A new website launch is an ideal time to showcase a revamped strategy, user interface, and design – or a move that loses you more than 70 percent of your organic traffic.
We’ve seen companies suffer such catastrophic losses when SEO is not properly built into their website launch plan. Yikes.
Certain measures can help ensure that loss doesn’t happen to your new, shiny website after you’ve poured thousands of man hours to create your modern masterpiece. Here are ten SEO best practices for a new website launch.
Know Where You Stand
Planning for a re-launch starts with:
- Determining which keywords and landing pages rank in Google
- Establishing a baseline for your organic traffic
Use tools to monitor these metrics before and after the launch to ensure the rankings and traffic remain steady and strong.
Pinpoint Pertinent Landing Pages
Landing pages that generate organic visits are vital for SEO. You want first to find them, and then either build these pages into your new site or redirect them to new and improved pages.
Create a Page Mapping for New Site Structure
This most important step determines how the top organic pages on your landing page list will fit into your new site structure. Determine whether the pages will:
- Maintain the existing URL
- Change the existing URL
- Not be included at all
Maintain existing URL: Note these pages in the page mapping, ensuring they are added to your new site architecture and produce a 200 server response code when your new site launches.
Change existing URL: Pages with new URLs must have a 301 redirect in place. This type of redirect tells Google you are permanently moving the old page to a new location, and your organic rankings should update with the new pages. Failure to create 301 redirects during a re-launch is the No. 1 cause of organic traffic losses.
Not included at all: While it’s OK to remove pages that no longer suit your needs, it’s also imperative to know:
- The organic value of the page before you ditch it
- The organic value of page groupings if you’re excluding entire sections of legacy content, such as your entire blog
- How to handle the eliminated pages
Pages you’re removing can be handled with a 301 redirect that sends visitors to a similar page (if one exists) or a 404 status code that lets Google know the page has been removed.
Submit and Test Your Page Mapping
Submit your page mapping and instructions on handling different pages to your development team. Test it once your site is up in staging and all redirects have been implemented.
Review and Improve On-Page Elements
On-page SEO elements also have an impact on organic traffic, making it imperative to maintain or improve the most impactful ranking signals. Review your page layout and wireframe, paying attention to:
- Use of page headings <h1> to <h5>
- Page copy placement in the layout
- Amount of text on pages
- Use of tabs or AJAX that hides content from a user’s initial view
- Navigation links
- HTML titles
- Meta descriptions
- Canonical tags
- Image ALT tags
Check and Update Content
If any content is being changed and improved, make sure all new copy is optimized for search.
Review and Amend Internal Links
While 301 redirects work well for external sites and bookmarks linked to your pages, you want to avoid using 301s with internal links. Internal links should instead go directly to the new page versions. Use the status code checking tools to ensure internal links send a 200 status code and head directly to the new URL.
Update XML Sitemaps
All pages in your XML sitemaps must also point directly to new URLs. If they instead produce a 301 redirect, Google will stop crawling the sitemaps. Update all links in your XML sitemaps to your new pages.
Perform Final Pre-Launch Review
Before your redesigned site goes live, do a final review of the following page elements on your dev/staging site:
- HTML Titles
- Meta descriptions
- Internal links
- Site speed
- XML sitemaps
- ALT tags
Perform Post-Launch Review
A few pages inevitably get missed when re-launching a site, and you can check them by logging into your Google Search Console account and reviewing your 404 report. If you see a lot of 404s after launching, make a note of the pages causing them and create another 301 mapping so your development team can add the redirects.
When a re-launch is performed with these 10 SEO best practices, missed pages are typically few and not critical. You should instead have everything covered, from your most important landing pages to your on-site elements, with no major dip in your organic traffic.
Looking for SEO launch support? Yeah, we do that.