Today’s online space is so fast paced that you could need to redesign your website or transfer to another domain every three months.
Given what’s involved, there might be a temptation to keep putting off a redesign or launch, but this isn’t recommended.
The more you wait to get everything you need in one place for a launch, the more things advance in the meantime.
For instance, what’s known as best practice in website launching today might turn out not to be the case in two weeks time.
You’ll probably agree that it’s a very daunting business, with many things to check and recheck.
Furthermore, every aspect of your website launch is crucial, so you can’t afford to overlook anything.
You might already have found yourself wishing for a step by step guide to launching that brand new website you’ve been dreaming of.
Thankfully, that’s exactly what we’re providing here.
However, since you can’t be redesigning your website every time a new development appears, it’s recommended you do so every two to three years at most.
To ensure your SEO is top notch, every aspect of your website launch must be carefully planned and nothing should be left to chance.
While executing your plans, you’ll need to ensure tests are carried out to avoid having to start all over again or having to live with a website that looks good, but is impossible to use.
Remember that your website is the most important component of your branding.
You could own a state-of-the-art hospital which has a poorly designed website, which is difficult to navigate and anything but user friendly.
Should this be the case, your potential patients are going to doubt your credentials when they visit your site.
This should give you an idea of what you’re about to undertake. For the sake of clarity, this guide has been divided into for crucial steps, which you need to follow diligently.
Before you start anything with regards launching your website, you need to collate a checklist, which will allow you to monitor the overall process.
This way, you’ll not be taken unawares at any point. This checklist comprises everything you must have to allow for a successful launch, including:
- Make sure you fully understand the user’s needs
- Include every necessary statistic
- Set a realistic timetable for you and your team
- Have a sense of direction and stick to it
- Choose a reliable Content Management System
- Carefully plan your key functionality
- Bring everyone involved up to speed (developers, designers and copywriters etc.)
Once you’ve taken note of these, the next thing is to follow a strict prelaunch procedure.
We’ve taken time to outline these below – all of which are important if you want to achieve a successful launch.
Communicate the launch internally
This is factored into the checklist.
Ensure you have a detailed meeting with every stakeholder once you’ve decided on launching your new website and stated how you want to go about it.
The checklist should serve as a guideline for what you’re to discuss. It’s essential that everyone understands their responsibilities and the timeframe required to meet them.
The success of the launch generally depends on these people. Often, management can set an unrealistic timetable, without consulting the designers, developers, content developers, and so on.
The result is significant delays and poor management of resources. Granted, there is always some delays – even with the most detailed and well-planned launches.
However, when there is no clear communication between stakeholders, the launch is likely to fail.
Choose your Domain
Choose the URL of your choice and redirect (301) all content and URL to that domain. This will prevent any unnecessary duplication of content.
This process is referred to as ‘canonisation’, whereby you pick the best URL for your content from amongst several on a webpage.
Google doesn’t have any preference for which is the best, as long as you are consistent with it.
Benchmark your present site statistics
This is crucial to your launch, so ensure you benchmark your site statistics. Make a note of how every aspect of how your site currently works, including visitors and search engines.
These are the details that will assist you – especially when monitoring vital metrics during the course of your site launch.
Take note of any crawl errors reported by Google Webmaster Tools, as well as the number of pages indexed by Google, Google cache date and domain authority.
This might sound tasking, but a simple Excel spreadsheet dedicated to updating these – even after the launch – will make it easier.
Upload a ‘Coming Soon’ page
Around six to eight weeks before your intended site launch, upload a ‘Coming soon’ page on your new domain, explaining who you are, what you do and some of the keywords you’re targeting.
This should be spread across a couple of lines or a single paragraph. It prompts Google to start crawling before you start. Also, it serves as a form of notice to Google that you’re a real website.
Referrals and inbound links
With the help of Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools and Open Site Explorer, you can view the links pointing to your website.
These are important and you won’t want to lose them, but focus mainly on the most important ones.
You’ll have to make sure these links are pointing to your website before you launch, for which you’ll need Webmaster Tools. However, since
Webmaster might take a while to respond, it’s recommended to start this process long before you launch.
Register your new website in Webmaster Tools
Granted, you won’t be able to set everything running before your launch, but you can at least register your new website on Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools.
This will allow you to find and track any crawl errors and consequently increase your website index profile.
Implement Google Analytics Tracking
Once you begin collecting traffic data for your new website, you will likely encounter placement troubles.
This is why the tracking script placement for Google Analytics is important. Google recommends you place the script at the top of the website.
Upload Content to your new website
Start to upload content to your new website; begin with the most viewed web pages from the old website to the least viewed.
Don’t forget to link the pages for better indexing.
Map Current URLs to the new website
You can manage all your URL pages with just one spreadsheet, whereby you can list all old pages in one column and the new ones in the next.
This gives you control of the correlation process, so that you won’t need to direct traffic to 404 pages.
The actual launch isn’t too demanding and can be performed in a short timeframe, provided all the prelaunch steps were properly followed.
This is not to say you can afford to lose focus.
After you’ve successfully uploaded content from your old site to the new one, you’ll need to redirect each old page to the new.
This is also referred to as placing 300 permanent redirects at page level.
It’s not recommended to launch your website without a 300 redirect, as they are the most effective way of redirecting traffic from the old site to the new.
You’ll also need it when you change a domain name, while everything else remains the same.
Best practice is to begin with low traffic content, so that you can easily review this if the move goes successfully.
Another method is to use the SEO Bulk Checker tool, which allows you to simply copy and paste URLs.
Change the Address in Google Webmaster Tools
For a successful website launch, you’ll need to notify Google that the transition has taken place for the entire website and not just for some selected pages.
To do this, you’ll need to login to the Google Webmaster Tools account of the old website and change the address at site level, under ‘Change of Address’.
This process is fairly simple and consequently liable to being forgotten about, so make sure you double-check after the site launch.
Also, be sure to engage in relevant conversations across your industry and community.
At this point, your new website is already live. However, you’re not done just yet.
Launch Search Marketing Campaigns
Even after registering your new website on Google Webmaster Tools, there’s a slight chance it might not be indexed completely by the time of your launch.
If this happens, the result is that your high-ranking keywords may have started dropping below the first page.
The solution is to run a quick AdWords campaign for your top 10-20 converting keywords.
This is the fastest way to become visible for keywords that would normally take longer to re-rank.
However, ensure you budget for this accordingly and that your Pay per Click team has the new destination URLs, so they don’t send the paid traffic to your old website.
Enquire about any broken links
Naturally, Google Webmaster tools will show you any crawl errors that might have occurred.
However, in addition to this, crawl your website and quickly fix any broken links.
You can also run your website through Screaming Frog SEO Spider and check for Response Codes.
Promote your website on Social Media
Though promoting on Social Media is yet to become a strong ranking signal, it’s recommended you still do so for your new website.
Promoting on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ is enough to get you indexed quicker than usual. It will also help get your launch message out fast.
Claim Local Citations
Adding your new website to local listing directories is important – especially if you have an actual physical store.
This is a great place to get reviews, since most of the local listing directories are where people can leave them.
By serving as another link to your website, they will subsequently help boost your SEO.
You’ll find that your website will rank higher when you make use of the essential tips for on-page SEO.
Test the speed of your website
Currently, website speed is one of the most important things to optimise for SEO.
If any of your pages take more than three seconds to load, you have a problem.
The speed needs to be optimised for all devices and browsers; therefore, at the end of the launch, test the speed of your website.
Google Page Speed Tool allows you to do this; if it’s lower than 90, you’ll need to send a report to your web developers.
With the recommendations Google will provide, they can optimise the speed.
Usually, such recommendations wouldn’t go further than optimising images and taking advantage of browser caching.
Check your mobile version
Today, mobile traffic is taking over that of desktop. People now commonly access the internet using their phones.
Google itself has moved to a mobile-first indexing method, which means that if you haven’t already optimised the content and responsiveness of the mobile version of your website, you should take the time to do so.
After the launch, quickly run a quick check to make sure your new website is running as it should by responding to the following questions:
- Are you missing any meta description or title tags?
- Does your www website redirect to your non-www website (and vice versa)?
- Are you getting message reports from Google and Bing Webmaster Tools?
- Does your new website have 302 redirects that can easily be changed to 301 redirects?
- Is your 404 page returning a HTTP status 404?
We recommend you closely monitor every activity on your new website for at least the next four weeks.
After your launch, it’s natural to experience a significant decrease in traffic, but don’t let this trouble you.
After this period, this will revert back to normal or even improve, due to the recent enhancements you’ve made.