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April 21, 2015

The Race to Launch!

April 21, 2015

We spend a lot of time talking about design (and what it means), and marketing (and what it means), and culture (and what it means), and rightly so - these are sexy, interesting topics. Now, how’s this for sexy and interesting? Close your eyes and imagine me whispering:

Quality assurance and launch preparation...

All joking aside, I am very aware that this isn’t the topic most people are interested in when they talk about websites. In fact, this phrase sounds similar to something you would hear at a tax prep seminar or an engineering conference. It just sounds boring.

If you haven't launched a site before, it's hard to know the amount of work that goes into the final days - both content polish, styling and proofing, and then an enormous amount of technical work. This is where a support / QA team or client success manager comes in.

The hard truth about what quality assurance and launch preparation actually looks like is as follows: It's too complicated to be boring and from the second the site launches it's on the QA team to eat any mistakes left behind. I don't want to come off as melodramatic here so I will just state that it's a mission of vital importance. People have worked long and hard on this project and it's QA's job to stand on the other side with a hammer in one hand, a blowtorch in the other, and put the screws to the site until it breaks (or not).

The Lead Up

How many pieces of software do you use? How many different accounts have you created? How many times in your life have you forgotten a password? If you're anything like me, the answer would probably be in the hundreds. We're only human - the fickleness of memory combined with the overwhelming number of tools we use in our day-to-day lives just means we are bound to forget. It's inevitable. Nobody's perfect.

Organizations have the same problem writ large, and it's at this time that the QA team plays inquisitor. The questions end up looking something like this:

  • Are you measuring analytics? Who has access to the account? What's the login?
  • What about your DNS and hosting providers? Where is this information recorded?
  • Are you using custom form software? Where is this info?
  • What about email services? MailChimp? ExactTarget?
  • Who is hosting the site moving forward?
  • If you're hosting, can we even put the site on your environment? 
  • Who is hosting the email?
  • Are we keeping anything from the old site?
  • What is this programming language?

It's a lot to ask and sometimes it's not even needed, but it's better to be safe than sorry - no one wants to be scrambling after logins a few hours before site launch.


Technology is amazing - the variety of devices and browsers out there is astonishing and there's something for everybody. This means that there are a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong. No device is perfect.

For example - you've probably used a lot of different browsers in your time. Right now you are probably using Chrome or Firefox, but there are others out there. Apple people in the house - I know you've opened Safari. Remember Internet Explorer? Hoo-boy, that takes me back - but I don't want to sound elitist because there are a LOT of people out there still using it. Netscape Navigator? Opera? (Just kidding about those last two.)

Now, what about mobile? Have a tablet? Is it a Windows or Android tablet? Are you one of the cool kids with an iPad?

How about your phone? What's under the hood there? Windows, Android, iOS?

Variety, right? Guess what - it all needs to be tested. Start carbo-loading a few days beforehand, have a big breakfast and a protein shake, stretch, and get mousing. You'll be at it for a while because if it can be clicked, you must click it.

What is everything supposed to do? Is it working? Great! On to the next one. Is it not working? Oh no! Fix it! Is it fixed? Great! On to the next one...

And so it goes, over and over again, clicked and updated and scrubbed until you're finally ready to launch. Awesome. You're all done.

You're Still Not Done

Okay, not really. Once everything is looking good to go the next process is to move the site from its testing environment to the new host and update the DNS records so that the URL points to the new site.

And you wait for the changes to propagate, because these things take time...

...and you wait some more...

...and then you see it. It's a new website. It's beautiful. You wipe a single tear from your cheek and stare out the window to the horizon. Perhaps you are sipping a fresh cup of Folgers. You look down at your dog - it's probably a yellow lab or something - and you say "Well Shep," (in this world your dog's name is Shep) "it's time to wrap this up."

It's at this point that you would generate a sitemap for submission to Google and Bing, and you're good to go. You've crossed the finish line. Your race is over but you've got to keep running, because problems will keep coming and good quality assurance is good customer service.

By now you might be asking... Are we there yet? But don't forget one final thing – to celebrate! This is how we do it:

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