Website launches (and more often re-launches) can be among the most stressful experiences a business can undertake.
In addition it’s often unsuccessful, making it costly in not only financial expense but time investment as well. Thankfully, I know why this happens and how to fix it.
If you want to remove the pre and post-launch stress, to see your new site deliver results from launch day one, all you need to do is follow my practical takeaways.
Before I delve into the specific pre-launch actions needed for a smooth website launch, one area which contributes to the biggest failures I have seen is getting the right people involved after the event.
The number of times that I’ve had conversations with new customers who’ve suffered through an unsuccessful new site launch then decided to start SEO still surprises me.
If you are a marketing manager, a website owner or an internal influencer involved in a new website launch, please talk to an SEO professional first.
I am hoping that with this post I can detail the scale and variety of key actions that go into making a new website launch successful, or at least inspire you to ask for help if you would like a second opinion.
The following are key SEO and general website actions to consider before launching your new site:
- Google Analytics (GA) is added to new site, is tested and added to every page (ensuring the same GA code is used for data comparisons rather than starting a new GA account).
- New event tracking is added on site and GA is updated so new associated goals are added (it is important to have both micro and macro goals).
- All Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) website performance (crawling, indexation, operability) and admin areas are updated and accurate for the new site.
- All parties are provided with the access details required for competing associated tasks (CSM, FTP, hosting control panel etc).
- GA traffic graphs are annotated so that data can be analysed successfully when the new site is launched.
- Take note of specific historical problems with the previous site that can be brought forward (like penalties and algorithm impact).
- Redress known issues so the new site has the greatest positive impact (often this will include internal linking, external linking pages).
- Ensure full data analysis is completed to prevent the removal of key pages. This maintains the maximum impact of new pages whilst ensuring any historical value from the site is not lost.
- Complete new site structure and optimisation prior to go live. This can include many areas including: structured data, page structure tags (h’ h2’ h3 etc), page theming, any duplicate content and more.
- Check that usability supports the desired end goals (call to actions, relevant headings, limited clicks, access to HTML sitemap and more).
- Numerous technical SEO actions to review/remedy and put in place are:
- HTML improvement areas
- On page sitemap
- XML sitemap
- Functioning custom 404 page
- Robots.txt file
- Crawl errors
- Broken links
- Internal redirects
- External redirects
- URL mapping
- Canonical issues
- Site speed enhancement areas
- W3C compliance
- Title tag optimisation
- Meta description optimisation
- Rich snippet data present (no errors and added for all content types available)
- On-page headers
- URL optimisation / relevancy
- Key pages included in main navigation
- Check that business social media accounts are present.
- Ensure content can be easily shared/syndicated.
- See how the site displays on mobile devices, tablets and various screen sizes. Are there actions needed to improve this and are you paying attention to the devices people view your website on the most?
- There are also a number of less ‘SEO specific’ actions which often get overlooked. Some of these below:
- Take benchmark data from the current site for comparisons
- Communicate the launch internally (great for testing and feedback too)
- Start promoting the new site launch socially (countdowns to site launches with snippets of what’s great on the new site can really drive some external enthusiasm and buzz around the new site)
Completing all the pre-launch actions will have provided some structure to your new site and removed a number of the pitfalls which people tend to overlook.
Now that your new website is live you have extra data available to you and a few more tasks to complete – ideally this will come immediately after making your new site live.
Again these will vary, but the following is a good guidance on post-launch tests and checks required:
- Is the robots file is working as expected or blocking unwanted sections of the site?
- Are there any operability issues to remedy (404s, broken images or more)?
- Have 302 redirects been used instead of 301s (important for passing value)?
- Have the Google/Bing webmaster tools accounts been updated (if URL change) or reporting new information that needs immediate action (i.e. new crawl errors)?
- Is your customer 404 page returning the correct header status?
- Is key meta data missing, duplicated or offering limited value (page titles, meta descriptions)?
- Is you GA account reporting traffic data correctly?
- Have you recorded goals/transactions/events in your GA account and have you tested them all?
- Are there problems caused by any unwanted default settings post-launch – i.e. both www. and non-www. URL displaying?
- Are there additional site speed issues that can improve the user journey and deliver potential SEO gains?
- Has the new site been promoted to staff, customers and the wider audiences (both on and offline)?
- Can you leverage off site promotion for natural link building (especially within location citations)?
- What can you learn from the post-launch data and what additional wins can be had? What areas have underperformed?
- In line with the above, how are people using the site? Can most click-on areas be used for greater business returns and end results?
- Has the old site been removed from the search index in full or are there unwanted orphaned pages in the search results?
- Are there levels of unnecessary code which can be removed?
If you’ve made it to the end of this post and allocated key actions to individuals (or made a plan to contact any additional support required) you should be feeling very smug in the knowledge that your new website venture will be a successful one! Or, at least, the launch will be!