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Webmaster’s Checklist: Launch Your Website Successfully in 2021

Ezequiel Bruni Ezequiel Bruni

So you’ve built a website and you’re ready to go live! Or are you? Maybe you just can’t shake that nagging feeling you forgot something.

Well, even the very best webmaster / web designer / web programmer is going to forget something. It happens. That’s why we put together this fairly exhaustive list of steps to go through (or at least think very seriously about) before you actually publish your website.

Between all of us, we can drastically reduce the odds that your site will launch looking slightly wrong, looking very wrong, or even worse – having security vulnerabilities. These tips cover everything from essential performance tweaks, to securing your site, to checking for content formatting mistakes.

You’ll find some specific advice for WordPress sites, while other tips are for any type of site. If you haven’t actually built your site yet, be sure to check our simple guide to building your website.

1. Make Sure Your Domains Are Working Right

Whether you directed your domain to your host yourself or had your host do it for you, you should run a few simple tests to make sure it’s working properly.

Start by visiting your site, of course. But then, go into your hosting admin panel and create a subdomain. Use something like “blog.yoursite.com,” and make sure the subdomains work alright.

You especially want to test subdomains because they’re often used to access extra functionality like email servers (which can sometimes be found at an address like “mail.yoursite.com”), or your control panel (maybe something like “cpanel.yoursite.com”).

Of course, how that’s all configured is something that will depend on the web host you’ve chosen. I’ll be saying that a lot in this article.

2. Configure and Test Domain Email Addresses

Most web hosts will allow you to set up email accounts that use your domain name. For instance, if your domain name is PleaseNotTheClowns.com, you could set up an email called [email protected]

Having branded email addresses is great if you want to look professional online, whether your site is a simple portfolio or a full-blown business in its own right.

Actually getting those email addresses configured and set up is, again, a process that will be different depending on your web host. If you’ve never done this before, you’ll need to look through the host’s online guides (if they have any) for instructions, or contact support to help you.

To test those addresses, just send some mail to yourself. Then check your email. That’s it.

3. Test Your Web Host’s Performance

Once you have even the most basic site up and running, you should check to see how quickly it loads, and how prone the servers are to going down. This is actually pretty simple and easy enough to check.

If you want to go all out, check out our guide to web host performance tests. If you just want the basics, read on.

To test page load times, use GTmetrix. It’s a tool that runs your site through both Google PageSpeed Insights and YSlow to see how long a page takes to start loading, and how long it takes to load completely. It also generates a report that can tell you which parts of your site are slowing the rest of it down.

GTmetrix test results example
Some of GTmetrix’s advice can be technical, but at least you’ll know where to start.

To test the stability of your host’s servers, use UptimeRobot. It’s a site where you enter your own site’s address, and the “robot” will check your website every five minutes for… well, eternity. Or something close to it. Over time, reports will be generated about how often the servers go down, and how long it takes the servers to respond in general.

UptimeRobot test example
UptimeRobot shows that my site’s doing okay.

Your site should completely load in under 2 seconds, and this isn’t something you want to compromise on. If your host isn’t fast enough, take a look at our list of the top web hosting services to find a better one.

4. Define Your Content’s Most Important Keywords

Now, in an ideal world, you start designing a website by researching and writing all of your content first. Well, that isn’t always an option, and it’s never too late to do some research and make sure your content has the right keywords for your industry and products in it.

Mostly, you should use your common sense. If you’re selling a budget digital camera, you’ll want words like “camera,” “photography,” “digital,” and “megapixels” sprinkled into the text in a way that feels natural. If you’re targeting a specific subset of customers, such as bird watchers, then be sure to actually mention birds and bird watching.

Technical jargon is only useful to technically-minded customers. Don’t get me wrong, you should always include product specs somewhere on the sales/product page. But don’t lean too hard on the technical stuff in your sales copy, unless you know for a fact that this is what your customers care about.

You can always use tools like AnswerThePublic or SEMrush for additional keyword ideas.

5. Install an SSL Certificate

Okay, the short version? SSL is a layer of security designed to protect all traffic between your site, and your users. It does this by encrypting all data sent between the site and the browser, including things like passwords and credit card information. It also makes your site harder to hack in general.

Incidentally, Google rates sites with SSL installed higher than sites that don’t have it.

The best web hosts will make SSL freely available to you, and some will even have SSL certificates installed on your hosting account by default. The best ones will automatically renew SSL certificates when they expire.

This is super crucial, you can’t live without it, so don’t put it off. To make sure your certificate is installed correctly, use this handy SSL Checker. It can also remind you to renew your SSL certificate, if your host doesn’t do that for you.

6. Enable an Anti-Spam Solution

Well, no one likes getting flooded with messages advertising how easy it is to work from home, or how to enlarge or otherwise inflate various body parts. With a website, you’ll actually need to protect yourself on two fronts: your comments section, and your emails.

If you’re hosting your email on your site, you should check to make sure that your web host offers some kind of anti-spam protection. For shared hosting, this is entirely dependent on the hosting company and what it has installed. You can technically install your own spam protection on VPS hosting, but it’s complicated.

For comment sections, WordPress at least has you covered by default. The Akismet anti-spam plugin that comes installed by default on all versions of WordPress is still considered to be the best on the market. No, the filter isn’t perfect (no spam filter is), but it’s good.

7. Install an “Under Construction” Plugin / Build in a Staging Environment

When you’re first building your site (especially in WordPress), it’s advisable to install an “Under Construction” plugin. That kind of plugin will allow site administrators to work on building the site behind the scenes, while site visitors will only see an “under construction” page.

You know, instead of a half-finished site that looks more like a class project than a business. It’s all about making the best first impression you can. Oh, and be sure to include a newsletter sign-up form for people who want to know as soon as your site is launched.

Once your site is launched, some web hosts, like Scala Hosting and Liquid Web (and pretty much any host with Softaculous) will allow you to create a “staging environment,” which is basically a copy of your website that you can work on separately. Once you’re happy with the changes you’ve made, you can just publish the changes to your main site.

Note: If you’re already testing your site, but don’t have all the content for it (which isn’t ideal, but it happens), you can at least fill all the pages with dummy content. I recommend using a Lorem Ipsum generator to get lots of dummy text, fast.

8. Configure Local and Remote Backups

Back up everything, back up often. Look, we’re talking about computers here. I love them, but I don’t trust them. They’re basically bits of silicon that we tricked into thinking with electricity. The most effective strategy for fixing them is usually “turn it off and on again.”

Of course, turning things off and on again can mean losing data, or sometimes your entire website. Then there are things like hackers to worry about, the accidental destruction of hardware, natural disasters… it’s a whole thing.

If your host allows for automatic backups, set them up. If it only has manual backups, then set up a schedule and get used to doing it yourself. Have backups on your site’s main server, have backups on your own computer, and have backups on a third server too, if you can manage it.

You want to have your backup processes in place before you launch your site. Do it now.

9. Install a Security Suite

This is semi-optional, and applies mostly to sites based on a CMS like WordPress. See, WordPress is already okay at security, if you’re careful, and it’s constantly receiving updates to improve your site’s safety.*

But some improperly coded plugins and themes can introduce vulnerabilities (usually by accident), and you can’t always tell which ones will do that. It’s an unfortunate side effect of WordPress being massive and popular.

Fortunately, there are plugins you can install (a whole bunch of them really) to shut down those potential cracks in your system. For your convenience, here’s a guide to the best WordPress security plugins.

* Incidentally, it’s a good idea to turn on automatic updates for WordPress and its plugins, if your host hasn’t already done that for you.

10. Configure Site Information and Permalinks

Here’s some more WordPress/CMS-specific advice: When you first set up your site, you should configure all the settings you want before you even start to put content in. The usual settings include things like your website’s title, any slogan you might want to use, that sort of thing.

You should also set up permalinks. In a CMS like WordPress, you can decide how your links are going to look. For example, if you have a blog post called “My Favorite Futurama Characters,” the link might look something like “myblog.com/my-favorite-futurama-characters.” Or it might include the date, like “myblog.com/20/05/2042/my-favorite-futurama-characters.”

You can even include categories: “myblog.com/movies/my-favorite-futurama-characters.” The choice is yours, and you should decide what kind of links you want before you start putting in content. Changing link settings later can seriously hurt your SEO.

WordPress permalink settings
To configure your site information on WordPress, you want to go to Settings > General.

11. Make Sure Your Site Design Is Cohesive

This is something that can be a bit… difficult, depending on how you set up your site. It’s more than just making sure that your WordPress theme or Wix template matches your business colors. I mean, that’s a good start, but make sure to double-check the little details.

First, make sure you have a favicon image on your site. That’s the little icon that shows up on the left side of your browser tabs, and you can use a favicon generator to make one.

favicon example
Favicons are especially useful when your site visitor has 200+ tabs open.

Also, when you install third-party WordPress plugins, make sure anything they do on the user-facing end of your site matches the theme of your site. Sometimes plugins will try to enforce their creators’ visual style onto your site, resulting in a mishmash of design styles.

12. Optimize Your Images

Using images that are too big, or generally uncompressed and unoptimized, can seriously hurt your site in terms of loading speeds and bandwidth. That’s not to mention your users, who might be on slow connections, or have an internet plan with data caps.

Use this fantastic Compress PNG/JPG tool to make everything easier on yourself and your users. Run all of your images through it before uploading them to your site, and you will save yourself (and your users) both time and money.

Then, make it a habit. Just made a new logo with one of our top recommended logo makers? Optimize the image before you upload it. Taken a few new product shots? Optimize them. Putting an inspirational quote over a landscape for your blog? You get the idea.

Note: There are WordPress plugins that can do this for you, but the best of them cost money. The tool mentioned above is free to use, as much as you need.

13. Optimize Your Code

Literally every kilobyte matters when you’re building a site. For pretty much the same reasons as the last point, you should run your CSS and JavaScript files (if you have access to them) through a “minifier,” specifically this JS & CSS Minifier.

What it does is basically remove all of the unnecessary spaces from your code, saving precious disk space, and helping your site load faster.

Again, there are also WordPress plugins that can do this for you. However, if you don’t plan to make changes to your site’s design too often, or if you’re running a site that doesn’t use a CMS, then the tool I linked above is all you need.

14. Minimize Tracking Code

Speaking of optimizing your code, you should keep an eye on all the tracking code that you might be using on your site. User tracking code is usually based on JavaScript, and it can affect how long it takes your site to load, and how fast your site actually runs on slower hardware.

Now, if you put in just one Google Analytics tracking code, that shouldn’t affect your site too much. But if you throw in code from heatmap apps, and social media tracking apps, and all the widgets you can think of, then your visitors are going to have a worse experience.

Be sure to double-check the performance of your site after installing a new theme or plugin. Some of them will throw extra tracking code into your site, even if only in the form of badly-implemented social media buttons.

15. Make Sure All Content Looks Just Right

So you may have spent a dozen hours getting the home page to look exactly right, and carefully curated every step of the purchasing process. All good. You can just copy/paste the rest of the content in and forget about it, right?

I’ve made that mistake, and it is always a mistake. Double-check every single page you work on. Seriously, just go and preview how the page will look to your users, because copying and pasting content can sometimes cause formatting errors.

Sometimes it’s caused by copying incompatible text from one rich text editor to another. Sometimes it’s because Word put in some extra “secret” formatting like overly specific font settings or text sizes.

Sometimes the computer gods are just feeling peevish that day.

Whatever the case, the only way to avoid silly-looking mistakes at launch is to make sure the content looks right yourself.

16. Install an Accessibility Plugin

Ideally, your site (or WordPress theme) will have been designed in such a way to make it accessible to people with visual impairments, motor skill issues, and more. If your site is hard for anyone who doesn’t have 20/20 vision to use, then it’s designed badly, and it’s making life harder for your users.

Plus, you’re leaving money on the table when those users go off to another site that caters to their needs. Whatever your reasons, you need to be thinking about this. You can start by checking out our guide to website accessibility made easy.

As an extra step, you can install an accessibility plugin for WordPress. These plugins can provide options that can give your site more visual contrast and bigger text, read your text out loud via text-to-speech, and more.

You could start with WP Accessibility Helper, Accessibility Widget, and Text-To-Speech PHP/JS Script Converter.

17. Check for Mobile, Tablet, and Desktop Compatibility

Again, making your site mobile-ready is something that is, ideally, baked into the design of the site from the very beginning. But maybe you’re using a brand new theme, and you’ve customized it a bit. Maybe you’re working with a new designer.

Whatever the case, you’ll need a way to make sure your site is generally mobile-ready, and easy to use on small screens. The best way to do it is with actual physical mobile devices. Use every smartphone or tablet you have around, or can borrow from friends to test your site.

If you’re stuck on your desktop or laptop, though, you can use this Responsive Checker to get an idea of what your site will look like on mobile devices.

An additional note for the nerds: if you’ve chosen to build an AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) version of your site, you can use this AMP Validator to make sure that you’ve built those pages right.

18. Check for Browser Compatibility

In addition to testing devices, you should test your site in every browser you can. Even though most of the big-name browsers these days (Chrome, Opera, Microsoft Edge) are based on the same code, they each have their own little quirks with how they render web pages. Firefox and Safari are different beasts entirely.

So yes, install every browser you can (and install the mobile versions on your phone). If you don’t have a Mac, see if you can borrow one to test your site in Safari. It’s alright if things look a little different from browser to browser; just look out for the potentially site-breaking bugs.

19. Install an SEO Plugin and Get Ready for Google

So, back to WordPress. The best SEO is writing good content, but it helps if you tell Google exactly what kind of content it’s looking at. WordPress isn’t super good at that by default, and that’s where SEO plugins come in.

The most popular one is Yoast, which basically gives you a way to change how search engines will see and interpret every post and page on your site, providing more specific categorization. In Google’s mind, specific search results are better search results.

You could also use a plugin to generate a sitemap file that tells search engines where all of your content is, but you don’t have to. As of version 5.5, WordPress does this on its own.

20. Test Your XML Sitemap File and Your Robots.txt File

Staying on the SEO theme, there are a couple more tools you should know about:

That sitemap file I told you about in the last point? You should probably try out the XML Sitemap Validator, just to make sure the file is present and working properly.

Another small file to consider is your robots.txt file, which is not quite as awesome as it sounds. It’s a file that basically tells Google which content it should scan and re-scan to improve your search results, and which kinds of files it should leave alone. It’s meant to reduce the strain put on your server.

However, an improperly coded robots.txt file can potentially cause server problems and hurt your search engine rankings. To prevent this, have a look at the Robots.txt checker. It can help you make sure that one little text file isn’t causing any big problems.

21. Manual Testing and Tryouts

Now’s the part where you have to get your hands really dirty, and that is testing literally every part of your site. Open every page. Go into every link. Open a billion pages. Try out every contact form or purchasing form you have, and try every possible scenario.

Tell your friends to join you, and look for problems. No, seriously, you’ll need the extra set of eyes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve launched a site, only to have someone tell me a link was broken, or that I missed a typo.

It’s better to be embarrassed in front of a small group of friends than the general public.

22. Test for Connected Services Behavior

Nowadays it’s easier than ever to integrate your site with third-party services to add functionality you might not be able to program yourself. You might use Facebook or Disqus to handle comments on your blog. You might embed an Instagram or Twitter feed.

Heck, you might use Zapier to set off five alarms and a Rube Goldberg machine every time someone clicks the “Buy Now” button on your home page.

But you can’t just embed these things in your page and forget about them. Test them. Refresh the page 50 times. Clear your cookies and see what happens. Go to the site you’ve integrated with, (e.g. Facebook), change some settings over there, and see if they take effect on your site.

Then try it another 50 times, because third-party integrations can be tricky, and occasionally unreliable.

23. Run Even More Performance Tests (This Isn’t a Cop-out, I Swear)

Now that you know your site works, it’s time to make sure it works fast. The absolute first thing you should do is enable Gzip compression, which (as you can no doubt imagine) compresses all of the files sent from your server, and uncompressed them to be displayed in the user’s browser. This can save you a lot of bandwidth.

You should be able to enable this technology in a few different ways. Some hosts allow you to enable it from the control panel, while others might require you to talk to the support team. There are also WordPress plugins that can enable Gzip compression for you.

However you do it, make sure it’s working correctly with the Gzip Compression Checker.

With that done, it’s time to run some more performance tests. Again, GTmetrix is your friend here. What’s the difference between this and the last tests you ran? First, you were just testing web host reliability and general speed. This is about testing the final product, and making sure it runs fast enough for your users.

24. Cleanup

At this point, you probably have some plugins installed that you’re not really going to use. Or maybe you have some pages and posts that are trash. Delete everything that’s not needed, as you usually don’t want to leave things just lying around on your server.

Yes, I’m telling you to clean your virtual room. You’ll thank me when you’re older.

25. Install a Caching Plugin

More performance tips! This time, it’s about caching. You see, CMS like WordPress store tons of information in a database. When you call up a WordPress page, the database needs a second to retrieve the information, and then WordPress puts the content in the page, and displays it for the user.

This can cost precious time, as well as wear out your server hardware a little more quickly. Now, if you’re running a site with a constantly-updating blog, or product feed, that’s unavoidable. However, if you’re running a site that updates at most once a day, you could install a caching plugin for WordPress.

The caching plugin will essentially create copies of your website, sometimes storing them on the server, and sometimes on your users’ computers. That way, when they come back to the site, the page doesn’t have to be generated again, the user is just looking at a copy. This loads the page faster, and saves your server some wear and tear.

Caching can be set up so that the cached data expires, and when the user comes back after a set amount of time, they’ll see your new blog posts, for example.

Once you have a plugin like W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache, installed, run your performance tests all over again! I bet you’ll see a difference.

26. Activate a CDN Service

A CDN, or Content Delivery Network, works a bit like caching. The service makes a copy of your site, and then distributes that copy to servers all over the world. When people access your site, the copy that is located closest to them will be loaded.

Some hosts, like SiteGround, make it really easy to set up a CDN in just a few clicks. Others… not so much. Even so, just about every website can be integrated with a CDN, and you should definitely look into it if you’re aiming for an international audience.

And yep, you know what’s coming. Run your performance tests again!

27. Integrate Google Analytics, Facebook Pixel, and any other services like heat spot mapping

You’ll want to know how people are using your site. You want to know which pages they find most useful, and which almost never get any visits. If you have a shopping cart, but people aren’t buying, you’ll want to know at what point they decided not to make a purchase.

You can use a free platform like Google Analytics to collect this information, though you should be warned that Google also uses that data to sell products. If you’ve got the spare budget, you might try a privacy-focused analytics platform like Matomo or Plausible.

Lastly, yes, run those performance tests again. Some analytics platforms can actually slow down your site a lot, depending on how they’ve been implemented.

28. Continually Improve Your Website’s SEO

A WordPress plugin isn’t enough. If you want people to find your site, you’ll need to use the right keywords in your content and meta tags. You’ll need other sites to link back to yours to establish trust (in the eyes of search engines).

You’ll also need to promote your own site via social media, which can send a lot of “organic” traffic to your site, along with increasing your suite’s visibility to search engines. Then, you’ll need to keep your site up to date. Even publishing a blog post every one-to-two weeks can help keep your site relevant in the eyes of the almighty search algorithms.

The question, of course, is whether or not you actually want to do all of that yourself. Don’t get me wrong, general good SEO practices aren’t insanely complicated. However, they are time-consuming, and a lot of work. You might seriously consider hiring someone to help you keep your site relevant and fresh.

You could hire someone to do this for you for as little as $5 on Fiverr.

29. Regular Maintenance

Even if you’re not regularly updating things like product information or the company blog, log in to your website frequently to make sure nothing is deprecated or needs updating. If it does, update carefully! Always create a backup of your site before you update, and always be ready for something to CRASH.

Do this in the dead of the night, when your users are sleeping (you hope!). Or better yet, perform all updates in a staging environment first, to see how things go. Once you’re absolutely confident that plugin and theme updates won’t break everything, then update your main website.

30. The one-year mark

I recommend purchasing hosting for a single year, because everything can change in a year, and the one-year mark is the best time to check your status. Do you need to upgrade to a better shared plan? To a VPS? Switch to a different host because prices have gone up?

Has your site stayed up reliably? Is it time for your site’s design to get a facelift? Always look to see what can be improved. Abandoned websites often lead people to think the company behind them is dead, and that can be avoided with some tender loving care for your website.

Want More Info? Watch My Video!

Take Your Time, and It’ll Be Easier

So yeah, that sounds more like 1,000 things to do than just 30, but don’t give up. Unless you’re in one heck of a hurry, each of these things can be done a bit at a time. You can work on some of them while you build your site in the first place, and finish the rest after.

Or, if you already have a site launched, you could try to tackle one of these tips every day, and drastically improve your site over the course of a month. The best websites weren’t built in a day, and yours won’t be either.

That’s not a bad thing.

And while you work on the actual building / double-checking of your website, make sure you’re on the right host, as having the right web host can make a lot of the tips I mentioned somewhat easier to deal with. See our list of the best web hosts for more information.

FAQ

How do you become a webmaster?Well, “webmaster” is an old (for the Internet) catch-all term for anyone who builds and maintains a website. To become a webmaster, that’s literally all you have to do. If you have your own little private blog somewhere, you’re already a webmaster. It doesn’t matter what programming language you use, or even if you program at all. It doesn’t matter what software you use, where your site is hosted, none of that. Once you have and maintain your own site, you’re a webmaster.What do webmasters do?Well besides the actual building of the site, the role of the webmaster is one of maintenance. Your task is to keep the site updated and feeling fresh, work out any bugs or issues as best you can, and generally just keep an eye on things. On a community site, or any site with a comments section, you may also have to play the role of moderator. The tools you actually use to do this will depend entirely on how the site was built in the first place, and your own personal skills. Every webmaster’s specific tasks and responsibilities will look a little different.Why is a webmaster important?Simply put, if you don’t have at least one person looking after any given website, things begin to look and feel stale, and your traffic can dry up. This isn’t so much a matter of aesthetics as one of content. For example, if your “latest deals” on the home page never change, and the last blog post is a press release from three years ago, then people might well assume your site is dead. And if the site is dead, is the business dead? Will anyone respond if a message is sent through the contact form? A webmaster keeps the site alive, which keeps the site’s traffic alive, and leads to more conversions.What other tools are recommended for webmasters?As a general rule, you’ll want to have some familiarity with a graphics editor, whether that’s Photoshop, Affinity Designer, or even something like Canva. You won’t always have a dedicated company graphics department to back you up, and it’s almost always good to have some images with your content. If you know what you’re doing with HTML and CSS, the developer tools built right into your browser can also be a godsend. You can usually access these with the “F12” button. Lastly, I’d recommend any kind of task management application, especially one that can sync to your phone. Seriously, they’re a life-saver.

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