Recently we have been updating a lot of existing and established websites. This can be anything from SEO audit changes through to changing the platform of the site, and even a complete redesign and restructure. In order to make sure that Google and other search engines don’t have a fit when they next cache your site, there are a number of things that you can do to ensure a smooth transition from the old site to the new site. Here are just a few of the main things you might want to consider adding to your SEO checklist:
Prior to going live
Make sure your pages can be cached
A regular and easy to make mistake we have seen in the past, is that many developers “NO INDEX, NO FOLLOW” the new website pages during development, which is good. It prevents the pages potentially being cached. However, make sure that this is removed or changed to “INDEX, FOLLOW” before transferring to the live server.
Check the Robots.txt
Again as above, make sure that you’re not restricting access to the site, and that it is able to be cached.
Ensure that the sitemap has been generated, and contains all the pages of your site. You can make sure that Google is aware of this sitemap by including a link to it in your robots.txt file.
Have you added the latest analytics tracking code? Again if you’ve been using a development server during the site development, then remember to add the correct tracking code in prior to uploading.
Check for broken links
The easiest way to do this is to use an automated program such as Xenu. Xenu will trawl through your website and report back with any missing pages / images / dead links etc. Make sure these are all resolved.
301 redirects / htaccess
If the structure of your site has changed, it is imperative that you use 301 redirects to link from the old URL to the new one. If you don’t have a relevant page to link to, then redirect it to the homepage or closest page in terms of relevance. This way Google won’t discover lots of 404 errors where there used to be pages, any accumulated strength from external links will be passed on, and any favourited pages in a users browser will be redirected.
Change your BASE URLs
If your using a CMS platform, make sure your BASE URL has been changed from the development server URL to the website domain. Additionally, perform a search in the database to ensure that any internal links have also been updated.
On completing the transfer / propagation
Perform an update
Once you have made all your preliminary checks and you have confirmed the site is working as it should, perform an update ideally in the news section with links to the homepage and an inner page. If you have a news RSS feed and / or are using a platform such as WordPress, this page may get cached quite quickly which will bring the search engines to your site and trawling the site as soon as possible.
Check Google Analytics
Log into Google Analytics and check that analytics data is still being received.
If you have moved to a new domain, where possible update your details in any directories you have signed up for, especially premium directories such as Best of the Web, Yahoo Directories, Yell etc.
After the site is live
Once the site is live, you need to keep monitoring how it is being received by the Search Engines as closely as possible. If your site structure didn’t really change, you will most likely have a very smooth transition. If there were major structural changes to the site, you may notice a lot of fluctuations during the first month of going live. The key is to minimise this as much as possible.
Google Webmasters Tools
Check Google Webmasters Tools daily. In particular, you want to keep an eye on the number of pages cached and crawl errors. As soon as you notice any issues, resolve them as quickly as possible.
Monitor website performance
Regularly check your rankings in Google. You may drop in the results temporarily, or even disappear completely from the rankings while Google deciphers the changes you’ve made. If this happens, don’t panic. Keep an eye on Webmasters Tools and make sure that you’ve not made any glaring errors such as keeping the “NO INDEX, NO FOLLOW” meta in your page headers.
How are people using your site. Has your bounce rate increased? Is there a particular page with a very high exit rate? How has your conversion rate been affected? Analytics can provide insightful data to help you spot issues quickly.
Update, update, update
Now that the site is live, keep it updated regularly especially during this first month. Try and add a news page at least once every other day, but the more you can update the better. Make sure your that your news RSS is linked in to your social media accounts such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Additionally, submit a few press releases and article submissions to announce your new site and get some additional links to your site.
Hopefully this covers most of the points that should be in your checklist. Obviously there could well be a lot more points than this, and it will change depending on whether you’re simply updating the site or transferring it to a new server and domain. Feel free to add any more points to the comments below, and enjoy!