Pratish Pandya, Production Manager at ClerksWell, explains the key factors that make for a successful launch of a website development project – and the importance of asking people to break it first…

So what sort of projects are we talking about here?
As a business we focus on delivering web-based solutions for clients, typically in Sitecore or Umbraco. People like Smart Energy GB, a large client who aim to see every British home having a smart meter by 2020. They need a website which will cope with a large userbase who have lots of questions that need answering. Or Christie’s Education, which offers more of a portal for students and alumni so they can log in and connect with their peers.

Talk us through the process of a successful launch – where do you start?
We kick off with the Discovery Phase. This is all about understanding our clients’ requirements. We’ll run a workshop where we talk about the business objectives, the audience we’re trying to reach, and the features that should be included.
You’ll find us asking, “Why?”…a lot! We don’t just nod our heads and say yes to every feature on the wishlist; we use our expertise to challenge you and make sure that every part of the new website will bring a long-term benefit to the business.

What’s next?
Once we’ve put a clear brief together, we’ll create wireframes, mock-up designs and produce draft copy.
You might be looking to completely revamp your website, in which case we’ll produce totally new designs. Or it might be a microsite or redesign of a smaller section of an existing site, in which case we’ll need to take a look at your brand guidelines to make sure everything is consistent.
When can users get their hands on it?
One of the thing we do as early as possible is usability testing. How users will be able to use the site is a very important aspect. I mean, we want the project to be successful!
So we invite a number of users and get them to follow different scenarios, for example what happens when you are looking for service X or feature Y, and how many clicks will it take to get there?

What about the tech side?
So we’ve gone through the discovery phase and done some user testing, but from day one the technical team offer their input too. They’ll delve into the briefing document and make sure everything is clear so everyone knows what to expect and there is no ambiguity.
For example, we’ll look at how much traffic there’ll be – thousands of visitors a day…or every minute? When Smart Energy GB ran a marketing campaign during Britain’s Got Talent we knew that there would be a massive surge of traffic while the show was on, but the website still performed. Just imagine the comments on Twitter if it had gone down!

How much can you plan ahead like this?
Planning is an essential part of the briefing and discovery phase. We will put together a timescale that shows when the site will go live. If it’s a short notice contract, we’ll split the work up and increase the amount of resource so we can get to that live date much more quickly. It’s all about the planning.
We use different methodologies depending on the nature of the project. So we might use an agile approach – great for projects where a client wants to see iterations sooner rather than later – or more of a waterfall approach where we are able to make times and budget much more fixed.

How do you know if it is ready for launch?
We work with a quality assurance team to test the site. Their job is to try and break what the developers are doing. We want to create a bug-free, quality solution.
We also give it to the client to test to make sure they are completely happy with it, they often show it off to key stakeholders with in the business at this point. They’re the experts – they know how people will use it. This is almost the last stage before we go live.

Then of course there are other tech considerations. Is the infrastructure in place? How will we launch? This is all planned well in advance at the beginning of the build. A lot of clients are concerned about a drop in their SEO ranking. It is vital that this is all planned out ahead of launch. The average drop in SEO ranking for a newly launched site is 20%! In our last launch it was only 3% as the site was re-indexed by the search engines. That particular site’s SEO became stronger than ever very soon after launch!

What happens when you go live?
First, we put the site on a live area. This is a soft launch though; not everyone will have access. This allows us to do final testing, what we call a sanity test. Then when we’re happy we can push the site live and everyone finally make use of it!

What happens if something goes wrong?
This is why we do so much planning – to mitigate for something unexpected happening. The client’s tech teams are involved too and we think of every worst-case scenario.
We have a roll-back plan so if need be we can revert to the previous version. But during the soft launch phase we’ll test, test, test, and work out where problems are. We’d rather get it right in the first place!

What do you need from the client at this stage?
This is something that a lot of web development companies overlook. When the site is up and running, you’ll need people to look after the web content management and promote the new site. So we work with clients to get them prepared so the site continues to look great in the weeks and months after launch and delivers the right content to the users.

We set clear milestones and run a ‘show and tell’ every few weeks. We’re proactive and keep the client informed. Feedback is good – this way issues are flagged up early on, or we get to hear that yes, it’s all looking good!

What happens after launch? Sit back, whiskey and cigar time?
Not quite! For the weeks and months after launch there will be ongoing tweaking. We don’t always introduce every feature at launch – some will be added gradually.
Also, increasingly marketers are looking at the analytics to gain insights into how people get to the website and what they do when they’re there. So we offer guidance on optimising the website further, based on user behaviour. We’ll do everything we can to support our clients – it’s about continuing the relationship and making sure the new website is achieving the objectives we set in that very first workshop.