Sentree’s team is comprised of web developers and server experts, so we are intimately familiar with both the process of developing a website and the task of launching one. Having launched thousands of websites – many of them with unique requirements – we’ve had to navigate virtually ever crisis in the books. We’ve certainly learned a lot along the way. But a plan is only as good as it’s weakest link – meaning that every member of the team responsible for navigating launch day needs to be on the same page. This short guide is aimed at helping do just that. It is a list of some of the things most commonly forgotten or miscommunicated leading up to the launch of a new website. We hope that this will help you ask the right questions, draft a plan, and make sure everybody knows what he or she is responsible for. Without further ado:
1. Thorough Testing
There is no such thing as foolproof testing. There’s also no such thing as testing too much! Make sure you have clear specifications as to what browsers and devices you are intending to support, and make sure you test on every one of them well ahead of launch – repeatedly and often. Don’t wait until the last minute, either. A good team of developers will perform thorough testing, but having a larger test group is indispensable when it comes to identifying allusive bugs before a website goes live. Make sure there is adequate time built in between the completion of initial development and the launch date to allow for testing and bug fixes (HINT: think weeks, not days). Bugs will inevitably still arise – but proper testing procedures will ensure that their number and severity are both minimal.
2. Important SEO Basics
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a broad topic with many facets. We aren’t a marketing firm, so we aren’t even going to try to give you advice on how to maximize your rankings. What we can do, though, is clue you in on a few important pitfalls to avoid related to launching a new website that can really damage your rankings.
- HTTPS. Making sure your website is secure is more important now than ever. In fact, search engines like Google are helping to make people aware of just how important this is by reducing the rank of websites that aren’t served securely over HTTPS. Make sure that your new website will be!
- To WWW, or not to WWW. Another common SEO problem occurs when you fail to choose an enforce whether your website’s URLs include “www” or not. If your pages can be reached with or without the “www”, and you aren’t redirecting to one or the other, search engines will consider this duplicate content. That’s not good. Make sure you pick whether or not you want to have a leading “www” in front of your website URLs, and have your web developer set up a global redirect accordingly.
- 301 Redirects. This is only pertinent if you are replacing an existing website, but it’s so often overlooked. When you are replacing a date website with a new one, chances are, your sitemap and URL structure are changing. That means that the pages on your new website will be different (and have different links) than the pages on your old site. No big deal, right? Well, sort of. In order to ensure a smooth transition, and make sure that the pages Google has indexed don’t 404 (result in “Page Not Found” errors, which search engines definitely don’t like), you need to make sure that you redirect all the old URLs from your previous website to their new counterparts.
- Tracking Codes. Don’t forget to put any pertinent tracking codes (Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Facebook Pixel, etc.) in place before you go live.
3. Backup, Backup, Backup
Nothing is more important than having thorough backups before you begin the launch process – not only of the old website that’s being replaced, but of the new website you are launching as well. You would be surprised how common it is to mistakenly overwrite the wrong database or copy files the wrong direction. Suddenly, you’ve lost something important – only to find out your last backup was 6 months ago. Don’t be that guy. Back it up. Then, back it up again.
Just as important as the quality of your website itself is the quality of the service that hosts it. If you’re hosting an expensive new website on a $5/mo shared hosting plan, don’t expect your users to have a great experience (not to mention the staff responsible for maintaining the website). Performance, security, and support are vitally important. Here are a few specific questions to consider (and ask your host about if you don’t know the answer):
- Does the host provide on-going backups of my website? If so, how frequently? How long are the backups available? What does restoring a backup entail if something goes awry? We recommend daily backups with at least the last 30 days available (60 or 90 is ever better).
- Will my website be behind a Web Application Firewall? This is important to prevent your website from being hacked.
- Will there be malware scans on my website? This is vital to protect your website from becoming infected. If the host provides malware scans, what happens if malware is discovered? Is it my responsibility to fix it, or will the host handle the cleanup?
- Will the host handle important security updates to my website’s software (i.e. WordPress, Drupal, etc.), or is this my responsibility?
- What is the hosting infrastructure like? Will my website reside on a single, shared server with no failover (let’s hope not!) or a cluster of servers?
- Is there any type of caching or Content Delivery Network to optimize performance?
- Does the host provide thorough and knowledgable hands-on support?
If those questions aren’t answered in a satisfactory manner, it may be time to look for a new hosting provider! You could sign up for our free trial!
In all the hubub over the website, it’s easy to forget about something we all use every day and often take for granted: email. When talking about website launches, one of the most common horror stories you’ll hear is related to email. Many times, launching a website involves making DNS changes, or even changing hosting providers altogether. In the midst of this, it’s easy to forget to ensure that your email service stays in tact, or is properly migrated if it’s supposed to transition. Make sure you know who your email service provider is – is it your web host? Is it a separate service? Make sure you also know where your DNS records are managed – this could be your domain registrar, your web host, or another service provider altogether. Whoever is responsible for coordinating the launch – whether that is the website developer, the hosting provider, an internal IT department, or a combination thereof – needs to be aware of the specifics regarding email to ensure that there is no downtime.
6. Post Launch
Before you even begin the launch, you should already be planning for post-launch. This is another common oversight. We have frequently helped a client through a successful launch, only to have them take the reigns and run into a crisis shortly thereafter due to inadequate internal planning. It’s like driving a brand new car off the lot and getting in an accident with no insurance. Don’t do it! Here’s what you need to be considering while making post-launch plans:
- Code updates and bug fixes. Make sure that you have a plan for how to handle tweaks and fixes that will inevitably be required in the weeks and months following launch. This should ideally take the form of an hourly or maintenance agreement with the developer(s) that build the website.
- Access control. You wouldn’t let anybody in the world replace the plumbing in your home just because they tell you they did it for their grandma. It is vital that only well trained and competent developers be given access to your website’s code and database.
- Quality control for content updates. Just as you are protecting your website’s code, make sure you have a good process flow in place for routine content updates (blog posts, page edits, new pages and resources, etc.). Make sure that those responsible for these tasks have been well trained, and have the appropriate permissions given their roles (too many permissions will result in unnecessary risk – too little will result in frustration for the staff). Furthermore, it’s best to make content changes in a staging environment, rather than directly on your live website. This will ensure that content changes and additions can be vetted and tested prior to going live. Talk to your web host about a staging environment.
That’s all, folks! We hope this guide is helpful as you are planning your website’s launch. If you’re looking for a managed host to take care of all of these concerns for you so you can focus on your business, sign up for a free trial today!