How to Launch Your New Site, with SEO Intact: A 12-Step Checklist
Website launches and redesigns are a big endeavor, but sometimes a very necessary one for brands. Maybe you’ve changed your brand name, and you need the website to match. Or maybe your name’s the same, but you’ve completely overhauled your look and branding.
Whatever your reason, you don’t want to make the mistake of ignoring SEO when launching your new website. Otherwise, you can kiss your years of hard work goodbye, and spend the next year starting from scratch, rebuilding your rankings.
Fortunately, it’s absolutely possible to launch your new site without losing your SEO. Just follow this checklist to do it right.
Before you launch the new site
Before you press publish, make sure you take the following precautions to make way for a successful site launch.
1. Review your sitemap.
You do have an XML sitemap for your site, right? If not, upload one now for your current (soon-to-be-old) site into Google Search Console.
Once you launch the new site with your 301 redirects (more on this in the next step), you can resubmit your sitemap, so Google can immediately crawl and index your new domain URLs in place of your old ones.
2. Crawl your URLs.
Speaking of 301s, get a list of all your URLs using a site crawler. At Your Marketing People, we like to use Screaming Frog.
Export these to a spreadsheet and identify the action you’ll be taking for each one: permanent 301 redirects, delete or keep as is. For the 301 redirects, identify the new destination URL. Before you delete a page, confirm that it’s not a huge source of traffic. If it is, seriously consider whether you may be better served by 301ing to another page or the homepage.
3. Gather all your email addresses.
Just as you did with your URLs, get the lay of the land by hunting down all your email addresses. Luckily, you may be able to get a list of your current ones from your email hosting provider.
Export these to a spreadsheet and likewise identify the action you’ll be taking with each one: forward, delete, or keep as is. For the ones you’ll be forwarding, identify which email you’ll be forwarding them to (i.e. email@example.com forwards to firstname.lastname@example.org).
4. Notify your hosting company.
Now that you have your URLs and email addresses ready, it’s time to contact your hosting company. Contact both your email and website providers if they are different.
Simply, let them know you will be porting everything over to a new domain name and enlist their help in ensuring everything is rolled over smoothly. This is especially important if your settings have been highly customized. But it’s a good idea regardless, in case special settings have been made without your knowledge by former employees. For example, it’s possible a redirect was implemented through your DNS and will override any 301 redirects you implement later. Involving your hosting company before you launch helps ensure nothing gets lost in the cracks.
5. Check your SEO metrics and rankings.
Get a baseline now for your organic traffic visits and conversion rate in Google Analytics, your keyword rankings, and your backlinks.
You’ll use these to compare metrics once the new site launches to ensure that not only is everything still the same, but it’s hopefully improving.
6. Backup your site.
Before you make any changes, back up your current site. If possible, keep it live on a separate server that can’t be crawled.
This will give you peace of mind that if things do go south, you can quickly revert while you figure out what went wrong.
After you launch the new site
Congratulations! You’ve launched your new site. Now it’s time to confirm everything is working as it should be.
7. Double-check your 301 redirects.
Now, simply checking your homepage is not sufficient. Grab your spreadsheet from step #2 and make certain that all pages have been redirected, deleted, or kept as is per your original plan. All pages should have a 301 permanent redirect, not 302 (which is temporary).
If all is working as it should be, add a “change of address” to your old domain’s DSC account. Keep your old domain homepage up for some time with a canonical tag, to capture any customers who don’t know you moved or visited your old domain thanks to some outdated marketing materials. Now, confirm that they’ve come to the right place with a bright, bold announcement that you’ve moved to NewDomainName.com and invite them to click through.
8. Set up your new Google Search Console account.
Create a new Google Search Console account for your new domain. This includes all versions, not just the canonical. Include http://, https://, www., and non-www. versions.
Check this regularly over the coming weeks to confirm that your 301s are working properly. Pay attention the Crawl Errors report identifying 404s and other crawl errors as soon as possible. Fix any you find immediately.
9. Submit a new sitemap.
While you’re in Google Search Console, create and submit an XML sitemap of your new site to Google. Then use the Fetch as Google tool to further facilitate quick indexation of your new URLs.
10. Update your Google Analytics.
Is your business model staying the same? Then simply change the domain name properties within your existing account in Google Analytics, and add an annotation to denote when the switch happened.
Otherwise, create a new, separate account. Keep an eye on your organic traffic and ensure everything is transitioning smoothly. Watch out for 404 errors and fix them immediately.
11. Perform a site audit.
Perform a site audit on your new website. Check all the usual culprits to confirm your new site is running smoothly and optimized to rank organically:
- How’s your site speed on mobile and desktop? Are pages under 3 seconds and 1.5 MB?
- Run a crawl report. Are there any errors you’ve overlooked? Any URLs 302ing instead of 301ing? Any pages missing meta descriptions or title tags?
- Is your robot.txt up to date? Is the old site uncrawlable?
- Is all of your schema markup still intact and displaying in the search results?
12. Monitor, monitor, monitor.
For the first few months, regularly monitor to make sure your new site is working as it should be.
- Regularly monitor your organic and referral traffic. There shouldn’t be any unexpected dips.
- Reach out to those who have linked to you in the past. While 301s should keep your SEO juice intact, it doesn’t hurt to have URLs pointing to the right page. Plus, any dip in your referral traffic could be a sign of an improper 301 redirect.
- Recrawl your URLs to confirm the right ones are indexable, and the wrong ones aren’t.
- Watch your new site rankings and compare with your rankings for your old site from step #5. You should expect a dip at first, followed by a reassuring recovery period as Google gets its act together and recognizes your site is still around, just in a new home.
Case study: Walker Foods
There’s a reason we’ve got site redesigns on the mind. We just worked with Walker Foods to transform their website into a modern ecommerce space that excites customers to click buy. The new site uses web design best principles to make it easy for customers to quickly find the products they want, understand key details, and purchase, whether they’re on their mobile phone or desktop computer.
The new site features a clean look that’s easy to navigate on smartphones and highlights their trademark sauces. The parallax background on the home page draws customers in and focuses their eyes towards a single, clear CTA button. Finally, all prominent information is now displayed above-the-fold, so customers don’t have to scroll too far to find what they need.
Take a look at the before (left) and after (right) photos below!
Launching a new website?
If all of this sounds like a lot of work, it is. Fortunately, there are experts who can walk you through every step of this process to make sure nothing is overlooked and your new site launches to great success.
Not to toot our own horn, but we’re those kinds of experts. Contact Your Marketing People today for help with your site redesign or for maintaining SEO best practices.