Managing a website launch to completion is a challenging task with many moving pieces. If you’re also responsible for other marketing projects, it can be tough to move the endeavor forward. As the project manager for more than 10 website launches, I can attest that these six tips will help make your launch go smoothly and on schedule.
1. Confirm a project manager
This may seem like a wasted step, but it’s not. It’s important that managing the launch on time is the responsibility of one specific person. Managing a project requires someone to set deadlines, hold folks accountable, and follow up to ask for updates well before the launch date. When no one has been explicitly assigned to the project manager role, the school risks allowing the project timeline to extend into infinity.
2. Create a site specification document and a folder for assets
I didn’t learn this trick until my first website launch at Cheshire Academy. We had so many graphics going on the site, and so many people were in charge of writing different sections, that we ended up needing a way to organize the information so that it was easily accessible for everyone. I now like to create one folder for the entire project with sub-sections for each level one menu item. Now, when I need to find an old graphic, it’s right there in my website asset folder. It’s also helpful for folks who are planning to hand off the website management post-launch, that way the next website manager has access to all necessary files.
In addition, I love having a site specification document with logo and color palette information, along with photography and graphic dimensions. This is extremely useful if you’re working with a graphic designer and need to outsource any graphic elements. I personally refer to the color palette and graphic dimensions constantly.
3. Develop a timeline and assign deadlines. Follow up often enough to be annoying.
Three different people were responsible for writing the web content for the Cheshire Academy website redesign. We split up the content and clearly assigned each person a level one menu item to be responsible for. We set a deadline six months in advance, and followed up with each person at least once a month. When it became clear that one person would not meet the deadline, we redistributed her content to other writers, providing plenty of time for the decision to not affect the launch date.
4. Get stakeholder approval at every stage
Web launches have major stages: budget, design, development, content writing, QA, and then launch. Once you’ve moved forward into another stage, it can affect the timeline and budget to go back. For example, if the design has been approved, the project is exiting the design stage and moving into development. Any changes to the design can be costly at this point, since the developer has already invested hours in bringing the design to life. That’s why it’s really important to get clear stakeholder approval at every stage.
Just because you’re managing the project, doesn’t mean that you can give the approvals: it does mean that you’re in charge of running around to get the approvals, though! Likely your designer will mock up the website in photoshop for approval. Make sure to organize a meeting with your head of school, director of marketing, and anyone else who may need to approve the design. Use numbers and digital marketing best practices to get the approvals you need to move forward in the project. At Cheshire Academy, we sent out surveys and conducted in-person testing with prospective families using mock ups of the potential new designs. This data allowed us to approach stakeholders with real feedback from constituents.
If a stakeholder withholds approval for an unreasonable amount of time, make sure they’re aware that this will cause a delay in the launch of the project. Your designers and developers are counting on you to manage and communicate the timeline with stakeholders, and they can’t be expected to develop a website a day (or even a week) after getting the go-ahead.
5. Read everything. Click everything. Question everything.
My three mantras for QA (quality assurance) are exactly what I say when I ask team members to vet a new site. Extra white space might mean a design choice, but it also might mean a widget isn’t loading properly. For the Cheshire Academy launch, which contained hundreds of pages of totally rewritten content, four team members sat in a room for three days with the site on a projector and an iPad, reading, clicking, and questioning everything. The 1794 magazine microsite contained less content and fewer pages, so the team clicked and questioned independently before the launch.
6. Measure success
Add Google Analytics to your site. If you designed your website to increase conversions, make sure you measure your conversion rate and compare it to your old website in order to measure the success of your work.
Finally, did your website launch go as planned? Add it to your portfolio! Share it on Facebook! Write a blog post about it! Web trends don’t stay current forever, and it’s likely your project will cease to exist in three to five years. Appreciate your design while you can, and start thinking about your next project!