By Natalia | | in Marketing

Updating or redesigning an existing website can be one of the best investments you can make for your business, helping to increase traffic, improve user experience and increase conversion rates. However, a large number of organisations fail to take full advantage of this great opportunity by engaging SEO experts as a last thought, days before website launch, or what's even worse - after. Unfortunately, this can often destroy their search engine presence or lead to expensive site design changes that could have been easily implemented during the design process. Involving SEO teams early in the process can maximise the value from the investment and save you time and resources down the line.

"Involving SEO teams early in the process can maximise the value from the investment and save you time and resources down the line."

The website relaunch process is a critical time for SEO, involving a number of pre and post-launch activities necessary to ensure smooth running.

We've outlined a list of these SEO steps to be completed at each stage of the relaunch to ensure that previously earned rankings are transferred to the new site, and to help avoid the often significant reduction in search traffic after a website is relaunched. Each stage will take a varying level of resources and time depending on the goals and size the site.

STAGE 1: Pre-launch - Critical for project success

The goal is for the relaunch to be a well planned process without any unpleasant surprises.

1. Create a checklist to track progress

As soon as a site redesign/migration decision is made, create a checklist of what needs to be completed pre-launch and post-launch. This will help to ensure all relevant activities are implemented during the redesign process to avoid mistakes and surprises.

2. Determine the redesign variables

  • Identify any changes that will be made to content, on-page copy, URLs or site architecture.
  • If new URLs are to be created though a domain switch, determine how these pages will fit into the existing site.
  • If any pages are to be removed, ensure that these are not driving traffic to the site, as a loss of these pages may result in loss of rankings and traffic.
  • If a new site architecture is implemented, ensure that key internal pages don’t lose link juice by a change in the main navigation, removal of footers, key links from the home page, etc.

3. Create a 301 Redirect strategy

This may be the most important step in the entire redesign process in terms of retaining traffic and rankings, and almost all redesigned websites will need a proper 301 redirect strategy in place. Factors to consider when creating a redirect strategy:

  • Will there be any domain name changes?
  • Will a SSL certificate be used?
  • Are there new categories or changes to site architecture?
  • Are any pages being eliminated during the redesign?

To help in compiling a list of necessary redirects use Screaming Frog or another crawler to track down all old URLs that need to be redirected and export the HTML pages into a spreadsheet. Use this spreadsheet to map out individual pages from the old site to the most relevant new site's URLs. If a page is being eliminated, find the most relevant page for a 301 redirect. Once you have a list of pages that need to be redirected, send the list to your dev team or implement it yourself through the CMS to make sure the proper redirects are in place the moment the new website is launched.

4. Keyword research and content planning

The redesign process can be the perfect time to create new content, but you’ll want to be sure that you're using the most valuable search terms on the pages. Extensive keyword research should be carried out to evaluate the best terms to use based on intent, competitiveness, and overall quality of traffic. This will help to inform any new content creation strategy and assist in future paid search campaigns to supplement your traffic until organic rankings increase.

5. On-page SEO

After identifying the pages and focus keywords/topics on the new site, it is time to write titles, meta descriptions and h1 tags. Custom meta tags need be written for each page, following best practices in terms of character length, and tailored to the focus keyword(s) and relevant topics of the page.

6. Analytics and tracking setup

  • Determine whether a new Google Analytics account is necessary or if you can continue using the existing as this will maintain historical data.
  • Add Google Tag Manager code to the new website, and create event tracking to track conversions and other valuable KPIs on the site.
  • Add the Google Analytics software code to the new design, directly to the site or through a tag management solution like GTM, and set up goals in analytics to record tracked conversions.

7. Benchmark current metrics

For an effective comparison and analysis, and to help identify any issues post-launch, begin tracking and benchmarking existing keyword rankings, domain authority, and the number of pages indexed in Google with a search.

8. Create a QA Plan for Launch

Develop a holistic QA plan for the site launch by dividing different areas of the site to test post launch among different team members. This will save time by keeping the team organised, preventing the same things from being checked multiple times while missing other important components all together.

9. Check Internal Linking

A redesigned site close to launch can be rife with internal linking flaws. Before the site goes live you should do manual review of important links. Beyond broken links, review the coded link targets to make sure they will link to the true page URL and are not redirecting.

STAGE 2: Launch

These items may start prior to launch and possibly alongside planning items, but they’ll be a focus when the site actually launches:

  1. Create XML sitemap - develop a new XML sitemap if one isn’t already automatically generated by your CMS. Make sure it’s void of duplicate or 404 page URLs. This is an important step because the search engines lose trust in your sitemap if there are errors.
  2. Submit Sitemap to search engines  - fill out a change of address in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools for a domain switch and submit the new sitemap to both webmaster accounts.
  3. Implement 301 redirects - you should already have a plan for this in place, but it’s a good idea to triple check that someone is across this at launch
  4. Test robots.txt - make sure your robots.txt file contains the new sitemap and isn't blocking any important elements on the site or preventing search engines from crawling it.
  5. Test analytics and event tracking implementation - check real-time data in Analytics to ensure that it is installed correctly and recording conversions
  6. Record launch date in analytics software  - make a note of relaunch date in analytics software as this will be helpful as a benchmark for increases/decreases in future traffic and conversions

STAGE 3: Post-launch - Audit and test the site

1. Complete a 301 redirects audit 

Once the site launches, you need to go back to your redirects list and spot check the old site links to make sure the redirects took effect. Make note of those that go to 404 pages or have issues. Also, make sure they are 301 redirects and not other server codes. Use search engine webmaster tools to discover any broken or missing pages and clean up 404 errors by 301 redirecting them to the most appropriate pages.

2. Check the number of pages indexed

Check the site is being indexed by search engines by again performing the “site” search in Google, and clicking on links throughout the results pages to make sure nothing was missed or configured improperly at launch.

3. Monitor site traffic and rankings

After launch, make sure to constantly monitor site traffic and any other necessary metrics that you benchmarked prior to launch. You might see rankings take an initial dip while the engines are picking up your 301s and assessing the new pages. Rankings could be down for 1-3 weeks, possibly more, so we recommend planning a redesign during your slow season or low traffic period. That way you won't lose much business from your organic channel during this period.

With hundreds of website launches for our clients here at Klyp, we have the expertise to make sure that your website launch is smooth sailing all the way. So, if any of the above sounds too complex, don't leave it in the too hard basket and let us handle it for you. Get in touch today!