A website relaunch is an important and nerve-wracking moment for every organization: it’s exciting to reveal a new brand or approach (and hours of hard work) to the world. But more often, it’s a cringeworthy moment when things go awry – things that can have a lasting effect on the website’s performance in the future. Consider this your word of caution: you’ve got to nail the site flip! Here’s how.
Managing Google Ads through a site relaunch
As your site changes, your strategy for using the Google Ad Grant should change, too. Here are some questions to ask and tips to keep in mind:
What new campaigns are needed?
Through this process you have probably spent a lot of time reworking your site’s content and your priorities may have changed. Is there a new section of the site you really want eyeballs on? A new action people can take that wasn’t there before? Immediately after launch is a great time to set up a new campaign.
Which old campaigns should be deleted?
If you’re deleting any pages from your site that are currently receiving ad traffic, and you’re not putting up a similar page that could act as landing page for the same ads, delete the campaign.
Is your site’s URL structure changing?
If so, all ads will need to be updated to send to the new URLs. Sending traffic to non-existent URLs (404s) is a violation of Google Ad Grant policy and may cause your campaigns to be stopped, which could jeopardize the entire account. There are two solutions to this:
- Set up 301 redirects for all URLs that are changing (a temporary fix). A good firm will make sure this happens by planning it out well before the site flip and running a report to check for 404 errors immediately after site launch (more on this below). Your Google Ads will still contain old URLs, but once a user clicks an ad they will be redirected to the correct page. This is not an ideal approach because 301 redirects are technically against Google Ads policy, but it’s unlikely to get flagged and will be good as a temporary measure.
- Manually update all ad URLs to the new URLs (the right long-term move). Use Google Analytics to pull a list of all the Final URLs that are currently being used in the Google Ads account. Make a spreadsheet with “Old URL” in one column and “New URL” in the next column. Use this to plan out the migration. Then, log into Google Ads and batch modify any ads that are sending to the same URL (no need to do this one-by-one!).
- Make sure you are looking at All Campaigns. Click on the “Ads” tab to pull up a list of all of the ads in the account. Make sure you have “All ads” enabled. This will make sure you swap out old URLs even for paused or deleted ads, in case you re-enable them in the future.
- Create a filter for the URL you want to change. Click on Filter > Create Filter
- Then select Final URL contains [fill in the URL that is changing]. Click Apply. This will pull up a list of all ads that are currently sending users to that old URL.
- Select all of the filtered ads by clicking the top checkbox
- Click Edit > Change Ads. This will allow you to change all of the selected ads at once.
- Find the field for Final URL. Here, enter the new URL for this page. Do not change any other fields, like Headline or Description – if you do, this change will apply to every ad you have selected!
- Click Apply. This will delete the old ads and will publish new ads, which will undergo a review by Google Ads before they go live. This process normally takes 24-48 hours (if not faster).
- Spot check the ads to make sure the new landing page is working and that it makes sense for the keywords and ad copy you are using. And you’re done!
Here’s a checklist of other items that are often neglected during a site launch, but can have a long-term effect on SEO and tracking. If your eyes are glazing over reading this, don’t worry. Most developers should know what these items mean, so send them this article and they should be able to help you out. Or, check out the links to dive deeper into these areas!
- Plan for 301 Redirects. This way, if users click on links anywhere on the internet that contain old URLs, they will still land in a helpful place on your site.
- Make a list of all the URLs that are changing, and create a spreadsheet that maps the old URL to the new URL.
- Make a list of any URLs that will not be migrated to the new site (i.e. any pages you are getting rid of and not revamping). Make a spreadsheet that marks which new URL this should link to instead.
- Plan for Google Analytics migration – Make a spreadsheet of any hard-coded event tags and their location (i.e. button clicks or downloads you’re tracking with specific code snippets) and add these onto the new site before it goes live. Better yet, use Google Tag Manager to manage all your tags in one place. If you are not using Google Tag Manager to deploy your basic GA tracking code, that will also need to be migrated over or all basic GA tracking (sessions, pageviews, users, etc) will discontinue. Finally, make sure you know how all current goals are being tracked and how they will change on the new site. If event tagging or URL structure is changing, then goals will need to be updated as well.
- Design for SEO – make sure the site navigation, tagging system, naming conventions, and coding practices are designed with SEO in mind. This includes coding in a lightweight way that will keep page load time down, and making the site mobile friendly.
- Test out forms, like email subscription forms and contact forms, to make sure they are pushing the right data to the right places. Great QA can be the difference between a successful site launch and a big disaster.
- Set up 301 Redirects according to your plan above – make them live in whatever CMS you are using.
- Check for 404s – using Google Search Console, Moz, or Google Analytics (pageviews of “page not found), pull a list of all the URLs that are bringing users to a 404 page (this would be any URLs you missed during 1b above). Make a spreadsheet that notes the correct URL, and set these up as 301 redirects.
- Check Google Analytics using Real Time reports to make sure data is coming through and that all custom events, goals, or reports are behaving as expected.
- Check Google Search Console for any other high- or medium-priority crawl errors. During this step we once saw that a site’s robots.txt file was making the entire site uncrawlable – if we hadn’t caught it within 24 hours this would have wreaked havoc on their traffic!
- Make sure your old site will not be crawlable by search engines. Depending on the platform and the way the “flip” happens, there are different ways of doing this.
- Create and upload a new sitemap to Google Search Console.
- Make sure all new pages have custom meta descriptions, title tags, and any other metadata needed
- Check organic traffic after one month. If there is a major dip (20% or more) that doesn’t seem to be returning, there is likely a technical issue getting in the way of organic growth. The industry benchmark: organic traffic should be back to normal levels within 3 months of a site flip (if not sooner).
- Perform a site speed audit using tools like Pingdom and Google PageSpeed Insights tool. Long page load times will drag down SEO, so find slow pages and optimize them for faster load time by decreasing image file sizes, removing Flash code, etc.
- Rescrape important pages for social media. This Facebook Debugger tool lets you re-crawl specific pages (one by one or in batches) to make sure that, when people share your site’s URLs on social media, the most updated information on your site is shown.
Whole Whale’s customizable “Ready, Set, Launch” package focuses on these items and can help your organization work with your development firm to nail the relaunch without skipping a beat. Get in touch for more information.