Posted by Steven Macdonald This post was originally in YouMoz , and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc. In February 2011, a client I was working with ran global usability test in cooperation with Spotless Interactive in London, Hamburg and Oslo. One year later and the feedback from the usability tests are being implemented, which includes improvements to the booking engine, navigation menu, a url rewrite and a new home page. With a total of 21 websites in 15 languages, launching a new global web structure without losing a significant portion of traffic was always going to be a difficult task. Especially as more than 50% of total visits are from search engines. This blog post will show you two examples of how to launch a new website : Website 1 launches and loses 35% of organic traffic Website 2 launches and loses 4% organic traffic By following the process described below, you can feel confident in knowing your new website launch will be smooth. Minimizing risk and measures we took With the support of Norwegian inbound marketer Sverre Bech-Sjøthun , we were able to create a step-by-step plan to implement before, during and after the launch. Before the launch We started by setting up a project in Basecamp with the web developers and to ensure all stakeholders were aligned. Having just recently upgraded to the newest version available of the CMS, we found that the steps taken to minimize the traffic loss during the website launch would also be a good time to address to increased crawl errors reported since the upgrade. By upgrading the CMS for more than twenty websites, the number of crawl increased tenfold to more than 4,500 errors globally. Example of errors reported for one of the sites 404 page visits increased during the same period The first step was to approach each site separately and by using Xenu Link Sleuth we are able to reduce the number of broken links. We repeated this process for each of the sites. Across the entire web structure, fixing broken links was a lot of work and requires a dedicated person. Understanding the importance of addressing these issues is the only way it can be prioritized above everyday tasks. We then started working on the URL mapping: Using Open Site Explorer we ran a report for the top 500 linked to pages Using Google Webmaster Tools we ran a report for the top 10 Links to Your Site Using Microsoft Excel, we mapped out the site and new URL structure Managing the top 500 linked to pages in a time consuming process but highly important when launching a new website. The process took half a day per website and was the most demanding of all steps taken. Once the URLs were mapped, we then created an XML sitemap based on the live version of the website. The step-by-step process for launching the new website included: Map URLs and redirects Submit XML sitemap Fix crawl errors in Webmaster Tools Monitor web traffic in Google Analytics During the Launch Once the new site went live, the 301 redirects were implemented and the XML sitemap submitted to Google Webmaster Tools. Traffic was monitored in Google Analytics and errors monitored in SEOmoz . How to launch a new website redesign The following illustrates how one team gave SEO a high priority and how another team didn’t. Here are the results. Website 1 You will always run into problems that you did not see when launching a new website. The process plan was created and all stakeholders were aligned. However, as a team we did not execute the plan when launching this website and implementing correct redirects and on-site SEO were not prioritized. The day we went live with website 1 (14th June, 2012): No XML sitemap was added to webmaster tools Not all 301 redirects were implemented (more than 50% missing) 302s pages were sending traffic to a soft 404 page (not a 404 HTTP status) Missing meta tags including page titles and meta descriptions causing duplicate content One issue was that 50% of the redirects were not implemented. The issue being we did not know which 50%. Using SEO automatic bulk URL checker we manually checked each URL and HTTP status code. A second issue was that Google was indexing the test server resulting in duplicate content – more than 276 pages were indexed. By not implementing the process plan, we lost a lot of organic traffic. In fact, organic brand traffic decreased by 45% compared with the previous week and year on year organic traffic was down by 49%. Organic traffic is now down -34% comparing the previous month (easy to identify the launch date) Impressions down -18% comparing the previous month Website 1 is the client’s most visited website within the global web structure. The above charts from Google Analytics have been seen by senior management and addressing these issues has now been prioritized. It’s not too late, but there is no doubt that by losing 34% of organic traffic a considerable amount of sales have also been lost. We are now in the process of updating XML sitemaps, implementing any outstanding redirects and fixing crawl errors on site. Website 2 For website 2, we had a lot more control and I was allowed to be hands on with the process. The day we went live with website 2 (26th June, 2012): Uploaded the XML sitemap immediately after launch Mapped out all URLs of the site, which included a URL rewrite with user-friendly URLs 301 redirects were implemented and tested Monitored the web traffic for both referrals and organic traffic Once live, I blogged about the new launch, tweeted the launch to more than 2,000 followers, informed all stakeholders internally and had the news published on the company intranet. The day following the launch, we sent out a newsletter to 1,600 subscribers that included a tip to “check out the newly launched website!”. The tip can also be found in my email signature. Organic traffic is now down -4% comparing the previous month (barely visible) Impression share trend continues as before Here is a list of actions taken for the website 2 launch. Actions summary: Create report of top 500 linked to pages from Open Site Explorer Map URLs from old site to new site with redirects When launching new site, implement redirects Submit XML sitemap to webmaster tools Test new top 20 linked to pages for correct 301 implementation Attract new site links through blogging and social media shares Send out newsletter and inform customer base Promote launch in company email signature Monitor traffic in google analytics Monitor and fix crawl errors in webmaster tools Submit new XML sitemap (two weeks post launch) Concluding summary With the website 1, we only followed the 50% of the plan and we lost 34% of organic traffic. With website 2, we followed the plan exactly as it should have been, we constantly monitored traffic in web analytics and tested both referral links and 301 redirects – a valuable lesson in having a plan and sticking to it. If you are about to launch a new website, have your SEO consultant on-site or hire an expert during this process and involve your web developers throughout the launch. Make sure this is prioritized within the organization and not left to those who do not understand the importance of SEO. No one can afford to lose 34% organic traffic. About Steven: Steven is an online marketer and works in luxury travel . He also blogs at tribes.no . Sign up for The Moz Top 10 , a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!
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Restructuring Your Website and How to Minimize Traffic Loss
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- Restructuring Your Website and How to Minimize Traffic Loss – August 29, 2012