As the website owner, you want to be sure your investment in developing a new website is going to improve your brand awareness and return on your investment. You don't have to be a tech guru yourself to pay attention and ask your website developer questions. Here are seven important steps you can take with your developer to ensure success.
1. Buy an SSL certificate (or use a free one from your web host)
SSL (Secure Socket Layer) security is a necessity for modern websites. SSL keeps data between your website server and a visitor’s browser private.
Google will penalize your site and mark it as “not secure” on its search results page if you don’t have an SSL certificate for your website. This will reduce your Google search ranking as well. If you are conducting transactions on your website you need to invest in a robust security certificate.
However, most good website hosts today have shared or simple SSL available as part of your hosting service. Unless you have an online store, simple SSL should meet your needs. SSL doesn’t have to be expensive but it is essential.
2. Test your new website on multiple browsers and platforms
Before you launch your new website, test the entire site with multiple website browsers on multiple devices and platforms. I like to set up a checklist with every page for each device.
- Chrome, Apple OS
- Chrome, Windows
- Chrome, Android phone or tablet
- Chrome, iPhone or iPad
- Firefox, Apple OS
- Firefox, Windows
- Microsoft Edge, Windows
- Safari, Apple OS
- Safari, iPad/iPhone
Does your new website work on every platform? Check that you can click navigation and other links on mobile devices without accidentally clicking something else. Check that images scale appropriately, load times are acceptable, and that page order is maintained. For example, does a sidebar drop to the bottom of the page on mobile? Does that matter?
Test more than the technical presentation of your pages
Don’t forget why you’re having a new website built for you. Besides conducting technical testing, test the top three to five actions you want visitors to accomplish for usability. Can visitors accomplish the tasks easily and without getting lost or confused? Send your staging website links to a few friends and ask them to complete a specific task. Get their feedback -- and use it.
3. Proof read EVERYTHING
We can’t say it enough, proof read everything. Be sure to check and test phone numbers, verify contact information, and don’t forget any pages not in navigation (like landing pages or thank you pages). Also, try to proof read the alt tag descriptions for images. They should be descriptive and meaningful.
4. Test, test, test
After browser testing and proof reading you may feel ready to launch. Don’t forget to check form functions. Use an incognito window and complete the forms on your website. Do you get the correct acknowledgement page after you submit a form? Does the form send information to the right person? If you have marketing automation, does the automation trigger and complete the workflow?
If your new website includes marketing automation workflows, you may want to set timing in your workflow to minutes so you can test the entire sequence.
Don’t forget to test any integrations, such as CRM and payment gateways. Does the information get transferred as it should?
5. Map your old website URLs to your new website (301 redirects)
Creating a new website means that some of your pages from your old website will change their URL address. In my experience, this is a commonly overlooked step with significant implications for your search rankings. Mapping your old website pages to your new website will help you maintain page rank in search engines and keep external links to your old website pages from getting a “404 page not found” error, by telling search engines to remove the old page address and index the new page.
Use a site map of your old site to designate the address on your new website. Be sure your web developer enters the new page addresses as a permanent 301 redirect. (There are many ways to do this depending on your website software.)
6. Create a sitemap for search engines
Be sure you have an XML site map and robots text file to help search engines index your new website. Your web developer may also submit your sitemap to search engines to speed up the indexing process. And if you change or add pages, be sure you update your sitemap. There are plugins that can do this for you automatically.
7. Optimize pages, even after you launch
You can optimize your website pages for speed and SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
Start with page meta tags. Each page should have a unique title and meta description. A meta description is a short description of the type of information a user can expect to find on your web page.
Next, be sure your images are optimized and have alt tags. We try to keep images below 64kb to increase page load speeds. Use an image editor to adjust both image dimensions in pixels and image quality. If your image is intended to be shared on social media, try to keep one dimension at 1,200 pixels so the image will display properly on the social media platforms. And, don’t forget to include a descriptive alt tag of the image.
You can use tools such as Google Page Speed Insights to test your page speed.
Ready to launch!
Now that you’ve prepared your new website for the world, it’s time to launch. Remember, it may take a couple of days before everyone sees your new website, depending on your DNS and time to propagate throughout the internet. Be sure you test your work after the launch, including some of the page redirects from your old site.