Please note, there is an updated version of this article now available here: How to test a website before you launch: a 28 point checklist.
Launching a website is a little like making homemade soup. You’ve got many ingredients coming together, and before you’re done adding them, you sample it to see that you got it just right. But this step – the testing – is often ignored before a site goes live.
Testing a new website can seem overwhelming. Teams aren’t sure where to start. But you may have more help than you know. Every team member can assist in the pre-launch process.
Most websites have writers, web developers, marketers, search engine optimizers, and network administrators coming together to create the site. These same people can help test it. Here’s how.
For the Writer or Editor
Writers and editors have strong attention to detail when it comes to the written content on your site. And this attention to detail can also be used for other tasks as well. Here’s what they can do pre-launch:
1. Spelling, Grammar, Punctuation
Check for proper spelling, typos, and grammar site-wide.
Fill out the forms on the site and go through the following questions:
- Can the flow be improved?
- Do you get stuck?
- Are the instructions accurate?
- Does the completed form get sent to the right people or person?
3. Site speed
Check the size of your page sizes and their load time. Here’s how:
- Download Google Chrome
- Navigate to your page in Chrome
- Press F12
- View “network” tab
While Step 3 may appear technical, it doesn’t require a very technical person in order to be useful. The Gantt chart on the network tab will show what a page is doing when it loads in a browser. In the top right corner, they’ll be able to see the total load time.
In the Gantt chart, it shows how much time each element takes to load. Almost anyone can help find the culprit slow page. Just show the long, horizontal bars to your web developers or network administrators, and they can help.
When giving a critical eye to the pages within the site, ask:
- Why would I visit this page?
- Is the content ready for visitor?
- Does the page address the audience?
For the Web Designer
Web designers know what the original design intent is, and they have an eye for the visual details. They can usually spot when things don’t look quite right pretty quickly.
Multi-browser rendering is the bane of the Internet, but as website creators, we have to live with it. Check to make sure the pages render well in common browsers. Browser share is a moving target so to help prioritize efforts, here’s a site that continually examines it.
Sometimes font codes get dropped into a page inadvertently and make a letter or a word look funny. Check to see that the formatting is consistent, and look for odd blips in the copy.
Make sure all display text renders on the image when you hover over it (the alt attribute). Make sure the images display correctly. Are they larger than 120 kilobytes? If so, find out of there is a good reason for that. You really only need 72 dots per inch (dpi) for web images in terms of quality.
For the Web Developer
8. Live URLs
Often, sites are built at a URL (uniform resource locator) that isn’t the website’s final destination. When a site goes live, the URLs are transferred from a staging area to production. All the URLs change at this time, and they need to be tested.
On small sites without any tools, you can navigate to each page to make sure they all work. On a site with fewer than 500 URLs, you can use Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool for free to find bad URLs. For larger sites, there is a modest annual fee.
W3C-valid code is the one thing you can do prior to launch to have some confidence around a search engine spider being able to crawl your site. It’s pretty simple to know if a page is valid. You just paste the URL in question here, and you’ll get a report almost instantly.
With that report, you can attack the issues and get the page into compliance. To help even more, here are 10 common fixes.
This is a technique that combines and compresses website code into smaller chunks to speed up your site. You can read more about it at Google. Then, look at the website pre-launch to see if the site is using minify where it can.
11. 404 pages
When a 404 (“page not found”) error occurs, make sure you have a custom page to help your visitor find something else of use, even if it wasn’t what they were looking for. Do you have an HTML sitemap there? Does the 404 page include a site search?
Favicons are those little iconic images that show up in the address bar and tabs of your browser. How does it help? It’s a small branding opportunity that lends credibility to your site. It’s nice to have one when you launch.
For the Search Engine Optimizer
SEO professionals bring an understanding of the web marketing focus. They can look at a number of things with perspective that can help the site right out of the gate with search engines.
13. 301 Redirects
Sometimes content is repurposed or gets moved to fit the new navigation structure of a site. If you have an existing site and you are changing the URL structure with your new site, you’ll want to make sure you’ve mapped the old URLs to the new ones.
The Screaming Frog spider mentioned earlier can be run on both the old site and the new. An Excel spreadsheet is a great way to document this effort. Column A has the old URL, and you place the new URL in Column B. Each row represents a redirect from old to new. On launch day, it’s time to execute.
14. Title Tags/Meta Data
This may sound like old news to some, but this easy-to-fix mistake happens every day. Make sure every page has a title tag, and make sure they are unique.
Also make sure each has a meta description. This is still a common source for search engine spiders to draw from to understand what the page is about and provide visitors with a sneak peak into the page contents from the results.
15. XML Sitemaps/HTML Sitemap
Make sure your new website has an accurate site map in both XML and HTML format. Both users and search engines care about this important element as it helps them find the pages they are looking for when other methods fail.
Make sure Google Analytics or the analytics package you’re using, and Google and Bing Webmaster Tools are set up and ready to go.
17. Social Media Integration
Do the social media icons on the site go to the correct pages? Do you have the right buttons and social plugins installed for what you are trying to accomplish and what you want the user to be able to do? (For example, share a page versus “Like” you on Facebook.)
18. SERP Display
Are the search engines displaying your pages correctly in the search engine results pages? Did you write proper meta descriptions, but they aren’t being used? Are the images you placed on your Places page being displayed in the SERP?
19. Search Engine Submission
It used to be that all new sites needed to submit to be crawled and indexed. Today, the search engines are more sophisticated, and will likely find and crawl the new site anyway, but it is helpful to include this in your launch checklist.
20. PPC Setup
Make sure if you are running any PPC campaigns that it’s set up and ready to go with the site launch. To avoid a lapse in service, if you have a Google PPC rep, you can set and pause all your campaigns to the new URLs prior to launch, and instead of the ads getting disapproved, your rep can approve them manually.
For the Network Administrator
These folks manage your web servers, the software that runs on them, and all the traffic components that keep your web traffic coming in. Their technical expertise on some of these tasks is like gold.
A site monitor checks pages regularly to make sure it is available for visitors. Basic monitors check if the page is working.
Important pages within the site should have enhanced monitors that test if a completed form behaves the way it should. Enhanced monitors are more expensive to setup and keep running so the page in question needs to justify the additional expense.
22. Backup System
Have you thought about what happens if the server goes down? Make sure the backup system is configured properly, and the recovery process has been tested so you know it works.
23. Traffic Loads
Think about what might happen to your site if it gets an influx of heavy traffic. There are load test software tools that allow you to simulate heavy loads. If you are expecting big crowds, this is a must.
24. Protected Pages
Does your site have pages that require user credentials to view? If so, do the credentials work? From the opposite angle, also check to see that the pages can’t be viewed without proper credentials. Make several attempts to get to those URLs without proper credentials to make sure the security is working as expected.
25. Secure Certificate (if Required)
If your site is ecommerce, or you’re using encrypted pages to protect visitor privacy on a form or elsewhere, you’ll want to check your certificate on launch day.
To do this, go to the encrypted section of your site. When the lock appears in the address bar, right click on it and read the message your visitors will read. It should have your name on it and state that it’s valid. If the lock doesn’t appear or the name isn’t right, let your provider know.
Hopefully you can see that everyone on a marketing and web team can be assigned tasks to test leading up to a site launch. This team approach does the best job for the diverse challenge of testing a website. If you can rally your team around these tests, no one person needs to bear the full weight of a site launch.