WordPress Website Development Checklist, 38 Point: Downloadable

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WordPress Website Development Checklist

Whether you are building a WordPress website for the first time or employing a WordPress freelancer or agency to make it for you, it’s essential to follow a strategic plan to ensure a smooth build with as few headaches as possible.

In this ‘WordPress Website Development Checklist‘ guide, I’ll help you through every detail so that you can tick them off one by one during your next WordPress development project.

It’s also important to note that launching a new WordPress website is more than just choosing a theme and pressing go. Over the 20+ years, I have worked with WordPress, I have learnt that you need to consider so many different aspects, which I wish I knew about when building my first major project – it would have saved me a shit ton of money, so I hope this guide helps you!

Download the free WordPress website development checklist

There are, of course, different ways to approach building any website. If budget is not an issue, you’ll probably be hiring an expensive London agency to do this checklist! However, if budget is essential, this WordPress website development checklist is for you, as I want to make sure you don’t waste money unnecessarily and have the most super-charged WordPress website ready to take on the world!

So here goes – make sure you print this WordPress development tick list off and follow every relevant step for you – good luck!

*Just so you know, there are a few affiliate links within the article, they are all with companies that I work with and trust, I would never affiliate with a company I have not used or worked with – my reputation relies on it. 


Pre-launch

#1. Evaluate the market potential and competition

If it’s a brand new project, always check out the competition, do thorough research to see what else is out there and write down ideas for what you think you can do better – this will help nurture the development of your website and hopefully give you an idea of what to focus on.

The easiest way is to search on Google and see the search result potential directly below the search e.g.

Example of search results in Google

As you can see below the search box, there are 1,670,000 results, which sounds like quite a lot. However, you can then use a tool such as Neil Patel’s Uber Suggest to understand the search volume better.

Neil Patel's Uber Suggest allows you to see search volumes

The SEO difficulty score is the critical factor to consider here; anything over 50 would be reasonably challenging.

#2. Get specific

As we know, Google is oversaturated with data, and it’s almost impossible to rank on the first page unless you have a huge budget or are a well-known brand. So for a new project, I would always recommend getting very specific with your initial offering and then looking to expand this as you grow. This way, you can focus 100% on a particular keyword or phrase and start to rank for that.

#3. Determine your budget and stick to it

Too many website projects focus their entire initial budget on building the website. In reality, it’s far more essential to get a basic concept live (MVP) with approximately 20% of your budget and use the remaining 80% to promote it.

#4. Choose a name

This is the hard part as it’s REALLY hard to find a domain name that’s available and also now you have the added headache of finding social vanity URLs.

Thankfully there are now 100’s of new domain name extensions to choose from, so you no longer have to choose a .com or co.uk ending (although I still believe that Google gives more importance over those domain extensions than .net, for example).

You can view a list of current domain extensions here

www.domain.com/domains/new-domain-extensions

Domain name ending examples
Examples of domain name extensions

When choosing a name, you have two options; you can either choose a domain with keywords relevant to your audience, e.g. ‘FarnhamBuilders’ or go for something a little quirky to try and differentiate yourself.

Which route to take depends on what you do, your audience and your budget.

It might be better to start with something that incorporates what you do in the URL to help with search rankings. Then once you are established, go for a rebrand and name change.

I would certainly not recommend a long domain name and try not to use hyphens between words.

#5. Social vanity names

Once you have decided on your website domain and company name, I recommend creating your social media accounts with your vanity URL. It’s advisable to ensure the vanity URL is the same for all accounts for continuity.

#6. Branding & Logo

If you decide to use an agency to manage this, then fine, but if not, I think it’s always good to get this done early on to give the designers something to base the website design on.

This is really down to personal choice and your target audience, but always remember that what you like might not necessarily be suitable for your target audience.

There are a variety of freelancer websites that can help with logo design, so go through their portfolios and find a style you like.

You can also ask for branding guidelines to be created, which you can use across your website and corporate materials.

You may also need to have a slogan too, so keep this in mind.

#7. Write out a specification

If your project has some specific requirements, it’s very useful to write out a specification of how you anticipate the website will work. You can then use this to approach potential developers so they can get a clear understanding of your requirements.

Nearly all WordPress developers and agencies will have a kick-off project briefing from which the specification is then determined. However, approaching developers with an outline can help speed up this process and demonstrate the project’s seriousness.

As an absolute minimum, the specification should include:

  • Elevator pitch – a 30-second pitch of precisely what your website does, who it’s for and how you will make money.
  • Background about you and your team.
  • Target audience.
  • Pages/Sitemap – This can be pretty complex, and on most occasions, it’s helpful to use a sitemap builder such as www.slickplan.com/sitemap to help plot out all the pages you think you’ll require.
  • Alternatively, you could just write out the different pages and what you would like to happen on each page e.g. 

Homepage
– Larger header image
– User registration prompt
– Key services
– Key benefits
– Special offer
– Gallery etc

Mockup

It can also be helpful to create a hand-drawn mockup of the website, this again can help the design process and manage your expectations.


Developing a WordPress website

#8. Theme vs Custom

The next part of your plan will decide whether you want to build a custom website from scratch or use one of the many ready-made Themes available.

This will 100% depend on your budget.

In case you are not aware, a theme is a ready-made template where in theory, you can add your content and away you go (I wish it were that easy!). 

If budget is not an issue, then going down the custom route will be ideal, as this means it will be tailored to your exact requirements and will not be stuffed full of elements that you won’t need, which will slow your site down.

However, if budget is essential, then going down the Theme route will be best and is a good starting point to test out your initial concept without breaking the bank. I would highly recommend this method with any new project that does not have good financial backing – You can always customise the site as you grow or build an entirely new site once you are established.

There are several Theme marketplaces, such as Themeforest.netColorlib.com, Templatemonster.com

Here are a few tips to help; 

  • Throughout this post, a common theme is how lightweight and fast is the theme – this is the main thing I would look for. You do not want a theme with lots of bells and whistles that you won’t use, they slow the performance down. If you want a theme built with speed in mind, it’s worth checking out this article which rates the fastest WordPress themes of 2022.
  • Look to see how often the theme is updated (the more regular, the better)
  • Check out the user reviews – although take these with a pinch of salt as I often find 60-70% of them are fake – most of the earlier reviews will be the theme’s staff, and most of the negative reviews will be competitors.
  • Ask to see some live client examples and use site speed tools to test how fast they are (I will talk more about site speed tools later on).

#9. Waterfall vs Agile approach

This is a crucial decision to make in the design process; if you are not familiar with what this means, in a nutshell:

Waterfall web design process

The waterfall method is a sequential design process that moves from one phase to another, one at a time, without revisiting the completed phases until all of them are done.

It can be compared to building a house: First, you lay the foundation before working on the structure and roof. Once the foundation is complete, it’s time to move on to the next phase: Framing the house.

What you don’t do is start by building the roof and then decide to “tweak” the foundation. While you can add to a finished house later, “tweaking” the foundation after the house has been framed will require a huge revision of everything, not just the foundation.

This same process can be applied to web design.

Agile web design process 

The agile web design process is a methodology for designing websites that focuses on collaboration, iteration, and flexibility. It’s a methodology based on delivering more helpful functionality to the customer sooner.

Although it’s not the finished article, it’s launched so you can learn what’s working best and what’s not and can make iterative changes to arrive at an optimised final product.

You launch small, so you can test, learn, and react before investing in a “big” design solution.

In most instances, the Agile approach is usually best in website development, and indeed how I would approach it.

#10. Choosing a developer

This is where things start to get fun…

Finding a good developer who you can trust and who understands all aspects of website development (not just the coding) is VERY hard, can be VERY time consuming but is VERY important.

If it’s a simple project that does not require much customisation, then a lower rate developer would be adequate, but if it’s quite a large project which needs customisation, then it’s worth using a developer with more experience – which of course, comes with a higher price.

I could write an entire checklist for hiring a developer, but here are my key points:

  • Look at their portfolios – are they on the same wavelength as what you’re looking for?
  • Ask for a reference from each of those portfolios – make sure it’s a personal reference with a business domain URL (not Gmail or outlook etc.)
  • Check the portfolio website page speed using page speed tools (detailed below) – make sure to check several pages from each website – and not the ‘About Us’ page – find a page that looks complex or with lots of images; this will tell you how well the page has been built and optimised. They should be scoring relatively high; anything in the A-B or 90’s region means the developer sure as shit knows their stuff. Anything with a low score, I would keep away from.
  • Ask if they created the graphic design for the website or used a 3rd party – Sometimes, a website can look beautiful, but the plan was outsourced to a 3rd party, so this is key to understand. Personally, I prefer to use my own designer as they understand my requirements, and I can use them for other projects when required. 
  • Get an idea of price from the outset – do they have a minimum project cost, what is their hourly rate and how many people will be working on the project.
  • Get an understanding of how they work;
    • Will you have a main point of contact that speaks good English? (Communication is key during any website project).
    • Will they go through a project briefing to understand 100% every detail.
    • What happens if there are changes required during the build?
    • Once live, will you have a cooling-off period (usually 30 days) to make sure there are no unexpected bugs

  • Use a dedicated WordPress marketplace website such as WP Hire to find your next WordPress developer

#11. Optimising the website for speed

Google now includes site speed as a ranking factor, so take this seriously.

Most people would have this as the last thing to do. However, I actually think it should be considered from the very start, and I would HIGHLY recommend using an agency that specialises in WordPress speed optimisation, it’s a fine art. 

You don’t want to be in the position where you have finished the website and then optimise it for speed, only to find out the customisation work affects the speed or the theme is just too heavy and slow, so I would highly recommend getting a WordPress speed optimisation expert involved from the outset, or make sure the developers you use know that site speed is crucial. You will be using site speed tools to examine the speed. Ideally, you need to aim for A/90’s, and you should not pass the project until this has been achieved.

There are many things you can and should do at the end, such as caching, which I will come to later on, but certainly, the coding and structure should be considered from the outset.

If you are looking for a WordPress Speed expert, I would HIGHLY recommend these guys; they are truly fantastic and have worked on a number of my projects.

#12. Website speed testing

Website speed testing is the most essential aspect of website functionality checklist that will not only speed up your site for improved user experience, but it is also an important factor for your website SEO.

There are, in my opinion, 3 tools you can use to test your website speed:

www.gtmetrix.com 

www.pagespeed.web.dev (this is Google page speed test)

www.pingdom.com (this is paid)

Realistically you should just use one to do all your testing with, I use GTMetrix and Google speed test, as you can see below, there is a slight difference between each test, but generally, we’re pretty happy with the results.

GTmetrix:

GTMetrix WordPress Speed Test

Google site speed:

Google page speed test

#13. Hourly vs Fixed rate

When choosing a WordPress developer or agency, it’s essential to determine whether the project will be on a fixed rate or hourly rate. For me, I would only work on a fixed rate; going hourly leaves the project open to going on forever.

I always question a developer’s ability if they cannot offer a fixed quote. It means they are unsure about the full scope of the project (or too lazy to evaluate it in its entirety). I only work on a fixed rate basis, and to be honest, so should you.

#14. Managing the project

Project management is key, and I would highly recommend using a service such as Trello to manage each part of the project.

Using Trello, you can create columns of cards for each aspect of the project, invite the team involved with the project, allocate tasks, label cards, comment etc. I find it incredibly useful, and it’s free!

I would recommend creating cards along the lines of:

  • To Do
  • To Discuss
  • Ongoing Development
  • In Development
  • In Testing
  • Ready for testing (Client)
  • Verified

It’s essential to have a timetable so you know how long each part of the WordPress project will take e.g.

  • Wireframing & Design = 1 month
  • Design to HTML = 1 week
  • Website development = 2 months (This can be broken down into smaller elements on the Trello cards)
  • Testing = 1 week etc.

I would also recommend completing tasks one by one and avoiding the temptation to skip forward to other tasks; otherwise, they get left behind, and it takes time to pick up where you left off from the previous task.

#15. Create a staging website

This is like a demo site to see how the development is going. It’s always good to have a staging website so that any changes or updates are made there first to ensure there are no bugs before deploying to the live site. I would ask your developer to create the staging website on your server.

#16. Keep detailed notes

From experience, it’s essential to keep notes of any customisation you have done and ask the dev guys to add notes to the files – you can even ask for a copy of these files with the notes. 

This then ensures that a) the dev team will remember exactly what they have done and b) should you ever work with a different agency, they will be able to see what has been done and hopefully pick up quickly where they left off.

#17. Website structure

There must be a logical structure to the website for both user experience and search spiders to crawl and index the site.

This is usually managed via menus. Depending on how complex your site is, you can easily manage this via the appearance settings; however, if you have a complex hierarchy, it may be worth considering a specialist plugin to manage this, or choose a Theme which already incorporates a smart menu, but be careful as they can be pretty heavy on the site.

Using an SEO plugin mentioned below, you can then submit your XML sitemap to the various search engines, essential for search rankings.

CSS and Javascript files:

Remember, with a clean code structure, you can decrease the load of time on pages and increase the crawlability of your pages

With Google, less is more, and having a limited number of CSS and Javascript files will help. Plus, you won’t have to worry about minifying them later.

Simple layout:

A simple design will make it easy for users to navigate from page to page.

Responsive:

As we know Google gives an edge to responsive sites in searches from mobile devices so make sure to keep this in mind.

#18. Page builder/editor

When designing particular pages or sections, it can be helpful to use a page builder to help make those pages/sections look fantastic. For me, there is only one page builder to use, and that is Elementor. I use it for all my websites, and although it’s not perfect, I find it very useful. 

There are basic templates you can download or, for Pro users, more advanced options, which I think is an absolute bargain for the price.

However, if using a page builder is a little too complex, the new default page editor, Gutenberg, is great, I find it very easy to use and allows various plugins to integrate with it, making page editing so much easier.

WordPress Development Checklist - Gutenberg text editorWordPress Development Checklist - Gutenberg widget editor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#19. Plugins

Plugins are kind of like phone apps. If you want your website to have a form, the easiest way is to use a form plugin. If you’re going to have an image carousel, there is an array of plugins for that etc. 

It’s very easy to get carried away with plugins – before you know it, you’ll have 30+ which can lead to incompatibility issues, site speed problems and security headaches, so try to keep these to a minimum.

When choosing a plugin, always look to see how often it’s updated, if it’s not updated regularly, I will stay away from it.


WordPress speed & optimisation

This next stage of your WordPress website development will help speed your site up and make search engines love you. This section usually comes under the WordPress SEO checklist.

#20. Site speed plugins

Below are a few SEO plugins I use for all my WordPress websites:

Flying Pages by WP Speed Matters
Autoptimize
WP Rocket

If you are unsure what you’re doing, I would recommend just allowing a WordPress speed optimisation expert to manage this for you.

#21. Font management

An often overlooked detail for site speed is the number of fonts you use. Ideally, you should use just 1 or 2, so again, reiterate this with your developers. It would also be a good idea to store them locally so that the font pack only loads those required fonts.

#22. Icon packs

Similar to Fonts, icon packs can take up a lot of precise site speed.

Most Themes will use icon packs; however, most of the time, you will use only a few of those icons, so from a site speed perspective, it would be better to download them locally and use only those you require – speak to your developers to find out the best way to manage this.

It’s also worth investigating how many icon packs are being used with a WordPress theme; realistically, you should only need one icon pack; however, I know of themes that use 4-5 packs; it’s crazy and impacts site speed considerably.

A few considerations:

  • Gutenberg Support
  • Which social networks are supported
  • Retina ready icons
  • Responsive icons
  • FontAwesome integration

#23. SEO Plugins

For me, two plugins stand out from the restRankmath and Yoast.

I like both, they have different qualities, and both do an equally good job. 

They can both be used to manage your Metadata, as described below:

#24. Metadata

An essential part of WordPress site SEO is Metadata – this is what appears on search results – the title at the top (in blue) and description below.

Metadata example

I would recommend creating a spreadsheet like this where you list every page and have a column for the title tag and description tag – As you’ll see, I have limited how many characters you can use in the fields so that it complies with Googles rules.

Some simple rules to follow when creating your META data:

  • Ensure every title tag and description is unique – there cannot be any duplicates, or you may be penalised.
  • Make sure the keyword for each page is at the beginning of the title tag and is also used in the description.
  • Do not use ALL CAPS.
  • Try and make them enticing and interesting.
  • Personally, using the example above, I think it’s a waste of characters to add your company name/website in either the title or description, as this is seen in the URL or site address at the top. For example, how powerful would it be if it said “Builders in Farnham: Surrey’s #1 building firm.”

#25. Website hosting

Choosing a website hosting service that specialises in WordPress hosting is crucial; below are a few tips:

  • Under no circumstances allow your developers to host for you; you need 100% control.
  • Make sure the server is based in the country you work in or are targeting.
  • You can usually quickly increase your package, so start small and adapt as you gain more traffic.
  • Make sure daily backups are made automatically.
  • Most offer free installation, so check
  • Support is crucial, so do some research and find out how their support is as you will need it!

I have used MANY WordPress web hosting services over the years; however, by far, the best I have used are these guys, it’s who we use for this website! I have no hesitation at all in recommending them.

Other options include WP Engine and SiteGround.

#26. Use a CDN

If you expect a lot of traffic, especially from abroad, it’s beneficial to use a CDN service such as Cloudflare. It also adds additional security to the website.

If you do not know what a CDN is, according to Cloudflare:

“A content delivery network (CDN) refers to a geographically distributed group of servers which work together to provide fast delivery of Internet content.

A CDN allows for the quick transfer of assets needed for loading Internet content including HTML pages, javascript files, stylesheets, images, and videos. The popularity of CDN services continues to grow, and today the majority of web traffic is served through CDNs, including traffic from major sites like Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon.

A properly configured CDN may also help protect websites against some common malicious attacks, such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks.”

#27. Website content

This is a crucial part of your WordPress website’s success, and if you are serious about being successful, it should be right up there on your priority list.

Some basic advice:

  • Make sure your homepage focuses on your primary keyword or phrase
  • You should have dedicated pages for each of your targeted keywords or phrases – you should ideally focus on one keyword per page
  • Make sure you have a professional About Us page – this should summarise what you do in a nutshell, show your objectives, experience and key personnel
  • Create a content calendar for the year ahead
  • Quality over quantity – it is far more beneficial to have a high-quality, thorough article than lots of poor quality content
  • Use video, images or even audio to engage your audience
  • Use a Table of Content plugin to list each section at the top of the articles (Search engines love this)
  • Do not duplicate content
  • Write in short paragraphs to keep it accessible to read
  • Link to external websites and link internally to other important pages using keywords as the linking text.
  • Promote blog articles on social media, email etc

#28. Image optimisation

Images are an important part of a website, the more visually appealing it looks, the better the engagement will be, however, you should take care to optimise your images before uploading to make sure the image files are as low as possible whilst still maintaining good quality.

As a rule, I try to keep image files sizes around 30-50kb with an absolute max of 100kb.

Below are some quick tips:

  • Resize the image to the actual size it should be
  • Reduce the DPI to 72 (300 is print quality)
  • Personally, I always name files in lowercase and ensure there are no spaces.
  • Always add a descriptive Alt text.
  • If you use a Mac, install this plugin to reduce the image file size www.pichiapp.com
  • Alternatively, install EWWW Image Optimiser

For example:

The below two images may look the same. However, the one at the top is the original and is 192kb, and the one below has been optimised with Pichi and is now just 27kb – that’s a huge difference!

Original image before optimisation
Original image before optimisation

Image after optimisation
Image after optimisation

#29. WordPress Security Checklist

Due to its popularity, WordPress security is a significant factor, and if you are not careful, it can be pretty vulnerable to hackers. Below are some basic steps you should take:

#30. Testing

Once you are at the go-live stage, test, and then test some more. Clear all the demo data and try from scratch; ask friends, family or existing clients to test it out and give their honest feedback – this is so important and often uncovers details that have been overlooked. 

You’re good to go if it passes an idiot’s test!


WordPress basic analytics & marketing

#31. Analytics

Set up Google and Bing Analytics

#32. Search submission

Submit your website to Google & Bing as a minimum.

#33. Google local

If you are a local business, set up ‘Google My Business

#34. Set up Mouseflow

I would always recommend using a site visitors screen recorder, such as Mouseflow, at the initial stages of a website launch to gauge if there are any bottlenecks and see where people are leaving the site; this will help you make small tweaks to improve the user experience.

Mouseflow Heatmap

#35. Marketing data

If you’re a new company, do you have a database of potential users to launch to?

If not, it’s worthwhile creating a coming soon page where people can pre-register their interest and use LinkedIn to connect with people and drive traffic to your coming soon page.

#36. Referral scheme

Can you offer a referral scheme that offers some kind of reward to customers who refer their friends & connections to you? There are a number of WordPress referral plugins to use, I find these guys are very good.

#37. E-newsletter 

Whether you love ’em or hate ’em, make sure to have an E-newsletter sign up form, they are essential to help you grow, and every WordPress site should have one (or a way to capture visitor data).

But please, when designing the newsletter, give people a reason to sign up, don’t just say ‘Join our newsletter!’ – Why should they sign up? What makes your newsletter more interesting than the gazillions of others out there? Be creative! 

Again there are lots of services you can use, but we use MailPoet as they focus 100% on deliverability which is absolutely crucial for email marketing, so I would highly recommend them.

#38. Restrict content 

If having a newsletter is not your cup of tea, consider restricting content or having a members-only section so that users have to create accounts to access it.

I have used these guys before, who I found very professional.


WordPress Website Launch Checklist Summary

So, there you have it. If you follow this WordPress checklist, I’m pretty sure you’ll launch a slick WordPress site that your users will love.

Just remember, a website is never finished! It will always require maintenance and updates, and there will always be minor tweaks and improvements you can make, so do not think everything has to be perfect, heck I find errors on sites like Paypal all the time, so it does not matter.

I would love to hear what you think about this article or if there is anything major I have forgotten about – please let me know! I’d also be interested to see what new projects you are developing, so, please feel free to share in the comments.

Good luck!

Hey there! I'm Guy, the Founder of WP Hire, nice to meet you! I'll be using my many years of experience working with websites and WordPress to provide useful articles to help you with your future projects. I'm by no means a coder or developer, I just have an avid interest in all things techy! I really hope you find WP Hire useful and would welcome your feedback and suggestions! Cheers!

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