The Ultimate Pre- Launch Checklist for WordPress Websites

Content.

Content is the heart of any website. It will let both users and search engines know what your site is about. It’s important to get content right from the start. The following points will help you do so.

Replace Dummy Content

Check your site for placeholder text (such as Lorem ipsum) and make sure the actual (client-approved) content is in place.

Proofread

Nothing says “unprofessional” more than grammar and spelling errors, so double check all text on the site for mistakes and then check again.

Format Written Content

Layout is important to make your site attractive and easy to consume. Avoid big blocks of text, use paragraphs, and don’t forget about headings!

Check For Placeholder Images

Any stand-in visuals should also be removed and replaced with actual images.

Go Through Videos and Audio Files

The latter also counts for other types of media. See that the right files are in the right place and that they are working properly.

Examine Page Links

Make sure no link is broken, internal links point where they are supposed to, and external links open in a new tab.

Check Downloadable Files

If you have downloadables, make sure they are proofread, linked to correctly and can in fact be downloaded.

Set up a 404 Error Page

Though most themes have a default page for content that can’t be found, you should also consider setting up a custom 404 error page. Either way, make sure there is a page for those who get onto your site through a faulty link.

Implement a Contact Page

Another important page visitors will appreciate is a contact page. Use plugins like Jetpack, Contact Form 7, and Fast Secure Contact Form to set up an easy way for users to communicate with you.

Set Up Redirections

If there is need for any redirections (such as to preserve link juice from an old site), make sure they are set up correctly. Redirection is an excellent tool for this.

Prepare Launch Content

To help your website start off on the right foot, it can make sense to prepare some posts to share on social networks upon launch.

Design.

Good design ensures that web content is presented in the best way possible across different devices and user setups. This can often mean a lot more work, but it’s definitely worth it.

Validate HTML Markup

To avoid incompatibilities, use tools like W3C’s Markup Validation Service to check all pages of your site adhere to web standards.

Validate CSS

What goes for HTML is also valid for your styles, and you can use this tool for it.

Preview Site in Major Browsers

To spot cross-browser compatibility problems, view your site in Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer/Microsoft Edge, and any legacy browser your client wants to support. Look especially at images and videos. An alternative is using a service like Browsershots.

Check Responsive Design

Mobile is bringing in a lot of traffic these days and having a site that looks good on mobile devices is a must. To ensure an optimal user experience, test your design on different gadgets (both phones and tablets) and platforms (Android, iOS) and/or use something like MobileTest.me.

Use Google's Mobile Testing Tool

In addition to manual testing, Google also offers a mobile testing tool with lots of helpful feedback. Just input your URL and it will run a full analysis of your site.

Optimize Images

Reducing image size as much as possible (without compromising quality, of course) will improve page load time and thereby user experience and SEO. TinyPNG and RIOT can do this for you.

Add a Favicon

Probably one of the most frequently forgotten parts of website design, a favicon appears in browser tabs and makes you look extra professional. Thankfully Favicomatic will easily create one for you.

Link Header Logo Back to Homepage

First of all, make sure your company logo is present in the header. Secondly, check that it links back to the starting page (of your actual site, not the development site) so users can return there quickly.

Set Up Print Stylesheet

For users who want to get your content down onto paper (because it’s just that good!), you can make the task much easier with a print stylesheet. The WordPress Codex can tell you how to create one.

Functionality.

If your website doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, no amount of content and design will make up for it. Therefore, check all important functionality before real-life users do.

Test Drive Web Forms

Whatever forms you have on your site (contact, order, survey, etc.) ensure that they are submitting data correctly and that form emails arrive in the right place.

Confirm Form Messages and Receipts

Likewise, do users get relevant help messages and are they moved on to the right place after submitting data? It’s time to find out.

Review Autoresponses

If you have any sort of automatic emails in place, make sure they are working correctly.

Check Your Site Speed

Use the WP Engine Speed Tool to check your site speed and get custom recommendations on how to make your site faster.

Test Social Sharing Functionality

Check whether social sharing is in place, working properly, and includes the right platforms and profiles.

Try Out Site Feeds

If you have RSS, news, social, or other feeds on your WordPress site, ensure they are working as they are supposed to before site launch.

Implement Accessibility Guidelines

Accessibility is becoming more and more important around the web. Read this article on how to implement it in WordPress, especially if you are required to by law.

Test Third-Party Tools

In case you are using external tools for CRM, ecommerce, marketing, or something else, double check that they are present on-site and doing what they are meant to do.

SEO.

Of course, you’re going to want to make sure your new site is visible for searchengines from the very beginning and that they start indexing it right away. To do so, pay attention to the following points.

Install and Configure an SEO Plugin

While WordPress is well configured for SEO as it is, an SEO plugin like Yoast SEO or All-in-One SEO Pack will take it to the next level and beyond.

Set Site Title and Tagline

If your SEO plugin doesn’t already take care of your site’s title and tagline, make sure to set it under Settings > General.

Configure SEO Page and Post Titles

All pages and posts on your site should have unique titles with less than 70 characters that include the keywords each of them are optimized for.

Implement Meta Descriptions

Likewise, create unique and expressive meta descriptions for all posts and pages that include keywords and are less than 156 characters long.

Set Up Permalinks

Make sure the permalink structure is set to your liking (Settings > Permalinks) and that each page URL contains its main keyword.

Optimize Images (Again)

Also, check image file names, descriptions, and ALT tags for keyword inclusion and make sure each image is compressed for quick loading times (see above).

Set Focus Keywords

If you are using an SEO plugin, each post and page should also have a defined focus keyword. This will give you important information on how to further optimize them.

Work Through Content Analysis

When you have set the focus keyword for a site, be sure to go through the tips inside the content analysis to achieve the best results.

Create Sitemap

Yoast SEO and Google XML Sitemaps can help you set up a sitemap to share with search engines. If you are still working in a development environment, skip this step until you have moved the site to its final destination.

Set Up Metadata

Check meta tags for social and RSS feeds and whether they are set up correctly, appropriate, and proofread. Don’t forget to implement optional tags like rel=”nofollow”.

Marketing.

When launching a fresh site, it’s not only important to make a good impressionon search engines, but human visitors as well. Heeding the points that follow will help you jumpstart your marketing machine.

Implement Newsletter Signups

Have you included a signup form in all important places? Think not only pages but also popups and other prompts. Check out SumoMe for a great number of possibilities to grow your list.

Connect With Email Marketing Provider

When you include a form, make sure it also goes somewhere and that email collection works properly. MailChimp is a favorite tool in this area.

Setup Social Icons

Examine your social icons for completeness, proper functionality, and whether they are linking to the correct addresses. Plus, if you haven’t done so already, look into whether social sharing is working as it should.

Look Over Social Profiles

While you are at it, check any social profiles belonging to the site for design consistency and whether all info found on there is correct and up to date.

Prepare for launch.

Now we come to the final countdown (you are welcome for putting that song into your head). Don’t start slacking now, we still have important things to do!

Relicense Products

If your site is running commercial, third-party plugins or themes, it might be necessary to renew their licenses for the new domain.

Activate Site Caching

Having a caching solution in place is always a good idea to speed up your site. Popular solutions include WP Super Cache, W3 Total Cache and WP Rocket. A managed hosting provider will handle caching for you.

Connect to CDN

For an even faster website and if you are using such a service, don’t forget to set up your content delivery network. In case you are looking for a free solution, Photon might be worth a look. Most managed hosting providers offer CDN service.

Set Up Google Analytics

Collecting usage data is important to track site performance and make informed decisions. While there are other analytics solutions on the market, most of us go with Google’s. Google Analytics by Yoast makes setup easy as pie.

Connect Google Webmaster Tools

While you are at it, integrate the site with Google’s webmaster suite.

Clean Up

Finally, unless you keep it as a staging site, be sure to delete old and unneeded files, databases, subdomains, and any other remnants of the development site.

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Backup and security.

You thought we were through, didn’t you? However, before sending your site off into the scary world of the Internet, we have to make sure it’s safe and secure.

Install and Anti-Spam Solution

Trust me, if you have any sort of traffic, you will get spam on your site. A lot of it. Using a solution like Akismet or Antispam Bee will help you weather the worst.

Implement Login Protection

The login page is one of the most vulnerable parts of your WordPress site. Therefore, it’s important to do due diligence in keeping it safe. Besides proper usernames and passwords, plugins like Login Lockdown will help you do so.

Set Up a Backup Solution

The only thing worse than losing your entire site is not having a way to bring it back. Therefore, setting up a backup solution for both your site data and database is a mandatory pre-launch step. Do it now and thank me later. A managed hosting provider will handle backups for you.

Verify Backups

However, a backup plan is only good if it’s actually working. So, before you continue on, create your first backup and verify that it is saved successfully in the specified (hopefully remote) location.

Update Admin Password

If you haven’t already set up a safe password, now is the time to do so. Also, make sure to save it in a secure place like LastPass.

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Launch.

Alright, the time has come to put your site out there. This is the moment you have been waiting and probably worked towards for weeks. So, take a deep breath and make it happen!

Disable "Discourage Search Engines"

In the WordPress dashboard, under Settings > Reading uncheck the box that says “Discourage search engines from indexing this site.” Otherwise you can wait a long time for any organic traffic to show up.

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Inspect ROBOTS.TXT

In the same vein, if you have set up a robots.txt file, make sure to delete or reconfigure it so that search engines aren’t kept out of the live site.

Build Sitemap

If you haven’t done so while checking your SEO settings, now is the time to create a sitemap. Afterwards, be sure to submit it to any search engine you care about ranking on.

Promote Your Site

Finally, it’s time to tell everyone about the site. Post your launch content on social media, email everyone you know, shout it from the rooftops – you have earned it!

Ready to launch your next digital experience? Do it on WP Engine.

Get the PDF version of this checklist so you never miss a step in your pre-launch process.

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