Migrating your business to a new domain or rolling out a new website design is not easy. I’ve seen time and time again website owners making fatal mistakes that could cost their business big revenue. I’ve been building, launching, and migrating websites for the last 10 years and I’ve made my fair share of mistakes along the way. I’m going to share with you some of the mistakes I have seen made by brands so you can avoid them and launch a new website without affecting user experience or SEO.
If you’re working on a new design for your website, chances are you may also be changing the architecture at the same time. This means that landing pages and URLs on the old site may not exist on the new one. It is important that you keep track of where the new pages are and redirect the old pages as necessary. Before the launch I recommend you get a list of every page on your website and note the new destination page, if it is going to change. If you have less than 500 pages on your website you can use XML Sitemaps to quickly get a list of every page on your website. Once the crawl is complete chose the .txt version of the crawl.
Take that list, paste into a spreadsheet, and start adding the new URLs in the next column over. If you want a quick way to set up 301 redirects from this URL list you can make each of the rules in that same spreadsheet and then copy and paste the columns into your .htaccess already formatted as shown in the screenshots below.
Another issue I often see is for website owners to develop it live on the web at something like new.domain.com or domain.com/beta. If you’re going to do this, please make sure you password protect the folder or subdomain, or make absolutely sure you set up a robots.txt disallow for the website. The last thing you want is for a search engine spider to stumble on the new design and start indexing it leaving your brand full of duplicate content in the search results. Finally, don’t forget to migrate all of your tracking scripts over to the new website. Anything you have in the header or footer of your current website like Google Analytics, Live Chat scripts, or Ad tracking should be integrated into the new website to avoid tracking gaps.
During The Launch
To start, do not put up an “under construction” page while you work to push the new website live. There is nothing good to gain from doing so. Make sure the new website is exactly how you want it and just push it live. If you put up an under construction page while you do work on the backend you’ll end up killing your SEO, confusing your visitors, and even after the launch cause a bunch of issues. I’ve seen too many times where the under construction page stays up way too long because you’re fixing every minor issue before going live. Fix those things after the launch and avoid a bunch of headaches.
While you have your under construction page up all of your other pages are either 404ing or redirecting back to the under construction page. Both are horrible for user experience and SEO as well if search engine spiders are currently trying to crawl your website. Unless you create an overelaborate under construction page, your visitors have no way to purchase your products or get in touch with you for support. I’ve also seen elaborate “under construction” splash pages that get cached in your visitors browser, causing them to get redirected to the under construction page even after you’ve launched.
You’re not done after you push the new website live. The first thing you want to do is get all your redirects in place using my guide above. Then use something like Screaming Frog to crawl the whole website and look through all the data it passes back. Are all of your title tags under 65 characters and set correctly? Do you have multiple H1 tags on a single page? Check for any errors that might have popped up or been missed before the launch. Being a web host you probably already get enough feedback through your live chat or ticketing system but you might want to separate that out by adding a Feedback tab to your website so visitors can report any issues they’re having.