Propagation

Launching a new website can be stressful. It shouldn’t be, actually. By the time you launch your new or redesigned website, you’ve done all the hard work of planning your website, communicating with designers and copywriters, making decisions about many options, and approving the site.

The hard work of building the site is past and the hard work of managing the site has not yet begun.

But for some clients, this is the stressful part. The rest has been fun, even exciting, and now they have to worry that their website won’t actually work.

Because here’s what theoretically will happen:

  • Your web pros will put the new IP number into the boxes for DNS  (Domain Name Server) A records at the place where you registered your domain name or hosted your previous website.
  • They’ll also set up your domain name for the new website wherever it’s being hosted. They may need to change settings if it’s a WordPress site or uses another CMS.
  • The browser, noticing the change of address, will show the new website instead of the old one — or instead of the generic page that was showing before, if it’s a new domain.

That’s what happened yesterday when we launched a new website for a local engineering firm. We did a little typing, and the new site showed up in place of the old one.

But that doesn’t always happen. Instead, you might see one of these things:

  • The old site continues to show on your computer, even though other people can see the new site.
  • The new domain address shows some kind of error message.
  • The new site behaves in a surprising way for some visitor somewhere.

One of the major reasons is propagation.

You want to go to a particular website. You type in the domain name, to tell your browser what website to bring to you. You might think that the browser would rush around the web searching for that page, but that is not the case. The browser will metaphorically go look to see where your domain name is registered, then go to that place to get the address where your website is hosted.

The browser (still metaphorically) doesn’t want to do all that every time someone asks to see your website. So when it has to do that lookup, it will cache or save the information and just show you its saved version — its memory of your website last time it looked. Your internet server provider and the registrar and even your computer may be caching, and they all may have their own schedules for updating. That’s propagation.

Updating cached records is an automatic process. It’s a lot like what happens when you walk up to a traffic light on a busy street. Chances are, that traffic light will change and let you cross at the time the change was scheduled for, no matter what you do and no matter how much of a hurry you’re in.

If you have feeds going to your website, they may also take a while to update. All these various update schedules might not be in sync, so it could be a while before your website is actually completely ready and working.

Here’s the best plan: launch over the weekend (unless that’s your busiest time at your website, in which case you can choose some other couple of days when you’re less busy). Don’t look.

Nothing you do, including frequent calls and emails to your web firm, will speed up the process. Nothing they do will help, either, even if they try things in order to make you feel better. Go out of town, find a good book, spend time with your friends and family. Stay away from your computer. Relax.

By Monday morning, your new website will be up and running.

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