Launching a Website? Here’s What You Need to Know Tom Armitage Senior Digital Marketing Team Lead Tips for Tackling Your New Website Project and Best Practices to Improve Website Speed, Performance, and OptimizationWebsites have come a long way over the past two decades. It might sound cliche, but things were a lot easier then.It was possible to get away with a simple site and basic search engine optimization (SEO) before seeing loads of success in terms of traffic, form fills, and sales.Like anything in the technology world, things have gotten a lot more complicated. Websites can now be fully customized and come equipped with all sorts of rich features that can improve customer experience.It’s important that website managers are mindful of the necessary steps involved in properly launching and maintaining a website – lest they run the risk of seeing negative impacts in search engine rankings and conversion rates.The Importance of WebsitesDespite a rapidly changing landscape, websites continue to be the lifeblood of most organizations’ marketing programs. Marketing and sales can take place in all sorts of places and platforms – from in-person to social media to email – but websites remain the “home base” where conversions take place.That’s why so much time, effort, and resources are put into websites.B2B companies should continue building a new website every 3-5 years. That’s because, over that time, company goals may be updated, trends tend to change, new features become popular, Google’s algorithm is tweaked, companies go through branding redos, and sometimes it’s good to just have a fresh new look.Before Going LiveThere are a number of items that go into building a new website. Most teams follow a similar process. It usually consists of some version of the following:PlanningSitemapWireframeDesignDevelopmentSEO and contentTestingTracking setupLaunchIt can be an intense amount of work, especially if the website is large.But beyond those notable steps/items, here are some other – often overlooked – areas to be mindful of.1) Choosing A ThemeMost websites sit on some sort of content management system (CMS). WordPress is the most popular of the bunch – powering more than 450 million websites and the clear market share leader. Websites built through WordPress (or another CMS) can be either custom-built or lean on a templated framework. Templates, sometimes called Themes, have grown in popularity as the number of options and features have become almost endless. The unfortunate truth is that many Themes look great, but perform horribly. They come equipped with too many features (in an attempt to cater to a diverse set of businesses) and sacrifice speed and performance as a result. It’s important you start with a Theme that doesn’t have bloated code and offers top-tier performance.2) HostingUnlike your domain (which is the name of your website and purchased through a domain registrar), hosting is where your website resides and where the files are digitally stored. Every website requires a hosting environment. And there’s a number of them out there to choose from. It’s wise to consider where you host your site, how much storage space you need, and whether you can use a shared environment or require one that’s dedicated. A VPS, or virtual private server, offers a dedicated or private server and can improve website speed and security.3) SSLSSL stands for “secure sockets layer.” If a site has an SSL certificate, there will be a little lock icon next to the domain name within the browser. SSL is a protocol for establishing authenticated and encrypted links between networked computers. Simply put, it helps make your site more secure. It’s an absolute must for sites that invite users to submit information – either by way of form or transaction. It’s still highly recommended for any other site, too, since it provides peace of mind for users and is used as a ranking signal for SEO. Cost is minimal – about $50 for the year – and would normally be set up at the host level. 4) RedirectsWhen companies move from an old site to a new one, there’s naturally going to be pages that are either deleted or moved. In both cases, redirects need to be used. This tells both search engines and users where the new pages are located and avoids 404 errors. Beyond that, internal links should be reviewed and corrected if they use testing or staging URLs. And www vs non-www domains should have site-wide redirects implemented.5) SMTP and EmailSMTP stands for “simple mail transfer protocol.” It’s a protocol used to more securely (and with more accuracy) send emails from account to account. By enabling it at the website level, it helps improve the process of receipts of successful form submissions being sent via email to end-users (either notification emails for internal team members, or external confirmations to those who submitted). Set up SMTP and update your form software with the appropriate credentials.After Going LiveA new website is like a new car.You wouldn’t walk off the lot without a plan to properly maintain it, right?It needs to be kept clean. You need to fuel it with premium gas. You need to get it inspected at least once a year. You should rust-proof it, change the tires, and swap out filters on a regular basis.Treat your business website the same way. It’s an engine that needs to be fueled. A machine that needs upkeep.By maintaining it, your website will perform better, faster, and warrant higher quality results for your business.1) PluginsPlugins are pieces of software that can be added to a website to provide extra features or functionality. With an open-source CMS like WordPress – there are tons of available plugins. Some bad, some good, some free, some paid. Some plugins can impact performance. In particular, these can improve site speed through caching or code optimization. Some examples for WordPress include WP Super Cache, Autoptimize, and Async JS. 2) CDNWebsite speed is a critical component today for SEO. It’s one of the factors Google is now looking at as part of its core web vitals update (issued in summer 2021) when deciding on how it ranks websites in its search engine result pages. CND stands for “content delivery network.” This is a shared group of servers where images or other rich media reside. When loading, these media files are called in from a location on the delivery network closest to the visitor. And it usually allows them to load faster and improves overall site speed. 3) UpdatesIt’s important to continually check a website for updates. That goes for both the website Theme and the plugins being used. Both have regular updates. You’ll want to install the updates but also make sure there are no conflicts between existing plugins or with the Theme, as this could negatively affect the website. Check for updates but regularly monitor.4) Web AccessibilityOne in five people has some sort of disability today. It’s important that websites are built/updated in such a way that allows better accessibility for all types of users. Not only is it a best practice but it’s required by law. By building your site with web accessibility in mind, or leaning on a third-party web accessibility tool, you can help your site become more compliant and reduce the risk of an ADA-related lawsuit. It can help with SEO too.5) Ongoing SEO and ContentWithout content, your website would be an empty shell. Nothing to look at, nothing to experience. Naturally, you’ll need to perform content and SEO work ahead of launch – or else nothing will be on your site. It’s best to start with a keyword strategy and build (or re-build) your content based on those areas of focus. You’ll also want to write custom title and description tags, alt tags (for images), proper headlines (H1, H2, etc) with those keywords in mind. Consider rich snippets too (code level markup that tells search engines what type of content to expect on certain pages). SEO and content aren’t done when the site goes live though…Search engines dislike stale sites and it’s important to be constantly building new content that’s optimized and can drive more and better visitors to the site. Keep relevancy in mind at all times. Make sure your keywords and the content you are choosing to create will resonate with your target audience. Consider blogs, articles, case studies, additional product pages, event listings, and team bios; which are some examples of pages that may appeal to your audience and can help play a role in driving traffic and conversions. SummaryIn marketing and sales, it’s understood that there are many touchpoints to make a sale. Regardless of the business, the website is almost always involved in that process. Whether that’s part of the awareness, research, consideration, or purchase (or all four!) – the website acts as a cornerstone within the buyers’ journey. That’s why it needs to be treated with high levels of attention and care, both during the website build and as part of ongoing management. Website managers often overlook critical steps throughout a website’s life cycle. This list highlights some of the important areas to take into consideration to increase speed and performance of your site which leads to greater levels of traffic, conversions, and ultimately more sales.