A website redesign and relaunch is certainly an extensive and major undertaking. Before pushing your new site live, it's a good idea to perform an SEO audit to be on the safe side. SEO audits identify potential SEO issues prior to your launch allowing you time to correct issues before your current website is replaced.
SEO audits for websites that are relaunching are a bit different than a general SEO audit. Relaunch audits have their set of challenges and are a bit different because you’re comparing two different websites against each other, the old/current site compared to the newly designed website.
Several tools used when performing a website audit require the website to be live and accessible on the web in order to perform a site scan, but in the event of a redesign, there is a good chance that your new site is protected with passwords or may be on an internal server, which doesn’t give the tools normally used access to the site.
A relaunch audit is typically broken down into two sections including pre-launch and post-launch tasks.
Performing Pre-launch audit
Now, of course, you could wait to perform an audit till after your new site launches, but catching most of the SEO mistakes before your new site goes live will have its benefits. Depending on who you’re working with as far as a web design firm goes, if they are not on a retainer and SEO issues are not discovered prior to launch, there is a good chance that you will be faced with additional costs to fix or correct SEO issues discovered post-launch.
Stay ahead of the game and tackle most of this (if possible) in a pre-launch audit while your web design firm is still under a contract and the CMS (content management system), files, images, etc. are still being worked on and edited. It’s simply a more cost efficient and cautious approach!
At a minimum your pre-launch audit should review following:
1. Analytics –(provided your current site has GA code implemented)
1) Analytics review
When launching a website it is best to have your analytics data to continue seamlessly from your old website to the new site. If a new GA account is created and implemented it makes it very difficult to compare data.
Make sure that the code is properly implemented in the location as Google recommends which is before the closing </head> tag. Use google support for help with setting up your analytics tracking. If you decide to use GTM (Google Tag Manager) make sure that you remove the GA script from the site as it will be added via GTM.
2) Technical Review
Technical issues can greatly hinder SEO. By now you probably understand how your current website works with SEO, but what you don’t know is how your new site’s design, images, layout, and code is going to work. In most instances, it will not be an apples-to-apples comparison.
I recommend evaluating and starting a document where you can record your page load times of your current site and later your new site using Google Page Insights. This way when you launch the new site you can have data to compare against. Increased page load times can create a devastating impact on keyword rankings! If your development site is accessible on the web, even for a short time, I would test the page speeds. You'll not only learn your page load score, but Google also provides descriptive suggestions on improving your page speeds across desktop and mobile versions.
How about your server? Are you changing servers as well during your relaunch? Keep in mind that not all web servers and hosts are created equal, and some simply just are not as quick to load your pages. You can test the time to first byte with ByteCheck. With this, you can compare your current server with your new server. Is the new server at least as fast to the first byte as your old server?
Too many times I have seen the development site have the robots file implemented to disallow search bots from crawling or indexing the site. This is a normal practice as it’s not the live preferred version. This is a valid approach, but make sure that directly after the launch that this gets updated to allow crawling or your new site will stop showing in the SERPS (search engine results pages) fairly quickly.
If you’re redesigning your website, now is the perfect time to make it responsive as it will be easier than down the road. Since April of 2015 Google has been using mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor and affects mobile searches. Nowadays, we all know how necessary it is to compete or stay ahead of the competition. You can check your site and gather recommendations from Google’s mobile-friendly test.
3) Review content
Many issues revolve around image sizing. Often times when a CMS (content management system) is being used it allows for larger images to be uploaded and then it crops or adjusts the image to fit in smaller spaces creating a waste of file space and increases the pages load time. Many CMS’s have plugins that create restrictions on how large of an image can be uploaded.
Are you creating or updating the content for your site? If so, make sure that you’re taking your target keywords into consideration. Also, now may be the perfect time to create content for certain keywords that you would like to rank organically for, but previously didn’t have an appropriate page for targeting them. Create a page where needed on your new website.
Make sure that you are able to update the title tags and meta descriptions on each page. Sometimes a plug in is needed to allow editing of these fields. Whether you’re going to copy and paste your current title tags and meta descriptions over or create new ones, you’ll need this ability. Even down the road if you want to adjust them you need to have editing capability.
Find out if your CMS will generate the xml sitemap. Often times this requires a plug in for this ability. If not, Screaming Frog is a great tool. This tool will create the sitemap and then you can upload it.
If your URL structure is changing, which is common, make sure that you have all your current URL’s mapped out and create 301 redirects to the new URL structure. This is a very crucial step for any site launch, as this assures that search crawlers can find the content and its new location. Creating 301 redirects provides the best possible user experience for anyone trying to visit your site. If this step gets missed anyone that tries to access your old URL will get served a 404 (not found) page. Most redirects can be easily managed in the .htaccess file within the FTP using software like FileZilla.
Below is a screenshot of a site that was relaunched in November and redirects were not implemented. As you can tell, everything was moving smoothly and then the dramatic hit takes place resulting in over 95,000 not found pages. OUCH!! Often too many times these issues are discovered afterward when they could have easily been prevented.
4) Link review
If your domain is not changing and the 301 redirects are in place the next step is to make sure that you optimize the internal links within your site (links that direct a user from one page of your site to another). This can be taken care of post-launch, but if you’re on the development site updating content anyway, now is a perfect time to take care of this.
If your site is connected to Google Search Console you can find the current internal links (screen shot below).
Well, we made it this far. Now finally, before your new site goes live take a look at your Google Analytics account and create a benchmark of my SEO metrics. Take a look at the “Organic” traffic coming from various search engines and whatever other metrics you would like to compare. If you have a program that tracks the position of your target keywords make sure you document their current position. You now have data that you can use to compare before and after launch making sure that your SEO maintains its performance.
Congratulations! Your site has launched, but now you will want to closely monitor for the first few weeks to make sure that everything is staying on track and that there isn’t any major dips in traffic. Compare the data to the benchmark data that you recorded. If you notice any big losses in traffic, diagnose the problems as quickly as possible. Are certain pages being affected? Are these pages receiving organic traffic? Make sure that your 301 redirects are properly working. Check and compare the page load speeds.
It is best to ensure that your new site is as SEO friendly as possible when the new site is launched so you maintain the traffic coming to your site and your keyword rankings.