When going through our redesign phase for the 2HelixTech website, I wanted to make sure everything was done properly. There are a lot of factors that play into a successful redesign - in regards to search engine optimization, content, the server, speed and performance - much more than just design. For larger sites in particular, a redesign or a platform transition has the potential to destroy its search engine performance.
My first steps were to research experiences others have had with redesigns, and learn from their checklists and takeaways. There are many great launch checklists available online, each slightly different. We found some great tips from SEER, Box UK, and SEO Gadget. However, there was still a lot to be learned, so I've nailed down a few takeaways:
This seems obvious enough, but shouldn't be glossed over. Grab a whiteboard and try to brainstorm every detail of the transition. Will links change? What about images? How will you move the content to the new site? Will you be able to setup a staging site?
I took the checklists and tips from the above links, as well as my own notes, and compiled a list for different segments. I had a content list, a server list, a design list, and so on. Yours may differ, depending on whether it is only a redesign or a platform migration. Breaking down the list like this allowed me to start on some sections of the transition earlier on in the process.
Change One Thing at a Time
This is especially true if you are migrating to a new platform, changing your URL structure, or drastically altering your navigation. You can't literally change one thing at a time, but each different area of the transition should be handled separately.
- Changing domain names
- Moving to a new server or host
- Building on a new platform
- Changing your URL structure or changing a lot of URLs
- Altering your navigational layout
- Adding or removing a large amount of content
As much as is possible, these should all be handled one at a time. There is a lot of risk to your search engine standings with a large migration. If you change everything at once, it can have a serious impact on your organic traffic.
Be Available After Launch
For most site redesigns and migrations I have gone through, the business wanted to launch on a weekend in order to minimize the impact if something goes wrong. This is great - but plan on working overtime that weekend. My biggest takeaway from going through site redesigns: something always goes wrong.
Launch on a Friday night if you want to, but be prepared to put in extra hours on Saturday.
Unblock the New Site, Block the Old
This is a simple mistake, but it can be devastating if forgotten. Usually staging sites are blocked from search engines using a robots.txt file or meta noindex tags. Whatever you do, don't forget to remove these once the site is launched! I've heard stories of sites accidentally blocking their site after a redesign.
On the same note, don't forget to block the old site if it is still available somewhere. Otherwise you might run into duplicate content issues, or confuse potential customers when they end up at an old, abandoned site.
At past jobs, I have seen website redesigns mishandled several times. In two specific cases the redesign caused their organic search engine traffic to completely tank. One ecommerce site lost 60% of their traffic. We were hopeful at first that it was a fluctuation - fluctuations do occur during a redesign - and that it would climb back to normal after a week or two. Two months later and we were still struggling to pinpoint a specific cause which would restore the traffic.
It's vitally important to tread carefully when redesigning or migrating an established website.
Contact 2HelixTech if you are looking for some guidance on a website migration or redesign, or leave a comment if you have some questions.