Launch your site, before it is finished.
When you launch a site, you face three major problems: The search engines don’t know you, the users don’t know you and you might not have any meaningful amount of content. These problems can cost you time, before your site starts to pay off.
Three solutions to hit the ground running on launch day.
Waiting for the search engines
Telling “Google” your new web-address is only getting you a spot in its sandbox. The sandbox is like a queue. You line up until your have gotten to the front-gate. Only if you are passed it, will your site be spidered. Word on the web is that this takes 6 months – regardless of how fancy your submission technique is. There are of course other search-engines who process you faster. But can you afford not to be found in “Google”?
Once your domain is listed, they need to be found by their spiders and ultimately by the user. Although your DNS entry should cascade very fast around the globe, there are bottlenecks. It can happen that you wait for the update a couple of weeks – regardless of your TTL-definition. Nearly unbelievable, but it happens. You should get a very wide dissemination within a few days, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
Getting the users to the launch
Every web page is made for its visitors. If you don’t get them, all your efforts and money spent have been in vain. Unless you have a substantial marketing-budget for your launch, it takes time for users to reach your site, to tell other people, to list it or to write about it in blogs. The shorter the time you need to reach that critical mass of users, the sooner your site pays off. Also you will quicker get to the point when it is really fun to look at your web-stats.
Welcome to our empty pages
Users will not repeatedly visit your site just because it is nicely designed and structured. You need enough content already on launch-day to have something interesting for most of your visitors. Any “coming soon” on a fully operational site is very likely to be a frustration to the user. A database of 2 articles does not inspire confidence. It is like peeking into an empty restaurant on a Saturday night – you might think twice about even looking at the menu.
Waiting for the search engines, having very few users visiting your site and not offering any content will unlikely result in a good start.
“Under Construction” revisited
What was considered very bad form some years ago, might just be one way of solving the problems. When development work begins, you need to set up a page or a mini-site. When search engines are visiting they have a place to go. At the same time it solves the DNS update delay you might encounter from some backbones.
Unlike the classic “shovel and hard-hat” logo, even this simple page or site needs an identity and content. It will be visited and looked at by your potential costumers. Have you noticed how real-world construction-sites start to be tidy and nicely wrapped up – sometimes even following corporate design guidelines. Many people are walking past construction-sites – and they just might link the image of the company to the piles of bricks carelessly lying about. Sometimes you even find a little description what the new store will look like, offer and when it will be opened – a smart move.
The visual design can be much reduced, but still should convey the appropriate message. Have your designer create a layout, using your corporate identity or claims. The visitor, even the search-engine, should know on an emotional as well as a factual level what will be up and coming.
The best thing would be to have some content available. Put up an article every week for example, a review, a recipe or whatever content is related to your site. This shows search-engines that something is happening; boosts your placement and the visitor sees some activity. And you will already have some content ready for the day your site goes really life.
Getting the users to the launch
There is no other way but to directly address them. Most effective is some meaningful content, not simply a note that your site will start in three weeks time.
The indirect approach might work best. If you receive an email by someone you know or someone who has a positive reputation, it is likely to be read. Find some opinion-leaders related to your products or services. Maybe you can get this person to write content and distribute it to the community while linking to your site? You could organize an event together or simply ask for input – they might just have this great idea that you can use to make your site known before it is even fully life. Blogs are often published by “opinion leader” and you can find them as strong voices in forums.
The goal is to increase you link-popularity, get email-addresses and get access to a network of people who can avalanche information from your site to their communities.
It is not likely to have on launch-day the same amount of content like a site that is already up for five years. But usually you only have one chance to interest and satisfy a fist-time user. One key element here is having content available. Empty article-listing or three reviews are simply not enough to interest me to delve into the site. If you would launch a print-magazine, you would also have every page filled with the best content available – the same applies to the new site.
Another advantage is that search engines love content – especially if it changes. If you have a reasonable turnover, your chances for a good ranking are high.
If you can’t create content in-house, articles and reviews are relatively easy to get. You can either peruse article directories or collaborate with blogs. The quality of the content reflects on your site. Editorial-work and selection is essential.
A word of caution; It is easy to republish what is already out on the web. But original content is still best. Since you cater to the interests of your prospective visitors, the article you re-use was likely to have appeared on a site similar in target to your own. Quality over quantity is still what counts.
Launching a site starts well before you put it online. A well prepared launch will let you hit the ground running and might save months in getting the visitors you need.