Crucial Tips and Tricks for Your Website Launch Checklist

Here is a non-exhaustive list of tips and tricks to help test your website before and immediately after launch.

I emphasize, this is not a complete list of things to check. You might need a more exhaustive list, depending on the number of visitors you expect to have and how important your site is.  Large companies will definitely have a more exhaustive list.

Note that some of these checks require the site to be live on the Internet, so some have to be done right after launch.

1. Check with Different Browsers

Before launch, I check the site on the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer. With the first three, I don’t check with previous versions because they are relatively easy to update. Internet Explorer, on the other hand, is a different story. Folks who are still running Windows XP (and yes, there are significant numbers of those people), will only be able to upgrade to IE8, so you should test your site under IE8, as well as the latest version of IE, at a minimum.

There is a trick to check IE8 on a PC.  Open the latest version of IE and press F12 to bring up the inspector.  In the Browser Mode tab, select IE8.  The site will (sort of) re-render as it would appear in IE8. Two things you might immediately notice is that you’ll lose CSS rounded corners and CSS media queries, among other things. If you want to be even more stringent, you can preview your site in IE7 mode for even more fun (yes, that was sarcastic).

This IE8 trick is not perfect though.  I have found major differences.   To be more rigorous, or if you don’t have a PC to run IE on, you can use a paid service like Browserstack (they do have a free trial period, so check it out).  Alternatively, you could recycle an old PC and just use it to run IE.

You can also add Opera to these tests, depending on how rigorous you want to be.

2. Check with Different Mobile Devices Using this Trick

Checking with smartphones and tablets is really a “must” in today’s mobile world, but it’s difficult given the number of different devices out there. At a bare minimum, I check on the iPhone, an Android phone, and an iPad. Yes, it would be great to test on more devices, but most of us don’t have every kind of Android phone. Sometimes I ask friends and family to help.

If you need more coverage, you can use Browserstack or other service. Browserstack has a subscription fee, but they do offer a limited number of free screenshots, which is more than enough for one site.

Here is a tip which you didn’t hear about here.  Go to a store that sells computers or mobile devices and test your site there with all of their devices.  Of course, your site has to be live and on the Internet at that point.

3. Check for Broken Links

Having broken links on your site can not only be really embarrassing, but also fatally impact the functionality of your site, as well as adversely affect your SEO. I use this free online broken link checker. It’s saved my butt on several occasions.

4.  View Every Page, Including Error Pages

Ideally, you should manually view every page on your site, and test every feature.  If that is not possible, then test every type of page and every type of feature.  Remember to test how the site response to incorrect inputs.  For example, what happens if the user fills out a form wrong and submits it?  What happens when the user increases the browser’s font size?

Also, check for any placeholder text or photos.  Tip: search for “Lorem ipsum” or other placeholder text you might have used.

5. Validate Your Code

To make sure your code is error-free, there are many free code validators out there.  Here are a few that I found:

6.  See How Your Site Appears on Social Media and Search

With the importance of social media, you should check to see how your site appears on Facebook, Google+, and any other social media sites you care about, unless your site is purely B-to-B.

An easy way to check on Facebook is to enter your URL into the Facebook Debugger.  It will tell you what thumbnail image will be used when someone posts a link to your site on Facebook, as well as all of the meta data that it is reading.  It’s a good sanity test to make sure all of the meta data is there.

Tip: the Facebook Debugger is invaluable if you want to change your site’s thumbnail image.  If you just re-post the site on Facebook after making the change, it will just use the cached (old) image and you’ll be left wondering why it didn’t update.  You need to run your site through the debugger to clear Facebook’s cache.

The Google equivalent of this is the Structured Data Testing Tool, which shows how your site will appear in Google searches.

You can manually test on any other social media sites that you care about.

7.  Check Your Copyrights

You should protect your content with a copyright notice at the footer of each page. You do want to protect your content, right?

On the other side of the coin, you should make sure you are not violating someone else’s copyrights. The most problematic areas are usually photographs. I have a colleague who used a random thumbnail photo from the Internet. It turns out that it was owned by Getty Images. He got a cease-and-desist letter and eventually paid $2000 to make the problem go away. That is a nightmare scenario.

Make sure you have the rights to all of your photos, text, audio, and anything else on your site. Check to see if the content requires attribution according to the contract.  Other pitfalls include copyrights with time limits and copyrights limited to certain industries.

8.  Check Legal Compliance

Here are some things to think about:

  • If you collect user information (such as asking for an email address on a contact form, or by using Google Analytics), do you have a privacy policy on your site?
  • Does your mailing list comply with the CAN-SPAM act?
  • If your site allows user comments, do you have a terms-of-use policy on your site?
  • Does your site comply with accessibility laws (Americans with Disability Act in the U.S.)?

I am not a lawyer, so I can’t tell you how to comply with these things.  I can only point out that these are some of the legal issues that you might need to know about. Of course, there can be and probably are, more.

9. Check Load Time

This happened to me a while ago. I had just launched a brand new site for my client.  I was so proud of it that when I visited my parents later that night, I brought up the site on their computer.  To my horror, I noticed it took forever for the main slideshow to load.  It turns out that they have a slow DSL connection, while I have the fastest cable modem service available.  My fast Internet connection was masking the fact that I had not compressed the slideshow images enough.  It was fine on my computer, but was terrible on a slow or even medium speed connection.  On mobile it would be terrible.

The moral is, test your site using a slow Internet connection.  Turn off Wi-Fi on your phone and see how it loads using 3G.

If your site is slow, you can use Pingdom’s free website speed test to see what is causing the holdup.  Another free service is GTmetrix.  Just enter your URL to get a “waterfall chart” showing exactly what is causing your site to load slowly.  There could be a big uncompressed photo in there that you didn’t know about (that has happened to me).

10.  Set Up Monitoring and Analytics

If you are using a new server, or are just concerned about your site’s stability, you should use a service to monitor your site.

Pingdom is a nice service for monitoring your site, but you only get to monitor one site for free. For the rest of my sites, I use the Uptime Robot, which lets you monitor 50 sites every five minutes for free!

If you want more than just uptime monitoring, check out Anturis.  It will actually monitor your server status (CPU, memory, processes, etc.), which can be invaluable if you are administering the server yourself.

For analytics, I use Google Analytics on virtually every site I work on. It’s invaluable to measure web traffic, see what pages are popular on your site and where your visitors are coming from, and many other things.

11. Check Your File Permissions

Make sure your site is secure by checking your file permissions.  In general, folders should be 755 and files should be 644 (check with your hosting company to be sure).  You can see/change these in Filezilla or through your hosting company control panel.  A red flag is any file or folder with 777 permissions.  These should be changed immediately.

12. Check Your Error Log

Make sure you’re launching a site that is free of errors.  Check for an error_log file in the root of your site. Your hosting control panel should also have a place where you can view error files for things like PHP errors.

13. Check Your Debug and Search Engine Visibility Settings

During development, you may have enabled various debugging modes.  For example, on a WordPress site, you might have set WP_DEBUG to true in the wp-config.php file. Or, PHP debugging might be on.  Set these and any other debug modes back to false before launch, in order to prevent unsightly error messages and debugging overhead.

On a WordPress site, make sure you have checked “Allow search engines to index this site” or else you won’t get any SEO!

14. Make an Archive Copy

When everything looks kosher, make a backup of the site so that you can restore it to its original pristine state if necessary. Oh, and by the way, what is your backup strategy moving forward?

What other tips and tricks do you use to check your website? – Brian

2 thoughts on “Crucial Tips and Tricks for Your Website Launch Checklist

  1. Good article about the work with the site and if you only start your business online it can be a great post to read. I do rely a lot on monitoring tools which, in fact, check the innner work of the site which is not visible to me at all. Thanks to my monitoring tool Anturis I avoided serious site crahses which could lead me to big losses.

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