Going through a website redesign is a great investment for your business and hopefully it has been built in a way that will increase your on page SEO and assist in your rankings. That being said, many development companies overlook a crucial part of the site launch and the steps missed can be devastating to your website and lose traffic almost overnight. Below is a guide that we put together for migrating your development site to the live site and properly launching it so that little to no negative affects occur.
Step 1: Inventory your pages
Your current website pages need to be properly inventoried. Most sites will have a sitemap.xml file, however it could be old and incorrect. We like to use a few tools to inventory the pages; Screaming Frog SEO Spider and Integrity. These tools properly index your site and also provide error codes. The reason that this step is important is because when you are going through a redesign, page names or extensions are often changed due to the use of a CMS, on page optimization or just relevance.
Step 2: Link Analysis
Google has indexed your current pages and when you launch the new website and users click on those pages in SERPS, your site will encounter a 404 error. You will also lose your link equity from those pages that you have earned over time. How to redirect these pages will be discussed in later steps. These links that you have accumulated point directly to a page on your site. You need to see how your inbound links are directed and pay close attention to those pages.
Step 3: Robots.txt
In development, many developers will use robots.txt file to ensure that Google will not index the development site. Depending on how your site was built, they may use your current domain and build it on a subfolder, or other many different methods. Prior to migration, verify that the robots.txt file and ensure that it is properly constructed based on your current and prior needs.
Step 4: Meta Robots
Not only can you disallow search engines to index your pages through robots.txt, you can provide specific instructions per page. Check each page to make sure that is done correctly, if at all.
Step 5: 301 Redirect
This step is by far the most crucial step in your site launch process. If you do not properly redirect the old pages to the new pages, Google will not be able to pass the link equity from the old pages and your site will have a boat load of 404 errors, which are all bad. With your website page inventory from step 1, you can build out a spreadsheet to work with. You will be performing 301 redirects for the old pages and point them to the new pages. Below is a sample markup that you will insert in your .htaccess files. There are other methods, but .htaccess is our preferred method.
redirect 301 /old-page.php http://www.sitename.com/new-page-name.php
Each redirect needs its own line in the .htaccess file.
With your inventory, create an Excel spreadsheet or Google Doc and create columns with the following labels:
Column A: Redirect 301 - each row will have "redirect 301"
Column B: Old Page - each row will have the old page name "/page-name.php”
Column C: New Page - each row will have the full new page URL “http://www.sitename.com/new-page-name.php”
Column D: Redirect 301 Code - each row will be a formula =”A2 ” & B2 & ” ” & C2, be very careful about your spacing, .htaccess is very sensitive with spacing and if you do this incorrectly, you will white screen your website.
Step 6: Test Website
Once the site has gone live, test the old pages. The old page URLs should now be redirecting to the correlating new page. If you get 404 errors or issues, you need to re-visit step 6. Make sure that you take your time and go through the list, you can do this quickly and it will verify your work and also give you peice of mind.
Step 7: Submit URL and Connect URLs
Once your site has launched and all of your tests check out, login to your webmaster tools (you may need to re-verify if the developers didnt carryover the meta tag) and go to “Crawl” on the left sidebar and select “Fetch As Google”. You will fetch the home page and select "URL and all linked pages”. This is a proactive way to get Google to index your website. You can also do this in Bing Webmaster Tools.
Step 8: Monitor
First, make sure you installed Google Analytics on your site. This is one peice that somehow gets missed on a regular basis. Login to your Google Analytics account and verify that you are collecting data and monitor the site every day for the next upcoming weeks and notice trends. You will also need to check in Google Webmaster Tools and looks for any issues, impressions increases / decreases and looks for issues.
We hope that this guide is helpful, what we didn’t mention above is to let your client, company, whoever know about the potential issues with launching the site and that taking your time and doing this properly will lower risk in loss of traffic and ensure a smooth transition, and stand your ground.