Major website redesigns and replatforms can kill organic search traffic. Use this checklist to minimize the impact.
Involve SEO staff from the beginning to ensure that the strategy does not hurt overall rankings. For example, an approach that focuses only on content that converts immediately (product page descriptions) and removes higher-funnel article content (how-to articles, buyers’ guides) would likely harm organic search performance.
- Determine how organic search traffic fits within the overall goals and strategy for the new site.
- Set expectations about how the launch may affect organic search performance.
- Benchmark data from web analytics, Google Search Console, and Lighthouse page speed reports.
- Attend internal review and status meetings to influence critical decisions.
- Develop technical SEO requirements — title tags, navigation, 301 redirects, XML sitemaps.
- Consider splitting the migration into smaller chunks.
- Determine the Search Console verification method for every new protocol, domain, and subdomain.
- Make sure that none of the development and staging sites are crawlable by the search engines.
Preserve content relevance.
- Plan to migrate as much of the existing content as possible – title tags, meta descriptions, headings, body copy, articles, FAQs.
- Produce new content that will increase relevance signals to search engines.
- Review sitemaps, templates, and mockups with user experience and creative personnel.
Protect link authority.
- Map all 301 redirects. This is critical; do not take shortcuts. Consider whether you’d miss the traffic and revenue from the pages that you’re not planning to redirect.
- Ensure the development team knows when to expect the redirects from you and plans their resources accordingly.
- Secure agreement from the entire team to implement 301 redirects.
Test on Staging
This is the time to flag issues that may impact organic search performance at launch. Confirm that the staging site is complete before you begin testing.
Test 301 redirects.
- Use a crawler (Screaming Frog, DeepCrawl) to test every 301 redirect.
- Resolve every page that’s not 301 redirecting correctly. This could be the most critical step in the checklist.
- Minimize redirect chains. Identify and correct chains longer than three redirects.
- Check legacy redirects such as from non-www to www URLs, HTTP to HTTPS, and uppercase characters to lowercase.
Check for crawl errors.
- Crawl the site, starting at the root domain. The crawl data will be used for many of the next steps.
- Identify and resolve any redirect mistakes, as well as 404 errors.
- Ensure that legitimate error pages return 404 server headers, not soft 404s.
- Test internal navigation links to ensure they’re crawlable.
- Identify and resolve duplicate content.
- Check for sitewide meta robots noindex tags. These might be in place to prevent indexing of the development servers, but check that they have been removed at launch.
- Check the robots.txt file to make sure that content is allowed and disallowed appropriately. If there’s a sitewide disallow on the staging site, remove it before launch.
- Test page speed and compare against benchmarks.
Review tagging and bot-related files.
- Ensure that canonical tags are self-referencing or otherwise appropriately set.
- Check HREFLANG tags if your site has content in multiple languages.
- Review XML sitemaps to confirm they include only canonical URLs. Make sure that they’re referenced in the robots.txt file.
- Test mobile site tagging if there’s a separate mobile site.
- Ensure that title tags and meta descriptions from the old site have been uploaded.
- Identify missing or deleted content to upload or redirect.
Launch New Site
It’s time to go live. Review important SEO moments: when the new site hits production, when crawl blockers are removed, and when the 301 redirects are in place.
Testing the live site is critical. Search engines crawl and index your site as it is now, replacing yesterday’s version and impacting rankings, traffic, and revenue.
Don’t assume that a site that passed pre-launch testing will pass once it goes live.
- Use the “Test on Staging” checklist above for the live site.
- Remove the sitewide robots.txt disallow or sitewide meta robots noindex commands if necessary.
- Test Search Console verification.
- Submit the new XML sitemap URLs to Search Console. Retain the old XML sitemaps for a month or two so that search engines discover all of the redirects.
A redesign or replatform where the URLs change in any way is a major event for SEO. Watch the data closely. Correct issues that impact performance.
- Check, at minimum, daily organic traffic and revenue.
- Check your ranking tool for changes daily, or as often as the data refreshes in the tool.
- Check the Search Console “Performance” tab daily to monitor impressions, clicks, and rankings.
- Check the Search Console “Coverage” tab daily to monitor server errors.
- Check the Search Console “Sitemaps” tab to confirm Googlebot has crawled the old and new XML sitemaps.
- Reach out to the most valuable sites that link to yours. Request that they update the URL to reinforce search engines’ understanding of your new site.
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