Website Pre-Launch Checklist
Tuesday 3rd August 2010
So you've got OpenCrypt fully integrated, your site works beautifully and you think you're ready for launch, but have you taken care of all the details that help make a website complete, and more importantly successful?
This article provides a checklist to help you make sure your website is ready for launch.
The favicon is a great way of adding a little extra branding to your user's browser, it's also extremely useful for helping users identify tabs in their browser. The favicon is also included in the bookmarks menu and URL selection menu in most modern browsers. For example, note the small padlock icon next to the OpenCrypt.com URL in your web browser.
Simply place the following HTML in between your head tags to include your favicon:
<link rel="icon" type="image/x-icon" ref="/favicon.ico" />
You can create the .ico file using most popular graphics editing tools or using online tools such as the following:
Titles and Meta Tags
Title tags and meta tags such as meta descriptions are vital to ensure your site is indexed correctly by search engines, and to ensure those search engine listings appear as you want them to.
Simply place the following HTML in between your head tags to include your title and meta tags:
<meta name="description" content="Your page descriptions." />
<meta name="keywords" content="your,keywords" />
<meta name="author" content="Your name" />
RSS Feed and Link Icon
Do you have an RSS feed on your web site? If not, you should consider offering one as a method for users to stay up-to-date with your latest news and announcements.
A commonly ignored feature is the ability to include an RSS feed icon and link in your browser's address bar or toolbar (depending on browser). For example, note the orange RSS feed icon next to OpenCrypt.com URL in your address bar.
Simply place the following HTML in between your head tags to include your RSS feed:
<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml"
title="RSS feed name" href="http://url.to/feed.rss" />
It can be boring, you may think you've already done it 20 times, but proofreading is of critical importance. Take the time to carefully read all your content. If you can, get others to read your content and use spell checking tools to eliminate common typos:
Search Engine Optimisation
Your site is ready, but what if nobody can find it? Search engine optimisation is critical to ensure high ranking in search results. Start with the basics, setup a robots.txt file to instruct search engines how to crawl your site, and setup a sitemap to help search engines locate and prioritise your content.
SEO is an on-going task that can require a huge amount of time to get right, focus on a small group of search terms/keywords and ensure they are regularly used within your content. It is important you write good quality content (don't over-use keywords), Google is remarkably clever and will identify duplicate or poor quality content which it will not rank so highly.
Once you have a sitemap and robots.txt file, sign-up to Google Webmaster Tools to submit them and help speed up Google's initial indexing of your site. GWT also provides tools for creating your robots.txt file.
Incoming/outgoing links and URL consistency
Your links and URLs have a huge effect on your search engine optimisation, and URL consistency is important to help your users remember your URLs. Use clearly formatted and logical URLs which use keywords rather than for example, numeric ids or random strings, always use hyphens to separate the keywords in your URLs rather than underscores, and make sure you only use one URL for each page rather than multiple variations.
Is far more logical, easier to remember and better for your SEO than:
This style of URL formatting can be achieved with .htaccess URL rewrites (Apache Web Server only), most CMS software such as Joomla, Drupal and WordPress include this functionality by default.
The text used in your links is also very important, you should try to use a descriptive keyword style link. e.g. Rather than linking to 'OpenCrypt', link to 'OpenCrypt Membership Software' to build a stronger rank for the term 'Membership Software'.
Search engines like Google will rank subdomains under a domain as a separate site, this means http://www.domain.com/ is considered a separate site from http://subdomain.domain.com/. This has it's benefits if you want some content to be ranked separately, however it can also be hugely detrimental. For example, http://www.domain.com/ and http://domain.com would be ranked separately, this means if your site uses links with and without the www then your site will actually be ranked as two separate sites.
Functionality and Usability Testing
You may think your site works well, but has it really been tested? When working on your own site it is easy to get into a routine of usage, this can prevent you from noticing obvious or critical issues. Ask others to try your site and if possible, watch them while they do - this is invaluable for seeing how a user is reacting to your site, a simple survey might not show the frustrating steps a user went through.
There are some great services for helping you with usability testing:
Online validation services are very useful for identifying general errors but sadly they are not the only solution, some browsers do not conform to the standards and even a 100% perfect HTML page can look odd in older browsers. The only solution is full validation followed by intensive cross-browser testing!
Your site looks beautiful, but does it really? Internet Explorer 8 is the most commonly used browser with around 29% of the global market, but what about the other 71%, have you tested your site in various versions of Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Opera and Internet Explorer? Unless you've made a conscious effort to ensure cross-browser compatibility, you can bet your house your site will not look the same in Internet Explorer 6 and Mozilla Firefox 3!
There are a variety of tools to help you with this mundane task:
Custom error pages are very useful for tracking your errors, and for helping users in the event of an error. We're all used to seeing 404 file not found errors, and we always click 'back' or 'close', making your error pages attractive can help capture visitors you may otherwise lose, and it can help keep users on your site by directing them to alternate content.
Optimisation and Performance
Security is of critical importance, make sure your FTP, control panel and SSH login details are secure and if possible, lock your FTP account between usage. If you're collecting sensitive data ensure you have an SSL certificate so all data transfer is handled securely, if you're collecting and processing credit cards you must confirm with PCI-DSS standards (your payment processor can help you do this).
Also ensure your site scripts (PHP, Perl etc) are secure and that SQL injection or cross-server scripting exploits can not be used.
There are some great tools and services for auditing your site's security:
Site Analytics and Reporting
You're ready, you've spent hours going through this article making sure your site is up to speed and the site is opening, but who's using it? Is anyone actually looking at your site?
Ensure OpenCrypt in fully integrated with your site so all activity is recorded and can be analysed in real-time via the statistics section of your OpenCrypt administration panel. Google Analytics is probably the best tools for general site analytics, though it doesn't provide the real-time and in-depth detail that OpenCrypt provides it does provide an unparalleled analytics and reporting system.
Have an RSS feed? Make sure you're using Feedburner to keep track of your subscribers, you can then use our Feedburner statistics tool to display your subscriber statistics.
You've made your website, but what if there's a problem? Your site could be hacked, you could accidentally delete a file, or important database data, your host could go offline or there could be a hard drive failure!
Make sure you take a full backup of all your hard work, not just on your local computer but also make a couple of hard copies (CD or memory stick/data card) and give them to friends of family to keep safe! There are backup versions of the OpenCrypt software scattered across the world!
If you have regularly changing files or database data you should consider an automated backup service since hosting companies are notoriously unreliable when it comes to backup restoration, ionix is currently launching myRepono which (at the time of writing this article) is the only web-based website backup service for shared hosting users which offers full online backup management and restoration services:
There are some great resources and articles available to help you ensure your website is ready for it's big launch, our favourite is:
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