Five Tips to Help Put a Website Live Successfully and On Time
As a web developer it’s a great feeling to set a site live and to see all of your hard work pay off as people begin to use it. During my time in the industry I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with a few hundred site “go-lives” which thankfully, touch wood, on the whole have gone smoothly.
As with anything you do repetitively however there are always going to be cases where things have maybe cropped up at the last moment or could have been done slightly better. In this post I want to run through some things that I’ve learnt whilst putting websites live so hopefully the next time you are tasked with launching one you are fully prepared.
1. Backup the existing live website
I cannot stress enough how important backing up an existing website (files and database) is prior to going live if one exists. If the site to be replaced contains an ever-updating database this might be the last thing you do before uploading the new version. Regardless however you should download it, zip it up (or vice versa) and store it somewhere safe. If you’re acting on behalf of a customer you could even email the backup to them to cover your back, after all it is their website.
2. Plan a timeline and act early
Depending on the size of the website you are working with and the setup, this point may differ. The point I want to make though is that you can never be too prepared. Note down a list of things to consider in the weeks before go-live and ask yourself some of these example questions:
– “Do I have all the FTP and/or domain information I require? If not, how can I obtain this?” If help from a third party is required take into account their location, operational times and response times.
– “How long will it take to backup the current site if one exists and upload the new one?” I’ve known large sites that have taken up to half a day to download and upload so consider the size of the sites to be transferred.
– “How long will the domain take to propogate?” If changing domain settings it can take between 24-48 hours for it to propogate fully across the globe.
Another thing to think about that goes hand in hand with this is the date and time that you plan to make your new site public. Is a friday afternoon really the best time to be doing it? Again this depends on the type of website going live and it’s size but maybe a quiet monday early morning would be more suitable.
3. Test, test, test
This one is pretty self-explanatory but like my first tip is one I consider very important. With hundreds, thousands, if not millions of users taking every possible path through a site you can be sure that if something is broken they’ll find it. Some techniques for testing I use are as follows:
– Run a link checker such as Xenu’s Link Sleuth to spider your site and unveil any broken links. This one is also good general practice in maintaining sites, especially for larger sites with constantly updating content or links to external sites.
– Give the site to a colleague, friend or family member. In developing the site you will probably know every tag, page, nook and cranny. Watch a new user perform actions on the site to highlight usability issues and get their feedback.
– Load test. With a small team developing the site the userbase probably won’t get above a couple but how can you be sure the site will perform as good in a couple of years time with a much larger userbase?
– Cross browser test. Just because you use <insert browser here> doesn’t mean the other billions of internet users do. Download every browser you can get your hands on (they’re all free) and test your site in each one to throw up any formatting errors. Validating your HTML can also help prevent any future cross browser issues.
4. Redirect URLs that will break
If search engine optimisation is important to the website then a URL suddenly disappearing when the new website comes into effect due to differing page names can be catastrophic. In this instance my advice would be as follows:
i) Get a list of all the pages on the current site. For large sites I find the best way to do this is to perform a Google search in the format ‘site:mysite.com‘ or, if an analytics package is installed, export a spreadsheet from there.
ii) Create a .htaccess in the root directory of the upcoming website and add 301 redirects (one per line) like so:
redirect 301 /olddir/oldpage.htm http://www.mysite.com/new-file.htm
5. Perform a soft launch
When building a new website you might work on a local development environment, hidden from the outside world with a server that is setup to your likings. A soft launch is almost a practice run before the big day to ensure that everyone (ie. potential users, the customer, managers) is happy with what is to be released and , if soft launching on the server that the site will be going live on, that everything works as expected. A couple of times I’ve gone to put a site live and last minute, after developing the site on a Linux server realised that it is to run on a Windows box.
So there we have it. I hope my tips help in making your next upload a smooth and successful one. If there are any steps you carry out before setting a site live that I haven’t mentioned simply comment below to tell me.