Launching a new website can be a stressful time for any Product Manager and Development team, especially if you are dealing with a brand that has an existing web presence and site. I’ve had the luxury over the past decade or so of seeing some ultimate successes and failures, the latter typically a result of inexperience, demanding executives, or overly-complex technical solutions. Based on some recent feedback I provided to industry peers on this topic, I’ve compiled a modern website redesign “checklist” of the most critical tactics to consider when switching content management systems (CMS), launching or rebranding new content sections, or completely overhauling your entire web product.
- Get to know Google Analytics if you don’t already: Google Analytics is easily the most-used and well-known analytics solutions, with an estimated 50% of the top 15 million websites online using the tool in 2015. I would also recommend using Google Analytics as a secondary metric, even if you are already using another Enterprise level utility such as Omniture or MixPanel. The generic version of Google Analytics is obviously free and offers fantastic benefits over traditional, proprietary code, including: page views and unique sessions, audience and engagement data, behavioral and mobile device info, as well as much more. In addition, you should be setting up “goals” in Google Analytics, which allow you to track link and content downloads, ecommerce transactions and other detailed site conversions (you can also give your set goals a specific dollar value to help determine ROI on marketing, if that makes sense for your business).
- Know the difference between Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools: Just like Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools is also free, and is a fantastic SEO resource to optimize any website, from both a technical and keyword perspective. The two accounts like together and work together to provide insight day-to-day, but need to be individually set up and linked to an active Google account. Webmaster Tools has features that allow you to check your site’s content index status, see why your pages are (or are not!) being crawled by Google search engine, submit XML sitemaps, generate critical Robots.txt files (which i’ll talk more about below), see broken links and view keywords that driving traffic to your site. Here is a link to setup an account in detail: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/home?hl=e
- Create required website configuration files (Robots.txt and XML sitemap): When redesigning a website, it’s key that you create a robots.txt file to tell Google which pages should be crawled and indexed (and thus appear in the search engine referral pages – SERPs). You can obviously use this method to tell you which pages SHOULD NOT be crawled, which is equally important to ensure areas of your site don’t appear when they should not (such as old pages that are ‘going away’ with your new redesign). You want to remove pages from appearing in Google that won’t help your website rank for your strategic keywords. Please note that it can take Google up to a week to find and crawl new pages on your site, and about 1 day to “de-index” a page. It’s critical to note (incase you have no experience in Robots.txt files) that when creating a robots.txt file, be 100% certain that you do not, under any circumstances, add the following line to your Robots.txt file: Disallow: / . This one line of code, while not menacing to the naked eye, will make every one of your website pages uncrawlable. In addition, and equally as important as your Robots.txt file, create a XML sitemap and submit to Google via Google Webmaster Tools. This is a key step in the process and the purpose is to let Google know which pages you really want people to see.
- Create your relaunch URL strategy: Every website relaunch comes with a batch of existing URLs, and you need to ensure there is no loss of traffic on day 1 by having a proper and encompassing URL strategy. Too many times I see website relaunches that kill an existing base of search engine traffic (which can take YEARS to recover from if not done properly), simply because there was not enough attention on knowing your URLs. The usage of Canonical Tags is critical to ensure that if there is any change in structure, you need to tell Google the new URL and what the primary URL will be going forward. This is especially important for article pages and content driven websites. In addition, you need to collect a list of all your URLs (an inventory is a good idea) and create a 301 Redirect plan. This will ensure that if you have users that bookmarked pages or using an old URL, they will find the new location with ease. Canonical Tags and 301 Redirects are near the top of my list when it comes to a successful relaunch, or a failed relaunch. Don’t give your traffic away!
- Every single page should have at least 150-200 words of unique content: Content is king. This is an essential rule in the Search Engine Optimization world is to have at least 150-200 words of unique content. This can be difficult on certain sections of your site (such as Marketing and Static sections) but it’s worth it to attempt these goals. Website redesigns give you the perfect opportunity to audit your company’s content inventory, find gaps and start creating the content needed to help your customers fulfill their search intent. Another good method to create content quickly is to setup an associated Blog. This is a great way to ensure your company keeps up on creating new, relevant content. WordPress pulled some pretty incredible stats on Blogs in 2014, capturing almost 20% of the entire web industry (AMAZING!). If your brand doesn’t have a blog, the train has left the station. It could be the fastest and brightest train ever, so start running.
Hopefully you found this website redesign checklist to be helpful! I would also recommend doing enough competitive analysis to know what you’re up against in the market, and it would be especially useful to create an audience / customer persona. Know what your audience needs, and if you don’t know, try engaging with them through simple methods like surveys and polls (Try SurveyMonkey) to see what they want instead of what you think they want. You can also use many other online tools, such as the “Website Launch List”, a SaaS based tool to keep track of items as you proceed forward with your project. http://lite.launchlist.net/