Now, you may be thinking, “I’m in the midst of a complete website redesign, don’t I already have enough to think about?” Yes, but if you want that fancy new site of yours to actually be seen by users and search engines, you’ll need a plan. To help guide your site-launch journey I’ve put together a list of 10 items that should be embraced to enhance your search visibility prior to launch.
1. Employ Keyword Research & Create a Keyword Roadmap
Keyword research is an integral part of a site redesign, especially if you’re going through a rebrand or launching a new product. Yes, it may not be as glamorous and appealing as choosing a new logo or design for your site, but it needs to be done.
Keyword research works to inform the content that will go on your new site. Your keyword roadmap should act as a guide when creating new content or updating older content. In addition, it will inform your on-page elements such as HTML titles (see below).
2. Analyze Content
The next step is to link up with your development team and make recommendations on which content needs to be fully migrated to the new site, what could be refreshed down the road and what can be redirected or removed.
Search engine spiders have a limited capacity, so it’s essential to not distract with irrelevant or outdated content. The best way to begin the process is to export your top organic landing pages from the past year as well as the top organic landing pages from the past three years. Take a look at your content from the past year and set a threshold, whether it’s 100 or 10,000 visits. Pages under the threshold should most likely be redirected or removed, while pages slightly above the threshold should be reexamined for repurposing or refreshing.
3. Establish a 301 Redirect Strategy
Now that you’ve figured out which content is staying and which is being redirected/removed. It’s important to create a redirection strategy, (IF your URLs are changing or pages are being removed). There’s nothing worse after a site launch than a glut of 404 errors or pages that aren’t redirected properly. 301 redirects should be used rather than 302 redirects, since they signal that the page has moved permanently.
It’s important to crawl your existing site (I like to use Screaming Frog) and catalog all the existing pages and determine where to redirect pages, where the URL is changing or the page is being removed. This is a very tedious process, but I recommend doing this in Excel and making one column with the old URL and the second column for the new URL. Once you think you’re finished, I recommend running this spreadsheet by a fresh set of eyes to make sure nothing is missed, after all – spending an entire day in Excel is no one’s dream.
After the site is launched, crawl the site once more to look for errors and fix them.
4. Implement Meta Data
Once you’ve determined which pages are staying, and have the redirects in place, it’s time to start optimizing the content. First stop – HTML titles. Choo-Choo!
HTML titles should come from looking at existing page rankings (for the ones that are staying), as well as the keyword roadmap and business priorities. I recommend including the keyword target at the very beginning with “|business name” at the end. Example: “Integrated Digital Marketing Agency | Genuine”.
Next stop, meta descriptions.
Meta descriptions, while not the most important element to search engine rankings, are extremely important for click through rates
5. Optimize On-Page Elements
Prior to launch, it’s important to run through each individual page and ensure the following elements are implemented and full optimized:
Headers – it’s important to include the target keyword in the h1 or h2 when applicable.
Alt text – Alt text should describe the image, be unique and include the target keyword when applicable. More importantly, alt text should NOT be used to stuff in keywords.
Cross-linking & Anchor Text – Cross links act as a roadmap for search engine’s crawling sites and help users navigate a website. These cross links not only establish an information hierarchy but help spread link authority.
Open Graph Tags (the first OG) – Open graph tags are important for social media sharing, and can enhance your online presence and visibility.
6. Check Your Robots
Make sure you double check your noindex/nofollow/disallow tags to assure that you’re showing/indexing content that you want and not indexing things you don’t. It’s important to tell the search engine spiders what to crawl and what not to crawl, what to index and what not to index. rel="noopener noreferrer" DeepCrawl goes into much more depth about where to put the tags and best practices.
If you do a crawl with Screaming Frog, this data will be in there for you to review easily.
7. Create a XML Sitemap
Before launching your site, it’s important to create an XML sitemap, and include it in your robots.txt file, this informs crawlers where they should go first and establishes an information hierarchy for your site.
If you’re not quite sure how to create a sitemap or submit it rel="noopener noreferrer" to Google, Google has a step by step guide to follow.
8. Check Website Elements
Since you’re investing all of this money into a new site rel="noopener noreferrer" it’s important to ensure that the site is mobile friendly, has acceptable site load speeds and is secure (HTTPS). If you need more motivation, all of these elements are also (or will soon be) Google ranking factors.
2017 is the year of user experience and Google is making sure of it.
9. Avoid Duplicate Content with Canonicalization
Google defines duplicate content as “substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.” However, if it does, it’s important to implement rel=canonical tags to inform Google which content you want to be treated as the primary.
In Search Console under Search Appearance> HTML Improvements, Google identifies duplicate content, titles tags and other improvements that can be made.
10. Set Up Search Console & Google Analytics
After you’ve finished polishing up your new site, it’s important to set up both Google Analytics and Search Console. Because after all, it’s important to report on your ROI. Search Console can help you dive into keywords referring traffic to your site, help monitor the health of your site, give warnings or alert you to any issues that Google is having indexing your content.
Google Analytics can help monitor the overall health of your site and allows you to dive deeper into your content. One thing to pay special attention to after site launch is bounce rate, as it could signify a larger issue.
You’ve invested time and money into your new website, so take a deep breath and make sure it’s fully optimized before launch. It’s important to safeguard against a drop in traffic, which can often be the result of new site launch. I hope this list has helped prioritized what needs to be done prior to site launch. Happy SEOing!
Want to learn more about how Genuine can help you with your website development and SEO? Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.