As a business owner, you’ve likely been through the website design process before. Whether it was your first time putting the company online, or you were just redesigning the site, there are steps to make sure that your vision comes to fruition through the designer(s).
When all of that research, planning, content writing, testing and the general build come together, it’s time to push that website live. If it’s handled appropriately it should be a breeze with minimal errors to fix. In the case that it’s not, a rabbit hole of problems can arise. There’s also the question of “what should I expect as far as traffic, rankings and general process goes?”
At webFEAT Complete, we’ve been refining our process since 1998, and continue to refine it every time we do a site launch. In this post, we’re going to walk you through potential hiccups, helping search engines understand the changes to your website, and our process. Away we go!
Unfortunately, no matter how much you test and how well you plan, things can happen with your new website. Some of the most common things we’ve seen and heard in the past:
- The goal date to push the website live is pushed back
- This generally happens when the design company is waiting on content or approval from the client, or many change requests are made
- URL’s are changed altered significantly, or are not user-friendly
- Sometimes you will see websites that include “/index.php” as part of all URL’s, or they may be something like “/?x5pll/”
- Links break
- Images break
- The above two may be a result of URLs not updating from the virtual server where the website is built. A virtual address is just a temporary website address where the website is built, and then when the website is ready, it goes live on your domain. For example, your virtual address could be “businessname.stagingurl.com.” If you have an image, it would be called as something like: “businessname.stagingurl.com/images/image-name/” that url needs to be change to “yourdomainname.com/images/image-name/” when the site goes live, or the image will break. The same goes for links. EX: “businessname.stagingurl.com/page-1/” needs to change to “yourdomainname.com/page-1/”
- The website cannot be crawled/scanned by search engine robots
- A website should completely disallow robots from crawling it during the design process. When the site is launched, we want bots to crawl it. We can tell robots to crawl or not crawl a website through something called a robots.txt file, the sites rankings will plummet and likely fall out of search results in time
- Duplicate or similar content is utilized
- Never duplicate content on various pages on your website!
- Images or code from a theme remains on the website
- You may see what’s called the favicon (icon in the tab-see below) be from the theme of a website, instead of a small logo that represents your brand
- Functionality issues
- Examples: you can’t click on buttons, search function does not work, navigation drop downs have an issue, etc.
- Sizing of images or certain aspects of the website are incorrect
- The above 2 can happen for a number of reasons, but can be fixed quickly by a good designer
- Slow load time/speed
- This is critical for user-experience. Websites need to be fast. There are various measures that can be taken to ensure your website is fast and maintains that speed
- Drop off in rankings/search visibility
- Some refer to it as “The Google Dance”. This is a period of time after a new site is launched where there are ranking fluctuations. These fluctuations can be intensified depending on how the launch is handled
- Many others. (Let us know what you’ve experienced in the comments section below! We’d love to hear about your site launch experience(s))
While all of the above need to be kept in mind and can be resolved, some of them require extra effort to maintain or improve your business’ visibility in search results. Designers can keep basic SEO principles in mind, but further improvements are made with search engines in mind when our SEO team gets involved with website launches.
Helping Search Engines Like Google Understand Your New Website In Order to Maintain or Improve Rankings, and Avoid Ranking-Drop Offs
To help Google understand your new website at launch, there are numerous items that designers and SEO’s must take care of to have a smooth launch.
A goal of Google’s is for users to have a clean web browsing experience that eliminates confusion and dissatisfying experiences. Let’s go through an example: You’re looking for a plumber; you search “plumber Cincinnati” and click one of the top organic links. Instead of information about plumbers in Cincinnati, the page displays a 404 error and says that what you were looking for doesn’t exist, and you have to return to the search results. That is not going to make users, and therefore Google, happy. The result, if not corrected quickly, is a drop-off in rankings for certain search phrases that lead to the 404’d landing page, and potentially others. Many websites still have URLs that end in .htm, .html, .asp, or .aspx. When redesigning a website, it’s entirely possible that the site will be built in a CMS like WordPress. WordPress doesn’t generally utilize URLs ending in those frameworks. Therefore a URL could originally be: plumberwebsite.com/drain-cleaning.html, and after a redesign they will switch to plumberwebsite.com/drain-cleaning/. If you try to access the “plumberwebsite.com/draincleaning.html” URL, you will get a 404 error, which will have a negative impact on your website’s ranking ability. We have a process for avoiding this from happening, and have discussed how to fix them in our previous post about how to resolve crawl errors.
Along with the site’s ending, you want to make sure the beginning is correct as well. This includes both http:// or https://, and www or non-www. If you don’t resolve your site to point to one specific URL structure, you’re essentially creating two versions of your website, and Google will be unsure of which one to direct users to. This hurts your website’s ability to rank. To decide which beginning to go with, we look at the domain that has the most authority, resolve to that, and specify that with Google in search console to ensure there is no confusion. EX: Your existing website does not have a resolve, so if you type any of the following into your address bar, they will show your website:
- We also see: http://yourdomainname.com/index.html or /default.aspx.
- Let’s say that first one is the strongest. We would make sure all alternatives (like the ones in the 2nd and 3rd bullet points) point to http://yourdomainname.com
As for the “s” at the end of “https” (which stands for encrypted/secure,) you want to make sure the encryption is set up properly so that the entire website pushes to https://. An SSL is a Secure Sockets Layer, and is what is implemented to add that “s”. However. It needs to be set up properly, or can cause issues.
After those two primary concerns, there is a set of items we look at to encourage Google to crawl and understand the website:
- Revise and re-implement, or implement SEO best practices, including but not limited to the following:
- Submit the site to Bing (Webmaster Tools) and Google (Search Console)
- Create and submit a sitemap
- Update the robots.txt file to include the sitemap
- Make sure great meta titles and descriptions are all written
- Review user experience to make sure the site is fast, easy to navigate, and has helpful content
- List business information
- Update listings and directories to include the accurate URL to your website
- Make sure a 301 redirect is in place from the old domain to the new one, and that old site is taken down
- Much more…
Mishandled Site Launch Example: The site was launched in October of 2015 and took almost a full year to recover from the ranking drop-off. This looks like a case where indexed links were not corrected, and that was the primary driver of such a sharp decline and long recovery.
Properly Handled Site Launch Example: The site was launched in September of 2016
The webFEAT Complete Site Launch Process
With clients that are not on an SEO plan, our designers implement basic SEO best practices, to ensure their site launch goes well and they aren’t receiving any major penalties from Google. When clients are on an SEO plan, design and SEO work together to do everything possible to maximize their websites ranking potential, and encourage conversions (calls, form completions, purchases, etc…) We are with clients every step of the way from build, to launch, and beyond.
These are the basic steps in our process:
- You contact us
- We have an initial meeting and discuss your interests, what you envision the site looking like, examples of sites you like, etc.
- A contract is signed
- We create an initial mock up or mock ups
- We bounce back and forth until it’s just as you like
- You send us content
- We build out interior pages
- We send you the site and make revisions until it’s as you’d like
- We do a variety of checks and testing and acquire approval to launch
If you’ve had problems with a website company in the past that mishandled your website launch, and you’re looking to recover, we can help!
If you’re looking to launch a new website soon and would like to discuss our processes further, and how we can make your business successful online, we’d love to discuss.
Thank you so much for reading! We’d love to hear feedback on your experiences in the comments.
Also published on Medium.