A few weeks ago I was running errands out of the office when I got a frantic email from the client that they needed to launch their website ASAP — which they made quite clear through multiple texts, calls and emails. In short, the world was going to collapse if this site wasn’t live now! Well, knowing that I had a process for “taking a website live,” I just had to send a simple reply (once I evaluated this wasn’t truly an emergency) that a website cannot “just go live.” There’s a process to a website launch.
Let me say that again: There’s a process to a website launch.
This site was a small migration to WordPress and not a huge formal project, but even then, it still had to go through the proper process of launching (and it wasn’t happening in the parking lot of my bank). My client just needed to be educated on the process: “Unfortunately, website launches don’t happen instantaneously. There’s a procedure to launching a website as stated in our timeline; it’s currently set to X as the date. When I’m in the office we can discuss adjusting that date for a change in the scope of work.”
Thankfully, they were awesome clients and after my email totally got it. But it reminded me, no matter how small, every client needs to know about your website launch process.
Bringing home baby
Launching a website doesn’t mean flipping a switch, and it’s not immediately executable on the receipt of final payment.
Taking a website live is a process that dictates whether or not you will continue to have a relationship with this client once their URL is crawlable by Google.
After having three babies now, I could say off-boarding a client’s website (handing it over) can draw some similarities to leaving the hospital after giving birth. Thankfully, the staff doesn’t just kick you out an hour after the baby arrives (eek), but work to check off every box — from giving you paperwork to filing a Social Security number, confirming you can feed the poor child, and verifying you can go the bathroom on your own (yes … that is a “thing”).To use the baby/hospital analogy further, we are looking at least a 48-hour window of “OK, you got a baby, let’s get you ready to take that baby home.” But that’s just the immediate hand-off. In actuality, the prep work for getting that baby home was nine months in the making through multiple hospital prep classes, doctor visits, and item checklists!
Launching a website has “stages,” and I’ll take you through each to outline their importance and how each stage plays into the bigger picture.
Stage 1: Setting expectations
Have you ever asked a client before the proposal, “What does a launch look like?” Or maybe during design, or during development? My guess is that most will say no … Setting expectations is key to not having your client suffer an anti-climax after that eventful day. (Cue the “When will my website show up on Google?” moment).
Do they expect to start blogging on day one? Will they be running ads? Who’s going to have access? Will it be an event that will be promoted?
Draft a list of questions from the get-go and get your client to define success. This way the launch can be successful — not in your eyes, but in their eyes!
Setting an actual launch date from the beginning is also key to expectations.
If the client knows that December 1 is the official launch date, you make that clear to them along each email, checklist item, and various communication. The client then knows going early (or going months later for that matter) is a change in the scope of work.
The “setting expectations” stage of the launch is happening MONTHS before the actual launch day. You and the client need to make sure you both are on board in doing your part to get that done on time.
Stage 2: Launch prep
At least one week before the launch date should be set aside to test the website. The following are elements to consider based on the type of website that you built:
Consider an email signup and countdown timer. This way your client is collecting leads/emails that will want to be notified when the new website is live (especially if this is an eCommerce website). If this is a redesign and the live site is still up, put the countdown on another page and drive traffic there.
Evaluate the URLs that will break on the site if this is a redesign and set up redirection on those URLs (i.e. the client no longer has a “services.html” page and this will return a 404 from his social media bio). Also, running a broken link checker in the site is a sure-fire way to find out internal links that broke within the client’s copy.
Browser of choice
Viewing the site for issues and errors in your CLIENT’S chosen browser and mobile device will save you from more than a few emails!
Invoice for final payment at least one week before the launch date. I don’t launch a website until final payment is in hand, which means that invoice has to go out many days before the set launch date if we don’t want to miss it.
Stage 3: The tech check
Once the website is live, you must go through a tech checklist and make sure everything is set to perfection. Below is a basic guideline of those steps:
- Has WordPress been switched over to the client’s details in Settings > General? This includes reviewing the site title, time zone and admin email.
- Is the website searchable and not blocking robots in Settings > Reading? And to this point, has Google Analytics been installed and properly tracking?
- Are permalinks set correctly and working on all links in your site (i.e. no staging server URLs)? And to this point, did you set up any redirections for URLs not recreated on this new site if this was a redesign?
- Have you removed test users, sample “Hello World” blog post, sample comment, Sample Page, unnecessary plugins, and themes? Remove the bloat and security vulnerabilities.
- Do you have a nice, new clean backup? When handing off, it’s good to make sure you have a full backup of the website as it was at launch.
Stop, drop and roll
STOP: Get the content BEFORE the design.
Content delays are the most common. If the content is delayed, just remind your client about the set launch date and what will occur if they miss a specific window.
To help you with your resources and timeline, you can work in a weekly project management fee for the length of the process, server hosting fee for every month on your staging environment, or restart fee if they walk away and come back months later ready to reignite the process. All those items itemized in the proposal will help you should you not have content on the onset.
Note: You are within reason to charge for the final payment if the scope of work is complete but they aren’t ready to take the site live. I would give them a two-week buffer after final payment, after which, there will be a restart fee when they circle back to launch the site.
DROP: Don’t launch on a Friday. No exceptions.
Give yourself a Monday or a Tuesday, allowing the entire work week to deal with any issues. It’s not fair to you or the client to have a possible weekend of emergencies, but rather put it during work hours and workdays to address feedback.
ROLL: Move forward with a website care plan after launch.
Of course, this needs to be positioned during initial conversations before the proposal, but a website care plan is critical to protecting the client’s investment. Refer to all our website care plan goodness in other articles (like this one and this one here on this blog).
Website launch: Next steps
Start your process now with new clients, and re-educate your current clients.
And if you are sitting on a website that has been in your clutches, stalled for six months, or a year or more (heavens!), send an email about your updated process for launching a website. It’s time to re-educate your clients and set a firm date. All good things must come to an end…
Image by: Igor Miske on