Late for a Date

This column was supposed to be the last in our series on redesigning SostreAssoc.com, the website for my design firm Sostre & Associates. I even said in my last article that, “By the time you read this article, the new design will be live on our site and we’ll have started crunching the analytics data.” Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way.

Due to various setbacks, the new site still hasn’t gone live (at least not at the time of this writing). What’s even more unfortunate is that this situation isn’t uncommon in the online world. Because we’re a Web design firm, we have control over the process and made a conscious decision to delay the site launch. But I’ve seen many scenarios where site launches are delayed for months on end, leaving website owners feeling helpless.

The truth is, sometimes delays are unavoidable. Maybe the CEO decided to change plans at the last minute – or perhaps there are some technical barriers that weren’t anticipated in the planning stages. Whatever the cause, there are some ways to get back on track, and avoid additional delays.

Here are some tips for an ontime launch:

Don’t be a perfectionist. Your website should be a living, ever-changing environment. Unlike printed collateral which you’re stuck with until your printed copies run out, you can continually tweak and improve your website. This means it doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect on launch day. Make it a point to get the site online, even if there are some loose ends.

Do a phased launch. You do more harm than good when you delay an entire site launch to wait for every single new feature to be ready. Decide which elements are most important for your business and prioritize those as a phase 1 site launch. Lessimportant sections or features should then be scheduled for future phase 2 or even phase 3 projects.

Review progress regularly. If you wait until the day before launch to take your first look at the site, you may be setting yourself up for disaster. Try to review progress at regular intervals – weekly or sooner – to make sure things are looking good and provide any feedback as needed. If you’re working with an outside vendor to create your site, they should be able to provide a development URL where you can see how things are coming along.

Set a clear drop-dead launch date. A drop-dead launch date sets a lastdelay date. In other words, you may plan to launch by October 15, but you absolutely must launch by November 30, i.e., your drop-dead date.

Some situations demand a dropdead launch date. For example, a retailer who needs to get online in time for the holidays; a tax site that needs to be live before tax season; or a website that is going to be featured in a scheduled press release or news story.

Because the new Sostre & Associates website is an internal project, we never bothered to set a drop-dead launch date. Then again, that lackadaisical attitude is why we’re writing about website delays and not reviewing the statistics from our great new website, right? In short, if you want your site launched by a certain date, set a drop dead-date that your employees and vendors understand and agree with.

So with all this talk about how to launch on time, you may be wondering if there are ever good reasons to delay a site launch. Well, there most certainly are. If you’re not sure whether your site is ready for prime time, review this checklist.

Broken Images. Never launch a site with broken images. Many users will immediately leave upon seeing a broken image, and they call into question the integrity of the site. Also, they are generally very simple to fix.

Broken Links. Run your site through a link checker application like Xenu’s popular and free Link Sleuth (http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html), and make sure there are no broken links. If there are links that are broken, get them fixed before you go live.

Too many ‘Coming Soon’ sections. Sometimes you can’t get a section completed – that’s fine. It’s OK to have one or two areas that aren’t quite finished. But I’ve seen sites that have more ‘Coming Soon’ sections than actual content. That’s bad. If you do have lots of areas that aren’t complete – try to hide any links to those areas entirely so users just don’t see them.

Browser Incompatibilities. If I hear about another Web browser hitting the market, I’m going to start plucking the keys out of my keyboard. I can barely keep up with all the options available. Luckily, there are only a few browsers that your site absolutely must be functional in. Those are: Internet Explorer 6, Internet Explorer 7, Firefox and Safari. Any serious incompatibilities such as navigation or ordering process not working for any of these browsers is good enough reason to push back the launch until they do.

Getting a new website or a significant redesign off the ground can be an exciting process, but it can also get out of control very quickly. Hopefully, these tips will help avoid some headaches. Now, let me take some of my own advice and get this new site launched!

Remember, it’s never too late to put in your two cents. I personally read every email I get from Revenue magazine readers, and I love to hear feedback on the new design we’ve chosen. Send me (pedro@sostreassoc.com) your thoughts.

Would you like your website to be the topic of a future edition of By Design Makeover? Send your name, company, contact information (phone, email, etc.), a brief description of your business and its goals, and, of course, your URL to bydesign@sostreassoc.com. Please put “Revenue’s By Design Makeover” in the subject line.

Pedro Sostre is pioneering Conversion Design and its ability to turn online shoppers into online buyers. He is the co-author of Web Analytics for Dummies and serves as CEO of Sostre & Associates, an Internet consulting, design and development firm, which also promotes affiliate programs on its network of websites. Visit www.sostreassoc.com to learn more.