If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail
So you’ve finally decided to give your old, mid-2000’s website a major face lift and update.
Now, you may be thinking, “I’m in the midst of a complete website redesign, don’t I already have enough to worry about?” Yes, but if you want that beautiful new site of yours to be seen on the first page of Google search results, you’ll need an SEO plan. To help you navigate through your new website launch journey, here’s a checklist of important items that you should do to hit the ground running at launch.
Don’t have the time or resources to make it through this list on your own? Give Thrive a call!
Know Your Target Keywords and Create a Roadmap
Keyword research may not be as glamorous and appealing as choosing a new design, logo, or style, but it must be done. Keyword research is a critical part of a site revamp, especially if you’re going through a re-brand or launching a new service.
The goal of keyword research is to establish and inform the content that will go on your new site. Use your research to build a roadmap that will act as a guide to create new content or to update your previously existing content. To create that roadmap, lay out each page on your site and decide which keyword(s) they will focus on. This will help you establish and optimize your titles, headers, alt text, and on-page content.
Analyze Your Current Content
Take a look at your existing content on your website and decide which content needs to be migrated to the new site in its current state, which content should be modified, which can be added later, and what you can remove.
The way to begin this process is to analyze your top organic landing pages from the past few years. Take a look at that content and establish a pageview threshold that works for your business (100 views or even tens of thousands). Pages above the threshold can be kept as is, whereas pages under your threshold should be updated and repurposed, redirected, or removed. Pages that are narrowly above should be examined on a case-by-case basis for repurposing or refreshing.
Initiate a 301 Redirect Strategy
Now that you know what content is staying, what is being redirected, and what is being removed, it is critical to establish a redirection strategy for those URLs that are being changed or removed. There is nothing that can hobble your SEO at launch more than being burdened with 404 error pages.
You do this by crawling your existing website and cataloging all the current pages, and then determining where you are going to redirect those pages. There is no getting around the fact that this is a very tedious process. The best way catalog this is to create an excel document with the first column as the old URL and the new URL in the second column. Because this process is very tedious, we recommend that you have a fresh set of eyes review the spreadsheet before implementing to ensure nothing is missed.
Set Up Your Page Titles and Meta Data
Once you know what pages are staying and have set up your redirects, start optimizing the content. Start with your page titles and and meta descriptions.
Determine your titles and metas by looking at your keyword roadmap, business priorities, and existing page rankings. For your title, as a rule of thumb, at Thrive we recommend putting the target keyword with your business name at the end: “Integrated Marketing Agency | Thrive”.
While meta descriptions are not as important to search engines anymore, they still play a key-role in click through rates. Your focus is on persuading the searcher to click, while maintaining accuracy so expectations are met.
Run through every page prior to launch and check to ensure each of these following elements are optimized:
- Headers: Include your target keywords in the h1 and h2’s when applicable
- Image Alt Text – Alt text should describe the image, be useful, unique and include the target keyword when applicable. Do NOT keyword stuff.
- Open Graph Tags – These are important for social media sharing so they will enhance your social presence and visibility.
Check Your Bots
Make sure that you have your noindex/noflollow/disallow tags set to assure that search engines are not index content you don’t want seen.
Create an XML Sitemap
Before launching your site, recreate your XML sitemap and place it in your robots.txt file. This will let search engine crawlers know which content and pages they should visit first and helps to create the hierarchy for your website.
Visit Google for a step by step guide to learn how to create a sitemap.
Make Sure Your User Experience Will Be Positive
The last thing you want to do after spending all of this money on a new site is to ensure that it is it is secure (HTTPS), has quick load times, and is mobile friendly. In case you needed any extra motivation, all of these are or will soon be Google ranking factors. Make sure your user experience (UX) is up to snuff.
Watch Out for Duplicate Content
Check Search Console under Search Appearance > HTML Improvements to identify duplicate content, titles, and other improvements. You can also use a tool like Siteliner to check for duplicate content on your site. Using this information, implement rel=canonical tags to inform Google which content you want to be considered primary.
Set up Your Google Search Console and Google Analytics
Make sure that you have connect both of these Google products to your new website, because these will give you critical insights into your ROI. For example, if you see a high bounce rate in Analytics after launch, you may have some large issues to deal with. Search Console will help you see what keywords are driving traffic to your website, monitor the site’s overall health, and alert you to any issues with your site.
Your Website Pre-Launch SEO Checklist
To sum things up, here’s everything we just mentioned you need to do, in a handy list:
- Keyword research: Create a keyword roadmap for the new site
- Content review/analyzing: Determine what should stay, be repurposed, or go
- 301 redirects: Set up a spreadsheet of redirects to be implemented at launch
- Page titles & meta descriptions: Get these set up and ready to rock
- Onsite optimization: Optimize headings, images, social sharing settings
- Bot check: Make sure you’re blocking appropriate pages from indexing
- XML sitemap: Create & submit one in Google Search Console
- User experience: Make sure your site loads quickly, is secure, and works well
- Duplicate content: Check for any on your site
- Google Search Console & Analytics: Get these two indispensable tools set up!
At Thrive, our overall strategy is Ready, Set, Grow! The last thing you want after a significant investment into your website and brand is for it to have issues right after launch. Before you hit launch, you need to safeguard against a drop in traffic. So take a deep breath, and dive right in.
For help with setting up your new site for SEO success, contact Thrive today!