The 10 PR Commandments of a Successful New Website Launch

hcgovimageNo matter what side of the Obamacare debate you’re on, there’s one thing that we can probably all agree upon: Websites still matter.  In this day and age of increasing focus on social media, websites and website content have kind of gotten the back burner in terms of marketing focus.

The website roll-out debacle certainly fueled politicians’ fire on both sides of the political spectrum, but there are some valuable lessons that can be drawn from “the nation’s worst website roll-out in history” for any organization with a website—whether it’s a school district, school, county office of education, governmental entity, non-profit, or business.  While techies and other website gurus could spend a lot of time discussing the technological aspects, I’m going to focus on the 10 PR Commandments of a successful new website launch, so that your new website becomes your best PR tool…and not your latest PR nightmare:

Commandment 1: Develop a website that is responsive to stakeholders

How do your stakeholders want to navigate your site?  Do they want a list of options, or do they want a site that is intuitive and takes them to the information they are seeking?  In the example, backend users (insurers) are experiencing problems that differ from the frontend users’ (those seeking insurance) problems.  Both are equally important to the overall success of the site.  And, let’s not forget the “ques”….look, if you built a site for all of America to get government-subsidized health insurance, then make sure your site can handle the traffic!  So, with this in mind…

Commandment 2: Strategically develop your new website

Use surveys, focus groups, and interviews with key front end and back end users of your site.  Make sure the tech folks understand the needs and capabilities of those who will be updating the site and vice versa.  Look at the short- and the long-term needs of the site.  Ensure that your organizational policies will support the new site, and consider implementing a governance plan for the site to ensure the site’s integrity over the long-term. And, before launching the site, test pages with your front and back end stakeholders and ensure that everyone’s needs will be met.  There’s nothing worse than having a new website launched and then hearing about everything that’s missing from a key stakeholder.

Commandment 3: Set realistic timelines for the development of a website

Everyone wants a new website…yesterday.  Rushing the development of a website will risk critical website testing that needs to occur prior to its launch.  This website testing is code word for: saving your organization’s rear from a PR nightmare. Testing takes time—so does applying fixes.  With that being said…

Commandment 4: Heed the advice of your website developer

Prior to its launch, the site’s website contractor threw out several red flags related to the site’s capacity and its ability to launch by the October  deadline.  These warnings were widely ignored (according to media accounts), and, as a result, an incomplete, faulty site was launched, placing a dark cloud over the launch of the nation’s first comprehensive healthcare plan.  Look, a great website developer is going to be your partner in success—they don’t dig in their heels for their own kicks.  They have a very valid reason to raise concerns about launching before certain activities are completed. Listen to them.

Commandment 5: Develop a website that is reflective of your organization’s brand

Many organizations think they can use a cheap template approach to work around the financial challenges associated with developing a new website.  Unfortunately, this out of the box template approaches result in underperforming websites that look like…a bunch of other underperforming websites.  I work together with who I consider to be some of the best website developers around who develop custom, branded websites for a competitive price.  They not only provide great design elements, but they also deliver websites that use navigation, content organization, and design that best respond to stakeholders’ needs.  Consider making a little more of an investment to launch high quality website that is responsive to your unique stakeholders/customers and best reflects your organization’s brand.

Commandment 6: Every page shall have content

Seriously, had pages without content…worse, it had placeholder content. I don’t think this should require further discussion.  Really, please don’t use placeholder content—just don’t include pages that don’t have content.

Commandment 7: Every page shall have consistently messaged content

Having a content style guide for your site will ensure that your organization isn’t referred one way on your home page, and another way on an internal page.  The content style guide will also ensure that, if multiple employees are developing content, that there’s one way that bulleted lists are presented, a consistent approach to linking content, and more.

Commandment 8: Every page shall have effectively messaged content

Writing effectively messaged content ensures that your content is interesting to readers, guides them to other pages on your website, increases SEO (search engine optimization), and reflects your organization’s brand.

Commandment 9: Launch a website—that meets and exceeds everyone’s expectations

With that being said, don’t overpromise and underdeliver.  If you wanted video streaming on your website, don’t talk about the “new streaming video feature” until you have ironed out all of the details and finalized that video will actually be on your site.  There are a lot of technological details that go into every website feature.  Video, for example, sounds great on the surface, until you discover that you don’t have organizational support for developing video, or because your server can’t accommodate video hosting…and your organization blocks YouTube videos.

Websites cost money and take time—when public funds are used, then the light of scrutiny shines brighter on a new website launch.  When discussing the yet-to-be-launched website in public, make sure that your organization’s leaders are on the same page when describing the website’s new features—I would highly recommend developing talking points.  That brings me to my next and final point…

Commandment 10: Have a PR and Marketing Plan for the launch of the new website

Just as you would carefully construct a PR and marketing plan for the dedication of a new building, launch of a new program/product, or other feature of your organization, your website is the most important digital PR and customer service vehicle and structure for your organization.  Yet, all too often, organizations launch new websites quietly, under the radar, and expect their stakeholders to take up and notice the site when they happen to visit it.  Here’s a quick reality check: you may have already lost a lot of your stakeholders’ interest in your website before you updated it—and I’d be willing to bet that one of the goals of your new website is to have increased traffic!  So, why wouldn’t you treat its launch with the same PR kitten gloves (talking points, press releases, announcements to stakeholders, social media announcement) as you would any other important launch in your organization?

Oh, and if I could add a Commandment 11: Keep your new website updated!

Want more resources for developing your new website?

Sounding Board provides website content writing services, as well as capacity building workshops on writing effective website content, including a website content style guide.  Contact us to begin improving your website content today!

Sounding Board’s Preferred Website Developers

We want to refer you to the best of the best when it comes to website developers.  For this reason, Sounding Board does not endorse companies that provide a cookie-cutter, template-based approach, and instead, would prefer you to invest in a strategically-planned, branded, and beautifully-designed custom website through either of these amazing website developers:

SectorPoint, Inc.: Sounding Board Marketing & Communications regularly refers clients to SectorPoint, Inc. on the development of large-scale websites on the Microsoft Sharepoint 2010 and 2013 platforms.  More information about SectorPoint, Inc. can be found at

Bourn Creative: Bourn Creative specializes in strategic consulting, extraordinary branding, and custom WordPress websites. More information about Bourn Creative can be found at  (P.S. Bourn Creative designed Sounding Board’s website!)

About Heather McGowan

Heather McGowan increases public confidence in public education and improves opportunities for non-profit organizations to succeed through proactive communication and marketing. She provides strategic marketing and communication services that exceed her clients’ unique goals and delivers results that motivate audiences to act, change, and/or otherwise change behaviors for a greater good.

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