The Mission-Critical SEO Checklist for New Websites by @bobjones

There’s few things more exciting to me than launching a new website after weeks or months of development. It’s that moment when the world finally gets to see your new baby. 

But before you press the launch button, have you made sure your SEO game is in the best possible state? I have seen launches ruined due to simple mistakes that could have been easily avoided had the developer used the checklist below.

Note that this isn’t “The Complete and Exhaustive To Do List for Launching a New Website“. Rather, these are all the SEO bare essentials that you need to either do or check before a site goes live.

General Things to Do Before Launching Your New Website

  1. Google Analytics: From day one, you’ll want to start monitoring and measuring your traffic. There really is no excuse not to install GA. No need to configure it, just grab the UA code or implement through Tag Manager. Depending on how GA has been implemented, you can either check by viewing source and searching for “UA-“ (see gif 1.1) or my preferred method which is to use the Google Tag Assistant plugin on Chrome.
    View Source for Google Analytics

    Featured image created by author. Screenshots by author taken on March 2017

  2. View Source for Google Analytics.
  3. Double and triple check your robots.txt file. You wouldn’t believe the amount of client sites I’ve seen that were pushed live by their developers with a “User-agent: * Disallow: /“ in there. If you need to read up on what robots.txt is, go here. Although there can be many other reasons why your website isn’t getting indexed, I’ve found in my experience that this is the biggest culprit. Probably because it’s such an easy thing to overlook when you’re busy developing the website.
  4. Add a Facebook pixel because chances are, sooner or later, you will want to start marketing your website on Facebook. By having a Facebook pixel on your website, you can start collecting data to build custom audiences from at a later stage. This enables you to effectively retarget people who visited your website with Facebook ads.
  5. Setup Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools) completely. This means make sure you verify WWW, non-WWW and HTTPS if you use it, set your target country under international targeting, set a preferred domain (Screenshot 1.2), link Google to get Search Console data in your GA, submit a Sitemap.xml, and finally hit the “Fetch as Google” button. Also, just submit the site to Bing — this won’t take but a minute or so.
    Set Preferred Domain Google Search Console

    Featured image created by author. Screenshots by author taken on March 2017 1.2 Set Preferred Domain Google Search Console

  6. Do a crawl of your site with Screaming Frog and/or check your links with a tool like Link Sleuth (Windows) or Integrity (MacOS). You’ll probably find a bunch of broken links or placeholder pages (lorem ipsum dummy pages) that you can either fix or remove.
  7. If you run a membership or e-commerce site, go through the checkout process on both desktop and mobile to make sure everything works as it should. There’s nothing worse than not making any sales simply because you’ve left your payment gateway in sandbox mode.

Specific Things to Do Before Launching a New WordPress Website

  1. Update to the latest version of WordPress and update all your plugins. Remember that during your development cycle, an update could have been released, so be sure to check.
  2. Create a backup version of the site in its most basic version (without all the fancy and shiny plugins you’ll probably want to add later). This ensures you have a solid install to go back to in case you get hacked or break stuff. The Duplicator plugin is my preferred option but there’s plenty of others available so go and see what you like.
  3. Check if you’re using WWW or non-WWW.
  4. Make sure the checkbox “Discourage Search Engines from indexing this site” under Settings/Reading is not checked (screenshot 1.3) . This is the robots.txt fail I mentioned before, except on WordPress.
    Discourage Search Engines WordPress

    Featured image created by author. Screenshots by author taken on March 2017 1.3 Discourage Search Engines WordPress

Some Final Pro Tips That Will Make Life Easier

  1. Don’t go cheap on web hosting. Nothing baffles me more than seeing people dish out tens of thousands of dollars for a new website, only to try and save a few bucks every month by going el-cheapo on hosting. It’s like building your dream house in the middle of a swamp. Once you get hacked or go offline, that’s when you’re going to start paying through the nose to get stuff fixed. Invest in solid hosting. I love WP engine personally.
  2. Set your domain names to auto-renewal and have an alarm in your calendar or phone that notifies you a few weeks before the renewal date — just in case.
  3. Set a custom alert in GA that will trip at certain data points, such as an N% in traffic drop.

Are there any things you do before launch that I didn’t mention? Tag me on social media, I’d love to know about it!


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