Newfangled works with independent agencies to create lead development web platforms for their clients.

Newfangled works with independent agencies to create lead development web platforms for their clients.

Going Live



Unlike every other step in the web development process, the procedure of going live is less about slow planning and long bouts of hard work than it is about concentrated and precise coordination. Imagine opening night of a theater production: months of work has already been done rehearsing the actors, creating the costumes, props and set, memorizing cues, planning and testing utility flow charts for things like audio and visual effects, and promoting the show itself. In the brief span of time in which the play is actually performed, everything that has been prepared for in advance must be executed just so in order to preserve the continuity of the experience. Once that curtain begins to rise, every event is part of a precise and coordinated series of events.

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Behind the Scenes of a Website Launch

Coordinating the launch of a new website is similar to the opening night scenario I described above. The site has been prototyped, designed, built, tested, and used, but all on a staging server that only we and our clients can see. Launching the site involves moving the working site to our live server, so that anyone who goes to our clients URL (http://www.site.com) will see the new site in all its glory. While it may sound pretty simple, it actually involves the careful collaboration of several people on the team. Our Project Managers like to use group chats to maintain a direct and live line of communication between each person working on the launch.

group_chat.jpgThe Project Manager's Role
The first thing a Project Manager needs to do is make sure that their client can access the administrative account for their website's domain. Every web domain (i.e. website.com) has a domain name server (DNS) associated with it that needs to be correctly configured to refer site visitors to the IP address for the server where the actual site files are stored. Whomever has access to the administrative settings for the domain needs to update the domain's "A" (address) record in advance of our team moving the site files from our staging server to our live server. Making this change is as simple as logging in to the account and changing a few field values, but sometimes tracking down the actual username and password for this account can be difficult. We normally begin gathering this information far in advance of the planned go-live date. Once the A-record is changed, the amount of time needed for the new A-record to be propagated across the web's servers is unpredictable, sometimes even taking up to 48 hours.

The Project Manager will also coordinate the entire going live procedure, establishing the date and time on which it will occur, and facilitate the communication between the client, System Administrator, and Developer during the process. While the team is working, the Project Manager will be busy checking through the site page by page and testing functionality like website forms, data imports and exports, and e-commerce transactions.

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The System Administrator's Role
The System Administrator will prepare the server in advance for the new site and assist the developer by transferring files and setting up cron jobs for routine functionality like the keyword ranking tracker in our CMS dashboard or any scheduled data imports (i.e. inventory reconciliation). Because the server is maintained by the System Administrator, no site could go live without his help.

The Developer's Role
The developer, with the System Administrator's assistance, will transfer the site files from the staging server to the live server and make sure that everything he has built works properly once moved. An important detail that the Developer will cover is to update configuration files that use URL's or IP addresses specific to the staging server. Without doing this critical step, many functional elements would not work properly once in place on the new server.

folder.jpgTo learn even more about the technical details involved in launching a new website, check out our older newsletters on Dealing with DNS and Goin' Live, or Steve Grothmann's more recent blog post on Going Live, Servers, and DNS for a Newfangled Site.

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It Lives! (Now you have to feed it.)

No, it's not over. Going live with a new website is just the beginning. Immediately, you want to have all hands on deck to start using the site just to make sure everything works as it should. This kind of post-live testing is best done by everyone involved and then some. Having as many fresh sets of eyes on a site as possible will ensure that even the smallest details don't go unnoticed. Once the site is actually being used, you'll begin to have an even clearer sense of additional things it needs to do, changes it needs, and the like, which is why content strategy and the on-going nurturing of a website are the next topics in this series.



Comments

Chris Butler | March 5, 2010 4:37 PM
Russ: That's a good question. It really depends upon the activity that any given post or article generates. There's a general process I follow in terms of promoting content--certain sites I always submit links to, plus sharing via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like, which only takes a few minutes. Once readers start commenting, though, that can take some time to read and respond. As far as my own engagement offsite--reading and commenting on other blogs and publications--that tends to vary as well. I'd probably estimate that I spend an hour a day on that kind of thing.
Russ | March 4, 2010 10:28 AM
Under *Engagement* you mention various ways to push the conversation. Following up on comments, participating in forums, etc. offsite, rep mgmt, and so on. How much time do you spend on this?
Chris Butler | March 4, 2010 9:27 AM
Suzanne: There are some great points in the article by Erin Kissane you've linked to. Her suggestion of content templates is a good one, too. I can imagine that a company like ours could do well with that approach, particularly in the area where the template provides examples. Having done web development for so long, providing actually helpful examples should be easier for the web company than the client. The only thing missing from the template--as far as I can tell--are suggestions for length and strategic focus of the content. The example they are showing is for a product detail page, but other pages, such as those that might describe a service offering or a core discipline, would need to have indications of what goals are prioritized (i.e. a reader should proceed to another page, or a reader should complete a call to action) and even what length of copy and type of imagery is appropriate.

Alex: I agree. Creating web content for many creatives has tended to be an imagery/graphics-oriented exercise. But written content is important for them, too. Being able to describe what you do, in addition to showing image samples of your work, is one of the primary ways to get prospects to understand what they're buying. Your website should do that in addition to inspiring them with the work you've already done.
Alex | March 3, 2010 9:52 PM
I think what @maggieb is talking about is much more common with creatives than others when it comes to websites. I and otherse like me who studied design, tend to redo my own website almost once a year. Maybe too often, but it just seems necessary. What @suzanne mentions probably doesn't hang us up much because our content is image-based and not much writing. This, like the first part, was a really helpful resource for those of us who would naturally make a simple website for ourselves but need to do something bigger for a client. Thanks for the insights.
Suzanne | March 3, 2010 8:32 PM
My experience has been that creating the content takes far longer than anyone really thinks it will, and not only that, probably can't be done by the marketing team working on the website. An article from A List Apart does a great job of showing why the writing process is much more complicated than most people would assume. The big takeaway is that there is a hidden process of getting the knowledge from engineers, designers, product people, sales people, etc. and translating it into good web copy. Just because you know your stuff doesn't mean you can write it in a way that web users can make sense out of it.
Chris Butler | March 3, 2010 10:28 AM
Jiliian: Thanks! That's the idea--to have a detailed resource, between this article and Part 1, on how it all works. I hope it will be useful for some time to come.

Katie: Very true. 301 Redirects used to be something people thought about after their traffic was negatively impacted by a rebuild--"wouldn't it have been smart if we'd..." Having a module built into our sites that allow users to create the redirects during the content entry phase is so important. Too important, in fact, to have been left out! Thanks for bringing it up. In fact, someone should turn our wiki entry on 301 redirects into a blog post...

Russ: I'm glad that distinction is helpful. It's helpful to us to remember, too. We advise our clients on strategy all the time, but it's critical to get the lingo right at the beginning, otherwise any authority you should have is undermined.

Maggie B: Right now, we don't have any similar case studies that show a succession of redesigns and rebuilds, but we probably should. As I said, we've done this for several clients, some of which have been in relationship with us for over a decade. I'll work on getting one into our Featured Projects section.

Ed Bryson: Thanks for the compliment, and for making it that far through the article! Next month's should be a less dense entry...
Ed Bryson | March 3, 2010 7:42 AM
Chris, another comprehensive piece. I like the combination of sophisticated process with the simplest tool at your disposal (e.g. gchat for coordinating the website launch). Makes a lot of sense.
Maggie B | March 2, 2010 8:17 PM
Seeing the timeline of changes to your site over the last decade was fascinating- makes sense a web design company would do so many redesigns. Do you have any similar case studies of doing one or more redesigns for clients? I'd love to see the transitions for a site in another, less creative industry. Also, are there any smart ways to save some money the second or third times around?
Russ | March 2, 2010 7:08 PM
You're nailing something about so-called strategy that's been bugging me for a long time. We've brought in plenty of "social media strategists" or "content strategists" and they all pretty much amount to guys telling us how to blog or use Twitter. I always want to say where's the beef but have lacked a way to say it that won't get labeled being out of touch.
Katie | March 2, 2010 2:39 PM
Chris,

There are so many dead-on analogies in this newsletter. I especially like the comparison of content entry to moving day. The part of moving that always takes 10x the time I expect is dealing with clean out WHILE I move. Similarly, most people have legacy content from an old site that they need to sift through to determine if it stays or goes. That adds a ton of time.

Also, I couldn't help but think of 301 Redirects being equivalent to mail forwarding -- both incredibly important and often forgotten :)

Katie
Jillian | March 2, 2010 10:31 AM
Great newsletter, Chris. It covers all the "hidden" bases that many of our clients don't even realize exist when they initially plan a new website project.

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