Posted by Chris Mackie 13-07-2017
A complete redesign is a scary time for business owners. So many things can go wrong, and many times it takes weeks for all issues to get ironed out. Some are easy fixes, but others can be complex and take developers days to resolve. You can have a smooth transition to your new web design, however, and here are some tips to help you avoid common pitfalls.
1) Use Redirects
A redesign usually means URLs will change. Any bookmarked pages will return a 404 to users, and it can affect your direct traffic conversion rates. Some users will just go to your homepage, but others will assume your site, or any external site pointing to these old pages, is broken. Always implement redirects to take users to the new URL.
Redirects are also important for search engine optimisation. Search engines crawl the old URLs and have no way of knowing where to find the new page. A 301 redirect tells search engine crawlers where to find the new pages, and these new URLs will show in search indexes. A 301 redirect also transfers PageRank (PR), so you don't lose any value from backlinks to old URLs.
2) Take a Backup of Everything
No one wants to roll back changes, but sometimes it's necessary. If your developers are up all day and night and can't get the new version to run right, it might be more cost-effective to roll back to the old version until they fix the bugs.
You must take a backup of everything before your deployment. The following are a few items that you must back up:
• Website files
• Database data and files
• Any special server configurations
• Media files
To take it a step further, create a document that walks you through the rollback procedure. When you have a critical outage, most people panic. A reminder of the procedural steps will make the rollback much smoother, and you won't need to worry about causing more damage to the site.
Most people do everything to avoid performing a rollback, but it's essential that you have a plan. A site that doesn't function properly can cost the business thousands every day. It's occasionally more cost-efficient to roll back and redeploy later.
3) Create a New Sitemap
A sitemap is a small file that has links to each page on your site. Web crawlers can find most pages on your site, but it's possible that they miss some URLs if there is no internal link to these pages. You can remedy this issue by creating a sitemap.
With a new web design, your URL structure changes. A new sitemap will help search engines find all new URLs and index them.
4) Don't Forget to Add Analytics Code
When you deploy new pages, it's common to forget to add the analytics code that usually appears at the bottom. These analytics programs track your traffic, provide you conversion numbers, and give you demographics of your users. They are critical to evaluating your site's success. If you forget to add them, you lose data for days.
You can find most of these tracking codes on the home page, but some of your internal pages will have them. Your developers should be able to add them to your new pages.
5) Register the Site with Google Search Console
While Google Search Console isn't critical for a site deployment, it is useful for detecting errors. Errors affect your site rank and customer retention, and you don't want them to persist for too long. With Google Search Console, the bot will crawl new pages and provide you with a report of any errors it finds.
Google Search Console will list 404 (page not found) errors, 500 (usually a coding error) and 503 (service unavailable) errors. The 404 errors will be fixed using redirects mentioned earlier, but the other two are critical issues.
A 503 error is displayed when service is unavailable, which happens when the server is overwhelmed and crashes. You can set a 503 when you're deploying the new site, but you should monitor for random 503 errors.
A 500 error is a general error, but it often indicates that your application has an internal coding issue. If Google gets these errors, then there is a good chance your customers are also getting them as well. These errors are also critical, and you should have your developers review them. Google conveniently lists all of the URLs that return 500 errors.
Most deployments have bugs, so a complete redesign will not come without issues. Your goal should be to minimise their numbers and reduce any downtime. Redirecting users to your new URLs will fix many of the issues, but make sure you closely monitor your site for several weeks after deployment.