At some point in the future most businesses will find that they outgrow their existing website and decide to build a new one. It could be part of an expansion strategy, a change of ownership, rebranding, or simply to breathe new life into your online presence. Whatever the reason, it is not something to be taken lightly. If you do a poor job of the changeover you could undo much of the work you have done previously in establishing your online presence.
Let’s look at some of the common problems that occur when businesses launch new websites and how to avoid them.
Build first, deploy second
Although you can develop a website refresh section by section, by far the safest and easiest way is to build the new website in isolation from the original one. This is because it is very easy to break links and make a complete mess of the structure of your site. And the larger the site, the greater the risk.
- having the old and new site separate from one another allows you to compare content and helps you plan the new content more efficiently;
- don’t be in a hurry to delete your old site; if disaster strikes with your new design you can fall back to the old one rather than going offline completely;
- and most importantly, it avoids disrupting the user experience for your visitors since they won’t be visiting a “work in progress”.
Fully test and check everything!
Once you think the new site is ready you need to go through it page by page checking things at each level:
- is the content correct and up-to-date, particularly things like contact details? It’s surprisingly easy to introduce spelling and grammar errors.
- Is the navigation structure intact? A quick search online will find lots of tools for checking links. Most Content Management Systems (CMS) also include tools for this. Ensure there are no dead links (404s) and no orphans (pages which can no longer be reached because there are no incoming links).
- have you followed best practice search engine optimisation? Have you included meta descriptions? Are your images optimised with ALT tags included?
Set up permanent 301 redirects
Sometimes URLs change so you’ll want to set up 301 redirects to ensure that people following old links are redirected to the new pages. Google Support has good documentation about redirections. You can also use online tools to get a breakdown of which pages are already indexed by Google and thus might need redirecting (try Intavant’s Google Indexed Pages Extraction tool).
Be consistent with content
If the content on your existing pages was already performing well in search results try to avoid making too many changes. Rewriting content can undo your previous search engine optimisation and change the keyword density. As always, avoid duplication of content as you will get penalised for it. If you need to have duplicate content make one version the canonical one.
If you are moving your website to a cheaper host ensure that it is one with a solid reputation. Many cheap hosts attract dubious sites (think gambling, porn, pirated content, and malware) and won’t do your search rankings any favors. Always use reputable hosts because you’ll benefit from their authority in your search rankings.
Develop content for people rather than search engines
Don’t make the mistake of producing new content solely to please search engine crawlers. The emphasis should always be on your customers and what they are looking for. Search engines employ artificial intelligence and natural learning algorithms to ensure that only relevant, quality content is ranked highly. By focusing on delivering the answers and solutions your visitors are looking for your content will find its target audience.
After your new website rollout you’ll need to invest time in ensuring that everything is working correctly and that traffic to your content hasn’t been disrupted. Google and Bing are the two biggest search engines so start by registering your site with each of them (Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools). These are essentially suites of tools to help analyse and administer your domain’s performance within those search engines. They provide real-time performance metrics related to your site’s traffic as well as allowing you to do things like submitting sitemaps, requesting crawls for re-indexing of content, and checking for errors.