How hard can it be to launch a website? You move the files on to the server, setup any database information and you're launched! Not so fast...

The Problem:

It's All In Your Head

We would be lying if we said we had never experienced a website launch go south. The site goes down, you are trying to figure out what happened, and then the phone rings. It’s the client wondering what happened to their site and they’re asking questions about what went wrong. Maybe the site launch goes fine, but two days later the clients emails aren’t sending or being received, or their Google Analytics account is no longer receiving data. We are humans and no matter how many websites you have launched, it’s so easy to forget to check off a box on the launch checklist you made in your head.

The Solution:

A Comprehensive Website Launch Checklist

At NerdyMind we started taking notes every time we launched a site, and after a few launches we had a good list created. This then became our site launch checklist. Although every once in a while we still have moments that remind us we are human, those times help us adapt and add to the list. Our list covers everything from simple to complex site launches, and does not reference a CMS or framework as we wanted the process to work for any site, no matter the framework. Not only does this list make launching a site smooth, it takes the guesswork out so any developer can go through the launch process and successfully launch a site. We now break these lists into Pre-Launch and Launch.

It takes the guesswork out so any developer can go through the launch process and successfully launch a site.

Pre-Launch List

Pre-Launch tasks can start happening as soon as the site is built and the content is added. Usually this is anywhere from a week to two weeks before launch. We recommend not launching on Fridays or the day before a big event (press release, product release) so that you can systematically launch and work out any bugs.

Here is our list:

  1. Do final confirmation of launch date & plan with client

  2. Confirm we have hosting set up, or access to existing host, & registrar login (if necessary)

  3. Confirm that hosting still works for project

  4. Login to SFTP/SSH to test credentials & port number

  5. Update software/plugins/add-ons to newest versions

  6. Set up Google Analytics integration

  7. Implement 301 redirects

  8. Check redirect for redirect loop - old and new page are the same URL

  9. Set/Check form's "from" and "reply email" fields - helps so emails don’t get listed as spam

  10. Check for browser favicon

  11. Determine email conversion plan (if their emails are set up on the server)

  12. If new server: pull blog images from existing site and upload to new site

  13. If ecommerce: replace "test" keys with live keys (shipping API, payment gateways)

Launch List

Launch has three sections:

  • Move files/Point DNS
  • Post Move
  • Wrapping Up

Moving the files and pointing the DNS usually happens pretty fast and you can tell quickly if there are any problems. Post Move is some server settings and add-ons, as well as QA (quality assurance). Wrapping Up is basically that, wrapping up a few things that are easy to forget after a site launch, but might have a negative impact if never done.

Move files/Point DNS

  1. If existing host: pull copy of database - discuss client needs for accessing old site>

  2. Ecommerce: check that we are using live keys (shipping API, payment gateways)

  3. If existing host: block public access to web folder with a "temporarily down" message

  4. If existing host: move website files to backup folder at root level - discuss client needs for accessing old site

  5. Copy new website files/database to production server

  6. If new server: if necessary, copy all relevant DNS records to 3rd party DNS service (Domain Registrar, Cloudflare, Amazon Route 53)

  7. If new server: if WHM/CPanel, set MX to remote mail exchanger

  8. If new server: change DNS records to point at new host IP

  9. If new server: check IP propagation on https://cachecheck.opendns.com/

  10. Test the site on https://crossbrowsertesting.com/ to make sure you are not seeing the cached version.

  11. Quick test of site on production server (does it load, can you login, etc.)

Post Move

  1. If existing host: remove "temporarily down" notification

  2. Test forms with client's email address as recipient - check with client that they received it

  3. If ecommerce: place a "live" test order (for each payment gateway)

  4. Change relevant settings to allow search engine crawlers, check robots.txt for disallow

  5. Crawl site for broken links, 404 pages, 301 redirects - we use Screaming Frog - https://www.screamingfrog.co.u...

  6. Change all admin, contact forms, and any other relevant email addresses to client's email address

  7. Check that "www" and non-www redirect to preferred URL

  8. Install new SSL certificate, ensure certificate relevant passes test (https://www.ssllabs.com/ssltest/)

  9. If new server: double-check DNS records (MX/SPF records pointing to the correct place)

Wrapping Up

  1. Disable access to staging site, or redirect staging site after launch (depending on client)

  2. If new server: email client regarding canceling old host

  3. Update destination URLs for any active ad campaigns (Facebook, AdWords, Bing, etc.)

  4. Check that Google Analytics is tracking in new site

Conclusion

A Faster, Smoother Approach

While this list does not cover everything and could be adjusted depending on the server setup, how you are moving files over, etc, it is designed to cover the most commonly missed steps when launching a site. Hopefully it will help you launch sites faster, more smoothly, and with less “Oh, #**$” moments.

Have questions or additions to the list? Comment below!

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