Thinking about website relaunch and SEO? Here is your website relaunch checklist…
So you’ve built, or about to build, a brand new website. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time, isn’t it!
So let’s make sure it goes as smoothly as possible so that you reduce the chance of a drop in traffic from search engines.
1. 404 Error – page not found
“Page not found” errors are really annoying! A good, user-friendly website should handle it by helping your visitors rather than allowing a browser to show the error.
I guess the key thing to remember here is that your existing website has pages indexed by search engines, and those pages are bringing traffic to your site. Usually with a new web design, you’ll have signed off on a new site map. This means the new site will have a completely different structure.
From a search engine’s perspective, the minute you kill the old site and launch the new one, for a few days at least it’s going to have the old pages still showing in the results. When users click on those results, they’ll be taken to a page that no longer exists. That’s a classic “404 page not found” error. Trust me. That’s bad.
We’ll cover how you can avoid this problem in a minute, but for now you should have your developer set up a custom 404 error page anyway.
Let’s have a look at some screen shots to illustrate how a good 404 page should work (especially after a website launch). The first is the old MECC site, still indexed over at www.ninemsn.com.au (note this test may not work for you as nineMSN may have re-indexed the site by the time you read this):
The second is a screen-grab of the custom 404 page that MCEC has created which was shown to me after I clicked on the link on nineMSN. Basically, it’s grabbing the referrer information and cleverly inserting it to connect to the user, helping them navigate as quickly as possible through the new site to the information they’re after.
The other example I like is the custom 404 page at the new Members Equity Bank website. Nice and friendly, and I like the “report the broken link to us” feature.
2. Permanent redirects
OK, this could be a bit dry, but bear with me.
Getting this right is critical and virtually guarantees no loss of traffic from search engines, affiliates, online advertisements (that is, Google ads) and other link partners if your site is restructured. It also means that custom 404 page you’ve just built will hardly get used at all!
The idea here is to compare your existing site map with the new one. Where you have two pages with the same topic, you need to get your developer to permanently redirect the old page address to the new page address (also known as a “301 permanent redirect”). It can be a big job which is best set up in a table, but well worthwhile.
A good developer can write a script to perform this task automatically.
3. Notify your link partners!
Any decent site has other sites linking to it. Again this can be a big job, but if you set up a Google Webmaster tools account you can see exactly who’s linking to your site and which page they’re linking to.
If you can’t setup permanent redirects, then it’s a process of contacting them, crossing your fingers, and hoping they’ll modify their links to your site.
If you have an affiliate program, it’s even more important to notify them! Affiliates will be mightily, um, upset if the links and banners they have on their site deliver affiliate traffic to pages which “404”.
And don’t forget to update your Google AdWords, Yahoo Search Marketing ads. You’ll be throwing good money away if you don’t sort that out as soon as you launch.
4. Update your Google, Yahoo and MSN sitemaps!
As soon as you launch the new site, generate and upload new sitemaps for the search engines to re-index. It’ll speed up deletion of the old pages and re-indexing of the new ones. You can use www.gsitecrawler.com to build a sitemap quickly (if your new site doesn’t generate one automatically).
Finally, run a broken links tool once the new site is fully uploaded and goes live. A couple of sites to visit include:
All the best with your re-launch!
Chris Thomas heads Reseo a search engine optimisation company which specialises in setting up and maintaining Google AdWords campaigns, Affiliate Programs and Search Engine Optimisation campaigns for a range of corporate clients.
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