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Launching a website? Get ready for a busy few months. So much time, talent, and money goes into building a new site—yet roadblocks can still easily push back your launch date. Here are some tips on how to keep your project rolling forward and on track.

1. Plan well from the start

If you're a website vet, you'll know that good planning can save you days of stress. Create a solid project plan by deciding on goals, milestones, and responsibilities for each team member, making sure there's enough room for flexibility when inevitable surprises pop up.

  • Know when to bring on outside help. As you build your team, identify your in-house weaknesses and compensate by bringing in new talent—an agency, a contract UX designer, a writer, a new developer... Trust experts in areas that aren't your forte.
  • Rally the troops in a kickoff meeting. Set the tone for your project with a productive kickoff meeting. Let the team brainstorm, but block off time to identify project goals, milestones, and decision-making processes for moving things forward.
  • Set goals that work for everyone. Depending on their role, each person will have a different definition of success. Set goals for user experience, lead generation, revenue, website performance, and so on, and benchmark them against current numbers from analytics applications, such as Google Analytics.

2. Lock down messaging early

If there's any waffling over your company's mission, product or service positioning, or brand image, now's the time to work it out. Spend time building personas and agree on messaging before you write site content to avoid deliberation over every page and paragraph.

Unless you're working at a new company, you're probably sitting on a wealth of content already. Make sure nothing valuable falls through the cracks—and that nothing embarrassing makes it to the new site—by taking doing a content audit of all your content and deciding whether to keep it as is, repurpose it, or scrap it. Doing this will help you come up with content for the site later on.

3. Ensure that you're using the best technology

Just because you're now using a certain CMS or hosting provider or project management tool doesn't mean it's the best. Do your research and get the opinions of experts you trust before deciding to move forward on the new site.

Give your marketers the best publishing tools

If you can't manage content like a publisher, your website may be to blame. Agility doesn't just apply to development; your marketing team also needs a way to quickly publish, update, and improve upon content on your website without relying on someone from IT to administer the changes.

Research open-source CMS options, such as WordPress and Drupal, to find the most flexible, marketing-friendly technology that still provides the security and performance your IT team needs.

Give your developers the best workflow tools

The developers working on your site can accomplish more when they can code and test using today's best-practices. Ask what they need—tools for continuous integration, quick prototyping and testing, and reducing time spent on configuring servers—and invest in it.

Doing so will dramatically decrease the time and money they spent on administrative tasks and bug-fixing, while saving you hours of stress from dealing with unwelcomed surprises on the live site.

Make publicity and high traffic a truly good thing

If you're not using reliable, fast hosting, you're putting your site at risk when traffic spikes. The cheaper options can sometimes backfire, and you'll end up paying more responding to emergencies or losing customers when the site goes down.

Carefully research hosting and website management providers to make sure you can handle the traffic that a well-placed PR mention or viral social post can bring to the website.

4. Project-manage like it's your job... because it is

Once your site is in the build stage, you'll have to work hard to keep the project moving. Use a project management tool, such as Trello, Asana, and Teamwork, to track tasks and milestones.

If you're working with an agency, make sure you're holding regular check-ins to see firsthand what's been accomplished each week.

Make meetings useful, not wasteful

When you hold brainstorming meetings, come prepared with ideas and supporting materials to get things flowing if no one's feeling creative. For status meetings or gatherings with a single goal in mind, time-box agenda items so you don't go off course. Knowing when to make a decision and move on will keep you on target for launch day.

Don't succumb to perfectionism

From messaging to feature-building, don't try to make things perfect before you launch. Know how long you're willing to spend on each stage and when it's "good enough." It's important to deliver a product you're proud of, but embrace the practice of constant iteration: Launch a great site, but continue to optimize and perfect the experience after launch.

Beware the usual suspects

What slows a website down? It's often the same culprits, so plan for these common obstacles:

  • Integration with third-party apps. Build in extra time for quality assurance (QA) and testing for apps that require integration with your site.
  • Agreeing on final content. Enforce tough deadlines and have an editor do a round before launch to ensure proper voice and consistency.
  • Differing opinions. Whenever possible, let data speak for itself. If it's completely subjective, designate a decision-maker for each area of the project.
  • DevOps disasters. Use reliable technology that automates sysadmin work to avoid last-minute server issues.
  • Building and testing new features. Use continuous integration and workflow tools for rapid prototyping.
  • Approval and billing delays. Communicate regularly with the stakeholders, agency, and website owner. Set milestones for deliverables.

5. Prep for launch with the entire team

About a month before your planned launch date, start checking off your final to-do list. Train the team, test the site, and optimize for performance so launch day is fun, not scary.

Have everyone committed to QA

Get your entire team on board to test forms, links, redirects, landing pages, and integration with other software. People with fresh eyes should read content and identify errors or confusing copy. Do some user testing before the site goes live with people who haven't been working on the project.

Run through your technical launch checklist

Once your site looks and feels ready, grab your dev team and run through a list of technical items to complete before launch. The team should be able to detect possible performance issues and plan for things like backups, deployment, and releasing fixes after launch. (If you don't have a list, you can use the one in this launch guide.)

Get excited on launch day!

If you've covered your bases, you can wake up on launch day with confidence. You know you can handle the traffic, your content is gold, and all functionality has undergone extensive QA. Thank your team for all of their hard work, go live, and watch your new site in action.

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image of Laura Dambrosio

Laura Dambrosio manages content and social strategy for Pantheon, a website management platform for Drupal and WordPress.

Twitter: @ledambrosio

LinkedIn: Laura Dambrosio

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