The push is over. The bugs are squashed. The content is perfect (except for that one typo on the third line of the fourth paragraph of your about us page). You've worked out every detail to get your new website this far.
But now what?
The launch of a new website is merely the first step in what will hopefully be a brand new adventure in marketing, whether it's for your company, organization, or just your personal site. For many, a website may seem like an online brochure. You design it, launch it, and then you're done. But really you should consider it as a living, breathing and growing tool to help you achieve your organizational, business or even personal goals. Building and launching your site is really only your initial investment. Just like any big purchase, care and maintenance are necessary to make sure you get the most value out of your website.
If you don't already have Google Analytics, or another analytics package installed, stop reading this post immediately and install it. Google Analytics is free and easy to use. And without it (or some other analytics package), you will have no way to measure the success or failure of your new website and all the hard work then went into it.
Assuming you already have Google Analytics installed, it's helpful to test your setup and make sure it's tracking your data. This is especially important if you're going beyond simple pageview tracking, and capturing user actions or goal data for your signups, contact forms, or any other sort of conversions. Google offers some great tools for testing out your Analytics setup.
The easiest way to test your tracking code is right in your Google Analytics control panel: Real-Time analytics, found in the left-hand navigation, does just what it says. It shows you live data about your site.
The Overview page allows you to verify that pageviews are being tracked, and the Events and Conversions pages can help you verify that your conversions are being recorded by Google.
Google also offers a great Chrome extension called Google Analytics Debugger. After installing the extension from the Chrome web store, turn Debugger on, by clicking the icon in the address bar and open the console by pressing Command-Option-J (Mac) or Control-Shift-J (Windows).
After refreshing your site, the extension will print out a lot of information about the Google Analytics code on your page and what data has been sent back to Google. You can continue to monitor the console as you use the website, and see as events are fired and sent to Google.
Using one of these tools will help make sure that all of the important actions you want users to take on your site are tracked, so you can measure your results, and test different techniques to optimize your site to achieve whatever goals you have. Of course, if you need some help tailoring your conversion tracking for your site, we're always available to help you measure your website's success.
Your new site should include an XML sitemap, a simple feed listing all the URLs of pages on your site and the time when they were last updated, which will help notify Google of your site's content.
The sitemap can be generated manually if you have a fairly static site, but in most cases you'll want a dynamically generated sitemap file that updates automatically with content updates and additions on your site. This is easily accomplished using a content management system like CraftCMS or ExpressionEngine.
Once you have an XML Sitemap configured, it's important to submit your sitemap to Google, notifying Google's crawler of every page on your site and asking (begging) them to take a look and index them.
Using the same Google account you used for Google Analytics, login to Google Webmaster Tools. This suite of tools allows you to monitor your site's search traffic and submit your XML sitemap for crawling. If this is your first time using Webmaster Tools, you'll need to add your site with the Add Property button and verify your ownership.
Once this is completed, you can go in and submit your sitemap. Click Crawl in the lefthand navigation and then click Sitemaps. There will be a red button in the top right hand side of the browser to add your new sitemap.
You'll need to input the URL for your sitemap file there and then submit it. Google will read the file and give you back a count of how many URLs were found in the sitemap file. From there it's just a matter of time before your site gets crawled and your pages indexed.
Tip: While you're in Google Webmaster Tools, take a look around. There are some great tools there to help you analyze your site's search presence and search traffic.
Oftentimes a website design and development project is so focused on the tasks involved in getting a site built and ready to launch that we forget to think about what will happen after launch.
How often will you update your content management system for new features and important security updates? Who will you contact when you need help with creating a new section on the site? What happens when there is a bug that you can't fix through the control panel?
I've seen many web development contracts that don't so much as mention post-launch support and maintenance of the site being built.
It's important to remember that your new site is just like any other big purchase you or your business or organization makes. It needs to be well cared for, and it needs to have a plan in place for maintaining, supporting and growing over time. Whether you need help using your content management system, or there's a bug on the site, or it's time for a software update, you need a plan in place to take care of all of these things.
Be sure to talk to your web design and development agency about a maintenance or support agreement. This could take one of many forms, whether it's on an as-needed basis or a more proactive retainer. It's always best to talk about these arrangements early on, maybe even before your initial contract, but it's never too late to make plans.
Of course if you don't have a support plan setup, or you don't want to continue to work with your current developer, we'd love to help. We're always happy to be your web development partner, whether it's a brand new site or maintaining and supporting a site you just launched. Just get in touch with us to talk about how we can work together.