Once a client has signed off on the final website design, the process of building the website begins. From a developer's standpoint, this means starting to create all the pages and the necessary code that will encompass the website. A large bulk of this process will take place in a development environment. The development environment is only accessible by the development team. Once the team is confident in the progress of the website, it is good practice to get the site set up on a staging environment.
What is a staging environment?
A staging environment is a testing environment for the website before it is pushed to production at its final resting spot; the domain of choice. This is a place where the website can be viewed in a browser, but remain hidden from search engines. After all, you don't want anyone to stumble across your site until everyone involved in the project has agreed it is ready to go live.
Benefits of a staging environment
For the developers:
Many times, when developers are building a website, they are developing locally on their computers. This means the site does not exist on the web yet. Once the website is pushed to the staging server, it gives the developers the ability to use the bevy of web-based testing tools provided by the internet. These tools can help test websites for efficiency in many different aspects such as: the ability for the site to be “mobile friendly”, html validation, CSS validation, page speed, and other optimization techniques. These tests should be in the tool kit of any web developer. They also should be a mandatory part of the development process. These optimization techniques are not only a source of pride, but they are essential to the success of a website, as they will have an effect on SEO, user experience, and the overall reputation of a website.
The staging environment also gives the developer the ability to start testing the site on computers and devices of all sizes. There are many tools that emulate how a website will look on different devices, but experience has proven that they are not 100% reliable. The staging environment gives the ability to test the devices in the real world and not on an emulator.
For the clients:
Previewing the Site
The staging environment gives the client the chance to use the website in a browser. Until they have viewed the site for the first time in its staging environment, the client has only been able to conceptualize the design and usage of the site. Now the client can click through each page to make sure the site looks and functions to their specifications. They can also look at the site on any size computer, tablet, or phone to ensure the visual aesthetic is perfect no matter which device they use.
Post Launch Changes
A staging environment can also be a great place to test any changes to the site after it has gone live. Just because a site has been pushed to production, there is no guarantee that changes won't need to be made from time to time. In fact, it is a good idea to update some areas of content on your site to keep the user base interested in coming back. Whether you want to make small changes or make more sweeping ones to the look and functionality of the site, the staging environment provides the area for the parties of interest to review them before pushing to production.