If I were to give any advice about launching a new website, it would be this: expect the unexpected.
I've worked on countless client websites, and from the unexpected, I've learned a website project can quickly go off the rails. Website projects are already notorious for going over budget, as it is. To avoid unnecessary spend, it's critical to cover your bases and cover every step.
In my experience, there are a few critical steps that go into every successful lean website launch.
Lean Website Launch: The Six Critical Steps That Take You From Strategy To Launch
First, it's important to understand that even after launch, you’re never done with your website. Like gardening, there are always weeds to pull and plants to water. In today's fast-moving market, companies who "launch it and leave it" fall behind, fast.
After we launch a website, we use Growth-Driven Design principles to perpetually increase website performance. Using the scientific method, we identify possible site improvements. Then, through testing and validation, we make optimizations based on real user data. This approach removes any guesswork and helps us optimize websites in a measurable way.
This way, we can get the very most from every lean website launch, which typically involves six critical steps.
1. Create Your Website Strategy
First, here’s what you may not want to hear about building a website: the strategy will account for 50% of your budget. An in-depth strategy phase is necessary to conduct customer research, identify your unique value proposition, and develop the buyer journey. The buyer journey is especially critical to building a high-converting website.
Our buyer journey template.
As the buyer journey relates to the website experience, I see it like taking a hike up a mountain. If you started a hike up a confusing, disorienting path, you'd turn back, right? But if you were on a trail with clear markers, plenty of water, and a map, you'd reach the summit.
It's the same with a website. You need to put together a buyer journey to determine the path your visitors will take. When you craft your buyer journey, you'll identify the content and offers that will act as your trail markers. You can create refreshing blog content to keep them going on that path. Any website visitor can reach the customer summit.
2. Identify Key Pages
After you complete the buyer journey and determine the messaging and offers for every stage, you can use it to identify key pages. These key pages will piece your buyer journey and website together. For example, one of our key pages is our homepage.
The homepage is the central hub of our website. It directs incoming website traffic to the next best step. The other key pages each provide a stopping point on the buyer journey, the place where the hiker might consider giving up on the hike. At these points, the pages should offer them whatever it takes to keep them hiking.
For example, if we know at mile-marker 45, most hikers quit because they are thirsty, we might create a "water hole" page right there, and make sure the CTA points to it.
Each page moves the customer forward. For instance, the first CTA button on our homepage leads to our services page.
The page explains how we help deserving brands grow. For many first-time site visitors, the page helps them understand who we are and what we do.
3. Outline and Prototype Key Pages
When I know what my key pages are, I like to list them out in a tracker. I can add the page owner, update the status of the page, and a link to the key page flow.
The actual key page flow is essentially an outline. I can go block by block and build out each section of the page, from the header to the CTA. I use our key page flow template to outline the essential building blocks for each page.
Then, I can draft and build out my website page in HubSpot.
4. Design Prototypes
When you're done prototyping pages and finalizing copy, you can start with design. We design our key pages using this process:
- First Look
- Final Iterations
The design process is as lean as possible. We get design feedback from key stakeholders, make changes, and tweak what's necessary. You can use a variety of tools to collect feedback, but one of our favorites is InVision.
As a note, it's helpful to update your existing brand guidelines before this step. If you design a site only to have your guidelines change, it'll be expensive to go back and design it again later.
5. Code And Final QC
After you finish with design and prototyping, you can hand everything over to your developers. Depending on how many pages you have and the number of people on your team, this process can take up to two weeks.
I typically start with quality control, which can take a week or less. You want to check your pages for spelling and grammar, test the load time, and double-check your links. You'll also want to test your site pages in popular browsers and devices.
Then, I move on to SEO. This should also take less than a week, depending on the size of your site. You want to optimize every page for SEO, which will include double-checking your titles, meta descriptions, and URLs. The last step should come right before you go live. You'll want to set up heat maps and screen recordings that you can use to track how actual visitors are engaging with your site.
Then, time to launch! You'll hit go on your website and get it up and live. We tend to launch at the beginning of the week, which helps us catch any bugs and remaining broken links as soon as possible. Then, after we launch the site, we go back through every page and click on everything again to ensure it all works.
It also helps to send the website to team members who haven't seen it yet. They can look at website pages with fresh eyes, so nothing gets missed.
Mastering Your Lean Website Launch
The key to a lean website launch is collaboration and movement. You want to go through every step thoroughly before moving to another. You want to involve the right team members at the right time. You want to get the feedback you can get in one go. All of these components build up to a successful, high converting website.