Since Compass started, we’ve launched over 200 websites, and more than 50 of those have been in the last three months—that’s a new professional website live on the internet roughly every two days. That’s a lot of work, because launching a website isn’t easy, and one thing (among many) that we’ve learned over the last few months is that helping our clients to understand what goes into firing up a website is key. This way, a confusing and often opaque process becomes clear and our clients are able to develop informed expectations. If you’ve been trying to figure out how to launch a website, you’ve come to the right place: We’ll share our lessons learned to help demystify the process and keep your project straight from the outset.
THE BIG PICTURE
Like most things, there are a few key processes that every launch involves:
- Assessing the domain. If you already have a website and are re-vamping it, have a domain name on layaway that you’re finally bringing to life, or just got a new one, there’s a process to figuring out if the domain name and the registration it’s tied to are in a launchable state.
- Priming for Google. The whole point of having a website is so your business shows up on the web, right? If you don’t consider SEO (search engine optimization) throughout the process, you’ll be dead in the water before you even begin.
- Migrating existing links. If you have a current site that links somewhere (and almost every website under the sun does), then you have to make sure that all links transfer seamlessly without leading to those annoying 404 error pages.
- Creating manageability. One thing about websites is that they have a tendency to change. Whether you’ve finally gotten new product photos to post, or have decided to tweak the language you use to talk about your business a bit, it’s essential that you have control over the basics of your site. While it might seem easy, it takes skill and time to ensure this kind of functionality.
This is what to expect at a high level, but let’s dive into the nuts and bolts.
All domains have to be registered in order to keep track of who owns which website on the ever-expanding web. Both individuals or businesses can register domain names and there’s basically two ways to go about it: doing it yourself or registering a domain name from a third party. However, we can’t stress enough that you should never purchase a domain name from a third-party reseller—it’s just going to spell trouble for you down the line when you want to access the main panel where your website is registered (ie, anytime you want to add a subdomain). Your best bet is to always register domains yourself because then you can delegate access to us when we build or update your site—it’s a thousand times easier than transferring, which is an incredibly arduous and painful process.
All this means that before we even get going, we have to figure out the state that your domain is in. If it’s in a good state (aka one that allows you to access that main panel called a Domain Name System Panel, or DNS Panel for short) then we’re all set and ready to get to work. If it’s in a bad, inaccessible state, we have to do one of those dreaded transfers that can take up to a week to accomplish.
Google is king when it comes to search engine standards—aka the rules and suggestions you want to follow if you want your site to rank (ie, show up) in searches. That means that if you follow what Google says, all other search engines will be happy too. Take a look at this example of a recent client of ours, Willistown Country Day School. We peppered their site with search terms and followed Google’s rules throughout, as we always do, and here is their Google search result (or Search Engine Results Page, aka SERP, to be exact). And here is their results on Bing. We didn’t do anything Bing-specific, but because we followed Google’s best practices, they ranked highly on Bing (and thus other search engines) as well.
So, in order to please Google, we “crawl” your site (a fancy way to say that we set it up to be discovered) when we create or revamp it. We also set your site up so that it automatically crawls itself every so often after that, which keeps you relevant and ranking highly over time—because we all know how fast things change on the web.
Getting bad directions is the worst. You show up somewhere, expecting what you’re looking for to be there, and it just isn’t. 404 error pages occur when you get bad directions on the internet—if a link isn’t connected flawlessly to the place it’s supposed to lead to, a 404 error page will show up instead. These pages are bad news because they seriously deter users from your site and can often lead to your inbox being flooded with questions or requests for information that the linked page was supposed to answer or provide.
While it’s important to check, double check, and triple check links on a new site, this is more of a pitfall when it comes to redesigning existing sites. Because the words that make up your links can seriously affect SEO, sometimes changing them makes sense. But if, for example, your change one of your links from “http://my-awesome-domain.com/about.html” to “http://my-awesome-domain.com/about-us” and it’s not updated across the site in every place that it’s linked to, anyone clicking on the old link will end up with an error page. In order to avoid having to manually swap out all the switched links now and anytime they change in the future, we set up 301 redirects for you. That means that anyone who clicks the old link will automatically be redirected to the new one—no one can tell the difference and 404 error pages will be no more.
Building With You in Mind
All websites are built from code, but that code is often translated into a more easily managed, no-coding-knowledge-required content management system (or CMS) that everyday users can handle themselves. We craft your site through whichever CMS system is right for you, build or alter the code to create exactly what you want, then hand the CMS reins over to you for basic management from that point on. This way, when it comes to standard software updates and changing elemental features like text and imagery, you can take care of it by yourself without spending time and money to have a developer do it for you.
That Said, Every Case is Different
These are the basic, universal steps to launching a website. Depending on your site’s complexity, size, and specific needs, the time associated with each phase varies, but no matter what, this is what you can expect any website launch experience to entail. Now that you’re in the know, you can make much more informed decisions regarding your business’s site and can understand what you’re getting yourself into when considering giving it a makeover.