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Magento Pre-Launch Checklist

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Making a Magento website live is not child’s play. If you are a Magento developer you know that this a daunting task for even a seasoned developer. It's the final step of a long and stressful journey, and this makes it even more stressful. In this tutorial, I'll keep it simple by giving you a pre-launch checklist, and a brief explanation of each point.

1. General Checklist

Let's start with a few key points that you need to get right before going live.

A. Base URL

Before making your Magento website live (or moving it), you should update the base URLs of your website. Otherwise your URLs will redirect visitors to your development website. To access the store pages, you need the base URLs. This can be edited in the store view.

The base URL can be modified in two ways: through the back end, or by applying a SQL query. 

To modify the base URL from the back end, go to the Magento Admin Area. Then modify the option of Base URL like System > Configuration > Web > Unsecure > Base URL to System > Configuration > Web > Secure > Base URL. Do not forget to include trailing forward slashes.

Secure and UnSecure URL

If you are unable to access the back end because of some erroneous update of the Base URL then you need to update it directly in the database table. These URLs are stored inside the table core_config_data of MySQL database. Change the field values of the web/unsecure/base_url and web/secure/base_url paths:

URL Change in PHPMyAdmin

Flush the Magento cache under the directory of var/cache to apply the changes.

B. Favicon

Before launching your Magento website, you should create Favicons. This minor point is often overlooked. Most often users keep open multiple tabs while browsing. For ease of browsing, do not forget to include Favicons for your website. This also reinforces visual branding. The path for the favicon is as follows: /skin/frontend/default/favicon.ico.

C. HTML Head

Change the original setting of the HTML head for better SEO purposes. Change the ‘Title’, and set Meta descriptions and keywords. The path for these changes is System > Configuration > General > Design.

HTML Head Configurations

D. Placeholder Images

Placeholder images are default images set for your site if products do not have their own images. By default Magento has a nice light grey set of default placeholder images, but for the purpose of branding, you can create a set of your own by going to System > Configuration > Catalog > Product Image Placeholders. 

E. Contact Information 

For customizing the Contact Us page, first of all enable it from System > Configuration > General > Contacts.

Contact Us Enabling

To create a little advanced contact us page, remove the link at the default Contact Us Page. If your theme doesn't already have a local.xml file, then create a new file of local.xml in your current theme’s layout folder. The content of the file will be as follows:

If your theme file already has a local.xml file, then add the following code under the <default> handle:

Replace the path with the current URL. Now save this file and clear the cache. Then you should create contact-us-form.phtml. This is your form template. The next step is to place it into your current theme’s Template folder. The path is as follows: app/design/frontend/your_namespace/your_theme/template/contact-us/contact-us-form.phtml

Next, paste this code into the file and save it.

The next step is to create a CMS page, and the path is CMS > Pages > Add new page. To display your Contact Us page in the desired place, paste the following code:

After this, save this page and add the link to the footer of your web page. To edit the Contact Information, update your form.phtml and save the file.

F. Copyright

It is essential that your copyright information in the footer is correct and up-to-date, as it will be displayed on all pages. You can change/reconfigure your copyright information by following this path: System > Configuration > General > Design > Footer > Copyright.

Footer Copyright Notice

G. Store Logo and Email Addresses

Make sure that your store logo's file path is correct, and that it has the right alt text and Welcome text configured. To view these logo details, go to System > Configuration > Design > Header.

Logo Settings

Also make sure that all store information and business mail addresses are correctly set. The required path for configuring these email addresses is System > Configuration > General > Store Email Addresses.

Store Email Addresses

In addition the transactional emails often use different logos. Save that logo as logo_email.gif in your current theme directory.

2. Performance Checklist

This performance checklist will improve your store’s speed and responsiveness, and ensure that your eCommerce store will be able to withstand high traffic pressure without crashing.

A. Index Management

Magento indexes data for faster access. To update a product in your store, you should re-index it so that it will be displayed on the front-end. 

To update the indexes follow the path: System > Index Management. The indexes that need re-indexing will be displayed in red font and Reindex Required will flash. Otherwise up to date indexes will display Ready status in green font. Until you re-index the data, the sample products will not be displayed on the front end of your website.

Reindexing Magento

B. Cache

Full page caching has an immense impact upon the performance of your store. A Magento store runs blocks of codes for determining which HTML to run on the client browser. Full page caching stores emitted HTMLs and resends them for every subsequent request. This cache feature ensures variations of dynamic contents (Welcome message, cart count, etc.) from customer to customer. Make sure that before launch, all your caches are enabled, by going to System > Cache Management.

Disabling Cache

C. System Compilation

To keep down the loading time of your Magento web page, system compilation proves extremely helpful. Page loading speed is increased up to 50% after you apply this step. The correct way to use it is through the back-end of your website, and the path is System > Tools > Compilation.

When a customer requests a page, the server spends a considerable amount of time locating the exact files. This leads to higher I/O operations that may create bottlenecks during high traffic cases. The compilation process stores codes in one folder and compiles them into a smaller number of files on the disk. The compiled code should be refreshed for a single code deployment.

D. Log Cleaning

Log cleaning is a part of database maintenance. Magento is an excellent CMS platform but its default database maintenance ability is not up to the mark. A big database can make your site sluggish. 

The site latency and performance can be dramatically improved through log cleaning. Frequently compared products and customer access data are stored in these files. Enable this feature. The easiest way to do this is through the back-end. The path is System > Configuration > Advanced > System > Log cleaning. Then set Enable Log Cleaning to Yes.

Enabling Log Cleaning

You can manually clean the log via PhpMyAdmin. The log cleaning function of Magento manages the following tables.

  1. log_customer
  2. log_visitor
  3. log_visitor_info
  4. log_url
  5. log_url_info
  6. log_quote
  7. report_viewed_product_index
  8. report_compared_product_index
  9. report_event
  10. catalog_compare_item

Select your required table from PhpMyAdmin and then click Operations. Then click Empty the table (Truncate).

Log Cleaning in PHPMyAdmin

Then go to Structure on the top menu and click on Optimize in the With Selected option.

E. Minify JS and CSS

Minified versions of JS and CSS will again help you speed up the loading speed of your website. For this the easiest way is from your back end. The path is System > Configuration > Advanced > Developer. First go to the JavaScript settings and click Yes to Merge JavaScript Files. Do the same with the CSS settings.

You can also install User Interface Optimization for JS and CSS minification.

Minifying CSS and JS

3. Error Management Checklist

A web page may undergo maintenance processes. You must keep a default error page design and a default structure of "page not found" to provide better user satisfaction.

A. 404 and Error Page Design 

The 404 page is a great place to advertise special offers, coupons and points to be generated by users. Change the ‘Magento Store’ reference on the default 404 page, which can be found at CMS > Pages.

Use a different theme design to display your 404 not found page. Change the action of ‘print’ into ‘email’ in the errors/local.xml file. Otherwise customers will view the default logo and theme.

404 Page Design

4. Email Checklist

This function will help you to keep a personalized communication with your customers.

A. Transactional Email

Admin can dynamically change the content of the email. Transactional emails use a different logo to the default one. Make sure that the image that you want to use is saved in your theme directory as logo_email.gif.

B. Newsletter

Make sure that your newsletter settings are correct and updated. You can access them at System > Configuration > Customers > Newsletter > Subscription Options. Check out a more detailed article on correctly configuring a Magento newsletter.

Newsletter Options

5. Sale Setting Checklist

Make sure that your product shipment, payment settings and tax settings are up-to-date and in accordance with the laws of your country.

A. Tax

You can modify/view your tax settings at the following path in the Magento admin panel: System > Configuration > Sales > Tax > Tax Classes > Tax Class for shipping.

Setting up Tax Classes

Then choose between the Taxable GoodsShipping and None options.

B. Shipping

Set the shipping settings for the Country, Region/State, and Zip/Postal Code for your local or global eCommerce website from System > Configuration > Sales > Shipping Settings.

Shipping Methods

Rates for shipping can be enabled through System > Configuration > Sales > Shipping Methods > Shipping Table Rates and many other available options. You can include them to enhance your store’s shipping functionality.

Shipping Table Rates

C. Payment Settings

You may choose different payment gateways for your online store like PayPal, Authorize.Net, Stripe, etc. through this path: System > Configuration > Sales > Payment Methods. You can also set the mode of payment from here.

Payment Methods

6. SEO Checklist

To optimize the web pages for different Search Engine Results, make sure that your Google sitemap and Analytics are properly set up in your Magento store.

A. Google Sitemap

Search engines crawl the pages using the xml file. The spiders read sitemap.xml and this improves your visibility and ranking in SERPs. The path for setting up an XML sitemap in Magento is Catalog > Google Sitemap > Add new sitemap. There you can set the File Name (in xml extension) and Path for your xml file.

Google Site Map

B. Google Analytics

Google Analytics helps you analyze the traffic of your website. For setting up Google Analytics in Magento, you can set up an account with Google Analytics and then place it in the Analytics account ID. The path is: System > Configuration > Sales > Google API > Google Analytics.

Google Analytics Setup

7. Legal Checklist

Website owners often underestimate this checklist. But this is an important feature to include, for keeping your business out of legal entanglements.

A. Privacy Policy

You can generate a privacy policy for your online store by installing iubenda. It is a professional way to add one. A privacy policy is must for every website. Some countries like the U.K. legally require you to show a privacy policy on your website if you are storing users' information on your server, as is the case most of the time. 

Just after setting up your website, you can generate the Policy attached as a badge to the lower border. After installation, an email will be forwarded to you explaining how to integrate it and customize it as you need.

B. Terms and Conditions

If your store includes its own terms and conditions and your visitors need to accept them to book an order, you can set that up from the admin panel. The path is: Sales > Terms and Conditions > Add New Condition.

After you click Add New Content the following window will open.

New Terms and Conditions
In the field Show Content As, you can give a styling effect using HTML tags. Otherwise you can choose the option Text for simple text and add the content into the Content field.

In order to agree with the terms and conditions you need to provide a checkbox. In the Checkbox Text you can add text to be displayed beside the checkbox like ‘I Agree’, etc. Put in the exact Terms and Conditions as text in the ‘Content’ field. In the ‘Content Height (CSS)’ you can set the height of the text area in the front end in pixels. After specifying all the conditions, click Save Condition.

You may also require setting up the Order Review for the Checkout process. The path is System > Configuration > Sales > Checkout. Then in the Checkout Options, set Enable Terms and Conditions to Yes.

Enabling Terms at Checkout

C. Return Policy

You can add a CMS page for setting the ‘Return Policy’ of the website, and you could also use an extension like Magento RMA Extension. Using this extension you can smoothly set up the Return Management Authorization policies. After clients accept them, they can create requests for RMA. The easy method for RMA Tracking helps you to take precautions against fraudulent returns.

Using this extension you can set up different ‘Request Types’ beyond the default types of refund or replacement. For example you can add credit, repair or any other request type. For every status and request type you can also specify the store view. In this way the extension supports multistore view.

D. Shipping Info Pages

The shipping info page can be created as a separate CMS page from CMS > Pages > Manage Pages > Add New Page. If you want, you may also use an extension like Custom Shipping Options. The primary function of this extension is to enable your customers to have their personal shipping accounts at the time of checkout.

You can create an option for Custom Shipping to be displayed on the Shipping Method portion of the checkout page. Using this extension you can demand a surcharge for shipping. The rate of surcharge will either be per order, or will be based on the number of items.

Final Words

In this article, I've listed important points to be checked before launching your online Magento based store. In addition to these points, you should also carefully check the functionality of all pages and extensions before launch. A small bug or extension incompatibility can create a bad user experience. This may also cause valuable loss to your business in the long run. 

Did you like the article? Please let me know in your comments and your feedback for this article. 

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