Eight SEO Tips When Launching a New Website
Thinking of re-designing your website? Have you already re-designed your site, or is your site brand new? Here are 8 SEO tips to help your new site perform better.
1. Crawl your site to get an understanding of it
Before you transfer all the stuff you need from your old site to the new one, take a moment to crawl through your site. You can use software such as Xenu, which is free, or Screaming Frog, which supports up to 500 URLs free. Here you'll often find pages that you might have forgotten even existed, or perhaps you spot something else that might be important for the new site. In short, you get to understand your site better.
Once you have crawled through your old site, crawl the new one and compare the structures between the two. Here too you can pick up some useful information.
2. Make a 301-redirect plan
The biggest, most important tip of all is to make a 301-redirect plan. Not having a plan can have serious consequences and often mean you have to start your SEO work all over again.
A small drop in organic traffic is normal during a re-design, but your normal traffic will return relatively quickly if you have your redirects in place. It usually takes 1-2 months before your new site sees improved SEO performance.
If we were in Google's shoes, we would ask: How will you treat your new site? The new site is likely to have:
- A different structure
- New URLs
- New design
The pages that Google has indexed on your old site are no longer accessible or have new content. If you don't do anything, the value of these pages will disappear as the new URLs will be new pages for Google, as though you have started from scratch.
That's why it's extremely important to have a strategy for redirects, so you guide the user to the right place. And most importantly of all: you retain the value you built on the old site.
So prepare a so-called 301-redirect plan. One way of doing this could be:
- List your URLs
Make two columns with all your URLs - one with the new and one with the old. Use Xenu, Screaming Frog, or extract them from the database. Put the two columns next to each other in an Excel spreadsheet and compare.
- Setting up 301-redirects
Set up 301 redirects for your matching URLs. This process is usually straightforward, but sometimes it can take a little extra time. Use the filter in Excel to sort and make the job easier.
Note: Even if there are URLs from the old site that are not on the new one, they will still need redirecting. Redirect to the nearest category/product or the home page, to transfer all the value and avoid too many 404 errors. If you don't redirect all your pages, you are likely to lose some SEO power.
Set up a sitemap with all the new URLs and put them all up in Google Search Console.
I often experience that you are not thorough enough when it comes to this. The plan may take time which is why most people may not think it's worth it, but believe me - it is.
3. Search word map for SEO
Before you take out existing URLs from the old site and implement them on the new one, you should think about whether your URLs could get better (hint: they can!). The current may be too long, contains specific characters, or important keywords may not be included.
100.000 search results show that short URLs perform better than long ones (source: http://backlinko.com/search-engine-ranking)
By making a so-called search word analysis of your site before you launch, you have a unique opportunity to stay ahead with understandable SEO and online advertising tasks. Perform an analysis of your content and find search words that match. These search words should be incorporated in your new URL. You can use Google's own worktool for the analysis.
Use short user and SEO-friendly URLs with search words for the best performance.
To see this in practice, I recommend Rand Fishkin Whiteboard Friday, where he explains the importance of this method.
4. Existing content and on-page
In this step, it's important to get your on-page SEO content over to the new site (as long as it's good, of course). Perhaps you already have some good text, titles/descriptions and internal links on the old site. But if you don't have any content - or if it just isn't good enough - it might be an idea to work on it in your search word map and your 301-redirect plan. Simply add new columns to give you a general overview.
Finally, it's equally important to ensure that your internal links are updated. Are your search words in the anchor texts and do they link to the new URLs? If you haven't got this in place, then you can expect a number of broken links, which you won't be able to correct at a later date.
Other on-page SEO parameters you should check:
- Good, long and informed content
- Thin content
- H-tags (titles)
- Internal links - structure and anchor texts
- Image alt-texts
- SEO-friendly URLs
5. Technical SEO checks
Your website is ready for launch. You're ready, the whole world is ready - but don't get carried away just yet. Perform a quick technical analysis of your site before it goes live. Make sure that the technical side of the site is working 100% before you press the big green button.
Crawl your site for broken links, 404 errors, thin content, duplicated titles/descriptions, canonical tags, large photos and much more. You might not be able to deal with all of these points on your own, which is why it's worth having a developer or someone who understands search engine optimisation and its importance, with you in the process.
Here's a list I always check in Screaming Frog:
- Missing page title
- Duplicated page titles
- Titles over 70 characters
- Titles under 30 characters
- Missing descriptions
- Duplicated descriptions
- Descriptions over 930 pixels
- Missing H1 titles
- Duplicated H1 titles
- More H1 titles
- Canonical tags
- Thin content
- Broken internal/external links
- Image alt-texts
Other things I also check:
- Duplicated content
- Pages indexed in Google
- Page Speed and Load time
- URL structure
- Noindex on the right, wrong and possible pages
- Mobile friendly
- HTTP status codes
6. Website Pagespeed
One of the things I also check is Page Speed /Load Time for the site. In short, sites with a good Page Speed score better at ranking high in Google.
There are a number of tools out there for this purpose, including Google's own. However, I prefer GTmetrix, which is something more specific. In addition to GTmetrix, I can also recommend Pingdom, which tests things like load time. Both provide clear recommendations on what needs optimising - and then it's just about getting started.
At Novicell, we always aim for a score of 85+, to give our customers the best chance of performing online.
7. 404-custom page
When launching a new site, 404 pages often occur. Perhaps you didn't do your 301-redirect plan 100%, perhaps some of the old pages that the user finds in the search result have ceased to exist or there may be other reasons. Whatever the case, keep an eye on your 404 errors once you've pressed the green button. You should ensure that your page is connected and properly set up in Google Search Console.
A good 404 page will also quickly guide the user and search engine back on track again. The page must therefore be user friendly and have the same design as your website. You could even create a search box on the page with links back to the home page and other important pages on your site. A custom 404 page is a must. See e.g. Airbnb's here:
8. Analysis of incoming links
Incoming links are important for building your SEO power and retaining your visibility. There is a high risk of losing these powerful links if you change your URL structure. I would recommend performing an analysis of incoming links to fully understand your link profile. You could add this to your 301-redirect plan.
By knowing which pages the links refer to, you get a better understanding of their importance while performing the analysis. Then make sure that the developer knows that the pages need migrating. Finally, you can use your 301-redirects. And of course, these are already in place because you made a 301-redirect plan at the start right?
Finally, I recommend not working live on the page, but in a staging environment. And what's that? Well a staging environment is a copy of your page where you can test any changes without them coming into effect in the live environment. The environment often has the same hardware, software and settings - but this depends on your hosting agreement. It's a good place to test new code, plugins, themes or other possible measures. On this note - always remember a noindex tag on your test sites. For more information, I can recommend Chris Lema’s article on the subject.