The Ultimate Site Finalization Checklist for Professional WordPress Websites

How often do you do create a new website for yourself or someone else? Do you just dive in and start working your WordPress theme, plugin, and settings magic? I’m guessing most of us do this and could benefit from having a checklist to guide us through the website finalization process. A checklist will remind you of important settings to configure and help you to not forget the little things.

I’ve created a long list of items to be completed after getting the general site design approved by your client (or yourself if the site is for you).

This checklist was created with a new domain and new site design in mind (not inheriting an established site). However, it can still be used for existing sites with some modifications.

I’ve split the list of to-do’s into 5 steps (click each link to scroll down to that step):

All the steps (and their tasks) are listed in order so you can do them all from first to last, but each website creator, website project, and client are a little different and go through a different set of revisions.

Also, you might have some value-added services to perform (integrate BuddyPress, bbPress, display ads, etc.) for a specific project, or you might have some favorite plugins or best practices. Thus, I’ve provided the HTML code for each table so that you can put it in Dreamweaver or some other table editor and hack it up as desired to make your own version.

Hint: You might want to create multiple checklist versions or add additional Steps for common projects like BuddyPress sites, the $500-1,500 package, the $1,500 – $5,000 package, or other variations.

Why Use A Website Finalization Checklist?

I find it helpful to use a checklist like this for two reasons:

  1. To show a prospective client that I’ve got a comprehensive plan for their WordPress website.
  2. To use as an actual checklist (i.e. mark stuff as done) after I think I’ve got all the major items ready to finalize and have the client’s trust enough to where I think they’ll approve everything else going forward.

Checklists help you produce more professional end results in a shorter amount of time. It’s just a logical thing to do.

If you do a considerable number of sites like I do, you might create your own, like I did. But even if you only build 1 website per year (even if for yourself), this checklist is a great starting point (if not all you need an more).

How To Use This Checklist

I suggest copying each table from this page (not the HTML code) and pasting into Excel if you want to keep electronic records (which is probably best). Or you can open the html files in a web browser and print and put in the client’s paper folder.

The first column corresponds to the Step the task is listed in. The second column, “Order”, indicates, “you should do all the lower numbers before proceeding to the higher numbers”; it’s used as a loose way to group tasks within each Step.

The third column specifies one of the following task Areas:

  • Communications – Client interactions
  • Plugins – add, remove, edit
  • Settings – work your magic
  • SEO – tasks with search engine results in mind
  • Themes – add, remove, edit

For the last column, you can either put a checkmark or a date in the last column when completed. If you won’t be completing a task, you might want to put an “X” in the column.

If you want to turn it into something to show your client, you might want to style the checklist and add/remove tasks and put it in your client proposal package. In this case, you’d probably want to add another step before Step 1 to get to the point of starting to finalize a site, which is the intention of this checklist.

The Ultimate WordPress Website Finalization Checklist

I hope you get good usage out of this checklist — for your personal and client WordPress projects — and I invite you to share links to your own checklists or comment with some additional tasks you think might benefit your fellow readers.

Without further ado…

Step 1: Before Going Live

Download HTML code of Step 1

Step 1 – Before Going Live
Step Order Area Task Completed
1 1 Settings Verify all site pages and elements display properly on Chrome, Firefox, IE (multiple versions), Safari, Opera, Mobile Safari, Android, etc. Most importantly, test while logged out. Secondly, test all scenarios while logged in, both the front-end and the back-end. (do this again as the very last step)
1 1 Settings Verify favicon displays on IE (might need .ico version) and non-IE browsers
1 2 Communications Receive Client approval of site design concept, moving forward toward finalizing/publishing. As appropriate, initiate change orders (i.e. charge more for feature-creep)
1 2 Settings Take backup before proceeding to finalize
1 3 SEO Create needed categories and tags, including Description text for each
1 3 Settings Change default category from “Uncategorized” to something else (e.g. “News”)
1 3 SEO Confirm SEO plugin’s settings per tag and category
1 4 SEO Create archive-, tag-, and category-specific layouts/pages
1 5 Settings Change the author of all posts, pages, and CPTs to be authored by the Client’s User(s), not your own Administrator User
1 6 Themes Review items in the WordPress Theme Development Checklist

Step 2: Going Live

Download HTML code of Step 2

Step 2 – Going Live
Step Order Area Task Completed
2 1 Settings Run the WordPress Search and Replace script if needed (if moving from a test site with a different URL), and delete the script
2 1 Themes Theme / Child Theme named appropriately in wp-admin and FTP
2 1 Themes Delete unused themes, except a fallback like Twenty ____
2 1 Plugins Deactivate development plugins, like Action Map / CSS Map; testing code, scripts, and dummy content; and SSL testing plugins
2 2 Plugins Delete unnecessary plugins
2 2 Settings Delete unnecessary / inactive users, as appropriate
2 2 Settings Make sure all users have their profile information as desired — Name, Contact Info, Bio, etc.
2 3 Settings Test site Search functionality: obviously-relevant results (i.e. search not broken), not returning hidden posts/pages/content (if any), returning CPTs, etc. Consider implementing a better-than-WordPress solution
2 3 Settings Make sure all WordPress default posts, pages, and comments are trashed or permanently deleted
2 4 Settings Verify all Widgets are in the right place (and display logic, if applicable) and delete unnecessary Widgets from the Inactive Widgets area
2 4 Settings Verify General Settings are as desired (e.g. www or non-www, new user registration, Timezone, etc.)
2 4 Settings Verify Discussion, Media, and Permalink settings are as desired (e.g. closing comments after 14 days, setting image sizes, and having pretty permalinks). Re-save Permalinks if you didn’t make changes, just to make sure.
2 5 Settings Delete WordPress default links and link categories
2 5 Settings Enable Remote Publishing XML-RPC if Client wants to use the WordPress mobile app, IFTTT, or verify site on Gravatar profile
2 5 Settings Setup WPMU DEV Dashboard to hide branding and only be enabled for your Administrator User account, as desired
2 6 Settings Delete all unused logo, background, and other files from Media Manager via Dashboard and from Theme / Child Theme folder via FTP
2 6 Themes Verify the theme’s (not the server’s) 404 page works and is designed as desired
2 6 Settings Turn on WP_DEBUG and Deprecation Testing before publishing site for one final test. After resolving all errors, if any, turn off WP_DEBUG and Deprecation Testing plugin(s)
2 7 Themes Validate website (HTML/XHTML, CSS, broken links, feeds, etc.).
2 7 Themes Run site through page load testing, like Pingdom, GTmetrix, YSlow, Google PageSpeed Tools, and Google Webmaster Tools’ and Google Analytics’ Site Speed reports. Make improvements as necessary/desired
2 8 Themes Verify all enabled Post Formats have specific styling. If styling won’t be created, disable non-styled Post Formats.
2 8 Themes Verify Featured Images are properly configured for archive pages, single post views, and any sliders / widgets that include Featured Images (i.e. Post Thumbnails).
2 8 Themes Add code that reminds Client of the ideal Featured Image size(s).
2 9 Themes Make sure all images have captions and that they look good
2 9 Themes Make sure video embeds work as desired
2 9 Themes Verify print preview (i.e. print stylesheet) is as desired
2 10 Themes While logged out, use View Source on the front-end of the site for several pages, looking for theme and plugin scripts that are loaded unnecessarily. Rectify as appropriate.
2 10 Settings If site has an SSL certificate, force SSL login/admin and resolve insecurely-loaded assets. If no SSL, consider adding a secure login alternative like Facebook.
2 11 Communications Create/Update the Client’s Gravatar and make sure it’s set to the same email address as used in the Client’s User Profile. Complete Gravatar image, verified services, and other profile info. Create/Login to the Client’s account (to be connected to JetPack)

Step 3: Finish Going Live

Download HTML code of Step 3

Step 3 – Finish Going Live
Step Order Area Task Completed
3 1 Settings Setup RSS feeds as desired. Verify all feeds that should be on are on and those that should be off are off. (e.g. all posts, all comments, comments per post, author, category, tag, CPT ones)
3 2 Communications Verify site Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy are displayed on-site and are approved by Client
3 3 SEO Create a robots.txt file
3 3 SEO Turn on WordPress’ “visible to search engines” setting
3 3 Settings Implement Analytics
3 3 SEO Verify site ownership with Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools.
3 3 SEO Verify sitemap is valid with Google and Bing Webmaster Tools
3 3 SEO Integrate with Facebook and Open Graph (OG) if not already part of your SEO plugin settings
3 4 Plugins Activate needed plugins that aren’t active yet, like Jetpack, activity monitor plugins, spam-blocking plugins, and Email Post Changes
3 4 Settings Add social sharing icons via Jetpack, Digg Digg, Floating Social, or other method
3 4 Settings Setup Comments Plus, Google Plus, and any other social integrations
3 4 Settings Setup Newsletter / MailChimp / Feedburner / Jetpack / other subscription manager settings and put sign up form on front-end
3 5 Settings Consider minifying your code. Enable caching, and CDN

Step 4: Promoting the Site

Download HTML code of Step 4

Step 4 – Promoting the Site
Step Order Area Task Completed
4 1 Settings Setup Admin Help Content and Custom Dashboard Widget to include beneficial links: to your own blog(s), tutorial / how-to videos, wiki or knowledgebase or support chat, the WPMU DEV Manual, the WordPress Codex (or a select few pages), podcast, contact information, Terms and Conditions, “tell others about us” affiliate reward (setup their PayPal email address in their User Profile). Include information about possible upgrades and reminding Client of your other services
4 1 Settings Set Dashboard Feeds settings with your own blog’s feed
4 2 Settings Setup syndication / auto-posting of new posts and CPTs to Client’s social media channels, as desired
4 3 Communications Write a blog post about the new site design, providing yourself a backlink, and tell Client they have their first blog post. Invite them to edit as desired
4 3 Communications Promote Client’s site on their social media channels
4 3 Communications Add Client’s site to your own site’s Portfolio page
4 4 Communications Promote Client’s site on your own social media channels
4 5 Communications Create a screencast video (or collection of screenshots) to walk Client through all the features of their new site (maybe 2 videos if also wanting to demo the back-end). Publish to YouTube as a Private video (or Public if you have Client’s permission) and email to Client, requesting feedback
4 6 SEO Submit site to dmoz open directory and industry-specific site directories
4 7 Communications Provide an email signature for Client, including link to their site
4 8 Settings Finalize Pop-Overs, Social Marketing and Pay with a Like giveaways, Floating Social, lead captures, squeeze pages, etc. as needed
4 9 SEO Make sure your Update Services are as desired (for notifying sites of new posts)
4 10 Communications Subscribe to the site’s feed(s) in your own RSS reader, if you don’t have any other way to keep track of the site’s posting activity
4 11 SEO Update Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Google Maps pages with current domain name and other contact information.

Step 5: Finishing Up

Download HTML code of Step 5

Step 5 – Finishing Up
Step Order Area Task Completed
5 1 Settings Implement a tag-picker metabox (to avoid Client creating multiple variations of the same effective tags)
5 1 Settings Finalize Ultimate Branding settings
5 1 Settings Finalize Easy Blogging settings
5 1 SEO Finalize Infinite SEO or other SEO plugin’s settings
5 2 Themes Consider disabling some of the Write Panel features, as appropriate
5 2 Settings Login as each user to verify they have proper viewing/editing permissions and all Dashboard meta boxes, Post Editor meta boxes, and Admin Bar links are displayed as desired, including in the proper order. Ideally, there should be no dead links (“You do not have sufficient permissions to access this page.”)
5 2 Settings Make sure WordPress default email address is as desired (yours or Client’s email address?)
5 2 Settings Verify all form submission notifications are sent to Client’s email, not yours
5 2 Settings Add code to customize WordPress’ send-from email address
5 2 Settings Verify robots.txt and/or SEO plugin’s settings are working as desired by checking webmaster tools indexation
5 2 Settings Verify all site pages and elements display properly on Chrome, Firefox, IE (multiple versions), Safari, Opera, Mobile Safari, Android, etc. Most importantly, test while logged out. Sec ondly, test all scenarios while logged in, both the front-end and the back-end. (same task as in the beginning)
5 3 Settings Add site to ManageWP, WP Remote, or an alternative, if desired and not already done
5 3 Settings Run a database cleanup to remove old revisions (proceed with caution, consider backing up database first)
5 4 Settings Save a .zip backup of the entire site (files and database) to your local computer as proof of what you delivered to the Client on the day of going live.
5 5 Setup Implement auto-backup schedule
5 6 Communications Get your Client started on the right writing path by teaching them how to follow their own Blog Post Writing Checklist
5 6 Communications Consider suggesting Client setup Google Alerts and/or Yahoo Alerts
5 6 Communications Finalize your contract and get Client signature that the work has been completed satisfactorily. Get final payment (maybe before providing login credentials). Get web hosting payment if applicable.
5 7 Communications Provide Client with login, FTP, database, and third-party management utility credentials, as appropriate
5 7 Communications Setup WordPress mobile app and/or other remote publishing tool for Client

Bonus: Download all steps in PDF format

Ultimate WordPress Website Finalization Checklist – All Steps PDF


Please share your favorite tasks, thoughts on tasks to add or remove, and other feedback in the comments below. I hope it enhances your WordPress site-building.

Launch Button by Steven Depolo