Whenever I am about to launch a new website or relaunch an existing website, there are several steps that I always take to ensure a smooth process:
Order domain name
If it’s a redevelopment of an existing site find out as much about the domain as possible including what needs to be done to change it. Domains names are notoriously difficult to work with because they are usually ordered by 2 types of people:
- Your new client who doesn’t know anything about domains. They won’t know how to change it nor remember the login details. Your client will want you to deal with the registrar but the registrar will only deal with the client.
- A previous web developer. This person will be pissed off that there portfolio piece will soon cease to exist and will usually not be cooperative.
Set up a new Google Apps account
- Point the domain name’s MX records at gmail. See Google Apps for details.
- Create a new CNAME record (email.newdomain.com) and point it at ghs.google.com – this allows your clients to type in email.newdomain.com into their browser and be taken to their webmail which is easier than remembering mail.goole.com/a/domainname.com
- Set up development email accounts
- e.g. email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org – used for receiving test emails, setting up new email addresses
- email@example.com – used for google services, adwords, analytics, webmaster central
Set up a Google Analytics account
Tracking must be in place as soon as we launch we but we also want to track people visiting the site before it launches (if any do).
If this is a relaunch you’ll want to be able to measure the positive difference your relaunch has on their stats (more visit, better SEO, etc) so getting the stats setup before you relaunch is crucial. Unfortunately, my experience is that clients often refuse to do this for fear that it will break their existing site forcing them to return to their old web developers to fix it (who won’t – obviously).
Add my Google account to the new Google Analytics account
The Google Analytics account should stay with the client forever and so should be in their name (firstname.lastname@example.org) – if they choose to get another developer to relaunch their website after you then they should be able to keep their stats and not lose them.
Set up a holding page
This should consist of a 1 page design with full <title> tags and meta <description> – the default server page/holding page that comes free from your domain registrar looks cheap. Plus, we want to submit the site before launch to the engines (if it’s brand new) so it’s in the index when the full website “goes live”.
Point the A record of the domain name at the server where the website is to be hosted. Only do this, if this is a new site.
Apply Google Analytics tracking script to the holding page.
Create XML sitemap
Create a very basic sitemap.xml file conforming to Google sitemap standards at newdomain.com/sitemap.xml
Submit to Search Engines
Submit site to Google/Yahoo/MSN via the submitting tools.
Set up Google webmaster central account and register site and submit your sitemap file
Let Google know there is someone accountable for this site, tell them where your sitemap file is. All this may help to get your site indexed quicker. FYI: when you tell your client ‘oh by the way your site won’t appear in Google for up to 3 months’ they probably won’t understand why. If you follow these instructions you’ll hopefully get the site indexed ASAP and please your client a lot more.
Link to new site
Link to the new website via another existing website usually under the guise of me talking about a new project I’m working on – this will get the search engines indexing the page quicker.
Did you see that? I just linked to a new website above – although the keywords I used weren’t great. At this stage, it’s more important that Google finds this new website rather than worrying about link text.
Set up a test subdomain
E.g. test.newdomain.com. The sooner you get some files on your server the quicker you will ascertain if your server has any differences to your local server e.g. errors may be displayed differently, your mod_rewrite rules may not work etc.
In the future, you will make all websites changes to the test.subdomain.com before making changes to the live server to avoid any problems.
Explain to clients how to use the new website
This is important if you’re selling a CMS, the client has to have all the content in place before you launch. You cannot launch a website with placeholder content/no pages. If they don’t know how to use your system, they won’t add the content and the site either won’t launch (and you won’t get paid) or it’ll launch and be a disaster.
Upload files and test thoroughly
Upload the site but ban everyone apart from you and the client from seeing it and redirect everyone else to the holding page via rules in a .htaccess file. It’s important to test this site works fully in the live environment but equally important that nobody sees it before it’s ready. The worse thing you can do is set the site live and then discover a problem and have customers see it. Fix everything before launching.
If the site is on a different server then you can amend your hosts files on your PC/Mac so that it associates the domain name with the IP of the new server therefore allowing you to test the site works in full. If the site is having the servers moved, you will have to explain to your clients how DNS works and how it can take upto 48 hours for a DNS change to take place.
Set it live
Choose a quiet time and set the site live, for a new site this can be whenever but for a redesign don’t set the site live in the middle of busy trading. This rules out normal working hours and probably evening times to – welcome to the early hours of the morning web buddy.
If working at 3am is impossible then check via Google Analytics which is the quietest time for the website in question.
People are paying you money, hopefully a lot of money to develop their website for them so get it right. Do a professional job and don’t cut corners and you’ll get happy clients and hopefully more of them.
Update 20th November 2007
The website I created for my most recent client (which I sneakily linked to up above) has now been indexed by Google less than one week after submitting the URL. I believe that the most significant thing I did to ensure this was to link to the new site from this page.