Many people announce a new website after it launches and I’m always curious to look at and celebrate these moments. Often, I can’t help but notice something that was missed during the launch process (sort of like how you can spy a small typo in a novel you’re reading or see a scene editing inconsistency in your favourite show ) – mistakes happen. I am for sure guilty of missing a step or thinking I absolutely did something when I didn’t, so I’ve accumulated some processes over the years to help keep me on track when launching a new website. A website launch checklist!
Table of Contents
First off, I treat launching a brand new website the same way that I would treat a revamp of an existing one. So, if you’ve found your way here, this checklist may have some steps that don’t pertain to an existing website but run through it regardless – even if just to double check that your existing website is adhering to best practices.
I have processes for each phase of creating a website: Discovery, Strategy, Content, Design, Development, Launch, and Post-Launch. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to spend some time talking more about the launch and post-launch processes. (If you’d like to learn about earlier phases in the website build process, subscribe to my newsletter!)
You’ve already completed the design and development of your new website and you’re ready to launch, setting that site live on your professional domain for the whole world wide web to see.
You will want to make sure you have something in place to backup your website regularly, which allows you to rollback to a previous version if something goes awry along the way. Some hosting providers will have these services built-in to the costs, which is one of the reasons why I use Siteground* and WPEngine*, and some may have the functionality available as an add-on cost.
If you are more knowledgeable with servers and plugins, you could also manage backups through exporting and importing files. This is high-level knowledge though, so knowing you can find simple backup and restoration services directly within your hosting plan is a great peace of mind.
Automatic vs manual backups
Many hosts will offer automatic backups every 24 hours and in most cases that will suffice for your needs. For an additional cost, you may be able to access manual backups which allow you to make a copy of your website at any moment, before you implement updates or changes.
Manual website backups are especially beneficial for:
- E-commerce stores
- Membership sites
- Multi-author blogs or news aggregators
Basically, if you aren’t updating your website more than once per day then relying on a backup every 24 hours will cover any new edits made to the site between restoration points. However, if your site even so much as creates entries in the server database at any given moment, you will want custom backup points.
I include a backup in my launch process for clients to create a “startpoint” that we can go back to if anything should go poorly in an internal update. If you’re a gamer like me you may think of it as a crucial save point. You load from this particular save when you realize you accidentally didn’t meet two pivotal companions before leaving the first act of an award-winning rpg.
Save your pages as templates or restore points
So far, I’ve been talking about a full website backup – the files and database entries but depending on the theme or framework you have in place, you may also be able to save each of your web pages as templates or restore points.
Using themes or plugins like Divi, Elementor, Visual Composer, or Cornerstone give you a visual editor to build and edit your web pages which you can save and reuse as backup points or reusable templates.
💡 Tip: Save the original versions of your pages before you launch. I sometimes hear “can you reset my page back to what it looked like before you let me touch it”, and what typically happens is a new image with the wrong dimensions or too many added characters in a text block changes the formatting on the page, making things look wonky.
On some sites I have a template library where you might see a naming convention like:
- Original Home Page
- Home Page with Feature
- Home Page Seasonal
- Home Page Draft
What this does is allows myself or my client to revert the home page back to a saved version, overwriting whatever is in place currently. You can implement something similar, even just to save a copy of a page you’re about to work on before you make any edits to it.
💡 Tip: Don’t navigate away from your visual editing page before you’ve previewed your changes on both desktop and mobile screens. A lot of popular visual editors have undo and redo buttons on the editing screen that you can use if you want to try something out or reset an element. So long as you don’t save and navigate away from the editing screen, making a mistake can be quickly remedied with a vague gesture while you whisper “you didn’t see anything” and a click of that undo button.
You will also want to monitor and maintain your website on a regular basis. You’ll come across a lot of these services when you’re reviewing the backup options of your hosting provider. There are plugins that can be put in place to help monitor the health of your website, reconfigure settings for additional security measures, and implement automatic fixes.
Make sure that someone who will read and respond to alert notifications is the email address assigned as the main website administrator. In WordPress, while you could have multiple users assigned with administrator roles, there can only be one master email address assigned to receive any WordPress or site notifications.
Some of the security measures that you can put into place are:
- Installing SSL
- Renaming or restricting the login page URL
- Using two-factor authentication for logins
- Limiting login attempts
- Disable file editing
- Disallowing traffic from certain IP addresses or regions
- Using recaptcha or other spam filtering services on forms
- Installing and activating security plugins to account for additional measures, (these may be provided by your host or a service like Sucuri)
- Having a maintenance plan to monitor and schedule backups and updates
I cannot begin to tell you how many people create websites and abandon the backend maintenance of them. Later, when themes and plugins are outdated, the entire site is insecure, and nothing works the way it should, it’s often more affordable to start again as it would be to fix what is broken (depending on the scope of the website, of course).
And for your own sanity, turn off commenting unless you already have a strategy and tools in place to:
- Moderate content regularly,
- Monitor and flag for spam,
- Block hacking attempts.
Ask yourself: How prepared or experienced are you in using the content management system that your website is running on?
- Do you know how to make basic edits to existing text?
- Do you know how to replace an existing image with one sized to the same dimensions?
- Do you know how to add new elements or pages to the site?
- Do you know how to read and code HTML/CSS to make tweaks if existing or new elements require adjustments based on edits or additions to the page?
- Do you know how to hyperlink text or elements to the same window or a new tab?
- Do you know how to maintain SEO when you add new content to the site?
I offer an optional phase with my new website projects for clients to select if they would like WordPress training before or after their site launches. We do this either by in-person training, locally or remotely via shared screens, or what has been my most popular option: screenshot walkthrough documentation that I provide in a PDF.
I’ve found in-person training to be less helpful unless it’s supplemented with documentation. Without the detailed note keeping, more reminders are typically needed on how elements work and where settings are when they haven’t been used regularly. Some clients prefer written documentation while others prefer seeing it done in a video. Only you know how best you retain knowledge!
Document what you learn
When you are updating your website and doing something new for the first time, keep a notepad (paper or digital) on-hand to write out what steps you’re taking. This approach can be served as both a reminder for you and as company/business policy on how to complete website update requests.
💡 Tip: Depending on the frameworks, themes, or plugins that you’re using you may also have access to thorough documentation already! Check your purchase receipts, settings pages within your website admin area, or login to the account you purchased your theme from.
Having customized notes based on your specific website is the most beneficial – especially for those who may not feel as tech-savvy as those of us who dream of websites while we sleep. But for those who have some familiarity with WordPress or other content management systems, you may be able to get everything you need from the developer documentation.
As you’re learning what you are comfortable with versus what you’d rather not edit on your website, you can also start compiling a list of questions you have. This list can then be used to do research yourself or extended to someone like me, to ask for help with!
While a lot of SEO is done during the strategy, content, and development phases there is still a little more to be done when you launch your website. You could complete some of these tasks earlier in the project but some will require reconnection or set-up once your domain and DNS records are indexable.
Here is my basic SEO checklist for a new website launch:
- Create Google Analytics and Search Console profiles, integrate, and connect to website
- Un-hide site from search engines in WordPress
- Turn on SEO plugin
- Meta titles on all pages and posts
- Meta descriptions on all pages and posts
- Set focus keywords
- Check ALT tags on all images
- Check title tags on all links
- Internal links on sufficient keywords in copy
- Hook up SSL and check for browser security and insecure links
- Check permalink and structure
- Create and submit sitemap files
- Review for necessary redirects, if existing site
- Add any additional email addresses to reporting tools
When I use premium SEO tools like Rank Math* for advanced features, this list can have some added steps but is a great start to have in place at launch when all your early reporting is going to start indexing in search engines.
💡 Tip: SEO plugins that give you traffic light indicators and scores are tracking the focus keywords of your choosing and providing you estimated or average data. They may help you find blindspots or give you some content tips but your SEO strategy exists outside of these plugins – these plugins don’t make your SEO. Essentially, they add functionality to your site to enable you to complete the steps listed above, if it doesn’t exist already.
Existing sites with changes to sitemap or permalinks require redirects
If you are relaunching a website that previously existed on the same domain and made any changes to the site structure (sitemap) or page URLs (permalinks) you will need to write redirects so that any old URLs redirect to their new counterparts. Sitemaps can also be resubmitted to Google for indexing.
An SEO or redirection plugin can be installed on WordPress to help you if you don’t want to edit your HTACCESS file for redirects. You can also monitor for broken links and amend redirects as needed.
Create Users/Modify Roles
If your website requires more than one user with login and editing capabilities, you will need to create your users and modify or restrict their management.
In WordPress, for example, there are roles for: Contributors, Authors, Editors, and Administrators. Each one of these roles has a different set of permissions which affect what settings and options they can access when logged into the backend of the website.
You should try to only have one master user who has access to absolutely everything on the account. Any additional login is another entry point to keep in mind for security measures, so keeping the ones with full, direct access to site settings restricted is paramount. I currently manage two larger websites that have hundreds of users but my access is the only one assigned with full administrator privileges.
💡 Tip: Add a reminder to routinely have all users change their passwords (to something difficult to guess) and set-up two-factor authentication for login when possible.
Congratulations! If you find yourself at the post-launch phase, you have a new website! Honestly, it’s a lot of work and you should be proud of yourself. Even if you hired someone else to get some of the work done – it’s your website, your passion, your business!
Unfortunately, after your celebration party – the story isn’t over. Most websites aren’t a set-it-and-forget-it deal, especially if you’re using a content management system (CMS) or have third-party tools integrated to work with your website.
Maintenance and Updates
Do you have a maintenance schedule and plan for monitoring and maintaining your website? This includes backend updates for content management systems like WordPress where the platform, theme, or plugins are updated regularly for security and functionality.
I work mostly with WordPress and offer my clients monthly maintenance contracts where I monitor and update their sites. Depending on their needs this may include both backend and frontend updates.
💡 Tip: When I refer to ‘backend’ updates, I am talking about work that goes on behind-the-scenes of a website. These might be maintenance updates to a server, framework, or plugin. When I refer to ‘frontend’ updates, I am mostly talking about content updates – changes made to a website that can be reflected when someone visits it online and views the web page.
After I launch a website, I include monitoring and updates for the first 30 days of the site’s wee life. During this time my clients are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the backend admin screens to prepare themselves for internal management, or we strategize on what management contract they would like to sign-up with me for.
In the first 30 days of launching your website, make sure you spend some time in the admin area of your site so that you can put together a list of questions or topics you feel you need to learn more about (it will come in handy for the next step!) An important part of this process is knowing what kind of maintenance and updates to anticipate and when to schedule them.
Even if you’re not using WordPress, the platform your website is on may run its own updates. It’s still important for you to follow release notes, bugfix documentation, and stay updated on any new functionality or features that may be made available to you. As these are usually proprietary platforms, you may also want to track for discontinuation and recommended steps in the event that a feature you use is removed or no longer supported.
Follow Up Q&A
A Follow Up Q&A is something I do with my clients when I am handing over a completed website, with a plan in place either for us to co-manage the site together or they decide to completely manage it on their own.
Basically, it’s taking inventory of your comfort level when it comes to managing your website and where you might need additional support. You may have already started making a list when you were documenting what you need to learn during the training phase!
Ask for a website audit
This is a great option for you if you didn’t have the budget to hire someone to make your website but you have mostly everything ready to go and wouldn’t mind another set of eyes to look things over now that it’s online.
You can ask for an audit at the pre-launch phase, or even pre-concept phase if you’re at the stage of knowing you want a website without knowing what you need to do to get that party started.
Be clear on what you want reviewed or what you specifically are looking for help with. A review by someone else may help clarify what you need help with if you don’t know, but having gone through this checklist so far, you likely have a darn good idea of what you’d like to get good at.
One of the most common reasons why I see people’s websites get taken offline is because they missed their annual hosting renewal. Many licenses are renewed on an annual basis and when your credit card expiration year rolls around – website accounts often get missed in the payment profile updates.
My internal housekeeping process is a bit different as I work with both my own website and services as well as the clients I manage on an ongoing basis. But here are some things to look out for, regardless of if you’re managing 1 or 100 websites.
Track your service providers, licensed products and accounts
For your website you will have your domain name provider, email provider, as well as your web hosting provider – in some cases, they may all be one in the same. Make sure you know which company is responsible for which service and when the service is scheduled to renew.
- Record which companies host your domain, website, and emails, and their contact information
- Confirm any additional services on the accounts
- Note if your products are set to auto-renew or expire and on what date
- Track which payment method you have on file and when that method expires
- Set a reminder in your calendar or planner to update your payment information on your accounts before renewal dates
💡 Tip: An additional service on a domain or hosting account may include an SSL certificate, domain privacy, backups or staging, or advanced monitoring. These services would renew or expire independently of your domain and hosting costs.
You may have more licensed products and accounts to track and update, depending on the functionality you’ve developed with your website. Here is an example of the additional accounts that I need to track for myself or for client websites:
- Premium license WordPress themes or plugins
- Newsletter management systems
- Invoicing and accounting software
- Customer relationship management (CRM) platform
- Advertising, CPC, and search engine marketing accounts
- Graphic design, writing, or SEO software
If a license lapses you may experience broken functionality on your website. A plugin that was installed to serve consent policies, accessibility options, or social media feeds may stop working properly. Missing your annual license fee may stop you from running security updates to the website framework or activated plugins.
Keeping all of this information documented will keep you both organized and prepared – it will also pay off if you end up having someone else manage your website in the future.
Work with a professional on your website launch checklist
I hope my website launch checklist has provided some helpful tips and insights. Remember, I can help at any point during the website process, even if you just need to talk at someone else to hear your thoughts out loud, or brainstorm to figure out your next steps.
Or, I can do more – it’s totally up to you.
Hire me as a web designer and/or developer to design and build a custom website or help you select and customize a theme or template to suit your brand and needs.
Work with me in tandem as we each tackle different aspects of your website together, choosing from my various website services.
As a self-employed freelancer, I understand what it’s like to have to do some of the work yourself or work within a limited budget for a while – that’s why I hope to provide some helpful tips and insight to DIY-ers out there. You can support me by signing up for and sharing my newsletter and finding me on social media to say ‘hey, so about act 3 though… did you see [spoiler]’.