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6 tactics to a no-hassle web project launch

What makes website and intranet go-lives so fraught with uncertainties, and how can you avoid these?

One of the most famous web debacles in recent years was the launch of the American healthcare sign-up website in 2013. Newspapers, magazines, and online news outlets reported that around the country, Americans trying to investigate new healthcare plans offered under the Affordable Care Act encountered registration problems, login problems, mystifying error messages, and websites that were simply so overburdened with traffic that they didn't load at all. And with an overall cost of around £340 million for the build, the launch has become a case study for “how not to do it.”

You want to publicise the launch of your new site—a lot of work has gone into it, and you have much to be proud of. So it's important that you give your users advance notice of when the familiar site they've been using all this time is going to change. When everyone visits the new site all at once—at 9am on launch date, for example—you want them to have the best possible experience.

Let's look at 6 tactics that will help your new site's launch go more smoothly than healthcare.gov did.

1. Keep your eye on the prize.

  • You will think of things during the project that you hadn't realised you wanted. It's natural.
  • Leave these things for a later phase unless they are small and sparkling. Redefining the scope of the project once it's started comes at a cost of time and quality, even if not money.

2. Agree a back-up plan.

  • You can’t plan for a sudden rebrand or team member’s departure, but you can mitigate it.
  • If disaster should strike at the last minute, make sure you and your supplier have agreed how to work around it.

3. Test, test, test—then test some more.

It wasn't just the unprecedented traffic that caused problems with healthcare.gov. What people really found frustrating—and published endless blog posts and screenshots complaining about—were the bugs, usability issues, and errors they ran up against.

There are steps you can take to test your site's robustness (a variety of load-testing tools are available that will simulate your site under the stress of heavy traffic). But nothing beats user testing, and this is best done by actual users.

Before your site ever goes live, you should have a test plan in place that covers all of the major workflows users will employ to make their way through your site, and your plan should involve real live humans (your pilot or soft launch group, perhaps, or colleagues and volunteers who will help you out).

If your site involves interactive elements—registration, logging in, and user accounts—you should put special focus on these tasks to make sure that even the least confident site visitor can navigate them with ease. (And, of course, to make sure they work! No site visitor likes to be confronted with a big scary error message.)

Only by thoroughly testing what users should be doing, and by trying to anticipate what they will be doing, can you make sure that when your new site is up and running, visitors have confidence it will deliver what they need—and confidence in your organisation too.

4. Hold a "soft launch" or a pilot.

  • Choose a focus group of regular users to review the site before you make it live to everyone. They can give you invaluable feedback on what it's like to use your new site while there's still time in the project plan to make changes in response to their input.

5. Promote your advertised go-live later than your intended go-live.

  • Stuff always happens at the last minute and no go-live is ever perfectly smooth—although there are ways to make it as smooth as possible!
  • Make sure your supplier is focused on your intended go-live date.
  • You want all of that exciting go-live traffic to be staggered across a whole day, not bunched up together at 9.01am. So be less precise about the time of your launch. Give a date, not a time, in your communications. All of the extra visits you'll get as a result of your exciting new site's launch will be spread over several hours, instead of several minutes, making it less likely that users will encounter problems.

6. Have a celebration.

  • The launch of a new site is a huge achievement, and your team and organisation should be proud.
  • Make something of it: do a launch at lunchtime with balloons and a nice speech from the chief exec.

But remember: a site is a living thing, so don't put your feet up! Keep it growing and evolving so it keeps up with your dynamic business. If you would like VerseOne to be part of your new web project, please contact us today!