site-migrations

46 (Tweetable) Tips For Launching/Relaunching A Website

A lingering kiss at the door before you leave your wife, you wish her all the best for today. It’s come around quick. You tell her you’ll meet her in the ward around 6. It doesn’t matter, the midwife said it’s going to be a good 24 hours before there’s anything to report on.

None-the-less you want to be by her side for as much of this as possible – after all, it’s kinda your fault she’s going through this ordeal…

Back from the lunch meeting with the merchandising team you get a panicked call. A trembling voice down the line says something has gone wrong. Things didn’t go smoothly, things have flat-lined…

Nothing could have prepared you for the emotions you are feeling right now.

A poorly planned site migration can be catastrophic to your rankings and traffic. It’s not everyday that you launch your brand new site or relaunch with a fresh face. This is your baby, you want the best for it and forgetting things like redirects or re-implementing tracking code could mean Analytics showing you a very flat blue line.

Migrations & restructures are one of the most dangerous things you can do in the world of SEO and it’s critical that you are fully clued up with what to expect and how to avoid potential pitfalls so you don’t end up getting that panicked call from the boss.

If you are launching or relaunching, bookmark this extensive checklist to save yourself sleepless nights.

1. Launching A New Site

Have you considered the following?

1. When you have decided on a business/brand name, buy up the relevant domain(s) immediately. First of all this will give you the reassurance that you can go ahead with the branding and secondly, you can throw up a landing page to start accruing domain age.

2. Always buy domains for the maximum time-frame possible (or as much as you can afford). This is a trust signal for the search engines suggesting you are not a fly-by-night scam website.

3. While you’re at it claim your social profiles and vanity URLs too. You may need them in the future so don’t risk savvy cyber squatters snapping them up.

4. While working on a new site, throw up a useful landing page to start accruing age on the domain – and give people somewhere to go to find out more about your new venture.

5. Broken links happen. Is your 404 page set up to get users back on track? Make sure it is useful with key links, search functionality, an apology and a polite request for them to report the dead-end. You can also use this page to surface your best content.

6. Make sure Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools are set up and linked to your new site in advance of go-live. You don’t want to miss out on that early-days data.

7. Make sure filters are applied for internal/office IP addresses in Google Analytics to filter out internal visits that can skew your data. Usually during a new site launch or migration, a lot of tests are performed meaning developers will be shrouding real traffic data with their own actions. Avoid this by filtering them out.

8. Launch with meta data, Open Graph tags and Twitter Cards already written. Don’t risk losing search and social visibility by retrospectively adding these in the future. Make sure you hit the ground running.

9. Test everything before, during and after launch. Use tools such as WMT & Screaming Frog to help you. Don’t leave it to the last minute – and worse still, don’t forget altogether. Bad user experience in these critical early days can really hinder your marketing efforts.

10. Choose your hosting platform and CMS carefully – slow performance can hinder SEO so CMS shouldn’t add excessive code to pages and your server should be lightening fast. Use a content delivery network (CDN) if you aim to capitalise on international markets

11. Make sure your staging site is completely “no-idexed” or better still, password protected. You don’t want the search engines jumping the gun and crawling your development site, much less the general public!

12. Check your robots.txt file just before going live – make sure nothing critical is blocked. This would really take the fizz out of your grand launch.

13. Proofread your content one last time and ensure no filler (lorem ipsum) content remains. Nothing screams “unprofessional amateurs” louder than bad prose, grammar and stupid mistakes. You need to be completely water-tight come launch day.

14. Make sure you don’t have the www and non-www versions playing off each other. Pick one and utilise canonical tags to tell Google the right one. Having both www and non-www versions of pages is considered duplicate content so consider a site-wide redirect to resolve to one or the other and configure Webmaster Tools to crawl the right versions.

15. Consider your domain name options very carefully as this is hard to modify retrospectively. Keyword-laden URLs don’t have the benefits they used to – stick to your brand.

16. With so many TLD extensions available (e.g. .net, .london) make sure you choose something future-proof. .london is no good if you are planning to internationalise in a few years.

17. Unique imagery is far better than stock images. Make sure you have the rights to anything published before launch. A law suit is the last thing you need when busy promoting a new site

18. Make sure images are optimised for web. Large file sizes slow the site down which can affect rankings so check out cools tools like TinyPNG and TinyJPG. Scrutinise your Alt tags, files names and geo-location meta data while you’re at it too.

19. Do you have a custom favicon? These are surprisingly visible and not having one looks unprofessional, cheap and leads to untrustworthyness. Easily forgotten.

20. Make sure any internal links point to the right live locations and not the development site just before going live. These can easily be missed in the buzz of everything else going on so make sure your development team are on it.

21. If you use cookies, make sure you have clear & appropriate opt-out messaging such as a pop-up box. If you’re based in the UK this is a legal requirement.

22. Make and store a copy of the finalised website files. Complications, movement of files, multiple cooks spoiling the broth etc. – lots of things can go wrong with the stress of launch day. Wiping critical files should not be one.

2. Re-Launching A Website

A re-launch could be because of a desire for re-branding, a structure/aesthetics update, or migration to a new domain. In any case, the points below should be taken into consideration in addition to those in the section above.

23. When relaunching ask your followers, subscribers, partners and friends of the business for initial feedback. Resolve to work on much of the feedback as possible in the first week. The commentary might surprise you.

24. If your site attracts lots of return visitors, let them know your site will be undergoing changes in advance of any update or migration via a timely blog post, newsletter and/or series of social posts. This will reduce the surprise &lag time in adjusting to the new site (which could slow sales/conversions) – plus it could incite interest and excitement around the launch

25. Don’t create any new pages or blog posts while going through a relaunch- or at least keep to a minimum and keep a check on them. These new pages may be missed in the redirects file meaning your fresh new content serves up 404s post-relaunch. No one wants that.

26. Keep all old files on the server. You may need to reference them in the future and once a migration takes place and believe me, Google’s cache and WayBackMachine can only help you so far. Better still, archive copies of files on a local hard drive (or Dropbox) to free up space or resources on your server. Make sure relevant people can access these files if necessary.

27. Factor in image URLs in your redirect file if they are an important source of traffic. Google Image Search could be working hard for you so don’t just shut off this avenue of traffic because of laziness or ignorance.

28. If your new site includes significantly more imagery or content, make sure your consider upgrading your hosting package to account for the change. You don’t want a sluggish site impeding your ranks in those important first few weeks.

29. Site migrations are a lot of work but look on the bright side. Use this opportunity to shed any excess weight (thin pages, outdated content etc.) or update this content so it serves a real purpose moving forward. A spring clean could be just what the doctor ordered.

30. Any migration will suffer some traffic loss at first – communicate this to management as early as possible so if shit hits the fan you have some wiggle room. Traffic loss varies from site to site but following these tips, proper planning and a tonne of testing pre and post-migration should limit this.

31. Ensure custom tracking (UTM source, on-click etc.) is carried over otherwise you’ll suffer a loss of incoming data. Before the migration, go through Analytics to check what filters are on, what conversion & event tracking you have in place and other things critical to your measurement and reporting and make a note to re-apply these in Analytics after the re-launch.

32. Make an effort to update any internal links if the destination URLs change – relying on redirects looks unprofessional, contributes to slower performance and passes less than 100% of the link equity. Spend time going through your site after a relaunch to clean these up.

33. If migrating to a new CMS make sure it doesn’t add bloat. Not all platforms are created equal. Ensure your new platform has a reputation for good SEO foundations or if creating one from scratch, make streamlined code a priority.

34. If migrating because of a search engine penalty DO NOT 301 redirect the site. This will simply ensure that the penalty is applied to your new site.

35. If moving to a new domain, be sure to keep ownership of the old one for as long as possible – not only does this stop competitors or others pouncing on your legacy, you’ll need ownership to keep redirects live.

36. If restructuring a site (resulting in new URLs) or moving domain, make sure your PPC team knows. They’ll need to manually change Ad destinations BEFORE the switch-over as PPC ads pointing to pages with automated redirects is against Google’s guidelines and could get your account penalised.

37. If moving domains, historic Google Analytics data can’t be transferred to a new profile – you’ll be starting from 0. You’ll want to keep your old Analytics account alive – you never know when you’ll need to access old data for comparisons, insights and reference.

38. Unlike “link-juice” social signals attributed to pages can’t be redirected so you’ll lose any Likes/Tweets associated with that page. If social proof numbers are important to you/conversions, weigh up the impact carefully before migrating

39. URLs including capital letters are treated differently from their lower-case counterparts on some servers – make sure you redirect both/all versions if necessary.

e.g. /Site-Migration-Tips & /site-migration-tips

3. Go-Live Day

Iron out potential issues on day one (preferably earlier in the week) by dedicating time to the following…

40. Make the first purchase/subscribe/use all conversion actions yourself on day one – make sure all form submissions and transactions work properly and are being tracked in the back end.

41. Validate your code with the W3C Markup Validation Service. In less than the time it takes you to sip your coffee you can call up a list of issues that could potentially sink your new site.

42. Check the site works correctly in all major browsers and on mobile devices. There are plenty of online tools to help you do this but nothing beats human testing. Load up Safari, IE, Chrome etc and get clicking.

43. I know you’re excited to get on with things but consider using your first blog post to show users how to navigate the site and describe its new features. The more familiar and at ease users feel with the new concept, the quicker the money starts rolling in

44. “Request a crawl” from the search engines as soon as your site goes live – this will get new content indexed quicker and surface any issues sooner limiting damage.

45. Likewise, create and submit a XML sitemap to the search engines via both Bing and Google Webmaster Tools so they know what they are dealing with. This will help get all content found and indexed so you hit the ground running.

46. After a site launch go through the site with a fine tooth comb checking that all videos and rich content renders properly on all devices as expected. More importantly, check that your forms and conversion elements work as they are supposed to and that the back-end system is being communicated to properly.

Of course there may be issues unique to your site launch but this extensive list should cover most things and lead you towards discovering any hidden problem areas meaning you get to go home at a reasonable time on launch day, safe in the knowledge that it was a success.

Thanks for reading this far and make sure you bookmark this post for the future and share with others you know who are going through this process.

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Wow you made it to the author bio? Go you! What, a little bit about me? Oh OK then, shucks - where to start? When I'm not marketing digitally, you can find me in the sea, on the snow or round the streets with a board at my feet, usually listening to some little known rock band. Catch me on Twitter (@rickeliason) or on my Facebook page where I'm documenting my journey to 100,000 site visitors in 12 months (www.facebook.com/LifeofanSEO).

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