What to expect when launching your site
Launching a new version of your website can be a daunting process if you aren’t aware of the stages involved or have a plan in place. Whether you’re launching a small B2B site or an ecommerce site with thousands of product pages, there are certain steps that you can follow to simplify the go-live process. Launching a website in the right way can result in increased visibility, better rankings and more visits – or vice versa if things aren’t properly considered.
Your main objectives when launching a new website should be maintaining how well your website ranks in the search engines and ensuring the user experience isn’t affected when everything goes live. Gain insight into how a typical website launch works and you’ll have a better idea about what to expect and when.
Here, we take a look at how to approach launching a new website and discuss what to expect along the way.
Your website will already be indexed in search engines and ranking for certain keywords, so your priority is to maintain any progress you have already made. It’s useful to benchmark your website before it goes live so that you can compare before and after going live and identify areas of the site to improve.
Note which pages drive the most visits to your website and which keywords do those pages rank for. Back-up existing meta titles, descriptions and heading tags so you can re-use them on the new site, or reference them when writing new versions.
Other stats to consider include the average time a visitor spends on your site, how many pages they visit and the website conversion rate. All these stats can be found in Google Analytics. Your aim should be to match the current benchmarks or improve them with the new version of the site.
Mapping 301 redirects
If the URL structure of the new website is different from the old site, you should redirect the old pages to the equivalent pages on the new site. This ensures that pages already ranking in search engines redirect to the new site and pass on any authority they already have. Redirecting your old pages also helps to prevent people from stumbling across missing pages (seen as ‘404 errors’) if they click on an old link or bookmark.
It isn’t practical to set up 301s for every page on your site, particularly for ecommerce sites with thousands of pages. In most cases only a small number of pages drive the majority of your visits. By focusing on the main category pages, along with the top 100 landing pages in Google Analytics, you will cover 95% of the pages that drive visits to your website.
Properly implementing 301 redirects will minimise any loss in organic traffic and improve the user experience of your site as it goes live.
With any site, there are certain things you need to switch over, set up and test before going live. These are usually technical tasks that a developer will complete and include setting up Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics and creating new goals and events to track performance.
It’s helpful to have a central list to work from so that everyone is on the same page. When every task has been completed and final checks have been made, the site is ready to go live. Final checks usually focus on the user-facing elements of the site. For example, making sure phone numbers are correct, checking the contact forms are working, testing how the site looks across different browsers.
It is a good idea to launch a new site early on in the day and before the back end of the week, as it allows you to be around to react to anything that might occur during the go-live process.
Post-live checks and monitoring
When your new site has gone live, there will be several things to check and set up right away. Implementing 301 redirects to map your old pages to the new versions, testing that all goals and events are tracking properly are a good place to start. For ecommerce websites, it’s worth sending through a few test orders to ensure the whole process is working from start to finish.
Once the technical checks are complete, meta titles and descriptions need to be uploaded and H1 tags need to be optimised for your target keywords. The goal here is to make sure the pages are as well-optimised (or better-optimised than the previous version of the site) to help maintain keyword rankings and organic traffic.
With any new site, you can expect small snags, browser quirks and things to fix shortly after launching. It’s a good idea to allocate some development time in those first few weeks, to account for this. Google Search Console can help detect any technical errors, so it’s worthwhile keeping a close eye on this during the initial weeks following launch.
The performance of your new website throughout the first two or three months after going live will depend on several factors – for example, the size of your website and how different the structure and pages are compared to the old site. One of the main factors is how long it takes search engines like Google to index the new pages and structure.
We’ve seen Google index brand new pages in a matter of hours, but crawling and indexing an entire site can take several weeks. The number of 301 redirects being implemented often has the biggest impact on keywords rankings and traffic.
It takes time for search engines to work out the new structure and decide where to rank the new or updated pages. It’s normal to see a short-term decrease in organic traffic during this two to three-month period (sometimes as much as 30%).
This doesn’t happen with every site but it’s worth being aware of. If the site is properly optimised after going live, rankings and traffic quickly recover after the initial decrease. Submitting an updated sitemap in Search Console can help speed up the indexing process.
Launching a new site can be a good time to make structural or on-page SEO changes. The site will be reviewed and re-indexed anyway so it’s a good opportunity to make changes that will have a positive impact. By properly benchmarking where the site ranks before launching, it makes it easier to compare how the new site is performing and to identify where improvements can be made.
It is best practice to allow your new site to properly index before making any major changes. However, tweaking meta titles, H1s and copy to align with the keywords you want to rank for is highly recommended. Website optimisation is an ongoing process rather than a one-time project. You will see results more quickly by making regular tweaks and changes and evolving the site over weeks and months.
The end results
Launching a new website is a major project so it’s helpful to understand how things might play out in the long run. Even with a potential short-term dip in organic traffic while search engines crawl and re-index your site, a well-optimised website should recover and surpass previous benchmarks. That’s providing you continue to maintain, optimise and regularly update the site with relevant content.
Looking for advice?
Take a look at TBB’s digital marketing jargon buster for further reading on some of the terminology used within this article. Alternatively, if you’d like to know more about what to expect when launching a new website or optimising your current site, contact us for a chat.
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Written by John Bell
Experienced on multiple platforms, senior web developer John has applied his expert coding to our most intricate builds.