While researching for a blogging client, Kim encountered the interesting phenomenon you see in this screen shot: a company with a new redesign in progress, inviting visitors to come check it out.
We don’t know this company, but if I were doing this, I’d be running an experiment to see how people interact with the new site, in comparison with the current site. Then I’d use that data to fine-tune the redesign before launch. It seems like a practical idea.
When you build a website, you have to build it somewhere. One common choice is to build the new website on a staging server or development server. In that case, the new website is online — necessary if you have many people working on it — in a different location from the main website. The company in the example is using “evolve.theirdomain.com,” but you might also use “stage.domain.com” or “2014.domain.com” or “new.domain.com”– all of these show that the site is a development site, not the current main website.
We’re finishing up a job with a large company that maintains a staging server for their websites at all times, and tries out all the changes there before pushing them to the production site (the live site which visitors can see). They have enough traffic that they don’t want to take any chances of having a problem when a site (or even a site change) launches.
That’s wise. The expense may make it less cost-effective for a small company. Some hosting companies (incluidng WP Engine) provide a staging area for your website, though, so don’t dismiss the idea just because you don’t run your own servers. Especially for e-commerce sites, having even a brief downtime can create problems.
We use dev sites for communication. We build sites on a development server and then have clients try them out to identify any tweaks they want made before launch. This reduces the number of emergency changes required after launch and lets us show how a plugin or special feature will function in order to help with decision-making.
You can use a staging site for testing even when you’re not planning a redesign. Sometimes you want to know how something would look or work but aren’t ready to commit to it. Making the change on a staging site and bringing in testers allows you to observe visitor interaction.
One thing you should be sure of: use a robot.txt file or the privacy settings to ask search engines not to crawl or index your staging site. Having that site indexed can seriously mess with your main site’s SEO.