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How to Publish a Website: The Complete Checklist

Chandal Nolasco Da Silva
Unsplash image of a laptop on a desk with coffee mug

These days, publishing a website is mandatory for any business. 97% of people searching online are looking to find local businesses, and the process of building a website to serve them has never been easier. 

Thanks to website builders and CMS platforms like WordPress, it’s possible for anyone to create a website without any coding experience or technical know-how in just a few hours (or less!).

In this post, we’re going to take you through everything you need to do to publish a website successfully. We’ll cover:

  • Choosing a domain name and web hosting
  • Designing your website and branding
  • Creating a simple user experience
  • Getting your website SEO-ready
  • Final checks before publishing
     

We’ve also included a checklist that you can use to check off each step as you complete the steps.


Claim Your Domain and Get Hosting in Order

To make your website dream a reality, you first need a domain name (the web address that customers will use to find you) and hosting. You can purchase these together or separately, but you’ll always choose your domain name first.

Buy Your Domain Name

The actual process of buying a domain name is as straightforward as visiting a domain name registrar, typing in the domain you want, and paying for it. 

Purchasing a domain that’s a) available (some names you come up with will already be taken), and b) catchy and memorable requires some pre-planning. 

Tips for Choosing the Right Domain Name

  • Keep it short. Use a name that’s easy to type in —  “Web.com,” for example. The longer the name, the more likely it is for customers to make mistakes when typing it.

  • Make it catchy. The easier your domain name is to say and read, the easier it is to remember. Come up with a catchy name that’s memorable, while staying relevant to your business.

  • Keep it simple. Avoid anything that can be confused or forgotten, such as dashes, numbers, abbreviated and ambiguous words, and creative spellings (e.g. “Kleen” rather than “Clean”).
     


Choose Your Top Level Domain (TLD)

Your top level domain (TLD) is the letters that follow the “dot” after your chosen website name. There are numerous options available — .com, .net, .org, and .co being some of the most common.

Web.com list of domains available for purchase

If it’s available, go with .com. It’s the most popular and the most likely to be entered by people searching for your website. However, because it’s the most popular TLD, it’s also often the least available and most expensive, which is something you’ll need to keep in mind if you’re working on a budget. 

If you’re doing business in a particular geographic location, a country-specific TLD can also work well (e.g. .ca, co.uk, .us, or .au). These TLDs are often cheaper than .com and more likely to be available for your chosen name.

A more creative top level domain can work well if you’re using it to complete a word. For instance, youtu.be or bit.ly, but generic creative TLDs such as .today, .house, .club, .guru, and .tips usually aren’t very memorable so they probably won’t be your first pick.

Domain Name Only or Domain Name and Web Hosting?

Depending on where you buy your domain name, you’ll have the option of purchasing a domain name only or picking it up along with hosting for your website. Some providers, like Web.com, also give you the option to get a domain name, hosting and build your website on the same platform so that everything is in one place.

For simplicity, it’s best to go with a website company that takes care of domain name registration and hosting. That way you’re only dealing with one provider — much easier if you run into any issues. It’s usually more cost-friendly too, as most providers offer the domain for free or at a reduced price with the bundle.

If you do decide to go somewhere else for your hosting, you’ll need to link your domain name to the hosting provider. We’ll get onto that soon.

Find a Web Hosting Provider

While you won’t have to look far to find somewhere to host your website, not all providers are created equal. 

Here are a few things to look for in a host:

  • 99% or higher guaranteed uptime. Avoid any hosting company reporting anything less.

  • Fast servers. A one second delay in page speed can reduce customer satisfaction by 16%. Always check out speed stats.

  • Good upgrade options. While shared storage is a good option for beginners with limited needs, as your business grows you’re likely to need more email storage and bandwidth. You need a host that offers you room to expand.

  • Security features. You’ll need an SSL certificate (which gives you the “s” in “https”) to ensure that all data sent over your website is encrypted and secure. You’ll also want to know that regular backups are provided so that your site can be restored in the event of crisis or disaster.

  • Quality customer support. You should be able to reach your provider when you need them through various channels — phone, email, and live chat. Support should also be provided in a timely manner.

  • Affordable pricing. Most hosting providers will run introductory offers. Make sure these offers deliver value when renewed at full price. Also, consider any add-ons that you may need in the future.
     

Connecting Your Domain to the Server

If you’re purchasing your domain and hosting from the same provider, your website address will usually be connected to the server and you’ll be able to get on with publishing your website. 

If you decide to buy your domain name from a registrar and host it on a different service, though, you’ll need to link the two. How this is done will depend on the registrar and host you’re using, but here’s the typical process:

  • Go to the cPanel of your hosting account and find and copy the nameservers
  • Login to your domain registrar dashboard and select your domain
  • In the DNS settings, edit the nameserver settings and select “custom nameservers”
  • Paste in the nameservers and save the settings
     

You’ll then need to wait up to 48 hours to see your name up and running online.  


Create Your Website Brand and Design

With your domain name and hosting in place, you officially have your very own home on the internet! Now it’s time to make that home a welcoming one. 

Branding is everything when publishing a successful website. 77% of marketing leaders say that it's critical to growth, while consistent brand presentation has been shown to increase revenue up to 23%.

Good branding comes from knowing who you are. So before you get on to the fun part of creating things, ask yourself:

  • What is my mission? Why does your business exist?

  • What is my vision? Where do you want to take your brand — where do you see it in 10 years?

  • Who is my target audience? Who are you aiming your brand at? What do they like and why do they buy from you?

  • What is my brand personality? Write down three adjectives that describe your business and three that don’t.

  • What are my values? What are the principles that guide your business?
     

Having a clear brand identity brings everything together in your business. 

Design Your Logo

Your logo is the first thing a customer will see when visiting your website and will shape how they perceive your brand.

Think about logos behind the brands you instantly recognize — Apple, Google, Facebook, Nike, McDonald’s and UPS, etc. and what makes those logos so iconic.

Here are some tips for creating a powerful logo:

  • Go with a wordmark and a symbol. In the early stages, marketing your brand and website on a symbol alone will be a tough sell. Including your brand name makes it easier to communicate.

  • Keep it simple. Your logo needs to stand out without causing any confusion or over-analysis. The FedEx logo is a great example of simplicity, with the added quirk of the arrow in the negative space of the “Ex” to signify speed and direction. 
FedEx Express logo
  • Use colors that reflect your brand. Check out The Logo Company’s “The Science Behind Colors” to get a feel for which colors will resonate with your customers.

  • Make it look great on all backgrounds. Your logo will be used on your website, social channels, and printed materials. It should be flexible enough to “pop out” wherever it appears. Your logo should also work in black and in white, as you will need to use these versions in certain situations.

  • Play around with uppercase and lowercase. Uppercase traditionally promotes authority, while lower case is seen as more casual.

  • Make the most of white space. Giving your logo room to breathe will draw attention to your name and symbol.

  • Make it legible. Check that the font and text size you opt for is easy to read for any customer, in any situation.

  • Use online resources such as Pinterest, Awwwards and Logospire for inspiration.

  • Test logo designs using a logo checker to see how your logo appears online.
     

Choose Your Website Colors

The colors of your website should exist in harmony with the colors of your logo. According to VisualModo, a website should use only three colors: white and two of your brand colors. Basically, keep it simple and clean.

To help with choosing, the site also created this handy graphic that covers the psychology of colors. 

VisualModo graphic of logo color schemes and color meanings

Find Your Setup

The best way to choose your website setup (regardless of which platform you’re using) is to pick elements that catch your eye. Play around with it and see what makes sense and is visually appealing. Try out the demo and experiment with it on your site. Ask yourself:

  • Does it have the features you need? For example, if you’re selling products you’ll need your site to be ecommerce-ready. Or if you’re leading with video, the ability to create video banners will be essential.

  • Is it right for your content? If you’re planning on publishing a static site with limited content, a single page website might suit your needs. If you’re planning on publishing new content daily, you’ll want something that includes a blog.

  • Does it work for your industry? Make sure your website can adapt to the impression you’re looking to make.

  • Does it match your brand colors? Look for something customizable that can adapt to your business needs.  

  • Is it customizable? Your website should be able to be tweaked to look exactly how you want it to look. Platforms that offer drag-and-drop editing functionality are great for this.

  • Is it mobile-friendly? Look for a responsive website setup that works seamlessly on all devices.
     

Select the Right Fonts

Your website should have three fonts:

  • Primary: the most visible font, used in headers. This should be your most identifiable font.

  • Secondary: the most used font, featured in all body content (e.g. webpage paragraphs, blog posts, and descriptions).

  • Accent: used (sparingly) to draw the reader’s attention. This should stand out from other fonts and be used for specific purposes such as calls-to-action.
     

As for which to use, any one of these classic fonts are a safe bet: 

  • Helvetica
  • Arial
  • Courier
  • Times New Roman
  • Verdana
  • Georgia
  • Palatino
     

Don’t Forget the Favicon

The favicon is an often overlooked element of website branding. So overlooked that we’re giving it a special mention. 

Favicons are a small icon (usually your logo) that appears on the browser tab of a website. It’s there to help people identify your website, making you look more professional and adding to your brand identity. 

For best results, try to keep your favicon as simple as possible. You’ve only got 16x16 pixels to work with, so a symbol rather than text is the way to go. 

browser bar showing 4 websites and their favicons

Create a Simple User Experience (UX)

A big part of the user experience of your website will be determined by how you set up your website, but there are other things you can do to keep visitors happy. 

Optimize for Mobile

More people visit websites on smartphones than any other device. The experience you provide on these devices will impact how successful your business is. According to Impact Bound, 52% of users say that a bad mobile experience made them less likely to engage with a company. Furthermore, mobile users are 5X more likely to abandon a task if a site isn’t optimized for mobile.

To check that your website is optimized for mobile, test it using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool and follow any recommended suggestions:

Google mobile friendly test tool screenshot

Then, test it using Google’s Mobile Speed Test Tool to see how quickly your webpages load and how your site compares to the competition.

Layout Content with the User in Mind

Between eye-tracking studies and industry research, web designers have been able to get a good idea of how people use websites. Based on various insights, here are a few tips for creating a layout that benefits users.

Lead with Your Value Proposition 

People read websites in F-patterns, scanning across the page twice horizontally, before moving down in a vertical stripe. To ensure they see your most important information, put your key selling point at the top of your website and align content left. Menus should also be placed at the top or down the left side of your site. 

Use Large Headings to Grab Attention

Take a look at how Smashing Magazine uses headings. Every page and every article title leads with a big, bold font. 

Note: It’s important to use proper HTML header tags for SEO purposes, not just large font sizes for emphasis.

smashing magazine homepage screenshot

Put Important Content Above the Fold 

Web users spend over half their time on page reading the content ‘above the fold’ which means the top part of the website you see right away. Get your key message in early (unique selling proposition, call-to-action, contact information etc.) so that users are tempted to investigate further. After the top of the page, the most viewed section is the bottom. Make this where you place your call to action, social links and contact information. 

Use Calls-to-Action Frequently 

On average, a user will only read 20% of the content on your page. They’ll skim read, picking out the parts that appeal to them. Because of this, it’s important to place a call-to-action (CTA) throughout your pages when you want a user to take action.

Want them to read more? Use a CTA. Want them to buy something? Point them in the right direction with a CTA. Want them to sign up to your newsletter? Use a relevant CTA. You get the idea. 

Take a look at how beverage supplier Bernick’s uses CTAs to grab visitor attention: 

Bernick's homepage screenshot with highlighted CTAs

Create Easy-to-Use Forms

The key to a successful contact form that converts is simplicity. 

Make sure your forms are optimized using these guidelines:

  • Use a maximum of 3-5 fields. According to Neil Patel, limiting forms to three fields guarantees a minimum conversion rate of 25%.
  • Use fields that match the length of the expected answers
  • Include labels above or within each field for reference
  • Use one question per row
     

For newsletter forms, create a thank you note that shows the readers what to expect. For example, here's what people see when they sign up to The Bay’s newsletter: 

The Bay email subscription thank you page

Once you’ve created forms, test them to make sure correspondence is sent to the correct email address. For newsletters, check that your email marketing client is properly set up and welcome emails are working correctly by signing up with a personal email address.  


Get Your Website SEO-Ready

92% of searchers will pick a business from the first page of results. To reach these people, you need to make sure your search engine optimization (SEO) is on point before hitting publish on your website. 

Here’s how to do it:

Research Keywords

By finding out which words people are using to search for your business online, you can use them in your content to show up in results. For example, if you owned a barbershop in Long Island, you might want to target terms related to “haircuts,” “shaving,” and “beard trimming,” as well as the location: “Long Island,” “Huntington,” “Smithtown,” etc. 

Search for keywords to target using Google’s Keyword Planner or a tool like SEMRush. Enter words related to your business and each tool will provide a list of related terms. Use these keywords in your: 

  • Page titles and descriptions
  • Headers and subheaders
  • Body content
  • URLs
  • Links
  • Images
     

It’s important that keywords are used naturally throughout your website. The golden rule of good SEO is to keep your customers top of mind. Everything they read should add value. Here’s an example from Moz showing content that is attempting to trick search engines and not adding any value for the user:

Moz keyword stuffing example

Check All Links

“Aside from passing authority between pages, a link is also a way to help users navigate to other pages on your site. This is a case where doing what’s best for search engines is also doing what’s best for searchers. Too many links not only dilute the authority of each link, but they can also be unhelpful and overwhelming. Focus on quality and helping your users navigate your site, and you likely won’t have to worry about too many links.” — Moz

Links are great for getting people where they need to be, but only if they work. Broken links that point to other websites are bad for user experience. They’re also bad for SEO, as Google’s web crawlers aren’t able to collect data from the linked page.  

Whether you’re linking internally or pointing links to external sites, it’s important to check that the link goes to the intended place. For external, or outbound, links, you can use a tool like Check My Links to manually review each page of your site and review links. 

Submit Your Sitemap to Google

Search engines do a good job of discovering new websites on their own, but it takes time. And even then there’s no guarantee they find out everything you want them to know. 

A sitemap is a file that includes all of the information about the pages, videos and files on your site and the relationship between them. It lets you provide Google with information about your website and tell it how important your pages are.

As a new website with few external links, submitting a sitemap will get your website indexed and placed in search results faster. Find out how to create and submit your sitemap in our step-by-step guide

Create Unique Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

Title tags and meta descriptions let users and search engines know what’s on your webpages. They’re also the information that appears about your page in search results and therefore the first impression many people have of your page. 

SERPs with title tag and meta pointed out

Each tag and meta description should be unique to the page and include your target keywords. 

For best results, title tags should be 50-60 characters in length and descriptions around 160 characters or less. 

Add Alt Text to Photos

While Google can’t see images, it can read them. Alt text is important for user accessibility and also provides a written description of images so search engines can index and list them in the image search results. Add short descriptions to every image on your website. 

Test Site Loading Speed

Page speed is a factor used by search engines to rank websites. The faster your site loads, the better the user experience and the higher it will rank. Pages that load quicker have better conversion rates and longer average sessions. 

Test the speed of your website using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool and follow any suggestions to improve loading times. 

Set Up Google Analytics

Google Analytics is the most important tool in measuring the effectiveness of your website and how to improve it. It lets you see which of your pages are the most popular, which content is performing best and what’s not quite working. It also gives you audience demographic data so you can see who’s visiting your website and tailor your marketing message to them.

Google Analytics is free and getting set up is straightforward:

  • Go to google.com/analytics and click “Start for free”
  • Enter a name for your account and website details and click “Get tracking ID”
  • Add the Tracking ID before the closing tag in your website’s code or follow the instructions given by your chosen platform (CMS platforms like WordPress have plugins that allow you to easily install Google Analytics)
     


Carry Out the Final Website Checks

You’re almost there, just a few final checks to run through before you publish your website!

Proofread Your Content

After all the work you’ve put into branding and making your website great for users, the last thing you want is for a spelling mistake or typo to put people off. 

Look back over all of the content you’ve written for your website. Check for errors in spelling and grammar and make sure everything flows naturally for the reader. Here are three tips to help you out: 

  • Read content out loud to help gauge the flow of sentences
  • Use the Grammarly plugin to help you spot errors
  • Ask a friend to look over content
     

Back Up Your Website

Whether you’re publishing a website for the first time or the 100th time, there’s always a possibility that things going wrong. Check that backups are in place on your hosting account. In the early days, when you’re making a lot of changes to your website, it’s worth setting backups to run daily. Beyond that, have weekly backups in place so that you’re covered, should disaster ever strike. 

If you’re using WordPress, you can use a plugin for backups in addition to any backups provided by your hosting provider.

Perform Cross-Browser Testing

As anyone that’s ever perfected a website for Chrome and then tested in on Internet Explorer will tell you, what’s right for one browser isn’t necessarily right for another. Given browser market share, you can expect the majority of your users to visit your site from Chrome, but Firefox, Opera, Edge and Safari all have millions of users as well.

Test your website on multiple browsers at once using a tool like BrowserShots or EndTest. Not every browser needs to put across a pixel-perfect version of your site, but everything should work and be presented as intended.  


The Complete Checklist for Publishing Your Website

Wow. Plenty to do before putting your website live, right? To help you make sure you’ve covered all of the bases, here’s a checklist with every step mentioned in this post. 
 

Claim Your Domain, Get Hosting in Order

▢  Buy your domain name
▢  Choose your top level domain
▢  Find a hosting provider
▢  Connect your domain to the server

Set Up Your Website Brand and Design

▢  Design your logo
▢  Choose your website colors
▢  Find your setup
▢  Select the right fonts
▢  Don’t forget the favicon

Create a Simple User Experience (UX)

▢  Optimize your site for mobile
▢  Layout content with the user in mind
▢  Use large headings to grab attention
▢  Put important content above the fold
▢  Use calls-to-action
▢  Create easy-to-use forms

Get your Website SEO-Ready

▢  Research keywords and add them to your content
▢  Check all links
▢  Create a sitemap and submit it to Google
▢  Create unique title tags and descriptions for every page
▢  Add alt text to photos
▢  Test site loading speed
▢  Set up Google Analytics

Carry Out Final Website Checks

▢  Proofread content
▢  Backup your website
▢  Perform cross-browser testing



Wrap Up

Having a website is more important than ever. Following this checklist will help you publish yours in as little as a day, without any technical expertise. 

If this is your first website and you’re unsure about some of the tasks, we’re always here to help. Beyond that, have fun and work through the tasks and create a website that customers love using.



Image Credits

All screenshots taken by the author, June 2019
Feature Image: Unsplash / Mia Baker
Image 1: via Web.com
Image 2: via Wikimedia Commons
Image 3: via VisualModo
Image 4, 10: screenshot taken by the author, June 2019
Image 5: via Mobile-Friendly Test Tool
Image 6: via Smashing Magazine
Image 7: via Bernick’s
Image 8: via The Bay
Image 9: via Moz

Chandal Nolasco da Silva author bio