Rookie Website Mistakes, Part 6: You Abandon Good Work When Replacing an Old Site
October 10th, 2017 by
So, you’re launching a new spiffy, user-friendly website? Or, maybe you’re migrating your site from an HTTP to HTTPS secure domain? To make the launch as successful as possible, there are a few important steps you (or more likely your web developer) should take on the backend to facilitate a seamless transition.
Changing your URL requires a strategic plan. Without it, you could end up with lost links, dreaded 404 errors, and annoyed customers. If you’ve built some authority for your site, you also need to manage your page rankings during the process. No one wants to watch traffic plummet when they launch a new site.
While it may not be as exciting as creating the design or building out new pages, here are four absolutely necessary administrative steps to take during the launch of your new site.
Set Up 301 Redirects
A 301 redirect will automatically transfer users from the old URL to the new page on the website that replaces it. So, when someone types in your old domain they will still end up on your beautiful, newly-designed (or newly-secure) website.
While there are other options for redirecting links, 301 redirects are the safest and most trusted way to permanently redirect pages without diluting PageRank on Google. In fact, Moz estimates that 90–99 percent of ranking power will pass from the old page to the new one with the use of a 301 redirect. This is because Google bots recognize 301s as a permanent change, indicating that the original content from the old URL has found a new home on the redirected page.
There is no limit to the number of 301s you can use per site, so you can (and should) redirect all of your old, viable content to new URLs for your new site in order to retain all of the rank power (also known as link juice) from your old site.
To make this happen, extract all the URLs from your content management system or export the URLs from Google Analytics to create a list of the URLs on your existing site. Don’t forget to include landing pages from any paid search campaigns you’re running, as Google will lower your quality score for running ads with broken links.
Once you have this list, you can proceed to the next item on our list, mapping out your new site.
Update Site Maps
As you learned in part four of this series, you’ll obviously want to have more than one page on your new site. An updated sitemap should be the foundation for your new site design. Start by creating a list of all the pages you know you want to include in your new site. Your old site’s URL list (see above) can provide a foundation for essential pages that you know you want to keep, especially the pages on the old site with inbound links that help improve rankings.
Map out all planned pages that correspond to pages on your old site so you can set up redirects for all of those pages. You’ll also want to take note of key analytics on legacy pages to use for comparison once the new site is launched.
The following are some ideas for what you should track for your benchmark:
- Organic traffic and page visits
- Bounce rate
- Page loading speed
- Conversions per page
- Rankings for priority keywords
From here, you’re ready to create a robots.txt file and an XML sitemap to give Google and other search engines the right information to crawl your new site. If any of the steps so far have left you scratching your head or frantically googling SEO jargon, one of our friendly tech gurus can help you out!
Recycle Existing Content & Optimize for SEO
Creating a new website from scratch is already a big undertaking—don’t recreate the circle. Be sure you bring over your existing title tags, meta descriptions, and page headings and ensure all new content includes these essential SEO elements. This is also the perfect time to audit your existing content to ensure that it meets the latest best practices. Are multiple pages using the same headline (h1) or meta descriptions? Do pages have broken internal or external links? Are images too big and slowing download time?
Use what works, fix what doesn’t. Your content for each page should be unique, use keywords naturally (without stuffing), and include logical internal links.
Don’t Forget About Google Analytics
As you launch the new site, it will be more important than ever to track analytics and ensure that everything is functioning like it should. Migrating to a new domain is a huge, detailed undertaking, and little problems are likely to arise.
Make sure that the Google Analytics tracking code is properly installed on each page of the new site and collecting data. With your collected benchmark data, you can compare traffic and rankings for the new site and check and adjust as needed. Tools like Screaming Frog can also help you check for 404 errors on the new site and alert you to any issues with pages being indexed improperly via your robots.txt file.