Tips for Disciplined Site Development

It’s a momentous event – costly, resource intensive, and probably months in the making, but a new site launch can be a non-event or worse, a disaster, if you have not approached it carefully.

Presumably you embarked on building the new site for one or several typical reasons such as your old site:

  • Did not accurately or effectively represent your current brand, company, or offerings
  • Presented visitors with a bad user experience
  • Was a competitive embarrassment
  • Used outdated technology
  • Relied on content streams that were not supported
  • Was not integrated across digital platforms

Maybe the old site was just old and needed an update. There are hundreds of other good reasons to build a new site and there are hundreds of possible ways to undermine that launch.

When you finally do launch your new site, you want to be able to celebrate the positive, measurable impact it has on your business goals. That means it needs to be a deliberate, strategic undertaking from the planning stages all the way to your launch. Having done this innumerable times for ourselves and clients, we have seen the common tripping points and have distilled the process in a handy sheet you can download here.

If you are contemplating a new site project, keep these tips in mind:

Planning:

  • Do your research and create a brief for the project that will define the goals, requirements, and key metrics for the effort. Use the brief to test the decisions made as the project progresses.
  • Make it a priority. Stories abound about sites that get delayed for months or years because they are constantly pushed aside for other things. A significant project delay causes inefficient rework as the technology, goals, and business climate continue to evolve and may make your plans obsolete.
  • The site approach, design, and development have to be a collaborative process involving all stakeholders. Don’t let the passionate or vocal minority take control of this project because the rest of you are too busy.

Development:

  • Don’t skip steps. Inexperienced teams often begin with design, which is a huge red flag and means trouble. Once your team has fallen in love with a design, it is often difficult to retrofit and organize content and site features in a workable manner. Each part in the process from site maps to wire frames and so on plays an important part in a successful build.
  • Don’t underestimate the time to gather and approve content. This is often a holdup, so make someone responsible with hard dates. Think through in advance how you will keep the site and content fresh as the site ages and your needs change.
  • Plan for integration across the entire communications ecosystem. Your website should work with your social channels, your email program, your offline communications, and advertising vehicles.
  • Remember SEO, SEO, SEO – you will never get a better chance to optimize your site.

Launch:

  • Don’t skimp on QA time and devote multiple layers of attention to this critical function.
  • Plan to tell your customer loyalists in advance through email and social channels so they can help you spread the news.
  • Ensure you have accounted for all image rights used.
  • Check any integration points with other digital and offline materials to make sure the new URL (if there is one) gets prominence.
  • Have a pre-launch checklist with little items like these (and more):
    • Set up open graph tags with title, description, image.
    • Set up your favicon.
    • Make sure the sitemap and robot file are set up correctly and placed in the root directory.
    • Set up site analytics tags.
    • Set up any tracking tags.
    • Set up redirects so old bookmarks and site references can find the new site.
  • Have a post-launch checklist with little items like these (and more):
    • Update the DNS.
    • Submit a sitemap to search engines.
    • Go to Facebook developer and paste in your URL to clear what Facebook has stored for the page.
    • Test tracking tags.

Successful site development requires a disciplined approach that respects the importance of details and the place of the site within the larger communications picture. Now pop the cork and celebrate – you’ve earned it!

Any words of wisdom to share from your site development experience?

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