When it’s finally time for go-live, I don’t know about you, but I get anxious just to get a project complete and out the door. But being a solo-agency, there’s never anyone there to really check my work and make sure I didn’t forget to dot and i’s or cross and t’s.
I’ve picked up various launch checklists over the years, but I never found one that quite fit my needs.
Either they were way too long (keeping me from doing any of it), they were too short, or they were things that I was doing long before launch day got here.
Over the past 3 or 4 months I’ve been using my own paired-down list— which only takes about an hour to knock out and ensure I’m not forgetting any of the crucial aspects before I wrap the project up.
I have my checklist broken down into two parts:
- Pre-Launch: These are all the items I need to do while the website is still on the development server.
- Post-Launch: These are all the things I want to check (or double check!) after the site has been moved to my customer’s domain.
Just like any resources you find online— take inspiration, but make this your own. My processes and procedures are unique to me, so this list might not suit you perfectly.
Before moving the site to it's domain and final hosting destination, these are the things I make sure are set and in place. The first half of my overall launch checklist is the longest bit, but once you have your processes down this can typically be done pretty quickly… And it's a lot faster than having to go back and fix your mistakes at a later date.
Check Site Title & Tagline
Although this is typically done as one of the first steps of the project, before the site is published, ensure that the site title and tagline are set to the right text inside the customizer.
While you’re in there double checking your site title & tagline, make sure you add a favicon of your customer’s logo or icon so it is recognizable in a sea of open tabs.
Page Titles & Meta Descriptions
This is one of those tasks I typical leave for just before launch. This ensures the content is pretty much finalized and I have all the info I need to write a good title & description using SEOPress. Though Google will take text from your site by default, it’s always best to handcraft these excerpts for the search engine results page.
Image Alt Tags
Ugh, this is my LEAST favorite of all tasks— but an important step for SEO. When I’m in the “flow” of designing a site I never take the time to stop and tag all the images properly. Depending on the image library size this can be done pretty quickly in one sitting. If you have a good habit of naming your files well, you can use a plugin like Image Attributes Pro which will give all the images alt text using the file name (and can do this in bulk too!).
Social Share Images
Don’t settle for the first image on your site being used for the social share image! You can use your SEO plugin to set your social share images. If I’m a bit lazy (or have a low budget project) I’ll just set one image for the whole site— but if I want to take it to the next step I’ll do an image for each page using a Photoshop template to replace the text & graphics quickly and maintain a cohesive look.
Google Map & NAP
For any local business, I like to make sure I’ve embedded a Google Map and been VERY consistent (I mean copy-and-paste perfect) with the Name, Address, & Phone Number. These are all good signals for the Goog’s.
Check All H1 Tags (at least)
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve launched a site to only go back later and realize some pages had no H1 tags. At a minimum I’ll swim through all the pages one last time to make sure they have an appropriate H1 tag. Best if you can double check all your H-tags while you’re at it.
Most good themes (like my favorite, GeneratePress) will have a default 404 page set up. Ensure that it’s working properly, or take it a step further by customizing a unique 404 page. Think about UX here— what would be helpful to visitors if they land on a broken link (a menu, search bar, sitemap?).
Test All Links
I use WebSite Auditor by SEO Powersuite for this task— just wanting to make sure that I haven’t, somehow, broken any links on the page. Sometimes during development I’ll leave a stay “placeholder” in there and you don’t want to launch a site with 404 errors!
Again, using SEOPress, I make sure that the site has a functioning Sitemap. This is important so that search engines understand the structure of your site. It’s a good time to remember to no-index category and author pages if you don’t want those showing.
Test Form Submissions
Before you have real traffic to your site make sure that not only are you forms submitting properly, but that they have the appropriate “reply to” a unique and identifiable subject line, and a unique form ID.
Fun Tip: On lead generation forms I’ll put a little footer in the email that says “Another lead from your website by OGAL Web Design” to remind clients who’s helping them get all those warm leads!
Test with Google’s Mobile Friendly Tool
I don’t think Google’s tools for these things are that helpful, but to please the Google-Gods I do it anyway. Run your development URL through Google’s Mobile Friendly tool and make sure it’s getting a pass.
Test Mobile Versions
Sure, I’m testing in the browser as I’m going, and I already ran it through Google— but that doesn’t compare to testing your site on a REAL mobile device. I have my main cell phone plus a few old spares that I’ll do a quick run through on the website with to ensure everything is looking right. With so many device sizes it will probably never be perfect, but it’s worth the effort to do your best.
Set Correct Time Zone
This is one you might not find on a lot of lists, but it is SO frustrating when you’re troubleshooting and you realize that your timezone was not set correctly in your WordPress install (Settings > General). I always make sure to set this to my client’s timezone.
Test on GTMetrix
I always try to build the site with performance in mind as I’m going, but it’s a good time to double check and make sure you’re not having any performance issues. GTMetrix does a great job showing you how quickly your site is loading and the “waterfall” chart can help you debug any problems.
Ensure Proper Caching Stack
While I’m testing on GTMetrix I’ll also make sure I have the right caching setup. I typically use the Breeze caching plugin— which works like a charm for my needs. I like to install caching after the bulk of development is done and after I’ve run initial performance tests so I know all the performance isn’t reliant solely on caching.
Clean Up Database
While I’m still within the Breeze configuration, they have a handy tool that will clean up the database and get rid of any saved revisions. This is a nice way to make sure all those old edits are cleaned up before the site goes live. No use on those hanging around at this point.
Can’t stress this one enough! In fact, my development sites are constantly taking backups anyway, but here I like to take a nice manual backup of everything just in case something goes haywire during launch.
Once I’ve pushed the client’s site live there are a couple things I like to check (or double check!) before I tell them it’s ready.
If you’re smart enough to disable indexing to your development sites, you have to be smart enough to enable it again once you’re ready. Not going to admit that I’ve made that mistake more than once.
Install Automatic Backups
Before you hand anything over, make sure your website has some sort of automated backup system. I use two. First, my hosting server is doing backups daily, and for extra protection, I use UpDraft Plus (the free version) to set a regular backup schedule off to Google Drive storage. If a client is on a care plan, of course this will be handled for them— but if they are not this is a good step to take to make sure they are covered in the future when they inevitably run into issues.
I don’t pretend to be a security expert, but I’ve been using both WebARX (paid-for product for bigger projects) and iTheme’s Security (free product for everything else) and have had good luck. I also like to run my websites through Cloudflare’s DNS for a bit of extra protection and the “Under Attack” mode.
I like to go ahead and setup uptime monitoring if I'm going to be managing the site. It could also be useful to setup for your customer if they are hosting the site themselves. The best tool for this that I've found is Uptime Robot— which is free to use!
Connect Google Analytics
You don’t want to do this pre-launch, but don’t forget to set it up after the site is live! Connect Google Analytics and setup any additional tracking features that might be useful (like goal tracking for conversions).
Connect Site with Search Console
Making sure your site is quickly indexed by Google is important. Sure, they will do it eventually, but connecting it to Search Console and requesting indexing makes this happen quicker. Don’t forget to submit your sitemap too!
Connect Website with Bing Webmaster Tools
Just like Search Console, Bing has their own version (which I actually find easier to use!). There isn’t as much traffic on Bings search, but any little bit helps— and Apple uses Bing as the default search engine on their products.
Send Backup to Client
Once the site is live, I like to save a copy of everything (along with their Website Owner’s Manual) and ship it off to the customer for safe keeping. Storage is cheap nowadays, so I don’t mind keeping a copy myself— but it’s best that your client has their own copy just in case.
Hopefully you find this list and my explanations helpful for your next launch. As I mentioned before, it’s important to look at these things from your own perspective and make sure that everything works within your processes and procedures (which are likely different than mine).
Just like with most things in business— my checklists are a constant work in progress. As you continue to pick up knowledge and tips, and as technology changes, it’s important that you continually update your list over time.
Here’s a copy of the full list without the instructions in case you don't want to opt-in for our free checklist.
- Update Site Title & Tagline
- Add Favicon
- Page Titles & Meta Descriptions
- Image ALT tags
- Social Share Image
- Google Map & NAP
- Check all H1 Tags
- 404 Page
- Test all links
- Enable Sitemap
- Test form submissions
- Test with Google Mobile Friendly tool
- Test mobile version on cell phone
- Set correct timezone
- Test on GTMetrix / Pingdom
- Ensure proper caching stack
- Clean up database
- Make Backup
- Enable indexing
- Install backup system
- Install security
- Install Google Analytics
- Connect to search console
- Connect to Bing Webmaster tools
- Send backup to client