Website Launch Checklist for Digital Marketing in 2017

Website launches are a magical time- full of promise and wonder. They are a stress-free time where every stakeholder rejoices and relaxes, knowing that the hard work is behind them. Now all they have to do is let the smooth breezes of the digital ocean carry them to the land of Internet business success.

If you have ever been involved in a website launch you’ll probably recognize that I just lied to you. I’ve seen it from the development agency side, from the digital marketing agency side, and from the business side. And I’ve spent my Friday night putting out flames caused at launch time. (Pro tip: Don’t ever launch of a Friday. Just don’t.)

Website Launch 2017

More often than not, at launch time there are more questions than answers. Maybe they are the right questions… and maybe they’re not.

The idea behind this checklist is to help you ask the right questions and to ensure that you’ve made the right investments in digital marketing in the short and long term.

The good news is: every item on this list can be done for free! And much of it can be handled well in advance of launch (or even shortly after). It is also prioritized to maximize the juice to squeeze ratio. (See then below for more on prioritization.)

What this Checklist Covers

This checklist will help you prepare your site with all the on-site and off-site components of a robust digital marketing machine. It takes into account immediate needs of measurement and basic SEO and sets the groundwork for future success with online advertising and advanced analysis.

The checklist focuses on four key areas of digital marketing:

  • Measurement and Analytics – Analytics tools that allow site owners to identify problems and opportunities, and drill into ways to address them. In my not-so-humble opinion, this is the #1 prerequisite to digital marketing success.
  • Search Engine Optimization – Infrastructure that makes a site more search engine friendly, and metadata to optimize appearance on search engine result pages (SERPs).
  • Social Media and Social Commerce – Components that encourage interactivity and sharing, and metadata that optimizes site content for display on social media platforms.
  • Ongoing Engagement and Advertising – On-site data collection and opt-ins that enable detailed customer segmentation and deep audience engagement.

The list contains some items that are fundamental to every website, and there are others that are more or less important, depending on you digital strategy and operational capacity.

This list could be much longer if you want to get into things like accessibility, branding, in-depth technical SEO, and user experience (which all do affect digital marketing success) but the intent is to keep the list to 20 items and remain focused on the efforts that will have a more direct impact. That is also why it is prioritized.

Prioritization is based on a balance between the effort of implementation and the impact on digital marketing efforts. This matrix tends to be a very reliable heuristic for decision making and prioritization with digital marketing efforts, and this is no exception.

Alright, let’s get on with it! The list is covered in sections and prioritized at the bottom of the article. Get your box-ticking Pen’s Ready!

Measurement and Analytics

Data is fundamental to digital marketing. So measurement comes first because it is the foundation that allows us experiment, iterate, and improve confidently. Free tools can take you the first 80% of the way with some customization, and to get near-perfect fidelity, paid tools are very cost-effective. These free tools will help you understand the “what,” but also they “why.”

  • Google Tag Manager (GTM)

Priority: 1Dev Required Effort: LowValue: High

A few years ago, this would have been, “Install Google Analytics,” but these days,
installing Google Tag Manager takes top priority because it diminishes the need for development resources for a large part of this list. It also allows you to be more agile when it comes to tracking beacons/tags/pixels and even structured data for SEO and social plugins. It also reduces the cost of site updates or migrations because it sets up a framework for tracking that can be used well into the future.

  • Google Analytics Page Tracking

Priority: 1No Dev Required (w/ GTM)Effort: LowValue: High

It’s nearly 2017. I shouldn’t need to tell anybody why you need to have Google Analytics on your site. But in case you have been under a rock for the last ten years, Google Analytics allows you to analyze inbound marketing channel performance, user behavior, and on-site conversion rates. And with GTM , it only takes a few clicks to set up.

  • User Session Recording

Priority: 2No Dev Required (w/ GTM)Effort: LowValue: High

If Google Analytics answers the “what,” session recording plugins answer the “why.” Even if they seem creepy, they are as close as you can come to anonymous over-the-shoulder user observation. These are great for understanding the pain points in the sign-up or checkout processes and give you great ideas for experience optimization texts. I have a couple of favorites in this space, both of which are free and offer pretty great customer service: Inspectlet is good, and HotJar offers a bit more in its free package.

  • Google Analytics Filters, Goals, and Demographic Reports

Priority: 2No Dev Required (w/ GTM)Effort: LowValue: Moderate

These three features are not retroactive. That is what makes them so important to set up when a site launches. They are all processed during collection, unlike segments. So set yourself up for measurement and analysis success by setting up common filters like IP exclusions and domain partitions; common goals like product, lead form, or transaction pageviews; and demographics reports to gain a deeper understanding of your site’s users.

  • Google Tag Manager Data Layer & Events

Priority: 3Some Dev Required (+ GTM)Effort: HighValue: High

If demographic reports seem interesting, then you are going to love having a comprehensive data layer on our website. Fill your data layer with all the variables that your CMS or ecommerce platform has about the user, page, or product as the user navigates through your site to enable deeper analysis and smarter remarketing and conversion tags. Google Tag Manager can enable event tracking for common interactions like clicks and form submits without the need for developer help. If you are not using GTM, Autotrack is another good option.

Search Engine Optimization

SEO is all about relevancy and ranking. It is a site owners jobs to provide as signals as possible about why our site is relevant to a target search term and why it should rank for it. Search engines consider a multitude of signals these days. There are some that coincide with usability that should be baked into site design, like responsive design, HTTPS, pure site speed, internationalization, user sitemaps, and 404 pages. And there are others that serve primarily as signals of relevancy and ranking. These are at the top of that list:

  • Robots.txt file and XML Sitemap

Priority: 1No Dev RequiredEffort: LowValue: High

Yes this is basic, and it goes without saying, but these two files are too often forgotten. The robots.txt file and  XML sitemap are like invitations for search engines to index your site. It is the first step in SEO because you have to be indexed before you rank. There are some technical optimizations that you can make to your sitemap, but fundamentally, any sitemap is better than no sitemap. Most CMS’s will generate a sitemap for you, usually with the file extension “/sitemap.xml.” Otherwise, you can make one online or use Screaming Frog as well and upload it to your site.

  • Google and Bing Webmaster Tools

Priority: 1No Dev RequiredEffort: LowValue: High

Google and Bing Webmaster tools are the closest most people will come to directly communicating with search engine indexes and algorithms. These tools are invaluable for SEO because they will provide insight on how search engines, index, evaluate, and rank your site. Setup email forwarding and keep an eye on these because you SEO success depends on it. Also, while you’re at it, don’t forget to configure search console data in Google Analytics.

  • Submit your XML Sitemap Google and Bing Webmaster Tools

Priority: 1No Dev RequiredEffort: LowValue: High

If an XML sitemap is an invitation an invitation to search engines to index your site, this is like dropping that invitation at the doorstep of your invitees. Being explicit about where your sitemap is will help ensure all your pages, even deeply linked pages get a fair chance to be indexed. While you’re in your webmaster tools, take a look at the Index Status report to see how many of your site’s pages are indexed. If you have new pages that need to be indexed quickly, you can also manually add them to the index.

  • Essential Content and Markup Optimization

Priority: 1Some Dev RequiredEffort: MedValue: High

Google and Bing are intelligent machines but still they are only machines. They need as many signals as they can get to understand the relevancy of your site and its pages. Without going into too much detail, at the very least, ensure that your pages have unique and descriptive title tags, URLs, image alt attributes, and h1 tags that tastefully contain keywords the people use in search. Additionally, strive for at least 100-300 words of unique content on each page. But if you don’t have anything useful to say to the reader, just skip the spam creation. Finally, ensure that your site has a “shallow” architecture meaning that Googlebot doesn’t have to follow too many links just to find your site’s content, and use descriptive link text to help searchers and bots understand the contents of the site. See: SEO 101.

  • Claim Your Business on Google and Bing

Priority: 2No Dev RequiredEffort: LowValue: Moderate

Claiming your business is primarily for local business websites but can be helpful for indexing sites of any kind. Google My Business and Bing Places for Business are important signals for local search algorithms that that brick-and-mortar business depend on. These will get your business onto Google Maps and whatever Bing has for maps, giving your site and your business another opportunity to be found. Related to this would be, if you haven’t, to claim all of your social media profiles for your brand name and point the profile links to your homepage. This will help local and non-physical businesses with search engines’ so-called Knowledge Graphs. More to come on the below.

  • Structured Data and the “Knowledge Graph”

Priority: 4No Dev RequiredEffort: ModerateValue: Moderate

The Knowledge Graph is a term that describes Google’s algorithm’s understanding of the Web and all the things that are represented in it. The key idea for SEO is ”things, not strings.” The Knowledge Graph is ever-evolving, and so are search engine’s expectations of websites who want to integrate into it. The current, and hopefully future, method of signaling what your website and its pages represent is based on schema.og and JSON-LD. Within this embedded JSON script, you can provide signals about everything from who your company’s CEO is, to how long a recipe takes to complete. With this information, search engines can provide what are called “rich results,” such as star ratings, image previews, and breadcrumb navigation in search results.

  • Image and Video XML Sitemaps

Priority: DependsSome  Dev RequiredEffort: ModerateValue: Depends

If your site is very image or video-driven and features a lot of unique content, then image and video search are likely to be very critical to your success. Image sitemaps and video sitemaps are similar to regular XML sitemaps but instead of providing references to pages; they provide references to images and videos. This help to ensure that all your media is indexed and presents an opportunity to provide a little bit more context to search engines about each media file.

Social Media and Social Commerce

This is meant to cover two different spheres of “Social”: Social Media, the interactivity with a brand and the media associated with it; and Social Commerce, the interactivity between humans with the intent to improve customer experience and facilitate commerce. Both “trends” are here to stay and will continue to evolve. So set yourself up right and get social!

  • Fast and Simple Share and Follow Buttons

Priority: 2No Dev Required (w/ GTM)Effort: LowValue: High

You’ve put a lot of effort into launching a great website and now you are thinking about marketing. There is not a more trusted form of advertising than social sharing. And best of all, it’s free! The only thing you have to do is give people a (good) reason to share and make it easy. At a minimum, you can utilize a plugin like AddThis and drop it into your site with Google Tag Manager. If your site/product is strong on images and can attract a Pinterest audience, don’t forget your Pinterest button. And if you want to provide a unique experience, you can plug right into Twitter’s Web Intents API or Facebook’s Open Graph Stories API.

  • Social Customer Service

Priority: 3Dev RequiredEffort: MediumValue: High

The fact is, people are going to mention your brand on social media, so it is important to take the steps that put your brand in a position to interact with your customers in the way that is best for your brand and your customers. This used to mean having an email link, and if you were really nice, a phone number to call (it still does). But now, because the pace of online business is increasing and customers expectations are changing, customers want to use a platform that is more comfortable with consideration to their device and their communication preferences.

To avoid a twitter bomb scenario, offer your customers an easy social medium to interact with you. Two free ways of doing this, depending on your audience, are Facebook Messenger’s platform and Skype. If you want to step it up a notch ($), have a look at Intercom which is a platform built for just this.

  • Social Meta Tags

Priority: 4Dev RequiredEffort: MedValue: Med

If you have invited users to express their opinion about your site by providing sharing widgets, you should also recognize your responsibility to manage your site’s appearance in social shares. Social Meta Tags are the signals that social media platforms use to display images and in-depth descriptions and eye-catching imagery of your site’s content rather than just a URL. This makes your social posts appealing and increases the likelihood that new users will come to your site.

  • Custom Shortlinks

Priority: 5No Dev RequiredEffort: MedValue: Low

Ok, this is more “cute” than anything, but it is a nice and subtle branding mechanism that signals to your audience that you are mobile savvy. Bitly’s custom branded short links allow you to share your site’s content with a nice branded short URL that signals to your customer where the link goes and track engagement at the same time. Like I said, it’s cute, but it’s cool.

Ongoing Engagement and Advertising

As tech evolves to enable higher degrees of interaction, consumers start to expect more timely and personalized messaging and care. To take advantage of these new technologies, there is a foundation of data collection and explicit (and implicit) user opt-ins that need to happen. Here are a few of these ever-evolving technologies that increase audience engagement.

  • Email Capture

Priority: 1Some Dev RequiredEffort: MedValue: High

This might seem like bait and switch but commerce over email is easier, cheaper, more effective, and even more appropriate for some products/audiences. Even if your email strategy is not very sophisticated yet, this form of data acquisition will allow you to employ a newsletter, programmatic remarketing or solicit consumer feedback surveys.

What’s more interesting is that, since the email address is the ID card of the internet, email lists will enable you to understand your user/customer demographics in a new way. Email lists can be used to create Facebook advertising audiences. Facebook will then provide you with demographic data for these lists. You can even take this a step further and buy more demographic data about your audiences for further segmentation. To get started for free: try this API to determine the gender of your customer (requires a first name so collected it too or use this name deducer API if you don’t.)

  • Remarketing Audiences

Priority: 2No Dev Required (w/ GTM)Effort: MediumValue: Low

Facebook Remarketing Audiences give you a better understanding and better interaction with your website’s audience. As mentioned above in Email Capture, creating Facebook Remarketing Audiences will give you demographic insights into your audience and can allow you to specifically target them based on the content they have viewed or the actions they have taken on your website. This type of remarketing can also be achieved through Google’s display network. The good news about that is all you have to do is setup your Google Analytics correctly, and you are all set.

  • Push Messaging

Priority: 4No Dev Required (w/ GTM)Effort: LowValue: Low

I honestly can’t believe this isn’t taking off faster. Push messaging offers an audience /customers engagement method alternative to email that has both lower friction sign ups and a less noisy messaging space. Additionally, this medium is inherently more immediate than email or social because it does not depend on the user to be reading email or on a social media platform. They just have to be on their device. Additionally, this can be tied to your RSS feed to send notifications for news or blog articles programmatically. But remember, with great power, comes great responsibility. Don’t be spammy. For a free recommendation, try OneSignal. It’s not a boy band, but it is very comprehensive and completely free service.

  • RSS Feeds

Priority: 4Dev RequiredEffort: MediumValue: Low

RSS feeds… they used to be a lot cooler. These days, email, push, and social media have reduced the need to keep up with your favorite blog with an RSS feed, but there is still some value to this. If nothing else, they are essential to triggering email alerts, push notifications, and/or social media alerts to your audience.* RSS feeds also enable your loyal and tech-inclined fans to use services like IFTTT to help spread your content.   *It goes without saying, you must be sensible with automation.

End Note

You might be thinking to yourself that this is a mountain of work considering the work it takes just to maintain a website. The key to this, as in any strategy, is to determine the impactful efforts from the speculative ones. This largely depends upon your site, your audience, and your business model. Consider what goal you are trying to achieve and ask yourself if each of these efforts will help you achieve it. But when it comes down to measurement and analytics, the answer is always “yes.”

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