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You’ve just launched your newly redesigned website.  Whether it took years, months or weeks – the important part is you’ve finally arrived. You feel exhausted but proud - a true labor of love.  Better yet, everyone who sees the new site loves it! Then you get an email from Bilderman over in accounts payable saying he just did a search on Google for one of your key pages and you’re nowhere to be found. Damn that Bilderman. Why does there always have to be a spoiler?  Assuming he’s wrong, you check for yourself just to be safe. Sure enough, that pesky little pencil pusher was right. You are nowhere to be found. You start frantically typing in other searches that you just KNOW you had ranked well for in the past and still – zip. What the hell happened?

We Feel Your Pain

Welcome to New Website FAIL. If you’ve ever experienced the misery, panic, stress and acid indigestion that comes from a website redesign launch gone awry, you are not alone.  At Primacy, we’ve launched hundreds and hundreds of new sites over the last 16 years and no two are alike.  However, there are a few primary elements that can help eliminate some of the key new-website-fail components.

A Quick Hit List

In this article we’ll touch upon elements that can help you avoid some misery and let you save your bottle of Tums for flaming swamp master chicken wings:
  • Webmaster Tools and Analytics
  • 301 redirects
  • Sitemaps & Robots.txt files
  • Duplicate Content
  • Post Launch Audits
  • 404 Errors

Site redesign SEO timeline

Domain Audits - Taking Inventory of Old and New

A good starting point is to carefully account for everything you had on the old site and all the new stuff you’ve just made. Pages, files and URL structure all need to be reviewed. Are you going from a .php to .asp site? Are your staff pages moving from “about us” to a new section called “leadership”? We hope that you’ve addressed this in the Information Architecture stage of the site redesign but if not, audit your domain. Make a spreadsheet (the detailed sitemap) of all your previous pages, by main headings or navigational level and then include all subsequent pages. Do you have PDF files or product images? You’ll need to catalog where they used to live within the detailed sitemap.

Tools and Analytics – No Hookup = No Power

Want stats and tracking on your site? Better make sure Google Analytics is hooked up. If you missed this step, you’re not the first person to feel the sense of horror when you pull your first visitor report and find a big goose egg. Other tools such as Google or Bing Webmaster Tools are also important and can prove helpful during the launch process. And since both require either a verification or submission process, make sure to work with your tech team to get these setup prior to launch.    Once you’ve got your XML sitemap, use Webmaster Tools to submit them directly to the search engines.  If your url changed, submit a change of address from the old site to the new.  Plus there are a wide variety of reports, from when and how deeply your site has been visited by spiders to where they’re seeing errors on your site.

301 Redirects – The Art of Domain Transition

One of the most common problems during a redesign is if you change the names of your pages or adopt a new URL or directory structure. Going from about.html to about-us.html can seem simple, but it’ll wreak havoc on your rankings if unaccounted for. That’s where 301 redirects can save the day. First, map all your existing pages to whatever their new URL is going to be - think old sitemaps vs. new sitemaps using their full URLs. You can do this pre-launch, but you cannot implement the redirects until post launch.  Explaining the technical aspects of how to redirect goes beyond this post, but for more, check out:

Sitemaps and Robots

Once the new site is live you’ll need to create a new XML sitemap as well as a robots.txt file. What are sitemaps and robots? And how do you best do that? Here are some great links to get started:

Duplicate Content

As new pages get added to your site, make sure you’re not copying content verbatim from a page that already exists.  It’s not a sin to have two pages that say the same thing, you just want to make sure that you say the same thing in a slightly different way.  Google won’t penalize you per se, but it’ll only pick one page to show in results.  Google, Bing and Yahoo recognize there may be times when this is unavoidable and offer us the Canonical Tag.  Matt Cutts from Google explains it nicely here:

Post Launch Audits

Once you’ve made it this far, it’s time to check and make sure that all these things have in fact worked. The best way you can do this is by using Webmaster Tools or to crawl your site and look for duplication issues and errors like the dreaded 404.

404 Errors

Error pages can happen to the best of us.  404 Error pages provide a poor user experience, and the broken link prevents any page rank authority to be given to the destination page.  You can’t always control how other sites link to yours, but you can control all of your internal pages within your site.  Identifying these error pages can be done with tools such as Webmaster tools, Screaming Frog, or Link Sleuth.  Find those broken URLs, correct them, or if the URL no longer exists, implement a permanent 301-redirect pointing to the closest related content.

Wrapping Your Head Around It All

Still feel a little overwhelmed? We’re not going to kid you, it can be a daunting task, but even if your redesigned site only has ten pages, it still must be done. Check out the handy timeline graphic included with this post for a roadmap, or get in touch with us and we’ll help you identify and prioritize what you have to do to help prevent relaunch fail.