Using a Pre-Launch Checklist for your Website

Accounting for every aspect of a new website isn’t easy, especially at the last minute.

The problems aren’t the details themselves, but rather the process of making sure that seemingly minor details don’t add up to sloppy work.

The best solution is to write it all down.

The worst solution is to not take a pre-launch checklist as seriously as the planning stage itself.

With the hundreds of details that go into building or redesigning a website, overlooking minor points is easy, especially as deadlines loom—or pass. But missing details detract from the quality of a website.

Call it quality control or covering your butt, but every project has certain tasks that need to be accomplished before it is launched. Deciding what’s “good enough” is not something you should think about at the last minute.

A pre-launch checklist entails a systematic approach to ensuring that important details are addressed before launching or relaunching a website.

Most of the items on the list list will be common to all websites, including registering a domain name and removing dummy content. Following the same list creates a routine that can hopefully be improved with each project.

By adhering to a set list, both the designer and client are assured that nothing vital was assumed to be done but really forgotten.

If nothing else, pre-launch lists are detailed versions of the question, “I think we’re almost done. What else do we need to do?”

 

Accountability, Not Checkmarks

Here’s a scenario. A designer is ready to launch a website. The client is waiting for it to go live. The deadline is in 30 minutes. Hiding behind the “domain hasn’t propagated” excuse won’t last forever, so the designer hurries down his checklist. He seems to recall having done these things last week… until the client discovers otherwise.

Accountability is neither finger-pointing nor a mindless checking off of items, but rather is a conscious assertion. Taking the time to check and double-check that a task has been done can be as important as doing the task in the first place.

An industrial-strength pre-launch list does more than just remind you of critical details. It holds people responsible. It doesn’t just say that a task has been done; it tells you who completed it and on what date.

That’s why, for serious pre-launch lists, simple checkmarks are too easy. Each item should have four fields:

  • The task;
  • The initials of the person completed it;
  • The date it was completed;
  • Comments.

The task describes what needs to get done, like “Run spell-check,” “Randomize the admin password” or “Register the URL with Google.” The initials and date enforce accountability.

But not every task is either complete or incomplete. Creating an informative 404 error page is one thing; adding helpful links to it is another. The “comments” field provides space for a person to say that an item is done but could be improved.

Put your initials next to a task that is adequate for launch, even if it could be improved later.

 

An Item’s Value Is Proportional to How Much the Item Is Used

There comes a point when deadlines, budgets or other factors force a team to declare a website “good enough.”

But if the website’s quality can be measured, it might be the sum of the attention to detail and the extent to which tasks were followed through.

The value of any single item on a pre-launch checklist varies. The closer the deadline, the more trivial it seems, especially because no single item is critical to the success or failure of the project.

Details are like dollars: if a favicon is worth a dime, then who cares about dropping it if you’re clutching $20 in your fist?

diagram showing how the real importance of a task becomes apparent  as launch approaches

Close to a deadline, uncompleted tasks jostle for attention. The diagram above illustrates how a task’s true importance becomes evident: time squeezes out less important items.

For example, validated HTML may seem important at first, but how does it compare to fixing last-minute database errors? Once a task has been deemed “less important” at the deadline, it tends to stay that way.

The danger of not having quality control is in dismissing any detail as unimportant. True, one detail among many isn’t a worry. But that’s not the point. The point is the process of checking details, not nit-picking about which are important.

Figuring out what’s “good enough” is not about determining the exact number of things you can do without but rather about understanding how much you have sacrificed to launch the website. How much are you willing to sacrifice? Which details are not important? What’s good enough?

Just as safety inspections don’t build houses, pre-launch checklists don’t complete websites. The more stringently they are implemented, the better the result.

The items listed below were selected for their importance and ease of completion. How well they’re carried out, if at all, will reflect how seriously the project is being taken.

 

Build Your Own Checklist

We’ve provided a sample below, but the best pre-launch checklist is one that you’ve customized yourself.

  1. First, write a list of everything that you commonly do to prepare a website, especially things that you do at the last minute or that you remember to do after the launch. If you work with other people, give them access to this list.
  2. Set aside uninterrupted time to review the list. If you’re on a team, include everyone.
  3. Compile all of your lists. Each list should cover a different phase of your project, from conception to polishing. For example, hosting should probably be purchased more than a week before launch, but the favicon can wait.
  4. Finally, use the lists. Treat them as sacred documents. Even if not every detail is finished on time, the process of using a pre-launch list will improve the overall quality of your work.
timeline of website development

The timeline above is a generalization. It covers the basics, but not every team will follow this process.


Thus, you would have five different lists for a single project:

  • Set-up, which includes buying the domain and hosting space;
  • Pre-launch events, such as removing test data and ensuring that stock photos have been purchased;
  • Post-launch tasks, like adding analytics and sending press releases;
  • First and second reviews, when the team makes back-ups, changes passwords and assesses whether the website still meets its goals.

 

A Practical Example

The pre-launch checklists below ensure accuracy and accountability by requiring names and dates, not just checkmarks.

Dates also indicate which elements need to be rechecked if changes have been made. This should instill confidence that nothing has been missed.

The items in each list can be completed in any order, but the lists themselves are organized chronologically: before, immediately after and long after launch. Not every item may be appropriate.

For example, a website may not need a database or analytics. The designer is responsible for deciding which items are relevant to the project.

 

Beginning the Project

Notes Task Completed by Date Comments
Don’t put off obvious tasks, such as setting up the domain name and hosting package, until the last minute. Buy the domain name(s). _____ _____ _____
Set up hosting. _____ _____ _____
Redirect sitename.com to www.sitename.com (or vice versa) for SEO _____ _____ _____
Create the required email address(es). _____ _____ _____
Set up the database. _____ _____ _____
Set up a test environment. _____ _____ _____

 

More Than One Week Before Launch

Site-wide

Notes Task Completed by Date Comments
Check the home page, contact page, and any pages with different templates. Update browsers and versions as necessary. Checking each browser on every platform is a separate task because not every browser may be representative of the target audience. Look for rendering errors in different browser layout engines. Gecko browser: Firefox 3.x for Mac _____ _____ _____
Gecko browser: Firefox 3.x for Windows _____ _____ _____
Internet Explorer 7 _____ _____ _____
Internet Explorer 8 _____ _____ _____
Webkit: Chrome for Mac _____ _____ _____
Webkit: Chrome for Windows _____ _____ _____
Webkit: Safari for Mac _____ _____ _____
Webkit: iPhone _____ _____ _____
Presto: Opera for Windows _____ _____ _____
A website’s appearance is affected by the size of the monitor it is being viewed on. Even if a website’s layout has a fixed width, say 960 pixels, it can look very different at different resolutions. Test the website at these various resolutions. 800×600 _____ _____ _____
1024×788 _____ _____ _____
1280×1024 _____ _____ _____
1920×1200 _____ _____ _____
320×480 (for mobile devices) _____ _____ _____
Hiding photos, graphics, backgrounds and styling shows how search engines and screen readers see your website. To see how useable the website is (or isn’t), rename the images directory and CSS file. Test usability without CSS or images _____ _____ _____
Favorite icons, or “favicons,” appear next to the URL in most browser windows and bookmarks. Although some browsers accept PNG files, others require ICO graphics. Visit Punk Labs’ ConvertIcon service or DynamicDrive’s FavIcon Generator to create them. Create a favicon. _____ _____ _____
Don’t automatically assume that your website’s content is unique. Check that the name and distinguishing phrases have not already been taken at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Check for trademark violations. _____ _____ _____
Add a copyright statement to the footer or “About” page. _____ _____ _____
Spell-check all content. _____ _____ _____


Specific Pages

Notes Task Completed by Date Comments
A helpful 404 page tells people that they have entered an invalid URL and offers alternative links. It may include a search tool to help them find what they’re looking for, and it might automatically notify the website owner that someone has encountered a problem. If necessary, use Google’s custom 404 search widget. Create a helpful 404 page. _____ _____ _____
Make sure that the contact form works and that the domain hasn’t been blacklisted. Send a test message through the contact page’s form. _____ _____ _____
The website’s purpose may be obvious to the people who were involved in creating the website. Don’t assume that it’s obvious to newcomers. Ensure that the home page clearly states (whether in the content, mission statement or tagline) the website’s goals and what visitors can expect to gain. _____ _____ _____

 

48 Hours Before Launch

Site-wide

Notes Task Completed by Date Comments
Email is great when it works and lousy when it doesn’t. Ensure that messages get delivered. Send a test message to the email address(es) associated with the domain. _____ _____ _____
Reply to the test message. Ensure that it is received. _____ _____ _____
If you don’t want search engines to index certain directories, such as the CMS, cgi-bin or members-only sections, then add them to the robots.txt file. Visit Web Robots or read about how Google respects robots.txt. Make a robots.txt file. _____ _____ _____


For Each Page

Notes Task Completed by Date Comments
Make sure your website contains no dead or invalid links using the W3C link checker. Check all links. _____ _____ _____
Look for HTML errors that may cause display hiccups in different browsers. Validate the HTML. _____ _____ _____
Search for and remove all Greeked text and testing data. _____ _____ _____
Spell-check again. _____ _____ _____
Ensure that each page has a clear purpose. _____ _____ _____
Give each page a suitable HTML title and meta description. _____ _____ _____
Add alt attributes to all images. _____ _____ _____
Make the CMS password hard to guess. _____ _____ _____

 

Immediately After Launch

Notes Task Completed by Date Comments
Google Webmaster Tools helps you see how Google is or isn’t indexing your website and offers information on which search terms were used to discover your website. Sign up for Google Webmaster Tools. _____ _____ _____
If you’re worried that your hosting provider will encounter trouble, sign up for Are My Sites Up? and get notified when problems arise. Sign up for uptime monitoring. _____ _____ _____
Track who is visiting your website and how and when they are doing it with Google Analytics, Clicky, Yahoo Analytics or Mint. Install an analytics program. _____ _____ _____
You don’t have to wait for search engines to discover your website. Tell them about it. Register the website with Google. _____ _____ _____
Register the website with Yahoo. _____ _____ _____
Register the website with Bing. _____ _____ _____
Make sure the XML site map is current. _____ _____ _____
Submit the XML site map to Google. _____ _____ _____

 

Six Months After Launch

Notes Task Completed by Date Comments
Does everyone listed on the “About” or “Staff” page still work there? Has the phone number, fax number, email address or postal address changed? Ensure that contact details are accurate. _____ _____ _____
Change the CMS password. _____ _____ _____
If you haven’t backed up the website, do it now. _____ _____ _____
Check for spam sent through forms. _____ _____ _____
Ask if the website still serves all of its visitors’ needs. Is the content still relevant? _____ _____ _____
What features of the website are not being used? What can be removed? _____ _____ _____
Check the website’s analytics: what browsers are most visitors using? They may not be what you expect. Check the website on the most commonly used browser and OS. _____ _____ _____


Written exclusively for Webdesigner Depot by Ben Gremillion. Ben is a freelance web designer who specializes in solving communication problems with design.

Do you follow a checklist before launching a new website? Please share your process below…


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  • http://circleboxblog.com Callum Chapman

    Great post Ben, this should come in handy when getting ready to launch my new project! :)

  • http://twitter.com/Dreyer Dreyer

    Great checklist. A helpful starting point for putting together your own tailored pre-flight checklist.

  • http://www.appsheriff.com AppSheriff

    I am definitly doing the 6 Month Checklist. :)

  • http://www.pianetaricette.it/ Giovanni

    Very interesting article… I had to rework my website heavily after lunch, this article would have saved me a lot of time!

  • http://mathiasb.no/ Bog

    Will there be a downloadeble version or a pirnt version?

    • http://benthinkin.net Ben Gremillion

      I have several web-based preflight and post-launch lists for use on client projects. They’ve actually changed slightly since this article was written — the perils of constant refinement in an ever-changing medium.

      To date they’ve been strictly in house, though. I might open it up if there’s enough interest (and I can add security). Would anyone else be interested in signing up?

      • http://brandingdavid.com David

        I’d love a copy. Having a printed version to keep posted next to my desk would be super helpful.

      • Scoorix

        I’m also working on a rather big project at the moment, with release planned around september, and I would definately sign up! :)

      • Omniszron

        WANT!

      • http://dreamosity.com Marcelle

        Hey,
        I’d be interested in seeing your up to date checklist.

        Really appreciate what you’ve alraedy mapped out.

        Marcelle

  • http://www.webgraphicdesigner.me Jennifer

    Excellent checklist! Will keep handy for future projects. Thanks!

  • Mandy

    Thanks! This is really helpful!

  • http://www.creativeindividual.co.uk Laura

    Thanks for putting this together. I know this will come in VERY handy. Even just to explain to clients how you work and what are the various time-goals involved, both for you and them (like getting the information/images to you on-time, so that it doesn’t delay other parts of the site development, and therefore the final launch date). This should really help with quality control, especially coming up to the end of a project when things can get a bit rushed. Thanks Ben.

  • http://www.jordanwalker.net/index.php Jordan Walker

    Excellent list, very helpful to launch and plan a website from a high level.

  • http://ntechnologies.co.cc/blog Nikunj Tamboli

    really helpful checklist every web developer should follow this

  • http://www.skix.pl SkiX

    Ooo great! It’s very usefull, especially for beginners!

  • http://www.visualswirl.com/ Chris Thurman

    I love the idea of accountability to prevent things from getting lost in the shuffle. I’ll have to try and implement these ideas with my team. Thanks for the suggestions!

  • http://www.helfenberg.ch Vulkan Pfadi Helfenberg

    Print the website. Check letter and A4 format.

  • Brian Jones

    Excellent post – & thank you for sharing. This will be very helpful as I am preparing to launch my very 1st project.

  • http://tympanus.net/codrops/ Mary Lou

    Wow, this is a great checklist! This just saved me hours of organizing! Thanks!

  • http://www.doublejdesign.co.uk/ Jack

    This is pretty useful. Thanks very much!

  • http://gameloo.info gofree

    Very useful indeed. Anyway, I’d love to request the .pdf files of checklists.

  • http://www.bcm-websolutions.de/de/services-webdesign-stuttgart.html Webdesign Stuttgart

    Awesome collection, directly printed and pinned on the wall ;) thanks a lot guys!

  • http://www.strampelini.de Kindermode

    Hey guys, thanks for the checklist it´s a real timesafer!

  • http://africandigitalart.com Jepchumba

    Great resource. As a designer sometimes I am so big picture focused I forget to check on the small details. This will definitely help out any designer.

  • http://www.carvillcreative.co.uk Michelle Carvill

    Hi Ben
    Great timing – I was just in the process of putting a checklist together. Marrying the technical aspects with the marketing ones. (Ensuring clear call to actions etc). So this post came in perfectly and has probably saved me the best part of a day. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.soula.com/blog Katie

    Great list that should be on every designers desk. I think another important fact to remember is if the site is a redesign and links have changed then broken links should be checked regularly after launch, it is surprising how many 404s can be generated from a redesign site launch

  • http://wwwnopun.com Noel Wiggins

    in many cases I find myself agreeing to design a website for far less than it should be, or the client asked for so many corrections that the scope creep grew 3 fold. And All I want is to be done with the project. SO I can understand how websites get pushed out the door without it being as slick as it could be.

    The big realization is that each project you finish could lead to more projects. this last website you completed could be the sample that convinces that new prospect to give you a call.

    SO I have learned to not think about the money lost on a project and focus on quality, its kinda an investment for the future…

    Thanks and Regards

    Noel

  • http://www.rezyde.com rezyde

    Great Post, this will make my life easier with launching a site i am working on.

  • http://www.sekijitsu.com Bass

    A great checklist, I gotta go through a ton of these myself before I can fully finish my site.

  • 321webdesigner

    It was really wonderful and will very well done.
    I will must follow this checklist for all of my future projects.

    Keep it up good work:)

  • http://www.rossmcnaughton.com Rosti The Snowman

    great advice cheers!

  • http://bernardoruiz.com.mx Bernardo

    Wow! This is a incredibly useful article I will use in my next web projects.

    Thank you so much WDD!!

  • http://bass.MAKEMYWISH.INFO New York Web Designer

    This is great list. Your tips are very helpful.

  • http://www.aviontechnology.net Chet

    Great post guys. I have come to realize that launching a website is always like shooting at a moving target. Looking at this list, I realize that it need not necessarily be a traumatic experience. I am sure we have all had sleepless nights, tons of coffee, shouting on the phone, graying a few hair, right around the time of a site launch. Hopefully, this checklist will help me maintain the peace with the client around the launch sequence.

  • Alain

    Printing it right now. Very helpful! I’ll use it as a reference, so I don’t forget anything before a launch. Thank you Ben!

  • http://www.dynamicwp.net/ Eko Setiawan – camp26

    This paper provides a guide for us, so we can prepare and plan better, when he will make a new site.
    Thanks, for share this guide

  • http://blog.ramenos.net Ramenos

    Great post, thanks ! Pre-Launch are useful, especially if you give a good sample of Using ! :)

  • http://www.twitter.com/miscellaneaarts Angelique

    Thanks for such a great resource–I made this list into a printable format for those interested, plus included a few notes and links to other checklists:
    https://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0B_vzq1FmlKDuZTA4ZjhjNTYtODY3MS00MzZmLThiNzAtM2MwOTEwNzMxNGQ4&hl=en

    • http://www.efxdragon.net Nirmal

      Hi Angel, Thanks a lot for making it as a PDF :)

    • http://www.ronalsanchez.com Ronal

      Thank you for taking the time to do this!

  • http://www.induswebi.com Web Promotion

    Great article about the web designing. Thanks for the information you provide me by that article. It will really help me in the web designing.

  • http://341design.com.au Chris Howard

    Awesome post! Will use those checklists coz I’m lazy. :)

    Rather than renaming your CSS and images directories to test, just use the FireFox web developer plugin and disable styles and check, and then likewise with images.

  • http://askewmedia.net Nissa Askew

    Glad I found this. This will be very useful.

    -Angelique – thanks for formatting this and adding the extra info!

  • http://www.efxdragon.net Nirmal

    Thanks for the post :)
    It will help me a lot to ensure the quality of my website deliverables :)

  • http://www.alejandroperazzo.com Alvaro Hernandorena

    ok i didn’t know that it could be done a coustom 404 page and also didn’t know lot of things in this article i will save it to give it a decen read ahead
    tnx

  • http://www.clippingimages.com Clipping Path

    fantastic checklist… i’m going to do a checklist for next 2 months.. thanks :-)

  • http://www.ronalsanchez.com Ronal

    Just what I needed to be more thorough

  • http://www.StopBloggingAndCook.com Joy

    My blog was born yesterday & I am overwhelmed. This article is a godsend. I’m following!

  • http://www.myweddingveil.co.uk jeba

    Great list. I will use this to my next website.

  • http://artisani.be ARTisani

    Great checklist,

    Thanks

  • Martin

    Great advice.

    I always work through a pre-launch checklist, along with comprehensive to-do lists during each project. Without them, I’d often revert to my default state of completely disorganised!

  • http://www.katefosson.com Kate Fosson

    Very detailed! Thanks for sharing!

  • http://connorcrosby.me Connor Crosby

    Very nice checklist. This will be helpful! Thank you so much.

  • http://www.fairfieldcountycentral.com Todd S. Jones

    Very well thought out, thank you!

  • http://mobileshared.com eko mobile shared

    complete step by step planning before lauch any programs.

    its great post ben :)

    thankz for sharing

  • http://freesitemanger.webs.com/home.htm lucy

    thank you so much!as a website designer,iv’e been looking for ages for something and plenty of checklists till i found this.i learned more here in 10- minutes then i could have learned elsewhere in two days.thanks so much!

  • http://inspirationfeed.com inspirationfeed

    Bookmark worthy!

  • http://www.mc2design.com/ Jarrett Barnett

    Awesome list.

    May or may not be a good idea to add these to a more development specific list (depending on how much coding related tasks you want to add to your testing):

    – Remove all unnecessary HTML comments (especially if it has bad language)
    – Remove all console.log debugging from JavaScript files.
    – Migrate inline styles and JavaScript to external files (where necessary)
    – Check server error logs for missing files and serious errors.

    Obviously you can get creative with performance improving todos such as minimizing js files and creating far-future headers.

  • http://expertchecklists.com Bob Rent

    Great Post! To support creating a checklist there is a new site where you can actually work on checklists together with colleagues and discuss changes. You can also create your own copy and modify it for your site. http://expertchecklists.com/checklists/78

  • http://www.shivaami.com/ Website Designing

    A content really worth sharing, website designers can surely check out…….

  • http://inside-blogging.com Othmane

    Great checklist! Thanks

  • http://www.breitband-anbieter.com/ Breitband

    And always plan enough time buffer…

  • http://www.freedomstudios.co.za Graham

    Wow – what a comprehensive checklist.
    It seems to cover… pretty much everything!

  • http://www.cquinndesign.com Chris Quinn

    Exactly what I was looking for. Trying to standardize some documents and I needed a pre-launch checklist for my employee’s to look at before bringing a site live. This is perfect. Thanks.