So you’ve made your decision that you need to redesign your Web site. You’ve had endless meetings about the content and the images and argued about what’s going on the home page. Now it’s time to get stuck into developing right? Well, not quite. There are a few things you need to do to make sure your re-development goes without a hitch and to prove that it has produced benefits. Web sites can be so subjective and their performance so dependent on market conditions that you need to be able to point to concrete evidence that your Web site is better. Even if (and possibly especially if) the development work is being done by an outside source, make sure that these steps get followed for the best results.
Step 1: Baseline your existing site
You’re never going to know whether your change has been beneficial if you can’t quantify the quality of your existing site. Yes, you can measure visitors and orders but it also makes sense to measure other factors that point to the quality of your present site.
Record Google Page Rank for the important pages.
You would hope to increase page rank over time but you certainly done want to lose it. To do this, install a browser plug-in such as Live Page Rank into Firefox or the Google Toolbar into IE – they will show you the page rank (a 0-9) number as you browse to the page.
Use a free site evaluator that measures valuable criteria
I’ve previously used the Web site Grader by Hubspot (www.websitegrader.com). It is free and it measures 20 criteria including SEO structure, heading structure, meta tags, overall Page Rank, Indexed pages, Traffic Rank, inbound links, presence in the blogosphere. And then it comes out with a score out of 100 which is ideal for summarising to management.
Record you search terms performance
Take your top 20 search terms and either use an analytics package or simply perform the Google search yourself and record where you appear in Google. You’ll want to show that you have improved (or at least maintained) these positions with your new site.
Record some monthly figures for conversion rates – i.e. number of orders / number of unique visitors. I suggest monthly because many businesses are seasonal and this can affect the rates some comparing December with January may give a totally false picture. If you have Google Analytics and use the E-commerce tags then record the Funnel Visualisation stats for your basket/checkout. You will want to show that your new site has less fall-out as people go through the checkout.
Step 2: Develop your new site
Implement the best practise for SEO when constructing the site. Make sure you use heading tags appropriately, make the H1 match the Meta Title, keep the URLs short and use English where possible, and avoid query string parameters. The best guide I’ve seen on this is Steve Johnston’s e-book “50 ways to make Google Love Your Site”. Whilst you’re developing, build in the relevant Google Analytics tags. Google Analytics is a very powerful (and free) web stats package that will tell you all you need to know about the behaviour of visitors to your site. If you haven’t got a package then this is a must.
Step 3: Redirect Old Pages
If any of the URLs for your revamped site are changing you MUST put in place 301 redirects to tell Google that the page has been moved. The ways of doing this vary depending on your development platform but Wikipedia has a simple introduction. If you fail to do this, any page rank you’ve built up on the previous URL will instantly be lost. And of course, any other sites linking to that page will just encounter a 404 error. Which brings us on to point 4…
Step 4: Implement a custom 404 page
When someone enters a URL on your domain that doesn’t exist, a 404 error is generated. By default the development platform will handle this in a fairly ungainly and unfriendly way. However, all platforms allow the capacity for a custom page to be rendered. This page needs to include your logo, some words about how the page couldn’t be found and then a link to the home page of your site and some basic contact details.
Step 5: Create a new sitemap ready for Google
Give Google the best opportunity to find all your new pages and new URLs by preparing an XML sitemap in the Google format. There are sites you can go to which will “crawl” your new site and provide you with the right format of XML – e.g. http://www.sitemapspal.com/
Step 6: Launch the new site
Upload the new Google sitemap at the same time and make sure the 301 redirects are also deployed.
Step 7: Spread the word
The Hubspot guide should give you some ideas of how you can get word about your site out into the world at large: Whether it’s posting on Digg, writing worthy articles, registering RSS feeds, signing up with a directory or creating a blog. And of course, one may also consider PPC and traditional marketing routes but this is a subject that deserves an article of its own.
Step 8; Review, Review, Review
A webmaster must constantly review a site and keep it fresh. Once your site has had time to bed in, re-run all the checks in Step 1 and hopefully, if your design is good, you will see improvements. The Hubspot and Page Rank values are particularly useful because they are simple, qualitative scores that demonstrate progress. Please remember that content changes intended to improve SEO performance will take weeks (and possibly months) to show tangible results. In the meantime, check Google Analytics to see whether your visitor numbers are going in the right direction and use other stats to keep your boss placated.