One major issue that exists in the online marketing industry is companies who do not consider the effect that changes to your website can have on your overall marketing strategy and success. I commonly hear about designers making or recommending major changes to websites without split testing them, or launching a new website without consideration for the traffic being sent to the website. These issues can cause huge drops in the performance of all of your online marketing. If you are thinking of launching a new or updated web design ensure that you follow these 11 essential steps which will help maintain your SEO rankings and ensure any paid advertising continues uninterrupted.
1. Check The Size & Structure Of Your New Website
Every designer and developer has different ideas of how a website should be structured. If your old site has existing SEO rankings or a high conversion rate then you need to be careful about changing the structure of your website or the number of pages of content. Using Google Analytics or other software you can determine the pages being used the most by your visitors and the ones which are ranking in the search results and delivering a lot of traffic. It is recommended you keep these pages. Reducing your pages will reduce the keywords that you can rank for so ensure you meticulously plan your new website before launching it.
2. Check Your URLs and Setup 301 Redirects
If possible keep all of your URLs exactly the same if they are ranking as this will ensure any links pointing to these URL keep their full strength. It will not always be possible however to keep URLs the same, you may be changing from page.aspx to page.php or you may be merging two pages together. If you do need to change URLs it is important you use 301 redirects to automatically move Google and other users coming to the old page to the new page. This does lose some of the link value however so only do this if there is no way you can keep the URL’s the same. If changing your URL, also take note of any paid advertising you are doing to correct all of the URLs so you are not spending money to send someone to a 404 error page. If changing hosts you should also ensure you have a non-www. to www. redirection in place on the domain or vice versa ensuring that Google knows whether people link to www.domain.com or domain.com that they are one in the same site.
3. Check Your SEO Tags Are Maintained or Improved
If you have a site that is generating organic traffic from search engines it is important you keep these tags in place on the new site or work to improve them. I have seen countless new sites be launched with title tags such as ‘Home’ and the new redesigned websites subsequently lose rankings. Google is getting better at determining these details without your developers input however it remains best practice to use SEO tags and only takes hours to implement. The title tag, meta description tag, alt tag on images and the h1 and h2 tags remain the most important, however the whole original site should be reviewed and where possible the best SEO elements replicated.
4. Check The Copywriting On Each Page
In the past few years we have been through a phase where web designers launched flash or predominantly image based designs with no thought to copy. This may look visually appealing to visitors however not having copy on a page vastly limits its abilities to rank highly in the search engines and generate visitors. It is usually copy that sells a product or service so excluding this from a new webdesign could also impact the conversion rate negatively. When reviewing a new site its important that the key pages such as the homepage maintain or improve the amount and quality of copy that the old site had. Where possible you should stay away from flash based designs and any designers that are recommending those designs to you.
5. Ensure Your Website Footer Is Best Practice
A website footer is extremely important to help users navigate the website easily and to pass link juice to the key pages of your website. I commonly see brand new websites launched with no footer links at all despite the old site design having a footer. There is a reason some of the biggest sites in the world with the biggest SEO budgets all have a detailed footer.
6. Generate & Submit A New Sitemap
Although Google’s crawlers are extremely talented at working out a site structure and the most important pages it can’t hurt to continue using sitemaps, especially if you are using a custom or rare CMS system for your website. This sitemap should be submitted to Google through Webmaster Tools as soon as your new website launches.
7. Ensure Your Tracking Is In Place
For online marketing tracking is everything and optimisation of campaigns along with reporting relies on accurate tracking which is utilised through codes placed on your website. When you are launching a new site ensure you carry over all of your tracking codes and test them thoroughly so their are no disruptions. The main codes you will need to look out for are Analytics, Remarketing, Conversion Tracking and Split Testing codes. You will also need to check your Analytics Goal URLs and Tag Manager triggers if page URLs have changed. It is best practice to add an ‘Annotation’ to Google Analytics with the date you launch your website or make other key changes as this will be extremely useful when monitoring the effect of the new web design in the future.
8. Review Your Mobile Standalone Site
Although Responsive Designs are becoming more and more common and are better for SEO there are also a lot of reasons to launch a standalone mobile site (including a likely higher conversion rate). When changing from a Desktop only site or a Responsive site to utilising a standalone mobile site it is important that you have a corresponding web page for every single page on your Desktop version and that you set up your mobile redirects correctly. Doing this incorrectly will mean that Google is unlikely to rank your site when a user is performing a search on their mobile device.
9. Don’t Forget Your Landing Pages
Don’t forget your landing pages! I have clicked numerous ads which lead to 404 errors due to websites changing designs and hosting companies forgetting to take their stand alone landing pages with them. Ensure that any web design quotes you get include updating the design of your landing pages to match your new web design to save time and money in the future.
10. Test Test Test!
It almost goes without saying, but the number of people so eager to launch a new website or designers hurrying to get their final invoice released that overlook key testing areas is high. Ensure that you test all functionality on your website before you launch it. Two key areas you can’t afford to get wrong is the check-out process for eCommerce sites, and all of your forms for lead based sites. There is a lot to test but overlooking it could result in a lower conversion rate, loss of rankings and an overall negative experience in launching your new website. Some key elements to ensure you have tested are forms, ordering functionality, search functionality, page load times, cross device design issues and your 301 redirects mentioned in point 2 above.
11. Monitor & Improve
After you launch your new website or design (and have a drink to celebrate) keep in mind that it is not over. It is extremely important that you closely monitor the performance of the website and your search rankings after you have launched as this is when any issues will quickly become apparent. Use Google Analytics and the annotation you placed in point 7 and compare as many metrics as you can of the old website vs the new website. Specifically look at bounce rates, conversion rates, organic traffic and funnel drop off rates to find issues and when found quickly improve these to minimise the impact they have.
If you follow the 11 steps above any disruption to the traffic coming to your website should be minimal, but the performance of the site can still fall. Although a new site may look better in your eyes a combination of factors can still lead to an overall conversion rate decrease. If you are concerned about the conversion rate difference it is a good idea to split test your entire old site vs your entire new one so you know for sure and can make design adjustments if necessary.