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Launching a New Website without Tanking Your SEO

Launching a New Website without Tanking Your SEO

Launching a New Website

If you’ve been thinking about redoing your company website, but have been holding back because it seems stressful and risky, I hate to say it, but you’re onto something. Website overhaul projects can be exciting, but there is typically no way to avoid long internal meetings, disagreements about design, and at least a few late nights.

And that’s just the start of it.

Let’s face it, a lot is riding on how well this website performs. And while most website projects focus on branding and aesthetics (which are both very important), a lot of people fail to consider the SEO risks included in a technical change, content overhaul, or content restructure. The risks are very real, and if not taken seriously, your new website – no matter how pretty it is – could be positioned to take a very serious hit in the search engines.

But don’t let the risks scare you out of your new website project! It’s good to know what’s at stake and despite all of that, I encourage you to go ahead and take the plunge. If you are considering a project as important and costly as a website overhaul, chances are there is something your current website isn’t doing right. Perhaps the technology is dated, maybe it stopped meeting the needs of your business, or maybe it just looks old. Whatever it is, you can’t run from this forever. Update your website, but mitigate your risk by performing the exercises listed below.

Get to Know Your Current Website

How well do you really know your website? Let’s see. Can you answer these questions?

  • Which pages are your top performers?
  • How do users typically find your website?
  • How many pages does your website have?
  • How many content types do you have?
  • How many clicks to conversion on average?
  • What’s the typical visitor flow?
  • What are you top organic landing pages?
  • Which of these have the highest bounce rate?

Chances are there are at least a few questions here you can’t answer off the top of your head. If you’re stumped by more than a few of these, you should take some time to understand your site before you change it around. Think of your website like a puzzle; make sure you take a long look at the picture before scrambling all the pieces.

If you’re not sure where to begin, you’re not alone. Here are some great tools used by SEO professionals to help you see the full picture.

Crawl Your Website

Using a tool like Screaming Frog, give your website a proper crawl. This is going to do two great things for you.

  1. It will give you a complete list of all the content on your current website. More often than not, marketers will find that a website actually has much more content than is actually being pushed and promoted. It’s important to have a full list to understand what you are really working with in terms of a content strategy.
  2. REDIRECTS! This is hugely important. I’m not being hyperbolic here. If you only take one thing from this post, please, please, make sure you have a strategy for redirects when you migrate to a new site. Even if you intend on changing nothing about the actual content on your website, there’s a good chance your URL structure may change a bit. You must must MUST let search engines know where to find content that used to live at a different URL. A good site crawl will let you know each and every URL you will need to map out in your redirect strategy (more on redirects later).

Perform a Rank Analysis

Get an understanding of which valuable terms your website is currently ranking well for, which terms are in striking distance (page 2) and what keyword gaps may exist. This information can be used to help preserve great rankings, give striking distance terms a new push and to create a content strategy for the new site around valuable terms for which your website does not currently rank.

Perform a Visitor Flow Analysis

This can be done in Google Analytics a few different ways. Probably the easiest and most visual way would be to simply use the Visitor Flow section (Nested under Behavior). This tool does a great job of describing the pathways visitors frequently take throughout the website, which is a great way to get a different perspective on the value of specific content pieces.

For example, you may find that a page in your main navigation does not bring in many landing page visits or conversions, which might make it seem unimportant. A Visitor Flow analysis, however, may reveal that it drives internal traffic to your highest converting page, and slashing the page altogether may not be such a good idea.

Audit Top Performing Pages

Finally, be sure to have an idea of who your star players are. Which page is bringing in the most organic landing page visits? Which page is always a part of the conversion process? By understanding which pages are successful, you can gain crucial insights into a winning strategy for your new site.

Create Your Content Strategy

Now that you understand what content you have on your current website and how it performs for you, you can make educated decisions about how to handle your current content. Here are the major decisions you will want to make;

Which pages make it to the new site?

In many website redesign projects, old content gets slashed and burned. Sometimes, old content is completely thrown out and the new site has to start with an empty slate. In some cases (like if your website consists of boiler plate/duplicate content), this approach is completely warranted; however, this can be a dangerous move if you have thoughtfully written content on healthy domain. Understanding your pages by performing the exercises above will help you make good decisions here. And don’t forget – just because you have old pages which are not producing conversions, it doesn’t mean they aren’t contributing to the overall organic health of your website. Slash with care.

New Navigation Structure

The structure of your navigation will play a huge role in how visitors interact with your new site. Keep important pages readily available via the main or side navigations, and use supplementary pages in your interlinking strategy.

Prepare Your New Site

Now that you understand your current site and have created your new content strategy, let’s be sure all this translates over to a foundationally sound new website.

301 Redirect Strategy

Using the crawl from your current website, and the URLs on your new, development website, get your 301 redirects (301 is the technical code that signifies that page is permanently moved) added to your new site. These redirects will ensure that you pass along the organic value of your old pages and URLs to your new pages and URLs. Additionally, they will prevent site users from landing on error pages (404 pages), which will negatively affect your SEO and user experience.

Technical Updates

Now is a great time to implement code level updates that will have a great impact on your organic performance. Implementing optimized HTML, Schema, and OG tags is a great start.

Onpage Optimization

Just because you have new shiny pages doesn’t mean that your pages are optimized and set up for success. Remember that ranking analysis? Be sure you bring over key onpage optimization factors on high-performing pages, and that you have included key optimization on all pages.

Test

Test. Test. Test. Test every form, every link on every page and every use case scenario. Poor user experience leads to poor performance.

Launch

Now you’re ready to launch. We recommend finding a flat season during which to launch so that period over period and year over year performance can be scrutinized without seasonal effects.

Once your website goes live, be sure to submit your new XML sitemap to Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) and to watch performance closely for errors or potential content tweaks worth making.

It may seem like a lot of work (and this is not even an exhaustive list) but trust me, it’s worth it. If you’re planning on launching a new website, contact Forthea and we can ensure a successful migration.


Nick Lindauer
Nick is the vice president, client services and operations at Forthea. He’s been working in internet marketing since 2002, when – ironically – he answered an ad in the newspaper. When he’s not at work, he’s off spending time with his family, working on his house, building furniture, cooking on his two Big Green Eggs & brewing hot sauce.

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