In celebration of Web Week, I’ve reached out to friends and members of the WordPress community to get a list of common mistakes developers make when launching a new site or launching on a new host.
If you’ve never heard of “Web Week,” it is the week between Christmas and New Years when most sites experience low traffic. This is the perfect time to launch a new site or launch on a new host. Web Week is the least likely time your launch will have a negative impact on customers and staff.
Of course, launches don’t always go as planned. Read on for 13 cringeworthy launch mistakes made by some of the most influential people in WordPress and how you can avoid them.
13 Cringeworthy Launch Mistakes
1. DNS? Check. SSL? Check. CDN? Doh!
If you care about speed, chances are you have a CDN to help power your site and get content closer to your customers. This is a must have for any site looking to increase site speed and improve conversion rates. Unfortunately, if you’re moving hosts or to a new server, you may need to update your “origin IP”. If you forget to do this, you could cause all kinds of problems with your site.
“We migrated servers and forgot to update the origin IP on the CDN provider. This caused new blog post images to be broken.” – Syed Balkhi – WP Beginner
2. I just launched your site, good luck with making money
Web developers have a funny way of doing QA. Short of making a new site or redesign functional, they often never pay attention to how the new site affects revenue. In A/B testing 60-80 percent of B’s fail to beat the A’s. This means that up to 60-80 percent of site redesigns are actually worse for the client’s immediate ability to generate revenue from their website. Eeek!
When you launch a redesign make sure to check things like Google Analytics to see if site revenue or lead conversion rates get better or worse. It could be that your whiz-bang new site is a whiz-bang new way to help your client reduce their revenue.
“A client redesigned and relaunched without testing conversion rates. The new site tanked revenue by 40% because users didn’t like the new site.” – Kenny Hyder – Hyder.me
3. Accidentally blocking search engines from indexing your site
What WordPress developer hasn’t made this launch mistake? When pushing from staging to production don’t forget to uncheck “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” under WP-Admin > Settings > Reading! When this selection is checked, it sends a signal to search engines to NOT crawl and index your site.
“I moved one of my sites way back. Already getting good search results, but forget to untick ‘discourage search results…’ nothing like doing a search on yourself a week later and seeing the horrifying results, page after page after page. It says it’s up to the search engine to honor the results, well, Google freaking does ;)” – Bob Dunn – bobwp
4. Nuking MX records during a website migration
When launching a site on a new host or server you have to update your A record. This does not mean you need to point the whole domain to the new server’s IP address! Avoid yelling clients and angry co-workers and leave your email MX record alone when deploying DNS changes for site migrations.
“I remember I was about to speak at an event and got a call from a large client that their email had been down for over a day after a recent site launch. After a little digging, their developer had pointed all of the DNS records to the new web host, including the MX record. Having seen this before it was a quick fix, but it wasn’t the exactly my best launch ever.” – David Vogelpohl – WP Engine
5. Assuming you’ve changed all links and redirects
You checked everything before launching that redesign right? All the pages are there? Are the links redirected properly? You’ve got this, right? Nope. Visitors are coming into the site on old URLs from outside sites and from “absolute URLs” within your site to a big slice of 404 pie. You didn’t actually get all the redirects.
To make sure traffic is still flowing properly around a newly launched site, create an event when your 404-page loads. Then run a report in Google Analytics to see if your newly launched site is serving up bad links and redirects after your launch!
“One of the most frequent launch mistakes I see is neglecting to go back and check for 404 errors.” – Michael Crider – The Crider Company
6. Ignoring user management and how it affects the site
User management plays a key role in security and administration during a site launch. Permissions might be changing from staging to production and users might be associated with authorship, navigation, or any other host of content management. Simply deleting a user can nuke entire parts of your site. Take great care with user management during a launch. Make sure the right folks have access to the right things, and that any changes to users don’t affect the way your site loads.
“I installed some FTP logins for temp dev labor. After devs were done, I deleted the FTP logins and clicked “delete files in user home directory?”. Turns out, the dev had pointed his home directory at the doc root of the server. So as I performed the clean up, it deleted every site on the whole box. Took days to fix.” – Brett Tabke – Pubcon
7. Rushing to Choose a Theme
Who hasn’t been under the gun to get a project done? Launching too quickly can lead to all kinds of launch mistakes and bad decisions. One of the more epically bad decisions can be launching with a theme or plugin stack that isn’t suited to address your long-term needs. You’re basically “theme-locked” into a technology stack that doesn’t allow the website or business to evolve. Include long-term planning into your specs to avoid being theme-locked!
“When we first launched our blog, my partner and I chose a theme based on how it looked with the stock photos more than on how we wanted it to function. We were theme-locked and stuck until we took the time to spell out our goals and determine what we really needed. We ended up having to essentially build the site all over again.” – Rachel Honnoway – Live Life in Yoga Pants
8. Not “hiding” / password protecting staging
Good developers know that it’s a best practice to stage work on a separate install which is obfuscated / hidden from public view and not indexable by search engines. Launching a new site when your staging site is “visible” can cause havoc with your SEO through something called a “duplicate content” penalty.
The worst part is that a duplicate content penalty might be applied to the production site. Your staging site might be considered the “owner” of all the site’s content. Always use robots.txt, no-index tags, and password protection on staging environments.
“I remember a client who came to us wondering what was wrong with their search traffic. After looking, their old developer had left the staging site visible to search engines. The staging site was the one ranking in Google and didn’t have the right phone number effectively flushing their traffic and leads away.” – David Vogelpohl – WP Engine
9. Forgetting 301 redirects when changing the URL structure
When performing a redesign or a CMS migration, it is often necessary to change the URL structure. For instance, a hand-coded PHP site might have page names like /blog-post.php while in WordPress the page name would be /blog-post.
Developers will usually account for this by updating the page names of links in the code, but will often forget to implement 301 redirects to reroute old links coming from the outside. Not only does this lead to tons of 404s, but not implementing the 301 redirects can actually nuke your SEO.
“That lesson was reinforced when they [customer] lost all of their organic traffic because they didn’t understand the ramifications of completely changing their URL structure.” – Jeremy L. Knauff – Spartan Media
10. Launching on a Friday
Low traffic days are a great time to do a launch. This will reduce the chance of negatively impacting visitors and your business. Of course, if critical staff aren’t scheduled to be around before and after the launch, then you could be in a world of hurt. Make sure that key technical and operations staff will be around during a launch in case things go wrong.
“I will never launch on a Friday again.” – Every developer ever
11. Not updating the sitemap
Redesigns often include adding new sections, pages, and URL structures. This means your sitemap has changed. Sitemaps are XML files which provide a map of your site and can be handy by making it easier for Google to index your site. When launching structural changes to a site, make sure to recreate the sitemap and submit the new sitemap to Google Search Console. You can use the Yoast SEO plugin to quickly create a sitemap and submit it to Google.
“My pet peeve is developers who don’t clean up the sitemap prior to launch and a bunch of useless junk gets indexed.” – John Howard – Ready Set Love
12. Failure to migrate the SSL certificate
When moving to a new host or a new server, most devs never miss a beat when it comes to DNS. Yet, they often forget to update the SSL certificate with the IP address of the new server. There’s nothing more embarrassing than the new site you just launched having a great big ugly, “This site is not secure” browser warning. With the increased usage of SSL to improve SEO, this is a launch mistake we’ll see a lot more of in the future.
13. Not having a rollback plan
Sure you’re smart. You created a great design following best practices, optimized for SEO, and you’re ready to start making money. Are you sure?
Even the best of us make mistakes or simply don’t know what will really work when real world users start using the new site. Not having a rollback plan if your newly design site tanks revenue or kills your search rankings can cause you a ton of pain. Do yourself a favor and plan out what you’ll do if things go wrong.
“I remember working with a client where their developer had accidentally made two copies of each page. This caused a duplicate content penalty with Google News (apparently that’s a thing) which was the No.1 source of traffic for the site. Luckily we had a solid roll back plan, so we just rolled back the old site until we could fix the issue, which we did and all was good.” – David Vogelpohl – WP Engine
As you start to think about your own plans for #webweek and all the amazing things you’ll launch, remember these cringeworthy mistakes and use them to help make sure you have a successful launch. If you still make a launch mistake, just remember everyone will be on vacation so it won’t really matter that much!
For more on launching your website, check out this insightful ebook: The Ultimate Pre-Launch Checklist for WordPress Sites
From December 1 to December 31, get 4.5 months free on annual plans (that’s 25% off your first payment) with the coupon code “webweek25“. Offer valid for new customers purchasing any Personal, Professional, or Business plan. Not valid for existing customers, upgrades, or any other product purchase.