Published: 15 December 2016
So it’s finally about to happen - the launch of your new baby, the redesigned kick-ass website that you’ve been slaving over the past few months. As a web agency, we always work to a strict go live plan, but as a marketing manager there are many other important things you need to take into account. This is a big event in your marketing calendar and, as with any successful event, good planning is vital.
1. Choose the right date
Reduce risks to the business by ensuring your go live date is not on a day where you have a big campaign running, a newsletter mail-out, and such. Your existing web analytics data will help you deduce the quietest time with regards to traffic and you may wish to consider an out of hours deploy, where your development team works outside of office hours (usually at an additional cost).
NB. A common development rule is don’t ever deploy on a Friday, unless you have good reason and sufficient dev support over the weekend.
2. Check your DNS TTL
Here comes the boring technical bit that your IT team or development agency can handle. If the deploy involves moving your website to a new server, they’ll need to check the TTL - or “Time To Live”. This is the amount of time your website data will remain cached, i.e. the time users may still see your old website after the new one goes live. For example, if your TTL is 24 hours, this will put your launch back a day later than expected, leaving you sitting there waiting impatiently (like the cookie monster).
We recommend lowering your TTL to an hour and doing this 24 hours before your website launch. After launch it can be returned it to its previous state.
3. Minimise impact to SEO
As any decent web agency should point out, there is always a risk that your new website can have negative effects on your search rankings. However, with the right steps you can drastically minimise this.
- As part of the deploy you should ensure you have 301 redirects for any changed or removed URLs. This is where you redirect traffic that lands on the old URLs to the appropriate new ones. For bigger websites this can be a time-consuming process with 1,000s of redirects so preparation beforehand is key.
- Have you set up your Google Search Console yet? Best to do this as soon as possible as you’ll want to submit your new XML sitemap when your website goes live. It’s also a good tool to track any errors, like 404 Page Not Founds.
- Talking of which, your new site should have an XML sitemap - it’s an ugly but important file that contains all your pages and (preferably) their priority. This needs to be submitted to Google via your Search Console after launch, to help them reindex your site asap.
- Meta tags… it’s super important to ensure that your new site will launch with the same (or improved) meta tags as the previous one. These are snippets of text that Google shows in search results and if you lose them, your rankings will no doubt be impacted.
If you have an SEO agency, they should have the above covered, but it’s always good to double check. Ideally you will have allowed them time to audit the new site during the UAT (user acceptance testing) phase.
4. Prepare for Post Launch Testing and Fixes
Your development team should test the website immediately after launch, but ultimately they are never going to know your brand as well as you, and no matter how much testing has been done during UAT, it is natural that there will be bugs after launch. Ensure you and your team have blocked out sufficient time to check through the new site thoroughly to make sure everything works as it should. You’ll particularly want to focus on any common conversion paths, forms and booking processes. Remember to also check your analytics tracking is working – it’s something that is frustratingly often forgotten. Google Tag Assistant for Chrome (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/tag-assistant-by-google/kejbdjndbnbjgmefkgdddjlbokphdefk?hl=en) is a great tool if you are using Google Analytics and/or Tag Manager.
Many years ago, the company I was working for launched a new website and the web agency we were working with practically dropped us once it was live. All the issues and bugs we found post launch weren’t addressed for months - it was incredibly disheartening. Lesson here: agree with your web agency up front that they will be available to fix problems within your warranty period (a standard warranty can range from 30-90 days - this should be part of your contract) and they have allocated appropriate development resource particularly within the first couple of weeks.
BBC PICTURES / GUY LEVY
5. Appease your Stakeholders
If your company has many stakeholders, they will already be aware of your go live date, but you may also wish to let them know how to give feedback ahead of the launch. In some cases, setting up a support ticketing system can be a lot more effective than receiving a bombardment of emails. Most people will naturally have an opinion (whether it is informed or not!).
You’ll also want to pre-plan some extra budget for change requests - if you have many stakeholders I can guarantee that you’ll receive some.
6. Pause Paid Advertising
Do you have paid advertising such as Google Adwords? You should allow whoever is managing this to review your new website well ahead of go live, during the UAT phase, as any changes may affect how your campaigns are set up. If you have the appropriate 301 redirects mentioned previously, this will go a long way in ensuring links from ads still work. And remember to check your remarketing tags are all set up and recording correctly after launch.
It is also a good idea to pause ads for a day when going live - in case anything goes wrong. Then once you have the new site up and running, campaigns can be let loose again.
7. Pre-Plan Social, Content and PR
When you launch a new website you should want to shout about it! However, we would often recommend the “soft-launch” approach, where you wait one or two days before you hit up your social media channels. This will allow you to iron out any initial bugs - no one wants to have a bunch of comments on your Facebook page telling you x, y and z doesn’t work. Ask your web agency how they will be promoting the launch as well - perhaps you could collaborate together.
An email campaign and press release are other great ways to drive traffic to your new website and can go a long way - again, your web agency may also want to get involved with this.
Of course, as you will be hoping to draw a large amount of traffic, you need to think about what content you are presenting them with… is your latest blog post your best foot forward? Is there sufficient content to encourage visitors to return? Could you be running a competition in line with the launch to help capture leads? A few questions to ponder.
Finally, the best advice I have had when going live with a new site is never treat the launch as the finish line – but rather, the beginning of a new endeavour. So please get out the champagne and toast your big day, but always be ready for the next steps, as your new baby will need lots of constant care and attention in the months ahead.