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Re-launching a website: the challenge of search engine management


There’s no shortage of hints, tips and guidance for businesses and agencies on the key things to consider when launching a website. These cover the usual stuff: checking links, calling support numbers, browser testing, etc, etc. There’s also plenty of advice on the SEO aspects of building a new site. However, there seems to be a gap when a site is re-launching in a new guise, iteration, etc and in particular, on how to minimise the disruption to visitors arriving via search engines.

What do I mean? Well many sites will be re-developed following the appointment of a new supplier. For our purposes, the key is that launching a new version of a site needs to take into consideration search engine visitors. Why? Well if you’re new site has a new CMS, more functionality or has just grown organically it’s likely that the structure will have changed and therefore many pages indexed by the search engines will no longer be pointing to valid pages on the new site.

The simple answer for many sites may be custom error pages with easy links back to the new home page. However, that might be fine in some instances but what about long-tail searches where the consumer is expecting to be deep-linked to a detailed product page? It’s unlikely that this visitor will be re-assured with an error page let alone make the effort to click on the home page link and then navigate their way around (or search) for the desired product.

The solution is to plan for the change and engage in search engine management. This is basically the process and steps put in place to ensure that visitors arriving via search engines are not hindered in the period following the launch of a new site.

The start point is to look at your analytics. This should tell you the importance of search (in general) and also ID the depth to which you need to act whilst the search engines catch up and index your new site. Key is to ensure that high volume searches AND high converting, long-tail searches are not prevented from finding the correct content. Simple redirects from the old pages to new sections and product pages are quick and easy to deploy.

The other side is to use the increasing functionality of the webmaster tools that Google, Yahoo and Bing offer. Again planning is key to make sure that the new sites can be submitted as soon as launched. A simple line of code from each engine gets you started. Each of the webmaster tools vary but the results are worth the effort.

A site which launched a week ago, submitted to all three engines via the webmaster tools (and with XML sitemap) is now well indexed by two of the three main search engines. Redirects ensure that visitors still clicking on old listings in the SERPS get to the new home page or the main section pages. Key to this was a close relationship between the two agencies which ensured that any needed amends were made as required.

Search engine management is a simple process and your developers and SEOs should work in partnership to ensure that everything that can be done is planned and implemented as soon as the site launches. There’s no excuse for the old agency get out of jail card that “it’ll take up to xx months” for the engines to see the site. If it’s a completely new site and URL then that may hold true but for a second, third, etc version of a site it’s rubbish.  More importantly, it’s not a process that’s costly just one that requires a solid understanding of the importance of search, some technical amends and some monitoring post-launch. In the current climate, every visitor counts so why willingly let traffic slip away?

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