By John Surdakowski14 Feb 2017Tutorials
John Surdakowski, founder and creative director of NYC-based digital agency Avex Designs, takes us through the different steps you need to consider when launching a new website
In today’s day and age, a website is one of the most powerful marketing tools your business can have. And if it’s not absolutely amazing, you risk losing potential customers.
But launching a new website for your company is an enormous undertaking, one that many entrepreneurs find daunting and overwhelming. They might have a website that isn’t attracting clients, or they haven’t bothered creating one because it’s too much work.
What if you had a thorough checklist of all the things you needed to do to successfully launch a new website? Look no further – this article covers all of the basics to ensure your new site draws the customers you want and boosts your bottom line.
Your first step is to determine whether your company or team can handle this project in-house or if you’ll need to outsource it to a third party web designer.
Ask yourself these questions: Does my staff (if you have one) have the time for this project? Do they have the technical skills to build a beautiful website that will draw in customers? Can they maintain the website after its launch?
If you’re not sure about the answers to these questions, or the answers are an unequivocal “no,” then you should start looking for a web designer. Bear in mind that not all web designers are created equally. You should look for a designer with a great deal of experience (bonus points if it’s in your industry) and a strong portfolio.
Find out whether you’ll be able to update content on your own, or whether you’ll have to wait until the designer gets around to making the update on your behalf. Don’t be afraid to request information about how much (if any) technical support you’ll receive for your website. And security is a major issue; what measures does the designer have in place to protect your website from cyber criminals and hackers?
Also, is this web designer a one-stop shop? Does it handle hosting, domain names, copywriting, and online marketing? It will save you a great deal of time and headaches if all of that is taken care of by a single firm.
The quote “failing to plan is planning to fail” has been attributed to self-help writer Alan Lakien. Lakien started writing in the 1970s, before the advent of websites, but his advice is both timeless and extremely relevant to this situation.
Even if you’ve chosen a third party web designer, creating a roadmap for your website is still a critical step. It guarantees that everyone is on the same page when it comes to responsibilities and timelines.
After holding an in-depth discussion of your needs and requirements, your web designer should sit down and go over a RACI (Responsibility, Accountability, Consulted, and Informed) matrix. As the name implies, this list lays out the tasks necessary to build your website and spells out who will be responsible for carrying them out. With a RACI matrix, you won’t be left in the dark about who’s doing what for your website and what the deadlines are. This list holds you and the team handling the website accountable; you can’t say you don’t know what’s going on, and the team can’t claim that responsibilities weren’t clear from the outset.
When drafting a RACI matrix, you and the web designer should be realistic about what you want to achieve and the timeline in which the work should be finished. Problems arise during any project, and you might decide you want to go in a different direction. Both parties must be flexible and sensible about responsibilities and schedules.
A stunning website is only one part of the equation. You need content, and that content needs to be incredible.
Why is content so vital to a website’s success? Google now pays attention to how users interact with a site’s content, and the better the interactions, the higher the page will rank in search results. How do you produce great content for your website? As with the general roadmap mentioned above, you’ll need a strategy.
Churning out content (landing pages, blog posts, podcasts, etc) for the sake of it isn’t going to lead to success. Instead, determine what your goals are. Do you want to boost brand awareness? Are you trying to generate leads? Is your aim to improve search engine results? Perhaps you have more than one objective. In that case, you’ll need different types of content for each goal.
Before you or your content team sit down to craft content for your new site, you must know your audience. Google can help you learn what sites they’re visiting, which types of content they engage with the most, and which social media platforms they prefer for content sharing.
Armed with these facts, you can start creating content. Remember that the best content has an authentic voice that establishes you as an expert and isn’t piggybacking on what’s already out there. Above all, it offers genuine value to customers and prospects. Don’t forget to proofread or edit any content (be it written or visual) before publication. Poor grammar and spelling or inaccuracies hurt your brand.
The abbreviation SEO stands for search engine optimisation, and it ranks as one of the least understood terms in the website development world. The confusion surrounding SEO relates to the evolution of the field as the World Wide Web has matured.
SEO uses widely searched-for keywords to improve search engine rankings. The prevailing SEO wisdom was that if your site contained keywords that people searched for frequently, it would appear higher in search engine results. As a result, many sites would be stuffed full of keywords to attract attention. Google became wise to this school of thought and began punishing such sites. It’s better to select up to five keywords per page and optimise them.
Two things that do matter when it comes to SEO are your title tag and the site’s meta description. The title tag tells search engines about your site. It should be 70 characters or fewer, include your business brand name, and keywords that relate only to that specific page. The meta description provides somewhat more information than the title tag. This information can help users decide if they want to visit the site, because it will show up in search results.
Another issue that comes up in SEO is link building. The aim of link building is for other sites to link to yours. Link building is a way to show that your site is reputable and should be ranked highly in search results. There are some link building methods that work better than others. For example, submitting your site to an industry directory helps get your name out there. Another way is to create excellent content (see above) that people will link to on their sites.
Internal link building matters, too. Search engines learn more about your site when your pages contain links to other pages. It also assists website visitors in finding content on your website that may be of use to them (and they’ll stay longer on your site).
The content development team has created fantastic content that’s guaranteed to draw in visitors. A question arises: what’s the best way to showcase that content that will be easy for you to manage?
That’s where a content management system (CMS) comes in. A CMS is an interface that, as the name implies, enables website administrators to insert or upload content to a site. There are a number of CMSes from which to choose, so you’ll need to find the one that’s right for you.
We’ll briefly discuss the merits of two CMSes here: WordPress and Magento. WordPress is the most popular CMS in the world, and for good reason. Users love its ease of use and configuration, and its code is fairly secure. Moreover, developers can add features that will make the site stand out through a wide variety of plug-ins.
Magento is fast becoming a favourite for ecommerce sites. Users love it because (like WordPress) it’s highly customisable. Furthermore, it can support small and large companies, so if your business grows, you don’t need to find a new CMS.
You may already have an existing website, but you want to change hosts. Building a new website from scratch is unnecessary – you can migrate it.
It might make sense to cancel your contract with your current host, once you decide to make the move. However, many hosting firms cancel contracts immediately. That means you’ll lose any and all information that’s been uploaded to your current site. To avoid this situation, find a new hosting company, transfer all of your data, and then cancel the old contract.
Transferring your files involves downloading all of the data on the site and then uploading it to the new server. When this process is complete, your team or the web designer will need to run tests to ensure that everything has transferred properly and everything appears the way it should.
You might be reading the paragraph header above and say, “Wait, isn’t everything you’ve been talking about so far part of the launch strategy?” There are steps you take to develop a website – that’s what we’ve focused on above. Now, it’s time to make sure that your site is ready to go live.
Do all of the links actually take you where you want to go? Is there content in all the right places (otherwise, you’ll see holder text in Latin)? Does your site meet accessibility standards so that users of all abilities get the same experience?
Once you’ve answered all of those questions to your satisfaction, you’re ready for a soft launch. A soft launch allows a select audience to view the site before its grand debut. It also gives your team or the web designer a chance to fix any bugs or errors so that when the big day comes, people notice your site for the right reasons.
Once the website has met the standards for the soft launch, it’s time to start building buzz for when you’re ready to unveil it to the world.
As with other phases of creating a new website, it’s best to have a plan that lays out how you’ll promote your site. Determine what the best way is to reach your audience. Do they spend more time checking their social media accounts than they do their email inboxes?
Your next step is to create content that promotes your website. The platform you use to publicise your new website determines what kind of content you’ll design and publish. What you’ll post to Instagram is much different than what you’d put on LinkedIn.
Before you publish any content, check it for accuracy and to assure that it fits with your brand’s style. Then, test it out. Online marketing software allows you to draft marketing messages and send them out to a select audience. For the best results, test out two marketing messages at the same time to see which performs better (your marketing software will tell you how many people clicked on the link or even opened the email).
Regardless of what platform you use to promote your new site, remember to highlight the value that it will bring users. It doesn’t matter if your website is being launched for the first time or it’s undergone a redesign. You draw visitors when you can prove that you’ve got something to offer that’s worth their time.
Once your website is up and running, don’t forget to celebrate! A successful website launch is the culmination of planning and hard work. Reward yourself and your team to prime them for future achievements.
John Surdakowski is the founder and creative director at Avex Designs, a creative digital agency in New York City. John has been working in the digital space for 15 years and loves sharing his thoughts and experiences about web design, development and marketing. When he is not collaborating with global brands and agencies, he's writing music, spending time with his family or in the mountains snowboarding.