You’ve got a great product to sell or a service you’re ready to provide and some or all of that is going to be delivered via the web. At the very least you’ll want your web presence to cleanly allow communication with your clients and customers, freeing up your customer service resources to concentrate on the real tasks of providing solutions to real problems or supporting delivery.
You’re reasonably tech-savvy but you need a checklist of what you’ll need to have covered come launch date.
Make sure you’re using the right technology for your needs. You’ve got to ask the right questions. What is it you are delivering? How much do I use video and audio? Is it a product or a service? Will a website with a simple response/request model work or do you need a real-time element? Do you require native apps or is a responsive website best suited? Will there be advert placement on the site? Will I be running a PPC (pay per click)campaign to promote the site/service? What needs to be in place before this is launched?
1. For your website, you will need to see that measures are taken to enhance Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Ensure that the robot.txt file is scoped to ensure data you do not want indexed is ignored. You will probably also want to have the sitemap xmls update automatically on publishing new content. When assembling the content for your site, decide on the meta-data to include; social media meta-data will determine how a share of that page on Facebook, Google+, Pintrest etc. will display, alt-text for images will be noted during indexing, as well as be displayed by a mouse-hover over the image and used by screen readers by the visually-impaired. Pages should have keywords in the URLs as well as liberally placed in text. There really isn’t a need to register your site with google and the other search engines anymore but you do need to keep abreast of search engine indexing trends and updates. Websites which used sneaky efforts to up their ranking by search engine algorithms were dealt a major blow in May 2013 when Google rolled out its latest update. What doesn’t change though is the buoyancy gained by being linked to by other people (not your own websites) by including links to sources which mention you and by thinking of the three key attributes which your content should have to engage both real people and search engine algorithms; authority, relevancy and quality.
2. Decide on what kind of usage tracking you want. As a given, you’ll add Google Analytics to the site and indeed Google Mobile Analytics will integrate with your GA account to give a great overview of where you are succeeding and failing in your digital engagement. You may not want to rely on just GA though. For large enterprises Omniture and Comscore are the heavyweights whereas Kissmetrics, Flurry and Mixpanel are popular with smaller operations and there is even an open source solution, piwik. Whatever you decide to use you need to plan what you want to track right from the beginning – there’s a nice primer on that here at Mixpanel.
3. Analytics is more than just referrals and useage data. You will have this data but you want to see what relevance it has to your business with some clear, unanmbiguous processing of your tracking data, your sales, accounts, calender, customer profiles age and location profiles etc. through some nice data visualisation software. There are many options available – microstrategy and tableau are two examples but there are other low- or no-cost solutions. I’ve found Zoho Reports very easy to use myself with some nice options which intelligently produces nice visualisations before you’ve even tweaked what you need to do with your data.
4. In the last four years I’ve seen a huge change in how Content Management Systems (CMS) are both used and regarded. Software such as WordPress, originally a blogging platform have evolved to become sophisticated and multi-functional platforms in their own right, while maintaining the ease of use which made them popular in the first place. There’s a nice comparison of the popular ones here but there are also larger enterprise-level players such as Alfresco and Adobe’s CQ5, now part of their Experience Manager. One of the major advantages of these all-in-one CMS solutions is that most provide things like SEO and Analytics either straight out of the box of via some easily-managed plugins. On the other hand, once locked into these solutions an organistaion which has outgrown its usefulness or wishes to go in a direction not readily catered for, my find it difficult to decouple their CMS from the content rendering, a topic I’ve started to cover here. The clever guys at Metro have managed to get the best of both worlds and use WordPress as their CMS but not have it render the website content itself. Meanwhile the Daily Mail has been stuck with a legacy bespoke CMS for years (I should know, I led the team maintaining it while I was there) which, because of the demands of the business, they are moving content rendering to a series of micro-services before the presumably replace it with something better.
5. Not to be confused with CMS (although often part of it) but Digital Asset Management and Content Distributor Networks (CDN) are beasts of their own which need to be maintained. Do you store your video on YouTube or go with someone like Vimeo or Brightcove and lock those assests down so they can only be used by you? For the website with a large amount of traffic, website images will be placed on a CDN. The other side of the coin is to make sure that you have full rights to the use of the content you plan to use yourself.
6. Everybody wants to be liked and indeed, you’ve probably already set up your Facebook and Twitter accounts well before launch but what other social networks could you be making use of? It’s worth checking out what your intended audience uses and to keep a clsoe eye on your analytics to see if an unexpected source of referrals has arisen. For a webdesigner, the placement of the social widgets can be agonising. You can also easily integrate your social pages into your website like a twitter-feed or an instagram gallery. These need to work cleanly too. One bugbear of mine is how some web apps, instead of opening my Facebook app on my phone will carry me from the app to a browser where, of course, I am not signed into Facebook. Many people prevent apps accessing each other too so allowing an easy option to copy a URL should be included.
7. If you’re moving to a new domain (or indeed launching your site for the first time), you’ll wonder about what email service to use. In case you didn’t already know Google Apps can use your domain name very easily and get the astoundingly useful Google App suite integrated to your domain name – also, this make setting up an alias or group (for instance firstname.lastname@example.org) nice and easy with Google handling your spam filter for you. Bulk mailing solutions and domain email.
Also, your bulk mailing solution (see a couple of options compared here) should be looked at to see if it’s ready for making callbacks to customers who request more information or who are already registered but not yet customers and to whom you would like to offer discounts to entice them. You will need to whitelist this any bulk email service – more on that here.
If your website cannot optimise for mobile and tablet devices, don’t worry, your competitor’s site will!
8. Do you plan to allow comments and include a forum for visitors to air their views or ask questions? What about a FAQ or Search/Help service? How do you plan to moderate the comments? Do you want to maintain the comment and forum history on upgrading your website in the future? Even the mighty Google had trouble with migrating old comments when it upgraded the comments section on YouTube. You can go further than a simple Bulletin Board and create your own Social Network with the likes of socialengine and ning. A clever UI should ensure your website visitors can find everything they have come to look for within a couple of clicks but in the cases where they can’t you should they will need help.. Way back in the last century, web admins (remeber when that was a job?) would provide a long list of frequently asked questions (FAQ). Now natural-language search is a preferred option with many CMSs providing at least a dumb search facility straight out of the box. Predictive and Suggestive Search is nicer still.
9. Responsive design for website. Nothing to say here. If your website cannot optimise for mobile and tablet devices, don’t worry, your competitor’s site will!
10. Now back to the purpose of your website. Is it for profit? Are you promoting your service or selling products? Your website design should provide an easy way to navigate to either your purchase or contact pages and you should provide ample video and image content to demonstrate your business. Link to articles about your business and include endorsements from previous customers. Again, the out of the box CMSs provide many plugins and widgets include shopping baskets and payment gateways. I’ve worked with Zuora which provides a very configurable broker for subscription management, which comes packed with a range of features for plugging into the likes of Salesforce and provides a nifty analytics console to grab data for your visualisation solution.
10. Greengeeks have a nice little summary of shared hosting versus virtual servers. Your hosting solution depends on your expected traffic of course but also depends on the service you have to offer. If you have a mobile app which needs to sync with your customers’ experience when logged into your site, having all traffic go through a common API requires a bit of thought in its setup.
11. There are a number of free options for monitoring or there are enterprise solutions such as New Relic which will give detailed performance metrics for your apps. No matter what size of business you are, you need to make a plan for disaster recovery. Where are your backups? What kind of service level agreement do you have with your hosting service?
That’s not an exhaustive list by any means but once you’ve covered all of that then you’re well on your way to launching your business online.