So, the time to update your website has come. Your old clunky companion has served you well, but the arduous navigation process and retro site design makes you want to cry.
Speaking from fresh experience, it can all seem a bit daunting. At Publicize, we’ve just launched our shiny new site and are now at phase – champagne poppin’.
However, it wasn’t without its trials and tribulations. Creating a classy new layout and filtering outdated content when migrating pages took some blood, sweat and tears.
But with the experience fresh in our minds, here are our main pieces of advice for anyone else about to embark on this journey.
Like it or lump it, proper planning is the road map to a successful website relaunch, and the only way to think about all those issues you’re about to encounter.
We started off by involving all relevant departments into the conversation. Receiving contributions from each team enabled us to order tasks and map out a timeline and project plan.
Effective project management was just as important as the actual web development. Our project manager operated as a separate function from all of the teams involved in the project. This enabled them to assess everything from a neutral position and make decisions based on project objectives rather than biases.
Once a concrete plan is in place, maintaining a dialogue between teams is crucial.
For a project of this size, regular meetings with key members of each department are essential. When we were working on our relaunch, we formed interdepartmental working groups as they were a great way of exchanging ideas and giving feedback.
As well as this – and it may seem like stating the obvious – but simple things like a dedicated website slack channel meant we could maintain a written record of all website orientated thoughts and awareness of what aspect each team was working on.
“Nobody said it was easy”. True, Chris Martin from Coldplay, but it doesn’t need to be unnecessarily difficult does it?
With a website relaunch you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. Rather, you’re giving your old site a makeover to improve user experience and key metrics such as conversion.
If designing a completely dynamic homepage page is going to drain months of resource, ask yourself – is it necessary? Having amazing ideas to make your website look unbelievable is fine in theory. But if implementing them begins to make delivery unrealistic, you could end up wasting energy better spent elsewhere.
From the get-go, we agreed with our web development and design teams that we wanted to improve navigation, create a consistent look and feel, and overhaul the CMS to enable drag and drop page customizations. It was then up to those teams to develop a proposal that could be built within the project timeframe.
We then adopted a ruthless mindset with regards to any nice-to-have features that would have pushed the delivery date back. Instead of delaying launch, we put anything that fell into this category into a phase two post-live delivery plan.
If you’re relaunching your website, then the chances are it’s already ranking for a number of important keywords in Google. Therefore, you need to ensure that you manage the migration in a way that won’t damage your existing SEO.
The first thing we looked at with this was how we were going to manage existing URLs in the migration. Keeping your existing URLs will enable you to maintain the value from any backlinks these pages are receiving. But sometimes this isn’t possible, such as if you’re changing brand names, or moving to a new CMS. In these instances you can 301 redirect all your existing URLs that are receiving backlinks to the relevant new URLs.
When we began migrating content over to the new staging site, we ensured that all on-page elements remained the same. This included title tags, meta descriptions, H tags, alt descriptions and general content. You can perform these checks at scale using a site crawl tool such as Screaming Frog. This provides a line-by-line cawl of all pages on your site, along with all page elements, which can be compared against your staging site.
We also used this as an opportunity to analyze our existing content and assess what was worthy of migration to the new site. As our old site had been live since 2013, it had accumulated a fair amount of content. We therefore assessed what content had value (such as page views, organic positions, conversions and average dwell times) and scrapped the content that didn’t.
You’ve designed the layout. You’ve got the template for the pages. You’ve then migrated the pages across. The buttons and navigation has been built and implemented. Time to sit back and admire your new site before you initiate launch sequence, right?
Wrong. You’ve got tests to run and corrections to make. Even the most meticulous people leave small mistakes, and these can have big consequences when you’re launching your new website.
This included regression testing and usability testing across the site. Site walkthroughs and sign offs once each stage had been completed. And site crawls using tools such as SEMrush to check for technical errors such as broken links and 404 pages. We drank a lot of coffee and had many a late night, but the results were worth the pain.
Whether you’re at step one or closer to step done, your website relaunch has probably caused some moments of anguish and angst. Don’t worry. It’s the right of passage everyone must take.
At Publicize, we had some hairy moments of our own. Even so, with some patience and perseverance, we managed to produce our dream website following these key ideas.