Relaunching or migrating your website at some point in time is inevitable. It’s simply part of evolving and keeping up with the latest trends and technologies.
Design trends change. Your brand will evolve. New technology will come out. These are things that regularly prompt website redesigns, relaunches, and migrations.
Though relaunches and migrations are very normal, these projects can be very daunting. One may tremble at the thought of how many things can go awry.
What if we flip the switch and are suddenly swimming in technical issues?
Or, the worst thought…
What if we lose our website rankings and traffic?
You’ve likely invested countless hours of work and resources into your website, and you don’t want to lose all of the authority and ranking power that it has built up over the years.
This is a big undertaking. Take it from me, as I’ve worked through several website migrations and relaunches in various roles – project manager, SEO analyst, internal stakeholder, you name it. I am the most empathetic website relaunch-er there is.
But fear not! There is a sure way to mitigate the loss of any organic traffic, rankings, backlinks, and authority.
How, you ask?
Incorporate SEO into your website relaunch.
Because if you build your new website with SEO at its core, you can not only rest assured that your organic traffic won’t drop, but you’ll watch it increase instead.
The Role and Objectives of SEO for a Website Relaunch
If you relaunch your website without the involvement of an SEO team member or agency, there is a high likelihood that you will do some serious damage to your website rankings. This is because the tasks of an SEO throughout a relaunch are not on anyone else’s to-do list, and our objectives are on no one else’s radar. Designers, developers, project managers, and brand stakeholders all have their own priorities, and are not necessarily paying attention to if the website is going to be as optimally visible in search engines as possible post-launch.
So then, what are those objectives of an SEO during a website relaunch that helps you avoid the major relaunch danger zones?
Objective #1: Launch with NO technical errors.
The most important aspect of SEO during a website relaunch is the technical element of SEO. This is what will make or break your new website’s ability to maintain all of its rankings and traffic.
The technical setup of a website can have a massive impact on performance. The SEO role within a relaunch is responsible for making sure all technical elements of the website are Google-compliant, such as indexation, canonicals, sitemaps, proper redirect setup and much more. We’ll get into these details later on.
In the context of a relaunch, technical SEO involves working closely with the development team to ensure that they are building the new website’s foundation to be what is best for both consumer usability and crawlability by Google’s bots.
Objective #2: Leverage keyword data to guide the new website architecture.
By first doing keyword research, you can leverage search data to guide your content decisions, like how you organize your content and URL structure. Using keyword research to determine a website’s architecture is critical to its SEO success down the road.
For example, when we were supporting SEO for a website redesign for a luxury haircare brand, we performed keyword research and learned that consumers search for hair products based on their hair type, like “shampoo for curly hair” or “moisturizing conditioners for dry hair”.
These queries were related to “categories” or “types” of hair care products, such as:
- “Shampoo for curly hair” – 3,000 searches/month
- “Hair masks” – 2,200 searches/month
- “Clarifying Shampoo” – 40,000 searches/month
Once we understood the way that their target consumers searched, we recommended that the client organize its content and products based on hair type for their new website in order to capture more relevant organic traffic.
We suggested that they create new landing pages that showcase all products within these categories, and also include this in the URL structure, like:
This is low-hanging fruit. You can take your existing products and organize them in the way that searchers look for them.
Objective #3: Optimize your website’s content to be as search-engine-friendly as possible.
In order to attract searchers via new landing pages you’re creating based on search data, every page needs to have top-notch on-page optimization.
On-page optimization is when you use all of the various on-page elements of a page by applying an opportune keyword in the meta data, within the body copy several times (as naturally as possible), and then strategically internally linking, using schema markup, among other things.
On-page optimization is key to improving a website’s visibility in search engines, and will lead to increases in the potential to drive new visitors.
How Do You Involve SEO in a Website Relaunch?
During the relaunch or migration to a new CMS of a website, there is an opportunity to improve your site’s SEO foundation and set your website up for SEO success down the road. There are certain touchpoints (outlined in the next section of this post) within the overarching relaunch project timeline where SEO comes in to infuse data into the decision making process.
The role of SEO is to serve as a liaison between the digital marketing teams and the website development team. When we support the website migration process or a relaunch, our SEO team works with designers and developers to keep SEO as a top priority when redesigning so that the new website is set up to reach its highest traffic potential.
SEOs will be in communication with the various designers and development teams on all project timelines in order to leverage search data to inform decisions, such as content or information architecture decisions.
Overall, keeping SEO top of mind while performing a website relaunch aligns the website with search data and trends, enabling the website to grow its organic traffic visitation in the months to come post-launch.
The 4 Main SEO Integration Points During a Website Relaunch
To further illustrate what this looks like, here are the main SEO touch points throughout a website migration or relaunch:
1. Content & URL Structure
Performing keyword research will help you understand how you should organize your existing content, and what new content you may want to develop for the launch of the website.
2. Building a search-friendly website (technical SEO)
This is where the marriage of technical SEO + website design and development comes into play.
When building a new version of a website, it’s a great time to make sure the website’s foundational elements are set up in a way that is as visible to Google as possible. This is what will allow your website to achieve success in search engines over the long-term.
The SEO team works with and communicates SEO priorities and critical considerations to the website development team during pre- and post-launch of the new website, such as but not limited to:
- Search-friendly taxonomy and URL structure
- Indexable content and 100% Google compliance
- Proper 301 redirect best practices
- Strong internal linking strategy using keyword-rich anchor text
- Correct implementation of canonical tags
- Ensure XML sitemap is implemented correctly with SEO best practices
- Flexible content components to support SEO strategy
- Sub-3 second mobile page load time and mobile responsive design
3. Implementing redirects
The #1 priority for SEO during a website relaunch is to ensure that every page on the old site (ESPECIALLY those that have backlinks and drive traffic) redirect to the correct location on the new website (if the URL structure is changing).
The SEO team develops and delivers a 1:1 redirect file, matching all existing URLs with a new destination URL to avoid launching the website with any 404 errors.
Without a redirect plan that maps every page to its new URL, you will turn on the new site and have hundreds (maybe thousands, depending on the size of your website) of 404 errors. Consistently hitting dead ends on a website makes for a poor user experience for your consumers, so you want to avoid 404 pages at all costs.
For our clients, we put together a complete list of 1-to-1 redirects to ensure that all pages are being redirected to the most relevant page. If a page is not being migrated over to the new website, we’ll manually sift through content to make sure it points to the most relevant page on the website to provide the best user experience.
Typically, implementation of the redirects can be handled by either the SEO team or the development team.
4. Post-Launch Testing and Monitoring
Testing, QA and monitoring is critical to catching any technical issue that may come up or slipped through the cracks.
We have an extensive post-launch checklist that we go through for every relaunch, which looks something like this:
Post-Launch Checklist: Day after Go-Live:
- Upload new sitemap to Google webmaster tools
- Confirm GA is tracking with real-time GA tests
- Test all redirects
- Perform scrape of live site and test matching canonical links
1 Week Post-Launch Checklist:
- Run a crawl of the new website to ensure there are no errors
- Confirm site is being crawled and not blocked through Robots.txt
- Run Google Search Console query report comparing last 7 days to previous period
- Multi-lingual geo-verify language directories in Google search console
- Add 404 errors to new redirect list that are found in GA page views with page title Not Found
- Add any new 404 errors found in GSC, after marking all as fixed, and add to redirect file
- 404 audit with Screaming Frog. Add any new ones to post-launch redirect list
- Ensure dev and staging sites are set to no-index
- QA GA tracking code with real-time tests to ensure all pages and devices are tracking correctly
You don’t know what you don’t know, and it’s nerve-wracking to think that you may not have any idea there’s a website issue going on until you suddenly see traffic and conversions nose-diving, wondering why.
So, What Would Happen if I Relaunch My Website Without SEO?
You will likely lose rankings, traffic, and conversions. It’s as straightforward as that.
You will launch a website that looks incredible, but it won’t perform. Including SEO in your website relaunch or migration makes or breaks the entire project. Literally.
At the end of the day, your website’s performance and ability to acquire relevant traffic, engage the right users, and drive conversions is what impacts your business’s bottom line.
Having a dedicated team member or agency brought onto the project to mitigate any loss in traffic is critical to see a return on your investment in the relaunch.