only vintage champagne. Each wine is created from the best grapes grown in a single year. It reinvents itself by interpreting the unique character of the stations. It is not manufactured if the crop does not meet the ideal qualities. After at least eight years of production in the wineries, the wine embodies the perfect balance of Dom Pérignon, the greatest promise. This is Dom Pérignon Vintage, the fullness of harmony.
And now compare it with this text “about us” from the Ovo website:
We are OVO Energy. OVO began as an idea on a kitchen table. A couple of friends listing what they wanted from their energy provider, which they were not getting. Things like fair prices. Great service. Clear and simple information. Technology to facilitate the management of your energy. And above all, honesty and openness.
I bet you've detected the difference in the voice of these two examples. Keep in mind that there is no single ideal type of tone for your content. If you are not sure if you need to be formal or more relaxed, maintain neutrality and develop your brand voice as you learn more about your target audience.

3.6 Create a content map

We don't create content just by creating content, right? Each page you work on answers important questions and satisfies someone's need for this particular information. Content mapping will help you organize user needs, company goals, and content plans.
Content mapping is similar to mental mapping techniques. This is how it can be seen:

A content map helps prioritize content creation activities and shows the gaps that need to be filled.
Marketing specialists, publishers, and even directors should be involved in this process since it determines how the website will be developed in the future. What's more, it also implies what kind of business goals have to be met in the first place.

3.7 Create social media accounts for your brand

People tend to spend most of their time online on social media websites, and they also expect reputable companies to have an adequate presence on social media. If there is no dedicated social media manager on your team, some of your editors can manage the task.
They will have to create unique biographies, brief and concise descriptions, prepare images for cover and logo images, add photos and videos, etc. In this way, when your site is launched, social networks will not have a sad and abandoned look.

Chapter 4. What marketing managers need to do


A marketing team not only works on the launch of a new website but also works on the launch of a product or a series of services and in presenting them to potential customers. This is what they may be working on while the site is offline.

4.1 Formulate unique sales proposals

A single sale proposal is a statement that includes the description of the benefits of the product and explains how it meets the needs of customers. In other words, it helps people understand what distinguishes you from similar companies.
Consider the following steps:
  • Analyze your target audience - who are likely to buy your products and order your services?
  • Write a list of all the needs that your products could meet - these are basically the preliminary versions of your USPs.
  • Now do some competitive research and study the USPs already used. Look through the list you have written and eliminated the propositions that are being well used by the competition.
  • Find gaps - study the forums about your niche and the frequently asked questions sections to find some unique “needs” of your potential customers.
  • Finish the USPs using all the information you have collected and let other people on your team take a look and decide if they are persuasive enough. If possible, ask someone who has never heard of your product, but it can belong to your target audience.
  • Continue to monitor trends and competition to identify new opportunities. You can get automatic email alerts for the necessary key phrases using a social media monitoring tool, such as Awario.

4.2 Plan outreach and publicity

Think of all kinds of people who can spread the word about your release. These can be your colleagues, partners, friends, relatives, etc. You can ask people to follow your Facebook and Twitter page and share some links for example.
Also, investigate the influencers of social media and bloggers and contact them before you launch your site. If you have a unique and interesting product to offer, people might be interested in trying it first. You can organize pre-launch interviews, let some people sign up and try the product. So when you go to launch it, there will be some posts and reviews posted for users to take a look.
Finally, plan your advertising budget. Are you going to use pay per click campaigns? Banners Paid Reviews? you should check what options there are and know which ones you will start with.

4.3 Set your marketing tools

The big day has arrived, but are you busy looking for the best email marketing solution. Imagine that people have started to visit your website and subscribe to the newsletter, but they are not receiving a reply because you completely forgot about it. These are the things I recommend setting up before launch:
  • Enable conversion tracking in Google Analytics.
  • Choose your email marketing tool.
  • Choose a social tracking tool to keep you informed about real-time reviews and comments related to your product/company, so you can respond as soon as possible.
  • Think of a CRM tool to manage and process customer orders.
Also, make sure you know how to get in touch with software vendors (by phone, email, Twitter, etc.) in case any tool stops working and you need urgent assistance.

Chapter 5. What should system administrators do


Last but not least, your website must be managed, protected and updated on a regular basis. This is usually the responsibility of a system administrator, which focuses on the activities described below.

5.1 Create and manage backups

Losing your business due to lack of backups is a nightmare. Especially, when there are a lot of strategies to safeguard your website data:
Manual backups. As simple as that, you can manually transfer the files to your hard drive, but as a disadvantage, you will have to do this on a regular basis, otherwise, the backups will become obsolete quickly and you will risk losing portions of the content.
Automatic backups. You can schedule full backups of the site using plugins and tools, such as BackWPup (for WordPress websites) or Akeeba backup (for Joomla websites).
Whichever solution you choose, make sure you are always using the most up-to-date version that works correctly.

5.2 Monitor site uptime

Your website is like a living creature - it needs attention and support on a regular basis, it can also get sick from time to time and you better be aware of what is happening. Using a site monitor application or plugin will help you stay updated on any type of problem that happens to your website.
Basically, these applications check the pages regularly to ensure that the content is available to site visitors. If the bookmarked page does not respond in the correct way, the application will send you an email / SMS alert. You can try the UptimeRobot application to configure this type of site monitoring.
Later, when your site comes into operation and begins receiving traffic and conversions, you may need deeper verifications for the most important landing pages. Therefore, it will be a good idea to ask the system administrator and the web developer to configure the form completion tracking. If some of the web forms stop working, you'll know that before losing dozens of sales.

5.3 Prepare for large crowds

You never know if this new project will receive a million visits on the first day of launch! It sounds unlikely, but you still have to think if your website is ready for the heavy traffic scenario. Ask the system administrator to perform load tests beforehand. The good news is that there are so many open source options and pay solutions to choose from.

5.4 Think safety first

The number of hacked websites increased by 32% in 2016, which means that webmasters are often too relaxed when it comes to web security issues. Undoubtedly, it is much better to secure your website before launching it than dealing with the aftermath of a hacker attack. This is how you can make your website less vulnerable:
Make sure the administrator's computer (or anyone with administrator access) is malware-free. Install and run several trusted virus scanners and let them check the system regularly. A hacker could install special spyware to hijack your access passwords and other confidential data.
Avoid weak passwords and never use the same password again for several applications. If you suspect someone tried to hack your server, check the logs and you'll see those suspicious commands. By the way, this will also help you identify which backup files are still clean and safe to use.
Always use the most up-to-date versions of the software used to run your web infrastructure. Today you ignore an update alert of your CMS, tomorrow you will receive thousands of outbound links of unknown origin.
Finally, if you are launching an e-commerce website, it is an absolute obligation that you use the HTTPS protocol, otherwise, you will have to migrate your website in the future, which may pose a risk to site traffic and classifications.

conclusion

By now, you should have a general idea of ​​the things to try before launching a website. And if you are that kind of unfortunate person who is responsible for everything (and that is a common situation for small businesses), get ready, get all the tools you need and get to work.

Have you ever launched a new website? What steps did you take and what kind of challenges did you face? I will be happy to hear your story in the comments below!

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