Relaunching a website is an inevitable part of the online game. Unfortunately, even the best redesign can result in massive traffic SEO traffic lapses. It is normal for sites to lose around 30% of traffic as Google re-crawls pages and it can take around 3 months to regain this. However, if done poorly, we have seen permanent drops in traffic, which is why we created this guide. Here’s a checklist of other items that are often neglected during a site launch, but can have a long-term affect on SEO and tracking.
Pre-launch covers the large period of time leading up to the actual live launch of your new site. If you fail to plan out this prep work, you are planning to fail your SEO once you launch.
- Plan to Redirect Traffic. A 301 redirect is the way you tell Google how pages have moved on your site, 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.
- Bonus: Create a content list of your site and then go through a Kill/Keep/Clean for all of your content. An easy way to generate this list is to go into Google Analytics and export a full list of all pages for the past year plus as a CSV.
- 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 MOZ keywords – create, clean and refine your list of tracked keywords that represent the bulk of your traffic. This will help you track how you are retaining reputation where it matters. This can be done with a paid account on Moz.com is probably worth it for a few months as you make the transition.
- Set up 301 Redirects according to your plan above – make them live in whatever CMS you are using. Check these and use our spreadsheet template to do quick checks to make sure pages are rendering.
- 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 (use our spreadsheet at the bottom of this article).
- Start fixing the ones you missed. These tools will give you a (hopefully) short list of pages that are broken, use our spreadsheet checklist template (register at the bottom for you copy) to create a to do list for your tech/content team!
- 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. Make sure GA has been migrated because it will be a key tool for telling if you are losing organic traffic!
- 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 our client’s traffic!
- The search console is also where you will need to submit your sitemap.
- Create and upload a new sitemap to Google Search Console. A tool like Screaming Frog can help generate this for you.
- 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. We once had a client that left old pages alive on a archive page that then started showing up on search and flagging as duplicate content. The quick and dirty way to check your archive page domain this is to use a tool like Rank Sider.
- Make sure all new pages have custom meta descriptions, title tags, and any other metadata needed
- 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.
- Review MOZ keyword list – watch the performance grades of main landing pages and monitor position for major keywords. Build up links to bolster any main keywords that are slipping.
- 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).