Regardless of the size of your website or the revenue it drives, launching a freshly redesigned site can be a difficult and nerve-wracking time for site owners and their SEO Consultants alike. Here are some of my tips for handling a site migration well.
Define and communicate your keyword strategy
They say be prepared or be prepared to fail, and your preparation for migration should start early. Keyword strategy is an oft-overlooked part of migration planning and can sometimes be left until your site is going live. Your keyword research methodology is critical to designing a strategy that will enhance and not decimate your search traffic during the transition to live process.
Generally a site redesign, prior to launch will receive an unusual amount of interest from colleagues inside the your company. Why not use them to spot those nagging problems with your SEO? If you can communicate a keyword strategy to the company in a precise but easy to interpret manner, you’ll have a much better chance of catching any incorrect page titles, misaligned internal link anchors or sketchy meta titles.
Try documenting and diagrammatising an SEO keyword strategy, a little like this (very) simple diagram I presented at SES London 2010.
Including details covering page titles, general keyword targeting, and an outline of your internal link strategy could yield some interesting feedback from those in your organisation who are interested in playing the SEO game.
Understand your old URL structure and write a 301 redirection map for your developers
Ideally your 301 redirection strategy should have been included in the SEO section of the functional specification of your new website months ago. If redirection has been overlooked, now might be the time to map your redirections for the development team.
If your URL structure is changing drastically, you’ll need to outline the general patterns for URL construction at varying levels of content hierarchy. I use an Excel spreadsheet with a pattern list of URL types mapped to an updated version of the same URL:
/[PRODUCTID]/[COLOUR]/?id=[X] should redirect to /[COLOUR]-[ID]-[PRODUCT]/
Your developers will be able to construct pattern matched based redirects to catch most, if not all of those dreaded 404 errors.
Use Xenu to get a list of all of your URLs before you move
Crawl your site with Xenu and export the URL list ready for post live testing. First, crawl your site with these settings:
Next, export the URL list to a TAB separated file, extract the URL list and re-import the list into Xenu using the “Check URL list” option. Just be sure to set “crawl depth” to 0 so the crawler won’t go off and discover new links. Uncheck “treat redirections as errors” – a redirection is a success! If you come across any new errors, you’ll have a fresh list to work though. No site launch is perfect, so don’t be disappointed if you come across the odd 404 here and there.
Set up a frequent search engine visibility report
AWR (Advanced Web Ranking) has an excellent visibility scoring system, expressing your overall search engine visibility as a percentage. While chasing individual rankings might be of debatable value for some, understanding the health of your site by monitoring a collection of your most important keywords can work extremely well. Consider grouping keywords from various levels of your site architecture and running checks more frequently than you would normally.
Our site visibility, top keywords, Q1 2010 – last week was awesome!
Be aware of your most valuable links
Get a report of your most valuable inbound links using your tool of choice. Whatever happens you need to make sure that none of the linked to URLs on your new site are left to error for too long, because your site won’t get the link juice it so richly deserves.
Changing your URL structure? Get a contacts list for your best links and realign them
If you’re planning on changing your URL structure, get a list of all of the contacts you need to contact site owners to let them know there’s been a change. After all, a 301 redirect doesn’t pass the full value of direct link.
Watch Webmaster Tools like a hawk
Webmaster tools is about the best tool we have to tell us if there’s a problem with Googlebot’s crawl of a site. Sadly the data is far from real time, but the “Crawl errors” report is an important place to start with your SEO healthchecks.
Other checks to be aware of
What tips, resources and experiences can you share the last time you launched a new website?