Cutting Over a Website Without Killing it
In a website’s life there are two key SEO milestones along its journey: Launch and Updates.
I’m referring to when a website initially ‘launches’ onto the internet – its first introduction to Google. If your new site is on a brand new domain, then Google won’t know it exists so the website won’t appear in Google search results. Get the SEO ball rolling by connecting Google to your site, otherwise you may be sitting around for months after the website launch waiting for the Google magic to happen.
Fast-Tracking a New Website’s SEO
You’re looking forward to your new website to go live and can’t wait for those sales leads to come tumbling in. Well here’s a few tips to get your website’s SEO fired up ASAP.
As Soon as You Have the Domain and Hosting Package
Setup an introductory page about your business with contact details while your website is still being developed. It’s not unusual for the lead time for a new website project to span a couple of months which will be just enough time to get your site kick-started with Google. If your new website is using WordPress, then a maintenance plugin like WP Dev Art’s Coming Soon Plugin will display contact info etc to casual visitors. It might even help capture a couple of sales leads. In the meantime the website development team can login to the site normally to continue developing and/or also so can you to preview the build progress. How good is that!
Holding Pages and Google
Here’s what Matt Cutts from Google says about the benefits of using an interim ‘holding page’.
Connect to Google
Have your web developer connect the domain to Google’s Search Console and submit the XML Sitemap to get things cooking.
Use an Online Advertising Campaign to Get Started
Need leads now and can’t wait for the SEO to start cooking? Consider running a short term AdWords advertising campaign. Not only is this a great bridging strategy while you wait for Google to do its thing, the advertising campaign is a great research resource. What was the most popular search terms people clicked on to visit your site. Which ad copy had the most engagement. Take this real-world market research and embody it into your site for improved sales results.
Updates – A Potential SEO Disaster!
You’d like a design refresh for the website, and engage your web dev to create a beautiful new look for it. The new site looks smashing, but suddenly the sales leads stopping coming – arrggh! Its likely prospective clients can’t find your new site when searching in Google. Killing off the site’s established SEO performance is one of the greatest risks with a website migration. Here’s a few tips on how to minimise the SEO damage from an update:
Hanging On to Backlinks
A common issue for impacted SEO is from loss of backlinks. Backlinks are important indicators of your website’s credibility – at least that’s how Google sees it. A backlink is a connection from another site to yours. If that link’s destination into your site no longer exists, then the SEO benefit of that link is lost -> SEO sadness.
Patching Backlinks with Redirections
Redirects can ‘patch’ missing old pages to relevant new pages. This re-connects lost backlinks into the new site – reactivating their SEO benefit. There’s several ways to implement redirections, but my personal favorite is the redirection plugin for WordPress. It’s important to use a ‘301’ or ‘permanent’ redirection for SEO outcomes. For non-WordPress sites you may need to edit system files like htaccess (best left to experts) to add the redirections. Otherwise investigate your website’s capabilities for 301 redirects.
Finding Missing Backlinks
A little detective work can uncover your site’s backlinks relatively easily and is a worthwhile process given their SEO importance. While there are several great tools out there like AHRefs, Majestic etc, Google Search Console is the most authoritative – the links that Google knows about are the ones you are most interested in for SEO purposes.
Not All Links are Goodness
At this point it’s worth emphasizing that not all links are good for SEO. In fact if Google suspects there’s something ‘unnatural’ about your site’s backlinks, your site might be exposed to a potential Penguin Penalty. You won’t be happy if you site gets penalised by Google!
Beware the Penguin
Penguin is Google’s backlink checking system. If it decides your site has too many ‘unnatural’ backlinks you may find your site’s SEO performance slumps significantly and without warning. Unnatural or toxic backlinks may happen purely by accident, but are more likely to have occurred as a result of poor SEO tactics. So while you are conducting your Backlink research, run them through SEM Rush’s backlink checker. If it identifies any potentially ‘toxic’ backlinks, they need to be ‘disavowed’ with Google ASAP if not sooner. If this all sounds like gobbledegook then speak to your SEO provider to be absolutely certain this is done correctly. A Google penalty can significantly impact sales lead generation.
Checking Under the Bonnet
It might be a shiny new website that looks lovely, but that doesn’t mean Google will necessarily be happy with it.
SEO is About ‘End User Experience’
Google is focussed on a good end-user experience for their search clients. They manage that by ranking sites higher if they deliver ‘good end user experiences’. Website with poor experiences get buried. Here’s a few ‘end-user experience’ influencing factors that well under-performing can tank your rankings:
Defects like broken links, missing images etc can be damaging for SEO but also imply poor quality for your business. You wouldn’t tolerate a broken door to your showroom would you? Check all pages for missing/broken content and make sure all links work. The Broken Link Checker plugin for WordPress is great for ongoing checks.
Slow Slow Slow
A slow site is guaranteed to negatively impact SEO, especially with mobile device searches. Worse, visitors are impacted by a slow site too. People are not prepared to wait for your fancy website to load and will disappear in seconds. Amazon famously announced they would lose $1.6 BILLION every year if they slowed down page load by just one second. Check your site with page load speed measurement tool like GT Metrix or Google’s Page Speed. Don’t use your stopwatch. Don’t count on your fingers. You are probably just measuring the speed of your cached copy from days ago, when you first looked at the site.
Not Mobile Friendly
Inability to use your website on a mobile is intolerable for mobile visitors and also for Google. Google tests all sites and dishes out SEO penalties for non-conformance, so it’s best to use their mobile usability tool to check your site and make sure it’s up to scratch.
When launching a new domain pre-launch it to Google to fast-track your SEO, and minimise its defects. Be vigilant when making major changes to your site like a refresh to preserve its SEO performance. This will ensure you dont kill your website when cutting it over!