The New Website Checklist - A step by step guide

The New Website Checklist

I love releasing a new website for myself. It’s like wearing new clothes on the first day of school, or showing off the new car you just bought. Getting it right isn’t always so simple though. As my first blog post, I thought it would make sense to make a checklist of steps to releasing a website. Even for a simple site, it’s quite an undertaking, and if you don’t know what to look for, how are you ever going to find it? Starting with a simple goal and building upon that until you have a finished product is the best approach to take, in my opinion. Use the following steps and links in this New Website Checklist to guide you in creating your next online project.

Define Your Purpose – New Website Step 1

There are so many options out there for websites that it’s difficult to know where to start. Rather than playing Russian Roulette with your new website, pull out a piece of paper or open up Google Docs, and define what you’re doing. Ask yourself, “Am I advertising a product? Am I providing a service? Will I need eCommerce functionality?” Then you’ll want to set a primary goal for your site, something like the following:

  • Build Email List to Generate Leads
  • Collect Newsletter Sign-Ups
  • Sell Products Online
  • Generate Free Quote Requests
  • Educate Users on Topic, Product, or Service
  • Collect Donations
  • Build a Directory Listing
  • Bring Customers to Brick-and-Mortar Location
  • Generate Phone Calls

This purpose will be the foundation on which you build every other aspect of the site from SEO to the layout and design. It’s tempting to build first and optimize later, but if you have a clear goal in mind, your new website will be the better for it. You’ll also save yourself from having to rewrite and reorganize everything after it’s been built.

Pick Your Poison – New Website Step 2

eCommerce

Now that you’ve decided on a purpose, it’s time to choose how your new website will be built. Will you be blogging? Will you need to update your website regularly, but don’t know how to code? WordPress might be the solution for you. WordPress is open source and has a massive community. If you run into a problem, chances are a simple Google search will give you an answer. WordPress has a massive array of plugins and templates available that allow you to build anything from a static website to an eCommerce platform.

Speaking of eCommerce platforms, if you want the convenience of WordPress with a robust product and cart solution, Woo Commerce is the goto eCommerce plugin. Notable companies like Duracell and Ripley’s Believe it or Not have chosen Woo Commerce to power their online stores. It’s easy enough for the layperson, and robust enough for an enterprise company.

Magento is another solid option for those looking to sell product online. It’s also an open source project, and while it has a bit more of a learning curve than Woo Commerce, it’s a good option if you’re looking for something that scales up well. You can find plugins for just about anything, and it will even integrate with your company’s ERP.

Static Sites

If you’re just looking to make something pretty without the hassle, Theme Forest Templates is a good resource for free and paid templates. They’re templates range from WordPress to static websites, and many of the creators have excellent customer service, allowing you to ask questions and receive guidance. If you’re not a coder, it might be frustrating to sift through pages of code trying to find the place to edit your content. And that’s why it might be a good idea to find someone to help.

An experienced web developer is so much more than just a designer. The content in this article is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making waves on the internet. Finding a capable developer that can design, advise, advertise, and maintain your new website can make or break your internet presence. The World Wide Web is a competitive arena, and it takes specialized knowledge to rise above the noise and get some traffic. Do a Google search for a great local developer or contact me.

Make it Look Good – New Website Step 3

As a rule of thumb, your new website should look good. Users will judge the credibility, size, and quality of your company within seconds of landing on that first page. If you see a high bounce rate in your traffic, it might just need a visual upgrade. Google’s Material Design and Twitter’s Bootstrap are two great frameworks that help you build cohesive and easily navigable web pages. Whatever you decide on, it’s important to remember that simplicity always beats complexity. This Harvard Study (PDF) found that greater complexity universally decreased visual appeal to users. While you may have trouble deciding on a priority for that above-the-fold space, your much better off settling on a single item than creating clutter.

Look and feel are also important when designing your website. A good color scheme and typography can really set your design apart. Paletton Color Scheme Designer is my de facto color scheme generator. Just decide on the main color, and choose from an array of palettes that complement that. You can also browse palettes that others have already created. Experiment with them, and you might be surprised how much more your calls to action pop when the colors are right.

Some designs stick with default fonts, which can be a great choice, but Google Fonts has opened up the internet to web fonts. If you don’t know where to start, check out some Font Pairings that have been curated for you. Try using one font for your headings and another for your content. It sets up a pattern for your users and makes it easier to process what’s on the page.

Make sure you have beautiful images, videos (if appropriate), and iconography to supplement your text. People like to see results and examples. Showing your customers what you can do for them is often more powerful than telling them.

Calls to Action – New Website Step 4

Your site should have at least one prominent call to action. This can be a contact form, a button, or a phone number. Your call to action should draw the user’s attention to it by standing out in size, color, font, and placement (whitespace is your friend). Phrases like “Call Now” or “Learn More” are a great way to let the user know what you want them to do. Put these above the fold, and wait for the clicks. Check out Great Call to Action Examples by Brittany Leaning to get a more comprehensive look calls to action. Choose a method and make it work for your new website’s goal.

Make it Responsive – New Website Step 5

Mobile devices are now account for a little more than 50% of online traffic. It’s important to your users, and to search engines like Google, that your website provides a good experience across devices. Responsive design consolidates your mobile and desktop traffic to a single page, which greatly benefits your SEO rankings.  While the experience doesn’t have to be identical for mobile and desktop users, it should be equally usable. Smashing Magazine’s Guidelines for Responsive Web Design is a good guide if you want to approach responsive design.  

Make it Fast – New Website Step 6

After 3 seconds, most users will close your site if it hasn’t loaded. Your goal should be 1.5 seconds or less, and under 1 second is ideal. After you’ve built out your website, use Pingdom Website Speed Test and Google’s Pagespeed Insights to test the speed of your website. Pingdom will allow you to test from various countries, and Google will actually optimize and compress your images (usually with no visible change) and minify your files for you. Small changes like this can significantly reduce your load time and thereby decrease your bounces.

If you prefer to minimize your own files, HTML Minifier, UglifyJS, CSS Nano are great tools for minifying code, and use Photoshop’s “Save for Web” option or Tiny PNG to compress your images. Other optimizations like caching, content delivery networks, and lazy loading will increase your page speed even more. And if you have a blog, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) can deliver virtually instantaneous page loads to your users. Google looks at page speed as one of the primary factors in usability. The faster your site loads, the higher you’ll rank.

Optimize for Search (SEO) – New Website Step 7

Next on the New Website Checklist is SEO. Search engine optimization is a huge topic, and it’s difficult enough that entire companies and careers are built upon this one skill. For most of us, competing with keywords like “kids clothing” will be impossible. Companies like Old Navy and Target have spent millions of dollars and thousands of man hours monopolizing keywords like these. That’s why long-tail keywords are your friend.

By adding more specific details and perhaps even your locale to the keyword string, you’ll find that you’ll be able to compete much easier. Take for example “Bellingham eCommerce Website Design Company,” which is more than 2 words and therefore a long-tail keyword: The likelihood somebody searches for this exact phrase is much less than “Web Design,” but it accomplishes two things. First, it increases the chances that a click is going to lead to a conversion, as users will find exactly what they’ve search for. Second, the length of the term means that fewer companies will be competing, and you’ll rank higher by default.  

Keyword Planning (More SEO) – New Website Step 8

You can use Google’s Keyword Planner to test your long-tail keywords and get some insight on how many searches there are and how competitive your terms are. After you’ve decided on a few long-tail keywords for each page, check out the SEO Checklist at moz.com, it will give you  step-by-step instructions on where to put your keywords, and how frequently they should appear.When you’re done optimizing, try a couple of tools like Google Search Console and Neil Patel’s SEO Analyzer to see if your efforts are producing the results you expect. Use XML Site Maps to generate a sitemap for your completed website, and put it in the root directory. This helps Google and other search engines know how your site is structured, and what content exists.

An important thing to note is that Adwords and basic keyword planning are usually not enough to get your page to rank. Google loves new content, and if your company isn’t producing new pages each week, you need a blog. According to HubSpot, the optimal number of blog posts per month is 11, but even once a week can help increase traffic to your site, and your SEO rank. As with the rest of your site, plan your keywords for SEO. This is one of the most important (if not the most important)  bits of information on the New Website Checklist. If you create content, the Google gods will reward you.

Let the World Know – New Website Launch

Get your site out to friends, family, coworkers, and on social media. Word of mouth and referrals have to start somewhere, and why not with the people you already have relationships with? Somebody in your circle likely needs your product or service, and they have no idea it exists. Check out this post on Google+, Facebook Open Graph, and Twitter Cards, which helps you create beautifully formatted share-links for social media. Get these on people’s walls and watch the clicks come in. I generated several leads in the first week of putting out a post on Facebook. You will too.

Finally, get your company and new website on as many legitimate directories as possible. Not only will you have more exposure, but you’ll also create some low-level backlinks to your site, which increases your SEO score. Start with the following list:

Analyze Rinse and Repeat – New Website Ongoing

Get your site linked up with Google Analytics so you can see what is and is not working. If your call to action isn’t getting enough love, make it bigger or smaller, change its color, move it around. Maybe a small change will increase your traffic, or maybe you need to rethink the entire design. Ask yourself if your new website is accomplishing its intended purpose. Try not to get complacent. The web is a living breathing organism, and your site has to remain active and vibrant to survive. And don’t be afraid to look for help. Running a website can be cumbersome. Time is money. Letting someone else optimize your website might give you more time to focus on the other aspects of your business.

Brian is a Web Developer and Software Engineer living in Bellingham Washington with his wife and three kids.

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