The essential SEO checklist for new websites
By Stephen Hudson - Digital Marketing Consultant.
2016 has been a busy year in Orantec HQ with a number of clients requesting new websites. Launching a new website can be an exciting time for a business, but it can also be a very difficult period for website traffic, especially if the essential SEO elements aren’t covered. If you’re launching a new website soon, fret not, because we’re here to help you understand what really needs to be done from an SEO perspective to ensure your website remains competitive in the SERPs.
Try not to change your domain name
If you’re starting up a new business and creating your first website, this situation won’t really affect you, but it’s still relevant if there comes a time when you want to update said website. From an SEO perspective, changing domain name can be a complete nightmare! You’re essentially throwing all your hard work out the window and starting from scratch, which means you’re likely to lose significant Domain Authority and performance in the search engines until your new domain has been indexed by the search providers, which doesn’t happen overnight! In fact, depending on how successful your previous domain was, a new domain can take anywhere between 6-12 months to achieve similar results. At Orantec, we often advise clients looking to develop a new website not to change domain name unless it’s absolutely essential, to try and offset the negative impact it can have on traffic.
A key thing to remember when launching a new website is 301 redirects. If you’ve changed your domain name, all the URLs on your old website will need to be redirected to the new website, otherwise all those links you’ve posted on social media, etc. will just direct users to a 404 error, which doesn’t really offer the user a great experience. If you’re not changing your domain name, but the URL structure of some pages has changed, these will also need to be redirected, as will any page you’ve not included on your new site. 404 errors don’t directly hurt search rankings according to Google, but for user experience it’s best to make sure everything is sorted before launch. Some 404 errors will, of course, be inevitable, but you can take advantage of this by adding useful links to your 404 page to allow users to navigate to other areas of your website.
Fix 404 errors
As we mentioned above, 301 redirects are essential, but it’s best to try and avoid redirecting every link on your website as this can increase load time, an element Google does use to rank websites. You should ideally go through the content on your website and ensure your internal links are all working to avoid a huge list of 404 errors later on. What’s more, now is the perfect time to make sure your external links are working and are really relevant. If external links are no longer relevant, either remove them or add the No Follow tag.
Fix and resize images
If your new website has a different file structure to your old site, chances are your images will be broken, which will again lead to 404 errors. During the development stage, you should ensure all the images from your old website are copied over and that they’re working. Now is also the time to ensure your images are sized properly, as large file sizes will increase load times and slow the website down, leading to a poor user experience and possible Google penalties.
Check the content
While your website is under development, it is the perfect time to make sure the content you’re offering is accurate and grammatically correct. Make sure the content on your website isn’t copied from another website as this can lead to penalties from Google, and always check to ensure the spelling and grammar are as good as they can be. Poor spelling and grammar is a sure fire way of alienating people and makes your brand look unprofessional.
If you’re updating your current site, chances are you have a keyword strategy in place, and the development stage is the perfect time to revisit this strategy to see if it can be updated. Before making the new site live, make sure you’ve included in your content, headers and descriptions all the relevant keywords you’re targeting, and if you don’t have a keyword strategy, now is the time to create one!
Ensure all pages have a Meta Title and Description
Before making your new site live, you should ensure that every page on the website has a Meta Title and Description to help Google better understand what the page is about. If you don’t include one, Google will automatically populate the fields, but it’s always best to write your own. If you’re simply adding a lick of paint to your website, now is the perfect opportunity to take a closer look at your current titles and descriptions to see if they can be improved.
Ensure all images have titles and alt tags
As with Meta Titles and Descriptions, before making your new website live, you should make sure that every image used on the website has an alt tag - and preferably a title - as these are used to tell Google more information and to show users the best images in image search results.
Copy over all tracking codes
If you’re launching an updated version of your website, you should ensure that all tracking codes you use are copied over to the new site before launch. This will include things like Google Analytics, any event tracking codes, and possibly other tracking codes such as the Facebook Pixel. If you’re launching a brand new website, we recommend creating a Google Analytics account and adding the code as this will help you better understand how users are interacting with the site and help you make better marketing goals.