Relaunching your website from a SEO perspective is an exciting task, but one with a big risk of losing traffic and rankings. In this article, we explain how to survive a relaunch without causing substantial damage to your website performance.
The success of your website relaunch is dependent on your preparation. You should not only invest a lot of time in the conception of the new website, but also in the preparation of the relaunch. Nothing will annoy you more after the relaunch than losing good rankings and organic traffic because of mistakes you could have easily avoided.
To survive a relaunch, it’s important that all of your URLs are redirected correctly so that the search engine can transfer the ranking signals from the old website to your new one. However, redirects are not only important for search engines – users who want to access old URLs (for example via their favorites) want to land on a functioning page and not on an error message.
To make sure that you correctly redirect your URLs, you should first make an inventory of all existing URLs. There are several ways to do this. Most content management systems offer, either by default or via plug-ins, an option to export all URLs from a website in the form of a sitemap. You can also export all URLs from Google Analytics, although you should note that Google Analytics only displays the URLs that were called up at least once during the selected period of time, and 404 URLs will also be displayed.
The Ryte software makes it easy to list the URLs of your website – our software follows the internal links of your website and finds every single URL. With just a few clicks you can export the URL list as an Excel file.
Figure 1: Export URLs with the Ryte software
To create an inventory of all URLs on your website, you can combine several methods, for example, you can compare the URLs from the Ryte software with those from Analytics. This way you can make sure that you include all internally linked URLs, as well as those that are not internally linked but still generate impressions.
Once you’ve made your inventory of all of your website's URLs, it's time to plan the redirects. You should sort the URLs into the largest possible groups. For example, if a directory of the old website is not planned on the new website, you can set up a redirect on a directory level, instead of redirecting each URL of the directory individually.
Create a so-called URL mapping to keep track of all old and new URLs as well as the redirects, for example with Excel or Google Sheets. In one column, list all the old URLs and in another column the URLs to which they should be redirected. This means that you can easily identify possible groupings, and you can see which URLs will not change. These can be highlighted using conditional formatting and can then simply be omitted in the next step.
Figure 2: Example of URL mapping
Once you have completed the URL mapping, you can start implementing the redirects. To do this, you need to edit the .htaccess file on your web server. You can find out how this works in our XXL Redirect Guide.
Important: Always use the correct status code for redirecting. Although both status codes 302 and 301 lead users to the new version of your website, 302 is by definition only intended for temporary redirects, so you should always use 301. If there is no new variant for one of the old URLs, and you want to convey this to Google, use the status code 410 Gone for this URL. Google will remove this URL from its index in due course. However, you shouldn't do this with URLs to which many external links redirect to, as the link juice will be lost.
Internal links are another important point – you should update all internal links to the new URLs. Although the redirects you have set up on your old website also apply to the internal links, if internal links lead first to the old website and then to the new URL via redirect, the loading time of the website will increase. Reduce loading times and improve website quality by adjusting everything correctly and avoiding short cuts.
To adapt the internal links, it makes sense to put the new website online in a test environment. To prevent search engine crawlers and users from accessing your new website before the official relaunch date, you can password-protect it with. htaccess. For example, you can analyze this password-protected website with the Ryte software and check the internal links carefully.
Figure 3: Search for internal links with the Ryte software
You can also find the outdated internal links on your website by simply checking the report "List of all links" in the analysis of your test environment for "[destination]". Status code (group) is 404 filtered. You can then use the analysis results to quickly and easily customize the links. If your content management system allows it, you can easily customize the internal links by using the Search & Replace function in the database.
Upload the .htaccess file with the redirects to your web server to carry out your website relaunch. From now on, all users who call up an old URL will be redirected to the new variant. To inform Google about the relaunch, you should upload a new sitemap to the Google Search Console which contains both the old and the new URLs. This will tell Google that you have changed your website structure, meaning that the search engine can access all URLs of the old website and process the redirects quickly and efficiently.
Figure 4: Submitted sitemap in the Google Search Console
Make sure that all redirects really work. You can do this by using the Google Sheet you used for the URL mapping. Program a corresponding function in the Google Spreadsheets script editor, or use a ready-made tool such as the redirectinator. Then match the target URL from your URL mapping to the actual redirect destination, so you can quickly see if all redirects function as planned.
Figure 5: Expanding the URL mapping with link targets
After the relaunch, it is particularly important to adapt the outdated external links to your website. Start with the links which you can customize yourself. Facebook, Google AdWords, online directories, etc. should be adapted as soon as possible.
However, you should also adjust the links from other websites to your website. If you don't use a backlink tool, you can evaluate the link accesses in Google Analytics on the one hand, and the links to your website on the other hand in the GSC property of your old website. Then contact the operators of these sites and ask them to update the links to your site. Search engines can therefore be indirectly informed that the new URL variant is now the more relevant one.
If you've followed all the recommendations in this article, you shouldn’t have any big surprises after the relaunch. Keep a close eye on the development of your organic traffic in Google Search Console and Google Analytics. If everything stays on the same level here, Google probably transferred the signals of the old website directly to the new version.
Figure 6: Monitoring crawl errors in the Google Search Console
If your organic traffic suddenly collapses, you should do something immediately. Check if areas of your website are affected by the decline, and check if you have implemented everything correctly. You should also check the Google Search Console for error messages, especially in the crawl error report. If the 404 errors accumulate here, something may have gone wrong with your website relaunch and you should correct the errors immediately to keep the damage as low as possible.
If you invest enough time in the preparation of your website relaunch, little can go wrong. The most important aspect of a website relaunch are the redirects, which make the relaunch clear to both users and search engines. To speed up the move from a SEO point of view, you should give Google all the necessary indications in the Google Search Console. After the relaunch, you should then take a close look at how the rankings develop to keep the risks as low as possible.
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Published on 01/22/2018 by Kate Aspinwall.
Kate worked at Ryte from 2018 to 2021. She previously worked as a Brand Strategist at a Boston-based creative agency. She is passionate about branding, international marketing, and finding the best vegetarian restaurant in Munich.