Search engine optimization adherence in the website relaunch/redesign process is a topic I enjoy talking about. In the past few years I have covered a few topics of what to think about from an SEO perspective when undertaking a redesign effort and how to assess potential SEO issues you are experiencing after your new site has launched.
After seeing some clients launch ineffectively recently, it made me revisit a few of these articles and consider the need for a relaunch SEO checklist. We may now know what to consider during the redesign phase and how to remedy issues, but we must follow these items below to have a truly effective relaunch…at the time of pressing go. Some of these checklist items reflect technical SEO considerations for content visibility to search engines and users, items pertaining to on-page SEO, and also analytical tracking items you don’t want to overlook.
1. Redirect Mapping
Ensure that the development team and content team are in a cohesive understanding of the intended new page naming conventions and URL structure. It helps to have a current/proposed URLs spreadsheet shared in Google Drive for these parties to collaboratively assess and revise. This file can be a direct reference in the redirection of URLs during the relaunch. A lack of communication between these two parties could leave you with 301 page redirection from current URLs to page names/structures that do not exist in the new site. This becomes a 404 error nightmare and you can watch your existing rankings fly away post-relaunch.
2. Exclusion Migration
While your new site is transitioning from a staging site to production, you may have placed proper exclusion efforts to rid search engine crawling in the staging area such as a full staging site robots.txt disallow or Meta Robots usage within individual page source code. That is great, but don’t allow these elements to migrate to the production site. Again, you will watch your rankings and organic traffic disappear.
3. On-Page SEO Transition
While your mind may be focused on your new design and how great the new site will look, don’t forget that optimized on-page elements need to transition into the new site, too. You must ensure that the title elements from the staging site will transition to the new site. This also applies to Meta descriptions and other page elements such as H tag usage. Has page copy changed? Ensure that your on-page keyword targeting and copy have contain a synergistic relationship.
4. Internal Linking
A redesigned site close to launch can be rife with internal linking flaws. Before the site goes live you should do manual review of important links. I also prefer using the Chrome plugin Check My Links to quickly assess what links may are broken. Beyond broken links, review the coded link targets to make sure they will link to the true page URL and are not redirecting.
5. Code Review
Above, we mentioned a few code related considerations such as the Meta Robots tag and Meta tag elements, however, there are other items in the code we want to review before launch. You will want to make sure you retain Open Graph and Twitter Card tagging if you currently have this on the live site. Also review the code to ensure there are not any old CSS or JS server side referenced file requests that will not be used in the new site. Having requests to dead files in the future and be hiccups for search engines. I prefer to use a tool such as Pingdom Web Speed to pick up on this type of issue.
6. Look and Feel (Compatibility)
The new site looks really cool to you…but what about everybody else? You must ensure that your new design will provide the same experience for every user based on their browser and browser version. Additionally, be cognizant of what the mobile display will look like and if responsive, how the display order renders. Here you can use tools such as Browserstack or Cross Browser Testing.
7. Analytical Considerations
I have mentioned many times before how important an accurate analytics setup is. A relaunch is a great time for this to fall into jeopardy. The first consideration is tracking coverage. Ensure that every page features the same analytical tracking that the existing site has. This applies to e-commerce tracking as well. Analyzing deeper, if your URL structure has changed, your goal URLs have likely changed as well. This will need to be revised in the Goals section. For the legacy site, have you added any Content Groups? If your folder structure has changed this may likely need revision, too. Last, if you have placed event tracking manually on links in the past you may want to revisit their existence in the soon to rollout version of your site.
Ready, Set, Launch
It is worth saying, as I have in the past, collaboration between all parties is imperative in a redesign/relaunch effort if SEO equity will be retained. While communication is the foundation, the sections above are definitely important focal points in the steps before relaunch. With this in mind, print this and tape it to the wall in your office and hand it out to the redesign team!