Congratulations! I’m assuming testing went well, and the QA process went through without a hitch, right? Then we’re good. Let’s go live!
There are a couple of assumptions. I’m assuming that you guys used some type of staging environment, and if not, GoDaddy offers that and has some tutorials about it. I also assume that you have a backup of the live site, and a backup of the staging site. You can never be too safe when preparing for a website launch.
5 things to remember for a successful website launch and handover
Because every development platform is different, I’m going to try to be platform agnostic in my descriptions. For example, deploying a Ruby on Rails web application is quite different than a Drupal installation, so I’m going to list things to remember and things to be aware of instead of how to do it.
Time to deploy.
Package it up and hand it to the client.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at how each of these steps break down.
1. Set expectations
We always try to keep the client in the loop concerning when we’re going live with the site. You don’t want to scare them, but let them be aware that sometimes things aren’t in your control. Just let them know that if we have all of the correct credentials, and DNS is set up correctly, we don’t foresee an issue.
Related: How to set expectations with clients
2. Get credentials
One thing the client can control is passwords. Make sure you get credentials for the registrar, the DNS (because it might be elsewhere), the current website’s hosting company, and where you are going to host the new site.
And you might as well test them the day of the website launch to make sure you aren’t stuck halfway through the launch. I also recommend testing them the day before you plan on launching.
Related: DNS records — A beginner’s guide
3. Create checklists
Each site and scenario is different, but you will need to start creating checklists covering every section below.
This topic can cause an extra level of stress when creating sites. It isn’t hard, it just adds a few more things to verify.
The most important thing to be aware of is that a lot of credit card processors use different URLs for a staging environment, so pushing an exact copy of the staging site to a production URL might break the transactions.
So when you go live, make sure you aren’t using testing URLs and/or make sure you aren’t in Test Mode. It is always a good idea to have a one-dollar product you can purchase just to test a transaction once you are live.
In previous years, the only reason you would need an SSL certificate is because you were selling things on your website. That is no longer the case. In July, Google began rolling out Chrome 68. Now, Google’s browser will display a “Not Secure” warning next to the website in the address bar if the site is not secured with HTTPS.
Getting an SSL certificate is simple, but make sure that you know which type of SSL certificate your client is going to want or need. Some certificates take just minutes, but some can take longer if the company that owns the domain has to be verified. Make sure you have that set up beforehand.
SEO / Redirects
Because you are rebuilding the site, you are going to make changes to links, for example “/our-best-product” might change to “/buy-the-best-product” and you don’t want to lose any SEO rankings. You can make sure that you aren’t affected by ensuring you set up 301 and 302 redirects.
Before you go live, make sure you have a list of live and existing pages. I recommend using something like XML-Sitemaps.com to scan your site to generate a list. Once the site goes live, make sure that you match up the old URLs with the new URLs.
Most of the sites that Sideways8 builds use Google Fonts. That makes it easier for us because Google Fonts can be called or enqueued from any URL. If you are using fonts from other paid services, you will need to make sure you are allowed to call the fonts from the live site’s URL. It is a simple fix, just login to the font service and add, along with the staging URL, the live URL.
If your site sends any type of email, you need to be aware that some email services will block it. Some hosting companies won’t allow email to be sent out at all. For years now, I’ve been using an email service to address this. SendGrid is an extremely cheap (if not free) way to solve this issue. It not only sends the email, it will let you login and troubleshoot why an email is not being received.
4. Time to deploy
We have a rule that sites do not go live on a Friday. No one wants to work on the weekend and clients don’t want to be called on a Friday night if one of us needs information about hosting (or whatever the issue might be). We try to go live on a Tuesday. I know that is prime time, but it is a lot easier to track people down during the week.
5. Package it up, hand it to the client
As always, we want to continue a relationship with the client post-launch. Just because a site is live, that doesn’t mean you don’t need a maintenance plan or someone monitoring it. However, we do think it is good to package the site up so the client has everything they need in case they decide to go a different route concerning their vendor.
To allow this handoff, we make sure we give them a few things:
A zip of the site. We use WordPress when we build a site and there is a great tool called Duplicator that can generate a zip file of the whole site and give the client a link. If you aren’t using WordPress, just zip up the directory of the whole site and hand it over.
A copy of the database. Just export — it has a .sql file. The client might not know what to do with it, but it is good to have.
A copy of communication. Some project management tools allow you to export the project. For example, Basecamp can export all communication and files into a nice zip file. If you can, hand that over, too.
You can never be 100-percent sure of what is going to happen when going live. You could be in the middle of a launch and the southeast grid could go down, bringing things to a grinding halt. But with these tips, you will be taking quite a few steps in the correct direction to make sure website launch day and handover go smoothly.