When is a Website Ready for Launch/Relaunch? by Adam Senour
The Common Misconception
On September 1, 2005, I was contacted by Ivan Schneider of Award Kitchen Refacers. Award had confirmed participation as an exhibitor at the National Home Show in Toronto at the end of the month and wanted to have a website, logo and set of business cards that could be presented to the public to support their offline marketing efforts at that time.
Ivan and I sat down the next week and went through the various materials and sketches that Award had come up with for use on the website. Some of the sketches contained layouts and rough copy for the body of the website.
There was a fairly large volume of material to encompass, and I wasn't sure if I could cover all aspects of it along with other client work. I asked Ivan, "I'm not sure if I can complete the site, cards, and logo by the end of the month."
"What do you mean? You want to go to the home show with a completed site."
"No I don't. I'd be happy with the opening page, and a couple of the writeup pages. You can worry about some of the other details after. And over the next few months, we're going to keep improving on it anyway."
It was then that I realized something that had been engrained in my mind over my six years as a web designer/developer was totally incorrect.
The misconception: "A website should only be revealed to the public when it is complete." The truth: "A good website is never truly 'complete', and is a constantly evolving entity unto itself."
One of the unique aspects of the Internet is that designers and developers are constantly pushing its boundaries from both the design and development standpoints, discovering new and more efficient ways to accomplish tasks, developing new coding standards, improving their graphic abilities, and taking advantage of newer technologies and programs as they become readily available to the populace.
This, in conjunction with the continued growth of the businesses that said websites represent, creates a state whereby effective commercial websites are in a continual, Darwin-like state of evolution. Content is added; functionality is improved; new features are implemented; graphics and site layouts are tweaked and, when necessary, completely redone. All of these things considered, the question becomes: When is the best time to launch a new or redeveloped website?
When is the Best Time to Launch a New or Redeveloped Website?
Does your site meet or exceed the standards set by the competition? Every commercial website, regardless of the industry it pertains to, will have competition in some form or fashion. Analyze your competitors' websites and see whether or your not your site compares favourably to theirs.
Does your website possess a unique property that will enhance your business in comparison to those of the competition? Every business needs a way to distinguish itself in order to "bring it to the front of the pack", and the same holds true with websites. The unique property could be anything, from a custom quote request form to a never-before-seen layout to a high level of search engine optimization. It could even be as simple as effective body copy.
Whatever your unique website property is, it is of the utmost importance to get it to market as quickly as possible in order to derive the maximum possible benefit from it before a competitor discovers it.
Be prepared to expand on this unique property if necessary. One of the unfortunate aspects of Internet marketing is that, as soon as something new is discovered and proven to be successful, others will copy and/or improve said property. If possible, you may wish to consider holding back some aspects of your unique property for future development and launch as an insurance policy.
Do you have a deadline that cannot be altered or "pushed back"? In the case of Award Kitchen Refacers, the home show was at the end of the month and was not going to be changed for any reason.
In situations like these, consider launching a smaller version of the site that can still be considered "complete" (no dead links, etc.), and then add to it later.
Does it meet a satisfactory level of completion to the majority of the target market you wish to reach? Ensure that there are no links on pages that lead to missing pages or pages "under construction"; images aren't broken or missing; textual copy is clear, concise, and as free of typographical and spelling errors as possible; and that there are no potential coding issues that interfere with customers' ability to find the site via search engines, use the site, and gather the information and resources that they require.
At this point, a site doesn't have to be "complete" per se. It just has to be "presentable". A good developer will be able to make the changes required to improve the site with minimal impact on the usability of the existing site.
Is the site structured in such a way as to allow for quick and easy changes to the style and layout of the site? Are fonts and layout styles kept separate from the content? Does the navigation bar allow room for additional options if necessary?
If you are a not a designer/developer, here are a few quick things you can look for to help you determine how easy your site is to update and add to:
Consistent navigation, headers and footers among the various pages. If you notice strange behaviour in these two areas (changing of the position of the header and footer relative to the body, the navigation appears different on different pages, the header looks different across pages of the site) that you did not specifically outline, chances are that your site is not structured for growth.
Consistent use of font and layout styles and spacing. Your site, if structured correctly, should have the same font size and style for body copy across all of its pages, in order to ensure the consistency mentioned earlier. Header text and other textual elements should appear the same throughout the site as well.
Does your site make use of interactive elements (e.g. forms), and/or do pages on the site end with extensions other than .htm/.html? HTML is the output code which browsers read and generate the pages of a website from. However, HTML is a display language only; it cannot implement features such as form processing, search, message boards, and the many other rich interactive features that make up the Web.
These elements require a level of programming that HTML simply cannot provide, and a developer that has the ability to integrate these elements into an existing website also has the ability to develop and grow a website in an infinite number of directions.
Does your site draw information from a database? If the answer is yes, then your site also requires the level of programming mentioned in the previous point.
Can you receive positive, yet constructive feedback from people when you show your website to them? If you show your friends, family, and colleagues your website and they give you positive feedback on various aspects of it, then it's a pretty safe bet that your site is ready for launch.
Be careful and use your best judgement when you receive feedback. Don't accept comments along the lines of "yeah, it's great" as positive feedback; look for comments such as "I like your use of colour, and the copy is easy to read." In other words, try to elicit comments on the various aspects of your website.
For more information on how you can gather such comments, please visit a previous article I have written entitled Eliciting Constructive Website Feedback.
Does the website pass the "24-hour/48-hour" test? Depending on how much time you have, take a look at the site and then make a conscious effort to avoid dealing with or looking at the site for a period of at least 24 hours. Once you feel you have a set of "fresh eyes" to examine the site again with, then proceed to look at your site again.
Sometimes when working on websites, or when we work with others on websites, we get involved to the point where we often miss certain areas in which a site can be improved quickly because we're too engrossed in the development of the site. By stepping away from your website, and then looking at it again, other ideas and ways to improve the site may come to mind that previously did not.
By ensuring that your website passes as many of the checks above as possible, then you will in turn ensure that your website will meet or exceed its defined goals.
About the Author
Adam Senour is the owner of ADAM Web Design, a leading web design and development company in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.