SEO is always a hot topic during a site relaunch project, but only because it’s often let far too late. I fully acknowledge that SEO is just one small piece in an enormous puzzle when it comes to designing, building and launching a new website. But even as a small piece, make no mistake – it has a huge huge role to play in defining the success of your new website’s launch. Just ask the thousands of people who’ve seen the other side of the coin.
To give yourself the best opportunity to maintain, if not advance, your rankings, there are three key areas you should be looking into well ahead of launch:
Site Navigation & Structure
The structure of your website will determine a consumer’s path-to-purchase, but also which of your pages will rank (and how well they rank). It’s super-important to have your site properly structured from both an SEO and UX perspective.
And what dictates the ideal site structure? Keyword research.
Use tools like Google’s Keyword Planner or Moz’s Keyword Explorer to get an understanding of the competitive landscape. Are there any ranking opportunities you could capitalise on? What are the types of search terms that are critical to your business? What phrases are your customers using to find your products?
The insights you glean from keyword research are used to build a structure that’s reflective of the language consumers use and their path-to-purchase. You should also use those insights to decide on naming conventions and decide on a flat versus tiered website structure (this is a whole other article in itself).
In short, there’s no benefit to ranking for keywords that don’t deliver any value to your bottom line. So here’s the best way forward when it comes to building your site structure:
- Get an understanding of everything product that you’ll have on your website
- Use keyword research to categorise and sub-categorise your products, which will determine the website’s navigation structure
- Build URL conventions effectively compromise between navigation structure, the keyword research and user experience
A website’s content should educate, inspire and engage consumers. It should also funnel them into the next step of the path-to-purchase by giving them all the information they need to make a decision.
But there’s no point in having content for the sake of content, so if it isn’t adding value, then it has no purpose. Use this opportunity to evaluate all of the content on your existing site and identify any pages that might not serve a purpose anymore, or uncover some pages that need to be given more love. This is good for protecting yourself from current (and future) search engine algorithm updates.
It’s also worth remembering that every word on your website is a reflection of your brand. Dry, boring and useless content is not only going to be of little value SEO-wise, but will also prove de-motivational for visitors to your website. So whether your tone of voice is funky, elegant or tongue-in-cheek, your content should be a good representation of your brand and build a connection between consumers and your products.
If you want to learn more about information architecture, this is a fantastic video that I highly recommend you watch.
Finally, make sure all of the page titles, H1 headings and meta descriptions are properly updated. There shouldn’t be any duplicates, they should all be within the character limit and should match both the keyword research, the purpose of the page and a consumer’s intent before clicking through to that page.
Prior to launching your new website, make sure you’ve mapped out and built a proper 301 (permanent) redirect list between your old and new websites.
It’s really important that you don’t just blanket redirect all of the old pages to the new home page or category pages. For maximum SEO benefit, create one-to-one redirects between old pages and their corresponding pages on the new website. For example:
In a situation where the corresponding page no longer exists, redirect to the next-most relevant page, which in many cases is the category page. For example:
The idea is to pass on as much of your existing website’s SEO power as possible to the new website by keeping any 404 errors to a minimum. This also has the added benefit of causing less headaches from a user experience perspective, because customers won’t end up on pages that no longer exist.
Once the website is launched, do a check of all the 301 redirects and make sure they’re working correctly.
Just to be on the safe side, I also recommend jumping into Google Search Console and generating a list of all 404 errors. That will help you cover off anything you might’ve missed.
Freebie: Google Search Console
Make sure your website is verified through Google’s Search Console. This is, essentially, a doctor for your website. It will tell you if and when anything goes wrong, while also providing a host of additional insights into your website’s performance.