Earlier this week we launched fantasticsams.com. The entire main event took only a few minutes and there’s been effectively no “post-launch fallout”. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it. The site gets significant traffic on a daily basis and was transitioned from an old .asp site to a brand new Drupal site, complete with data integrations, over 1000 users with various permissions, and it all went like clockwork. Why? It wasn’t because we all ate our Wheaties that morning. It was because of preparation. A launch is just the culmination of your preparations and plans. If you planned well and built it right, the launch goes easily. Here are some of my personal tips for ensuring a smooth site launch.
1.) Coordinate in advance. As you approach the week of your launch, everyone needs to be on the same page. Who’s doing what, when? Who has access to your DNS provider and will be changing the IP address to point to the new server? Who will be migrating the files and database from your staging server to the production environment? What day and time will there be a content freeze? Has the Time To Live (TTL) been lowered on your DNS records days ahead of time? Have you informed your users and stakeholders? Clear expectations and assignment of responsibilities for both client and technical team are essential.
2.) Think about SEO early. Whenever we build a site we include the tools needed for content editors to manage and create meta tags on the site. When it comes time for launch, check that your meta tags are working as expected. Make sure that when a page is posted to social media that the Open Graph teasers pull in nicely formatted images and teasers. Make sure you have Google and Bing webmaster accounts set up, along with a Google Analytics account and that you’ve verified ownership of the domain is verified with those search engines. Finally, make sure you’re collecting data with Google Analytics and that your Google Analytics property ID is correct. After launch, submit your XML sitemap to Google and Bing using Google Webmaster Tools (or equivalent).
3.) Add redirects. As part of launch planning, at a minimum we make a list of the most heavily visited URLs on your old site and add 301 redirects to the places those pages live on the new site. This way instead of leaving your visitors stranded when they arrive via links to old content, you send them to the new and improved information.
4.) Make sure things are secure. If you’re using a content management system (CMS) like Drupal or Wordpress, make sure that your theme, modules and plugins are up to date and don’t have any known vulnerabilities. Launching a new site with a documented security hole is an unnecessary risk.
5.) To www or not? Your site should be accessible when users enter http://www.yoursite.com but also when they enter http://yoursite.com. Pick one to be your canonical URL and redirect requests from the other to the canonical domain. That way, no matter how someone enters your address, they get the site they’re looking for. This also helps with site SEO because a site with all pages available on both www and non-www is considered “duplicate content” in the eyes of search engines, even if it’s the same site!
6.) Make a launch checklist. Whenever we launch a new Drupal website we use a custom launch checklist that details pre and post launch procedures. Your list will vary depending on hosting, CMS and a variety of other factors, but the point is to think about everything involved in a launch in advance and have a simple list to follow when it’s time to put that new project into orbit.
7.) Double check everything. Once the site is live, go back and check the site's logs and look for issues and errors. You’ll inevitably find more URLs that need redirects. Check the forms and email functionality to make sure mail will be delivered as expected. If you’re using Varnish for page caching, make sure pages are in fact being cached. Make sure that if you’re using a 3rd party for fonts, such as Adobe’s Typekit, that the fonts you bought are being loaded correctly.
These are just a few of the many things that come to mind when launching a website. What about you? Have your launches gone smoothly? Do you have a horror story? I’d love to hear from you. Shoot me an email. firstname.lastname@example.org