Ever wonder why it is a good idea to move your website to a new domain or launch a new one every 2-3 years? The idea is to ensure that you remain up to date with best practices. The fast-paced nature of the internet has made it important to regularly redesign your site to keep it optimised and provide good user experience.
One of the biggest updates you could make online, however, is launching a new website. It is therefore advisable to invest in planning before putting up the site, and also perform tests at each level of your plan to minimise the possibility of running into problems after the launch. These will ensure that you are able to avoid any SEO disaster. There are certain guidelines for website launching that have been separated into four categories:
Before the Launch
Be sure to take these steps before the launch.
- Benchmark the stats of your current site: It is important to benchmark the current performance of your site in terms of search engines and visits before launching a new website. This will help you to keep track of important metrics during in the launching process. You should keep a record of the following:
- Google cache data
- Domain authority
- Number of pages indexed by Google
- Reported crawl errors in Google Webmaster Tools
The easiest way to take note of the above would be to create a table in Excel and don’t forget to update the spreadsheet every week before, during, and after the launch.
- Communicate the launch internally: Communicate to all stakeholders and ensure that responsibilities are understood once the new website process has been established. This would help to avoid issues with redirects and navigation as well as payment problems when there are delays in the launch.
Clear and regular communication with your entire team will help to speed up the launch time and alleviate communication issues.
- Register new website in Webmaster Tools: Registering your new website with Bing Webmaster and Google Webmaster Tools will help to increase your indexing process by Google and other major search engines. You will be able to find and track optimisation issues and crawl errors conveniently by registering the website.
- Choose your domain: Pick your preferred URL and ensure that you are consistent with it. Also, redirect all your content and links to your preferred domain.
- Upload a “coming soon” page: This applies if you are launching on a new domain. Make sure to complete it within 6-8 weeks before launching the website. Upload a “coming soon” page on your new domain that will allow Google to start to crawl and index the new site. It should contain a few targeted keywords incorporated in one or more paragraphs that explain who you are and what you do. Doing these will help search engines to realise that the new site is real and not just parked.
- Inbound links and referrals: Be sure not to lose the high-quality links that point to your current website. Review the links that draw 80 percent of traffic and make sure that they will point to your new website once it is launched. You can do this by making use of Open Site Explorer, Google Analytics, and Google Webmaster Tools. Redirect the traffic to your new site by contacting Webmaster and requesting for the link to be updated or you could follow the steps below. Try to begin this process before you launch the site.
- Map current URLs to the new site: Creating a spreadsheet that shows the new page URLs in one column and the corresponding URLs of the old page on another column will be an easy way to track every page. Making sure that every page on the old site has a corresponding page on the new site is a good way of taking control of the correlation process. This would be preferred to sending traffic to 404 pages. Start by finding out the pages that are most linked to with the use of Open Site Explorer and map them to content.
- Upload content to your new site: The next thing to do would be to upload pages, files, and images to your new site. The old site’s most viewed pages should be uploaded to the new site, and don’t forget that each page should be linked for better indexing. Note any changes in structure, paths, and folders from the old site in the URL spreadsheet mapping (step 6).
- Create unique title tags and meta descriptions: Make sure that H1 tags, title tags, and meta descriptions are all unique to each page once the new pages have been uploaded. To easily achieve this, a report in Screaming Frog SEO Spider should be run and meta descriptions, title tags, and H1 tags exported into Excel. To ensure that the site is search engine optimised, the Screaming Frog tool will help you to view short and long metadata as well as those that are missing or duplicated.
- Implement Google analytics tracking: This is when you collect traffic data for your new website. Former best practice was that the script would be placed at the bottom of the website. Today, Google recommends placing the script at the top of the website just before the closing <head> section.
Also, since the tracking goals will now have new URLs, more often than not, it is important the items below are updated once the site is live:
- Site search
- Event tracking
- Goal tracking
- Ecommerce tracking
- Webmaster tools integration
Also, to be able to get a visual of changes and the impact of any campaigns that are run during the launch period or when the site goes live, make use of Google Analytics Annotations to take notes. Whenever you notice a dip in traffic, remember to analyse what it is that went wrong.
During the launch
- Redirect pages from the old site to the new site: Each page on the old website should be redirected to the URL of the new site’s page once the content from the old site has been uploaded to the new site. This is known as placing page level 301 permanent redirects.
To enable a better user experience, do not delete any pages removed from the old site. They should be redirected instead.
To review if the move has gone as planned, first start with the part of the site with a 301 redirect. It is advisable to use low traffic content for this. What this means is that you check the old links and see if they will redirect to the page of the new site. If it does not, pause the move and find out where the problem is from. Keep in mind that 301 permanent redirects should be used not 302 temporary redirects.
You can also use the Bulk URL Checker, or the SEO Bulk Checker tool to view the status code of the URLs by copying and pasting. This is another way to check the 301 redirects. Repeat the process any number of times to check all redirected URLs.
- Change addresses in Google Webmaster Tools: Under change of address on your old website’s Google Webmaster Tools account, the address at site level should be changed. This will inform Google that the entire site has been moved and not just the specific pages.
After the Launch
At this stage, your new website has gone live.
- Post-launch checklist: You should answer the questions below immediately after you launch your new website. They will help you to do a quick diagnosis and prioritise your next steps.
- Is access from search engines blocked by your robots.txt file?
- Are there any temporary (302) redirects that can be changed to permanent (301) redirects?
- Are any messages reported by Google/Bing webmaster tools?
- Is the 404 page returning a HTTP status 404?
- Are any meta descriptions/title tags missing?
- Is web traffic recorded by your web analytics package?
- Does the site allow visitors to complete their goals (make an order, complete a form, etc)?
- Do you get a redirect to the www version of your website when you click the non www website? (or vice versa)
- Did you update or redirect all https links if you have updated to https?
- Check for broken links: Any reported broken links should be fixed by running a crawl on your website. The website could also be run through Screaming Frog SEO Spider. Responses Codes should be checked or inspected for Crawl Errors through Google Webmaster Tools.
- Communicate the launch externally: Vendors and customers should be notified once the new site goes live. Make use of as many channels as possible to make the announcement (your email signature, email marketing, and any automated emails on your website).
- Submit XML sitemaps: An XML sitemap for the new site should be created and the sitemap to the account of your Bing and Google webmaster tools submitted.
Implementing an HTML sitemap in addition to submitting an XML sitemap will ensure that any pages that are hidden deep within the site structure are indexed.
- Launch search marketing campaigns: Running Adwords campaigns for your top 10 to 20 converting keywords will help to keep your high-ranking keywords from dropping below the first page since your new website might not be indexed entirely straight away.
To avoid sending paid traffic to your old site, a budget should be allocated before you move to cover costs and see that your PPC team has URLs to the new destination.
- Claim local citations: It is very beneficial to add your website to local listing directories when you have a physical store. Local directory listings help to capture local traffic for searchers using mobile devices, alongside providing links to the new website.
First create a Google+ Local page and do a verification of your website listing. Then, verify your website in sites for local listings like Yell, Get Listed, and Yelp. Your business NAP listings (name, address, and phone number) should be kept consistent.
- Promote the launch on social media: Your new website will be indexed much faster if it is promoted on social media sites such as Google+, Facebook, and Twitter. It would also help to spread your launch message and attract referral traffic.
It will be beneficial to post comments and participate in communities or blogs within your industry. Doing so will help to get your brand noticed.
- Test the speed of the site: Site speed is a very important index for measuring site performance. Test the speed of your new site with the use of Google’s page speed insights tool. A link to the analysis report should be sent to your web developers if the result shows that your site is less than 90. They should then follow the instructions by Google. Some of the suggestions that Google may give include leveraging browser caching and optimising images.
- Check your mobile website: It is expected that mobile traffic should surpass desktop traffic, as it is already so in some countries. This makes it necessary to take a look at your new website on all devices. The percentage of total traffic generated from mobile devices/tablets will serve as the base for setting priorities on adjusting mobile websites.