Building a brand new website or redesigning an existing one is exciting. There are plenty of “fun” parts of the process that people are happy to jump right into, and that never get left off the to-do list. Those things usually have to do with design, information architecture, and planning the really cool features that make a site distinctive. There are some critical items, too, that tend to get overlooked, and when it comes close to launch time, will stop you in your tracks and make you wish you had read this post.
Here is a look at five of the most overlooked steps of building a website. Include them so your launch goes smoothly — and you can enjoy all that cool stuff you planned.
1. Image Planning: Chances are, you’ve put some thought into the information architecture and created a site map. You’ve probably planned out the content, too. Stop! And remember: your content is more than words. The pages of your site should be visually interesting, and I’m not just talking about a good design. No doubt you’ve thought long and hard about the design, but you might have underestimated the importance of images.
Consider imagery well in advance of launch. Will you use photos, drawings, icons, or something else? Will your images be a literal representation of what’s on the page, like this site that sells beds and toys for dogs? Or will they be a conceptual representation of your brand or ideas, like the site for this creative agency? Think about the types of images you prefer, and be sure to research the cost. You might like the idea of illustrations or a custom set of icons but later realize you don’t have the budget for it. Settle on your image type and budget before you start writing so your visual and written content are coordinated.
2. Hosting: What good is a great website if it’s always down? Decide well in advance where you’ll host your site, and get the details all wrapped up with your partner. Before making your hosting choice, consider:
- How reliable is the host? A host that guarantees 99 percent uptime sounds pretty reliable, right? That means there is only a one percent chance your site will be down. One percent of a year is 3.65 days. Are you ok with your site being down for more than three days each year? Probably not. Look for a hosting solution that guarantees an uptime more like 99.99 percent. With this scenario, your potential downtime is around eight to nine hours each year, not days.
- What is the service level for your plan? Some hosting providers give different levels of client support based on the package you purchase. Once, when using a host like this, our site was down, and our plan didn’t provide the option to call or email someone for assistance. Limited to chat, I had to continually restate the problem and the steps taken, and I had to keep checking back for a progress update. Make sure you know what kind of service you will get.
- Is your hosting service the best choice for the technologies you will be using? Some hosting providers are optimized for multiple platforms, while other hosts will only work with a limited list of systems. Make your choice before you get too far into your process. This can have a big impact on your site’s performance.
3. Special Pages: As you write copy and find images, you’ll naturally address all of the main pages in your site map, but there are other pages that often get overlooked that are just as important and can have a major impact on the user’s experience. Examples include:
- Thank you pages: After users complete a form on your site, you probably have a confirmation page to let them know the information was captured — and to thank them for filling it out. Take advantage of this feature, and set it up as a conversion goal in your analytics software so you can understand what activities drive people to complete the desired actions.
- Error 404/Search Not Found pages: As people look for things on your site and get lost, or when they search for something that just doesn’t exist, take advantage of the situation when the dreaded “Error 404” or “Search Not Found” page pops up. Add content that shares some important information, and suggest pages on your site that might help users find basic information about your product or service. Link to an eBook, or do something really creative that fits with the look and feel of your site (i.e., your brand) but also entertains or engages the user in another way.
4. Compatibility: Your browser of choice may be Chrome, but your audience may prefer Firefox. As you work on your site, make sure it renders well in all of the main browsers and operating systems. Test it in Chrome, Explorer, and Firefox. While you’re at it, don’t forget mobile. With the increased use of smartphones and tablets, you want people to be able to access your information on the go. If your current site doesn’t receive a lot of mobile traffic, don’t take that as a reason to forego it. Be forward thinking and plan for what might be, not for what is. Make sure that you have a strategy for how your site will render on smartphones and tablets, whether it’s a responsive design that resizes to the screen, or uses a stand-alone separate mobile approach.
Look at your analytics so you can understand how much traffic you’re getting from different browsers, operating systems, and devices, and pay attention to whether your users are taking your desired actions.
5. 301 Redirects: When refreshing or updating an existing website, any pages on the old site that don’t have the exact same URL on your new site will need 301 redirects, which allow search engines to find your page, enable your site to keep the history (or favorable organic rankings) associated with it, and boost your chances of staying in touch with those who used your site in the past. A 301 redirect will route anyone who has bookmarked a URL on your old site or visited (via a link) from another site to a comparable page on your new site when your URLs change.
Put these five things on your website planning to-do list, and you’ll have fewer headaches when launch rolls around. Know any other often-forgotten to-dos that should be on my list? Let me know in the comments below.
Think your website needs an update but aren’t sure where to start? Get an objective view of what works and what doesn’t with our website assessment.