Redesigning and launching a new website is an exciting and stressful time. It can be a big undertaking to coordinate all of the moving parts to come together at a single day and time. To help ease the stress, we’ve compiled some common launch, design and SEO pitfalls that are often encountered, as well as tips to overcome these.
First of all, expecting a site to be 100% complete on time is a bold expectation. It is always best to design and build the site in a development (or staging) environment first, and then transfer the files to the active domain. When you launch a site, there are bugs that don’t show themselves in the staging environment. A website is fluid; it will – and it should – change over time, and bugs are usually easy to find once the site is live. When you find bugs on the live site, you can then squash them. With Google Analytics Real-Time reports, you can watch site usage at launch as it happens second-by-second.
Designing In A Vacuum
Let’s take a step back from launch. In the beginning stages of a redesign you have a designer create a composition of their vision of the site. When the composition is approved, a developer makes it functional. The designer is clearly focused on making the site visually appealing. This is often based on their experience, knowledge and artistic ability. This is rarely driven by data, specifically which pages are most important to your users, what you want your users to do once they are on the site, which browser is most popular, how people are abandoning your conversion funnel, etc. The list goes on and on. Designers often fail to think about these things because they aren’t given the information needed to ask, let alone answer these questions. Your designer should have access to your Google Analytics data, and possess the ability to understand it. Don’t expect them to be full-blown analysts, but they should clearly know what the data means and how the design can be directed to accomplish those goals.
For example, we’ve worked with a client that provides site templates to their subscribers. After some analysis, we had evidence that customers in warmer climates preferred warmer colored themes and cooler climates preferred cooler themes. Therefore, a promotion with a grey theme in Florida or California would most likely be a flop. A designer working in a vacuum would never know this key piece of information and could continually create designs that don’t work. Be prepared to give your designer access and give specific direction on what you expect the website to accomplish. The data is not meant to restrict the designer; rather it should give them a positive direction.
Designing in a vacuum is a much bigger topic, which we will discuss in a future post.
Avoiding the SEO Penalty Box
Creating a great looking site is only half the battle. You also have to make sure it can be found, primarily through Search Engine Optimization efforts. Ideally, SEO should be a part of the process from the beginning, and not a bolt-on service when design and development are complete. A redesign can throw the Engines a curveball because the navigation, pages, content, etc. change drastically. If a redesign is handled without care for SEO considerations, your site can be penalized. To avoid SEO penalties, keep the following in mind:
- If your navigation changes, be sure to create a URL Redirect Roadmap. This can be a spreadsheet of the current page URI in one column and the new page that it will redirect to in another column. In most cases, you are going to use a 301 (permanent) redirect instead of a 302 (temporary) redirect. A 301 will retain any SEO value that your existing pages have built because it helps search engines update their index and pass along the algorithmic equity of the old URL to the new one.
- Create a visually-appealing custom 404 page to capture traffic that reaches any page you may have missed. Easily link to your home page and sitemap.
- If you haven’t already verified your site with Google Webmaster Tools & Bing Webmaster Tools, do so immediately. Check back regularly for error messages or alerts.
- Generate an XML sitemap (if you don’t have one already, visit XML-sitemaps.com) and submit it to the Search Engines.
- Make sure the navigation is text-based and fully crawlable. Screaming Frog is a great SEO tool that crawls your site like a spider and gives valuable information.
- Confirm all pages contain relevant and unique title tags and meta descriptions.
- Confirm all images contain titles and alt tags.
- Keep code clean and fast. A slow-loading page will hurt more than the redesign helps. The Google Analytics Site Speed report helps you keep tabs on page load times.
Redesign Questions & Goals
Redesigning your site can be a nerve-wracking experience. It is always best to clearly define goals prior to work beginning on your site. This can happen by asking some simple questions: What exactly do you want to get out of the site? How do you want users to interact with the site? How can the design accomplish those goals?
Once the data-driven design is underway, you can use the tips above to maintain (or boost) your search presence to help drive more traffic to your site and monitor how the search engines interact with your site.
Remember that redesigns and SEO are both iterative processes. You should always be testing and improving. You can’t expect to launch a perfect site, but you can arm yourself with the knowledge of the right steps to take before, during and after launch.