Search “website launch checklist” and you’ll find plenty of good advice online. But there’s less if you’re looking for real-world advice on what to consider when you’re relaunching a redesigned website. Pitfalls and “gotcha”s abound, and many can significantly impact your natural search engine listings.
1. Make sure your highly indexed content is replicated accurately
It seems like a no-brainer, but we’ve seen this key element neglected far too frequently. Review your analytics and make sure your top 50 (or more) pages are replicated under your new site. That is, make sure your page headings are the same: the title tags, the keywords, the images, etc. You want the content of the page to be as similar as possible – if not identical – so that the search engines don’t see it as new or changed.
2. Add 301 redirects for your top indexed content
This is crucial and perhaps might deserve to be number one on this list. During a redesign it’s unlikely your site structure or the URL paths remain identical to the old site’s. So it’s critical that you politely and correctly inform the search engines that the old links should be “re-indexed” using their new URLs. This is done via 301 permanent redirects – usually applied via your htaccess or webconfig file. It simply remaps your old url paths to their new ones while also informing the search engines to reindex them properly.
This one step will almost single-handedly preserve your natural listings and page ranking during the transition from old to new design. It’s even more critical if you’re also changing your domain during this process. Seriously, if you do nothing else… do this step.
3. Inform the search engines about your change
Google Webmasters Tools and Bing’s Webmaster Tools allow you a convenient way to inform each about changes to your site – from its url structure to a change in domain. By using these free tools you can preserve your natural rankings and enjoy a smoother transition. Each also provides valuable data about how the search engines are “seeing” and cataloging your site, and how you could improve the results. So you should be using them regardless of a site redesign.
4. Test and debug your site on mobile and in multiple browsers
Again, you’d think this goes without saying, but it bears repeating. Make sure you test your site using various browsers, and on multiple platforms (Mac, Windows, etc.), and on mobile devices. There are excellent online resources for doing this – we personally use crossbrowsertesting.com. You can view and use your site on numerous browsers and operating systems and on emulated mobile devices.
5. We highly recommend scanning your site for vulnerabilities.
If you’re working with a web developer this is most likely part of their services. Before or just after launching your site, they should perform a security and vulnerability scan using various tools or SAS options. We generally configure McAfee Site Secure to scan the newly launched site daily for approximately two weeks or more. This way McAfee can scour the site and follow even the deepest links. Any issues or concerns are addressed promptly to avoid problems.
6. Do a quick seo review / audit
It doesn’t have to be an extensive seo review. But you should review each page on your site to ensure it has all the SEO fundamentals in place. A unique title tag, meta description, keywords, and one or more heading tags along with copy content. Make sure every image has a completed alt tag and, if possible, the image file itself is named identifiably and with “keyword bias.” Make sure you have an updated XML sitemap file that will be updated regularly – usually this is automatically done by your CMS.
7. Have someone proofread your content
While not such a major grievance as not remapping your top content, a typo or bad grammar can be embarrassing and distract visitors from your message. And if you’ve spent money on redesigning to achieve better results or conversions, it’s worth investing some time or money into hiring a proofreader.
8. Finally, have your mother test your site
Yes, that’s sounds a bit silly, but what we’re actually recommending is you have someone unfamiliar with your site or brand test your site to make sure it accomplishes and communicates what you intended. Have them visit your home page and then articulate what they think you do or sell. What your benefit is; your unique selling proposition. Then have them use the site and monitor and catalog any difficulties that will need to be addressed. This is especially important on ecommerce sites, so you know your store and checkout are working smoothing and understandably.
Follow these eight simple steps and your redesign and relaunch should go smoothly. You should be able to preserve your natural listings and page rank. And most importantly, you should keep your customers happy and converting.