Launching a website is an exciting (albeit daunting) assignment. There’s a lot to accomplish, a ton of details that can’t be overlooked, and multiple people who need to work together as a team. Successfully launching a website demands months of preparation, perseverance, and dedication. Just like a launch for astronauts, engineers, and rockets, website launches are intense for marketers, web designers, developers, copywriters, and project managers: A culmination of their collective creativity and dedication.
Here’s a breakdown of how to make your next website launch an astronomical success, and read on to get our FREE series of templates!
Ah, the beginning. You’re fresh, excited, and eager to work on your new website. Before you do that, it’s important to get organized. If you’re still considering what to include and how to design your site, check out this great post from DT’s CEO & Co-Founder Chuck Longanecker on what your website needs.
One of the first things a project owner (often, a marketer) should do when preparing a site launch is set expectations. One way to do this is create a RACI matrix (in our free resource in the link!) that defines the roles and responsibilities of your team members. This ensures that you know exactly what each person contributing to the website’s launch will be doing, and no item will be forgotten. Considering that it takes a pretty sizeable team to launch a website, this is critical for staying organized, on task, and getting things done.
Just like with a rocket launch, it’s vitally important to make sure that you have a list of action items with due dates and priorities. Clearly communicate them to your team; these key tasks will help move your site to completion. When you keep track of everything and have a specific list of the tasks that must be finished, you’re on the right track to launching your site without a hitch.
Preparation is key to every successful launch, and proper planning can mitigate problems — and prevent them from happening altogether. After all, as Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” And it’s true. One tool for project managers, a risk register, can help you make sure everyone’s concerns are logged and that there’s a response plan in place. By preparing for worst case scenario situations, you’ll know what to do if your plan goes awry.
While your dream plan may seem flawless, the reality is that you will likely encounter problems, unexpected changes, and new ideas to incorporate into the site. Plan for reality (not for perfection), be flexible, and make sure stakeholder expectations are properly set.
One Month Prior to Launch
One month out is an exciting time. You’ve already made a ton of progress, but there’s a lot to accomplish. This is when you should pick your launch date and confirm if downtime will be necessary.
If you haven’t started already, now is the time to really work through your launch checklist. Confirm testing procedures (especially if you have e-commerce components/flows), and make sure you have a system for tracking bugs and enhancements. Development shops will have a system of their own, like Bugherd, Redmine, or one of these. Personally, I keep a spreadsheet (surprise!) that’s included in the Ultimate Website Launch Checklist.
Make sure that one person is in charge of prioritizing bugs and filtering creative feedback. These are things where too many cooks in the kitchen can be detrimental to your timeline. Simply sharing a link asking for general feedback can create a chaotic mess of conflicted opinions. Instead, use a Google form and be very specific about your requests for the kind of feedback you need. This will help you avoid a hot mess that complicates and delays progress.
As the team is toiling, you’ll encounter many opportunities to excel or fail. Last-minute change requests from the executive team can make things more complicated. Developers may roll their eyes because the blend modes and other techniques designers used that make things a little more challenging. The best project owners facilitate fair communication early and often. With a little collaboration, your team can get over even the biggest obstacles.
Before the month is over, be sure to start a post-launch enhancement list and confirm that there are adequate hosting provisions in place. High-traffic sites may benefit from caching services as a way to prevent costly bills and improving site performance. If data is supposed to be migrated as part of this process, be sure to talk directly with that [R]esponsible party for updates. Pro Tip: you can’t migrate new data. So be on the look out for new content that you’ll have to enter manually.
Keeping a clear vision of how the pieces come together will make your launch run smoothly.
In terms of PR, everyone always wants their launch to be a BIG SPLASH, but sometimes that backfires. In addition to planning everything for the launch, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve done the appropriate media preparation so that your launch will get noticed for all the right reasons. Don’t make any announcements until you’ve completed a soft launch and have made sure that everything is correct and scalable.
Two Weeks Prior to Launch
The heat is on, and by two weeks to launch, you’re certainly feeling the pressure. Identify who exactly is going to be a part of the launch and get their on-call contact information. Go out to dinner, thank your team for their hard work, and take a breather. Everyone has been putting in a lot of time on the project, set aside a little time for camaraderie before making a final push to the finish.
You’ll need to take care of many action items before you’re finally ready to go. Freeze the content and the code to begin testing (hopefully, you’ve already started). You had better believe the astronauts aren’t rocketing into space with an audience if they haven’t done a dry run yet — you shouldn’t launch your site without it either.
If necessary, conduct a final review of site content with your legal team. Be prepared to handle changes. Everything is a matter of timeline, budget, and scope. These are the three basic ingredients, and a great recipe for success finds a nice balance of them all.
This is also the time to designate your maintenance team and prioritize any outstanding bugs and changes that may have popped up along the way. At this point, being a perfectionist will likely delay the launch. Priorities are more important now than ever. Focus on solving critical issues and anything broken first. Then you can worry about whether an image was cropped just so. By setting realistic expectations of how things will go, you put yourself in a better position to finish on time — and with grateful stakeholders.
Day of Launch
The day of the launch has finally arrived, and you’re probably moonwalking with anticipation. Your excitement is at an all-time high… while the rest of the team’s energy may be at an all-time low. You’re probably so nervous that your blood is buzzing, but make sure your team doesn’t see that part of you. You’re their leader. Stay positive and be excited; your team will reflect that.
Everyone should be 100% dedicated to seeing this project to fruition. To make sure your team is available, protect them from other assignments. Get the fridge stocked, make everyone comfortable, and when it’s time… flip the switch! (Don’t forget to put up a maintenance page just in case the launch takes longer than you expect.) Make sure everyone knows who’s on call in case of technical issues, and be methodical about validation.
Bring in some backup to scour the site. Move top-down, left-to-right on as many pages as you can reasonably manage. You’d be surprised what you can get done in an hour if you stay focused. Earlier QA efforts probably caught most feature tkbugs, but trying clicking on links to ensure none of them were hard-coded to the development environment, and double-check that all of the final content was loaded. Keep an eye out for TK or lipsum.
Priorities are just as important on launch days as they are through production. Teams are often weary after long hours to meet deadlines. Close the most critical items, and maybe pick up some easy wins along the way. Give everyone a breather as soon as you’re over the hump. Trust me, you’ll get better results in the long run if people get adequate sleep and a good meal.
Remember to congratulate your team on a job well done.
TO INFINITY AND BEYOND
This should give you a general idea of what you need to do to prepare for a website launch. As a marketing professional, you’re responsible for coordinating everything. To make things easier as you rocket towards your launch date, use our free Ultimate Website Launch Checklist. This will keep Mission Control in control and make your dreams a reality.
Hey, a man WALKED on the MOON before. Think about it — it’s total insanity. A group of people working together to launch a website should be a piece of cake. Well, at least it will be with these tips. Good luck!