As an Account Manager I regularly oversee website optimisation projects that involve the launch of a new website. In working in partnership with a client, and their developer on a new website project, we have the opportunity to optimise the site from the ground up, which presents significant benefits when compared to optimising an existing website that may have prevalent issues that are difficult to overcome.
One major factor to consider when launching a new site relates to the URLs because more often than not they will change according to a new language, platform or content management system (CMS). Changing URLs without proper planning and implementation of redirects can have serious, negative consequences.
We have worked with numerous clients and seamlessly implemented a redirect strategy after which their traffic and conversion rates continue to rise month on month (with a little help from ongoing digital marketing activity!). However, we have also worked with clients who have completely ignored our recommendations. The worst was one who refused to implement 301 redirects, despite our pleading, and we could only watch as their site lost 90% of its traffic overnight. Nightmate stuff!
We find that with our clients, mostly SME’s, creating a new site is a huge undertaking and investment in terms of time, money and resource, not to mention a stressful and daunting project as there are so many aspects to consider. This is also without the inherent risks of working with external agencies, each of which comes with its own set of concerns.
Often, the excitement of launching a new site takes precedent over a few vitally important steps to work through in ensuring the smooth transition from old site to new. It is here where an experienced pair of hands prove useful. So if you have a new site launch in the pipeline, I have created a set of guidelines to cover the most basic points to remember, useful for clients and Account Managers alike:
- Be aware that you may see fluctuations with rankings and traffic for a few days, perhaps weeks, following the change. As an Account Manager it is important to manage expectations
- Run a ‘site:’ search on Google before the launch and note down how many URLs are indexed
- Ensure webmaster tools and analytics codes are on the new site prior to launch
- Get redirect information and mappings from the web develop and check through this
- Keep a record of all key page URLs, if not all URLs
- Carry out a full audit of the site to ensure everything is present and correct
- Test key URLs in search engine listings and ensure they correctly redirect to the new corresponding page
- Use a redirect checker to ensure correct redirects have been used, normally 301 for the permanent move of page from one URL to another
- Check again that webmaster tools, analytics, PPC conversion code and any other tracking code is present on the new site and working
- Ensure that ecommerce tracking is working if you have this set up
- Check webmaster tools for errors
- Run a ‘site:’ search a day after the launch and compare the number of URLs with those recorded before the launch, exploring any discrepancies. If needed continue to do this periodically after the launch until everything has returned to normal. If there are discrepancies it is worth checking that links at all levels (category, sub category, product, news items, testimonials and other info pages etc.) have been redirected and resolved to the new URL
- By running through the ‘site:’ search check for odd looking URLs that do not appear within the site structure and explore why these are present and what to do with them
- Ensure duplicate versions of the site or pages do not exist:o Does the site resolve with and without the ‘www’.? It should only be visible one one or ther other
o Does the homepage have multiple versions using /default, /home, /index, etc?. Again, your homepage, and all pages in fact, should have one, definitive URL and not be found on duplicates
o Do breadcrumb trail links match the navigation links?
o Does the homepage link in the navigation match the homepage URL?
o Has the XML sitemap used the same URLs as the navigation?
o Does the site resolve on both http and https, another common error we see regularly
- Update the default homepage in analytics if necessary
- Ensure that goals URLs within analytics have been updated and if necessary edited or expanded. If Goals have changed update them within any templates e.g. stats or other reports
- Ensure all PPC URLs have been updated
- Ensure the PPC campaign has been expanded to match any new developments, such as added products
- Ensure PPC auto tagging is still working
- Ensure the XML sitemap has been updated
- If you have not checked this at the start of the project ensure that all necessary IP addresses or ranges have been blocked
- Check to see if URLs need to be updated within a local listing and that the local listing resolves correctly
- Check webmaster tools for errors
- Carefully watch overall traffic and particularly natural search engine traffic for the next couple of weeks
- Take a record of the new URLs beside the ones
This is a basic list of some of the checks that should be made when launching a site, however each project will present individual challenges and should be dealt with on an individual basis.
I hope this has been useful. Remember ‘301 redirects are your friend’ and a vital component in migrating an old site to a new one. But checking the redirects have worked correctly is hugely important, as well as the various other checks outlined above. Do not ruin the excitement of launching a new site with a mammoth drop in traffic because the redirects failed.