Launching a new website can be a little nerve-racking. There are a lot of moving parts and it’s tough to remember everything that needs to happen during and shortly after the launch process. In this post, I’m assuming you’ve covered all the basics for launching a WordPress site, like installing and testing necessary plugins, checking your site on multiple devices, and setting up a daily backup system with your hosting provider.
What comes next are finishing touches to make sure your site is safe, fast, and easy to use. Here’s a 10 step checklist to follow when you launch a WordPress site.
1. Update the WordPress URLs
If you’ve been working on your site in a staging environment, the URLs are going to need to be updated. Chances are they’re currently set to something like:
https://staging.mycoolwebsite.com OR https://www.dev.mycoolwebsite.com
Once your site is live and ready for traffic, the URLs will need to be:
https://mycoolwebsite.com OR https://www.mycoolwebsite.com
If you don’t update these URLs in your WordPress install, you won’t be able to login at the proper URL and all sorts of weird things are going to start happening because your website is pointing to the wrong domain.
There are two URLs you’ll want to update during the launch process. One is the WordPress Address and the other is the Site Address. The first has to do with the URL you’ll visit to login to the backend of the site. The second is the URL users will visit to see your site on the front end. Both of these URLs can be updated from the database (wp_options) or WP backend under “General Settings.”
2. Uncheck “discourage search engines”
You’d be surprised how many folks forget to do this. There’s a setting in WordPress under “Reading Settings” with a checkbox that allows you to discourage search engines from crawling your site. This is very helpful when you’re building a website, but can be detrimental if you forget to turn it off after launch.
3. Setup Redirects
In an ideal world, websites would never have 404 errors. That’d be ideal, but it’s not very likely, especially if you are updating your URL structure before a website launch. To make sure all of your broken links are cleaned up, I recommend setting up redirects. For a small site, you can accomplish this using a plugin like Redirection. For larger sites with dozens or hundreds of changes, you will likely want to setup the redirects using the .htaccess file.
4. Submit Sitemap
A sitemap helps search engines crawl the pages on your website. Submit your sitemap when your new site is ready for search traffic. Here are the two most common places to submit your sitemap:
- Google Search Console – sign into your Google account if you have one, or set one up if you don’t. You can use Google Webmaster Tools to keep an eye on your website’s health and performance.
- Bing Webmaster Tools – same goes for Bing. Create a new account if you don’t already have one.
5. Confirm Google Analytics Tracking
It would be a crying shame to find out months after the launch of your new website that Google Analytics has not been tracking properly. With 24 hours of launching your site, I recommend testing to make sure your tracking script is working properly. You can do this by visiting the site and then checking the Real-Time section of the reporting dashboard. Now is also a great time to test any Google Analytics goals/events.
6. Confirm SEO settings
Take 30 minutes or so to check through the settings on your SEO plugin if you’re using one. Make sure to check the social open graph sections and the general title and meta information templates. These 2 areas are typically the only ones that would need a once over during the launch process.
7. Test Contact Forms
I almost placed this as the first item on the checklist because I see so many websites that have a contact form that nobody is monitoring. If you worked with an agency to build your site, they should update it to the appropriate email address. Otherwise, your contact forms may be sending emails to your web developer and he or she could be filtering them into the trash. That’s not good! Make sure each form on your site sends an email that is formatted properly to your email inbox of choice. This should take a few seconds to show up in your inbox once the form is submitted. If it doesn’t, you’ve got some work to do!
8. Check Images
It’s not uncommon for images to break when a site gets launched, especially if the site was moved from a staging area to a live environment. Things get messed up when images are calling the development server instead of the live environment and you may need to update the URLs to point to the right spot. If you have several like this, you can do a search and replace in your database to update them all at once.
9. Update the Admin Password
This isn’t an absolute necessity, but I always recommend updating the WordPress admin password just to be safe. Choose a long password with capital letters, punctuation, and special characters.
10. Create a Backup
Things can get squirrely when you launch a new website. Sometimes things that would never break on a normal day will break on the day you launch your site. I can’t explain it, it’s just how it works! Knowing this, I’d recommend creating a backup of your site immediately after launch. This way, if you break something while you’re running through the above-mentioned items, you’ll be able to restore it all in a click or two.
Have anything to add to this list? Please share in the comments section below!