Even though many may find your business by Google search, you need a domain name to launch a website. A domain name is the first section that shows in your browser’s URL bar such as “augustash.com” or “augustash.net".
You cannot purchase a domain name; instead you lease them from one of many companies who contract with ICANN. You can lease or renew your lease for a domain for a year or more for a small fee. Many companies that “sell” domains often encourage you to purchase other services such as e-mail hosting and privacy shields for your public listing on domain ownership, but these are rarely the best services for the cheapest price.
If you have leased (aka “purchased”) a domain name, the domain retailer often provides a DNS Name Server service—often for free for a useable amount of time. We’ll talk more about this next.
Domain Name System
Every computer on the Internet is given an identification number, but it would be cumbersome to have to remember the number for every website you want to go to. Thankfully, due to the Domain Name System, you can just type in the domain name and the DNS system will query the (Internet Protocol) IP address/number where the server is located. The DNS system tries to cache this data on routers throughout the Internet which should mean that the DNS requests don’t take a long time to load if other computers near you on the network are visiting that same site.
If you have an old website, the DNS records are set to point to the old server. Even if you leased a new domain, we need to point the DNS records to the new server in order to launch the site. The biggest question of the entire launch is, “How can we accomplish this?”
Where are DNS Records Hosted?
First, if you have an IT Provider who set up your network and e-mail, we recommend telling them the website is being updated and asking them how they would like to edit the DNS records. Often, the IT team would like to manage the records themselves, in which case they will have control over the launch and we can send them the DNS records to be changed. In some other cases, they may send you the login to a web administration panel where we can make the changes ourselves.
Otherwise, the person who manages the DNS records may be the person who leased the domain name or maybe the web developer for the previous website. To get some more clues, you can do some looking up of public records to find out where the DNS is hosted. The Whois Record Lookup tool gives you a lot of information about who owns the domain. The most helpful are likely these lines:
The “Registrar” field tells the name of the company where the domain name was leased from. The “Name Server” is the actual servers where DNS records are coming from. In this case of August Ash, you see that even though we registered the domain through a subsidiary of eNom, the DNS is hosted at a separate service, DNSimple.com. (DNSimple is a paid service for organizations that want to manage DNS for lots and lots of domains—for most people, the DNS hosting that comes free with the domain name may be powerful enough.) Also, there may be up to three Contact records with information of who owns and administers the domain, which could also help find the people involved, although often they are redacted through a privacy service of some sort.
If you are the person who registered the domain but you don’t know how to access the DNS still, you may want to contact the Registrar or the company running those Name Servers as they should be able to tell you how to administer the DNS. If you are not comfortable with making DNS changes yourself, give us a copy of the login and we can make the changes for you to make sure the launch goes right.
When launching a website on domainname.com, you are likely going to set/replace records for both domainname.com and www.domainname.com. They will look something like this:
Your hosting company will assign you an IP address or addresses and should give you documentation on what these DNS records should be set to. Those records should replace the A, AAAA and CNAME records set for those domain names.
Delay During Launching
Due to the DNS method of caching records, whenever a record is returned, it is also sent with a a TTL, a “Time To Live” number. This is the number of seconds from now that this DNS record will remain valid. If this setting is, for example, 3,600 seconds, then after a DNS record is edited, for the next 3,600 seconds (an hour) visitors could be getting the cached version or an un-cached version. In other words, for that hour, when launching a site, some visitors would get the old site and some the new site. For this reason it can be helpful to, a few days before, set the TTL of these records to be, 600 seconds or 10 minutes (for example). That way during launch, visitors will only be getting one or the other site during a smaller 10-minute window. You can go even lower if you want, but most DNS hosting does not offer lower TTLs as it results in a lot of DNS traffic to their server.
Before launch, we definitely check for all these items:
If you have more than one domain name, you may want to allow all of them to your website. For Search Engine Optimization (SEO) reasons, though, you should redirect all of the domains to the main domain you are using for the site. For example, augustash.net is a domain we own, but instead of having identical sites at augustash.net and augustash.com, we just redirect visitors to https://www.augustash.com/.
Did your homepage used to live at somedomain.com/index.asp? No more with the new website! However, search engines and visitor bookmarks/links may still be looking at the old URL, so in that case we would most likely want to redirect it. Set up HTTP 301 Redirects to point to the main page URL. If any other pages have been renamed or have their URLs changed for some reason, add a redirect so your customers and search engines will be transparently redirected to the right place on the new website.
Analytics and Metrics
Do you keep track of website visits through a digital measurement tool like Google Analytics? Before launching, make sure that Google Analytics is set up on the new website as well as the old. In doing so, when your new website launches, this data will be continuously tracked ensuring that no crucial data is lost!
You, if not your customers, will be logging into the website to view and update private information. This means that you should be transmitting this data securely. And now browsers want HTTPS for any page where visitors can submit information. Therefore, you should get an SSL Certificate. TLS (Transport Layer Security) encrypts the data between the server and the browser so that other computers cannot modify or read the contents of the webpage. You can purchase a certificate for another yearly fee and customize it to fit your website’s needs.
Otherwise, LetsEncrypt.org offers free certificates. If you want to set up your own SSL on your server, head over to https://cipherli.st/ and view the recommended settings for modern browsers/servers. Test the certificate’s compatibility and settings for issues over at https://www.ssllabs.com/ after setting it up.
The Big Launch
Now that we’ve got everything prepared, know what DNS records to change and how to change them, we’re ready for the website launch. From here, DNS records need to cache to expire and then the new website should be visible.
If you have issues with the new website showing up, check if you have the same issues at home or via your cell phone when not connected to the Wi-Fi. If you only have issues in the office, talk to you office IT team as sometimes they hard-code the former DNS records for the network within your office.
Here at August Ash, we pride ourselves on our detailed launch process. Our main priority is to ensure that every project successfully launches without a hitch. Launching a new website is a big deal, and we hope this guide gave you a little taste into what it’s all about! Have any questions? Contact us today, we’d be happy to help.