3.16.15

10 Questions to Ask Before Launching Your New Website

BY JEFF ROBERTSON

Planning a new website launch? The process can be daunting and time consuming, here are 10 questions to ask before launching your new website to ensure it goes smoothly.

Prepping for Your New Website Launch

Most marketers have only been involved in a couple of major website launches in their careers. And they’re usually spaced far enough apart to ensure you forget everything from one launch to the next. Depending on how much support your internal or external IT teams provide, an impending website launch can be a daunting task.

Below, we’ll go through a few questions that should be answered far in advance of the big day. We will focus on those of you who are replacing an old website… if you are launching a brand new website on a new domain, you have a bit more wiggle room since nobody knows your new site exists yet.

But before we begin, let’s discuss key terms that are often skipped or misunderstood.

Domain : This is your website address, like www.mysite.com.

Domain Registrar: This is the company from which you bought your domain (or transferred it to after purchase). This company sets the nameservers, which we’ll get to in a moment. If you don’t know who your registrar is, do a "whois" lookup on your domain. https://who.godaddy.com/

You’ll see a company name listed as the registrar. Search for that company to find their website and hunt down your login.

Here’s part of the whois entry for carbon8.com. Our registrar is Network Solutions.

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Nameservers : This is where your DNS information resides. DNS essentially tells computers how to find the servers that run your domain, including your email, website, intranet, etc. If you need to change where your website "lives" (what server it is hosted on), then you have to change your DNS.

Nameservers are the most misunderstood piece of launching a website, in my opinion, because they’re usually lumped together as part of your Domain Registrar’s tools or your website host’s tools, even though they can be their own, standalone service

For example, many people register their websites at Go Daddy. Go Daddy offers free DNS nameservers when you buy your domain from them, as do many other registrars, so people often keep their nameservers at Go Daddy.

You can find your nameservers by using the same whois lookup discussed above. It’ll usually list two domains as your nameservers. Here are the Carbon8 nameservers:

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Who on earth is Worldnic.com? For this, you have to do a little Googling. Trying searches like "which company is worldnic.com" will eventually lead you to the right answer (it’s Network Solutions in our case, the same as our registrar).

Website Host : This is where the actual files for your website reside.

With that essential but boring stuff out of the way, let;s get to the questions:

10 Questions to Ask Before Launching Your New Website

  1. Is your new website replacing an old website at the same domain name (like www.mysite.com)?
    1. If not, this checklist isn’t for you, though the general principles are similar. Launching on a brand new domain may be covered in a future article.
  2. Is your website staying on the same server at the same website host?
    1. If so, skip to question 7.
    2. If not, you will need to be able to change your DNS. Continue to question 3.
  3. Can you log into your DNS provider to edit the DNS?
    1. Remember, this may be the same place as your domain registrar.
    2. If your DNS is run by your website host and you are switching hosts, you'll probably need to move your DNS entirely (changing nameservers). This is a bigger task that an IT person should handle.
  4. What is the TTL (time to live) for the DNS records you will change?
    1. Every DNS record has a TTL value, set in seconds. The TTL tells other servers how long it can store the information in this record before checking back with your nameserver (the "authoritative" server).
    2. If you are moving from one web host to another, there will always be a period of time right after launch where some people see the old website and some people see the new website. This is because various computers along the way cache (store) the information about where your website is located so they don’t have to look it up every time. So let’s say you are switching your DNS from one web host to another at 8 am on Monday, and your TTL is set to 1 day (86,400 seconds). Your friend Jim tries to go to the website at 7:50 am, and he sees the old website. At 8 am, you change the DNS record to point from the old server to the new server. At 8:15 am, Jim tries to go to the website again, but he still gets the old site instead of the new one. Why?
    3. This is because Jim’s internet service provider (or other machines) cached the location of your website when they looked it up at 7:50 am. Since the TTL is a day, those servers can continue using the old information for up to a day before they check back in with your authoritative name server and find you’ve made a change.
    4. Many people set the TTL on their website DNS records down to 10 minutes a couple of days before a new website launch to help eliminate this problem, and they set the TTL back to 1 day (or whatever they prefer) after they’re sure everything has gone well. You may want to discuss this option with your IT team.
  5. Do you know what DNS records to change?
    1. There are many possible options for this step, and it all depends on how your DNS and servers are set up. Usually the IT department and/or the new website host are the best places to get this information.
    2. Giving a trusted source a full screenshot of all your DNS records can help them sort out all the possibilities.
  6. Are there any other domains, besides your main domain, that need to point to the new website?
    1. These old domains may redirect themselves automatically, but it all depends on how they were set up. Check with an IT person or the new host on each domain you own that should be affected by the new website.
  7. Do you have access to the new web host?
    1. Make sure you have a working login to the website host’s control panel (if any).
  8. Do you have FTP access or another way to transfer files to the new host?
    1. Pro tip - even if you have a working FTP login, make sure (carefully) you are able to actually edit an existing file. Once in a blue moon, you’ll find (at launch time, of course) that the FTP account you have doesn’t have permission to delete the existing website files... it can only add new ones.
  9. Do you have database access?
    1. If your site has a CMS or other database features, the IT people will probably need to create a new database. Make sure they have access to do this from the host's control panel or otherwise.
  10. Have you set up redirects from old page URLs to new page URLs?
    1. If your site If your SEO team hasn’t done this yet, now is a good time. This is often set up on the new web server or as part of the new website code, and in many cases it can be done before launch.

Once you have answered all these questions, ask the people actually doing the launch for a detailed plan so you know who is doing what, when.

Jeff Robertson
written by JEFF ROBERTSON

Jeff Robertson is a digital marketer and an online development expert with experience stretching back to dial-up. He is partner and Chief Technology Officer at Carbon8, where he helps bridge the gap between the technical and marketing worlds, as well as oversees technical infrastructure.

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