Update – Feb 21, 2013: The other day, a client of ours got an analytics alert that their site traffic had completely disappeared. They started freaking out. We set up their site, so naturally, they called us blaming us! After further investigation, we went to their domain, and found that it had expired (they forgot to renew it!). Thus, the domain wasn’t pointing to their site, so their analytics code wasn’t getting triggered. If they had known how domains, DNS’s, hosting really worked, they could have immediately addressed the issue avoiding panic! This post is will help you understand what really is going on with your domain and website so you can avoid the same issue.
(P.S. The google analytics alerts really minimized the amount of damage and lost sales by letting us all know asap that their traffic dropped. Don’t forget to set those up. If you don’t know how, we can help! Contact us here for a Google Analytics audit!)
While we usually focus on subjects like web analytics, web design, and marketing optimization, we do occasionally get questions from site owners and marketing managers (who want to launch campaign sites or microsites) asking what’s technically involved in making a site live.
Imagine you’ve spent thousands of dollars creating a website that you’re expecting to return millions! You’re ready to launch! But the inevitable question is “how the heck do I do that???!!!!” As far as you’re concerned, the Internet is this weird space dimension where all these websites are floating around. You usually just type an address that ends in a “.com” and the website you need magically appears on the screen. “How do I get MY SITE to do THAT?!”
Hopefully this post will explain as simply as possible how to get your website “live” so you can start getting that cash!
Let’s start with some basic definitions and concepts.
- Your Website – your website is actually just a bunch of files, images, flash files, php files, html files, and more, sitting on a computer somewhere. These computers are called “Servers”. It basically displays information based on html code or instructions (hypertext markup language or “html” – a language that tells browsers how to display data). Each server has an “ip address”, which is simply a bunch of numbers assigned to a server (like 69.199.xxx.xxxx). When your server/website is set up and you type its ip address in your browser, your site will pop up just as if you entered your web address. Trick now is to get your website address to do that!
- Hosted Servers – If you don’t know what type of server to buy, how to set it up, or you simply don’t have the capital to purchase a server – join the club. Don’t worry – most people simply rent server space for a low monthly fee from third party hosting companies. An example of a hosting company is Crystaltech.
- Domain – Your domain is the text-based address that you would like to point to your site. For example, “www.yourdomain.com”. You can “register” (which basically means you’re renting it) a domain from a selection of many domain registrars. An example of a domain registrar is GoDaddy or Network Solutions. If your domain hasn’t already been registered by someone else, pay the low yearly fee and the website address is yours for as long as you want it.
- Domain Name Servers (DNS) – These are special servers and pretty much all they do is hold a bunch of records associated with domains (called DNS Zone Records). These records map the domains to their corresponding ip addresses. When you enter a domain in a browser, you’re essentially forwarded to these nameservers, and like a rolodex, it finds the domain’s record and then forwards you to the right places (the right server or ip address). Multiple places, like your domain registrar and most likely your website’s hosting company, have nameservers that contain these records. An example of what a name server might look like ns1.domainregistrar.com.
Let’s tie all these together in the following diagram:
- (Item 1) Someone types your domain (www.yourdomain.com) into a web browser.
- They are forwarded to the appropriate nameserver (log into your domain registrar control panel to see what is assigned to it or change it). The nameserver can either be the default one provided by your domain registrar (Item 2a) or another one you specify. Once it reaches the nameserver, it will find your record. If set up correctly, the “A” Record is the record that contains the ip address of your site, telling it where to forward.
- www.yourdomain.com will be forwarded to the ip address in the “A” record (Item 3).
- Other important records include your “mail” and “mx” records. If a surfer types in “mail.yourdomain.com”, it will look for the “mail” record and be forwarded to the ip address of the login interface for your mail server (which may be located at your hosting company or somewhere else you decide that may have more mail space). The MX Record tells your server where to send emails that have an address like firstname.lastname@example.org. Thus, these need to be configured correctly.
- Finally, you can also create what are called CNAMES. For example, if you want “blog.yourdomain.com” to a different site or a special blog you have somewhere else, create a CNAME “blog” and forward it to the appropriate site, perhaps a wordpress or tumblr blog. Maybe you want “store.yourdomain.com” to go to your store – then you’ll set up “store” to forward wherever. Etc.
Making Your Site Live
Bottom line: “what do I have to do to make my site live????” Now that we know how the process works, you hopefully can see there are 2 options:
Option 1) Access the DNS Zone Record on the nameserver that your domain is currently pointing to (usually the default nameserver is provided by the domain registrar) and change each record manually to forward to the correct servers and ip addresses (usually, the most important records are the “A” record to forward to your ip address to get the site live and your mail/mx records) (Item 2a).
Option 2) Log into your DNS and change the nameserver to one that already has all the correct addresses filled in its DNS Zone records. As mentioned, usually, your hosting company will have such a nameserver (Item 2b).
Your site is now live! Now all you need is to figure out what to do with all the ROI you’re gonna get!!!