Launching a new website is hard. Launching a new brand with that new website can be downright madness.
Those 2½ months spent building our new website and our new brand were the hardest I've ever worked in my life. They were also the most rewarding, and despite my incessant cursing, I wouldn't trade it for anything. Why? Because look at the old site:
Versus the new website:
Whenever you launch a site, everyone just sees the design change, but rarely do you see the behind the scenes – and I'm not just talking about design iterations, although there were probably 13 of those – work that goes into a new website. We're assuming you've already redid your keyword and market research.
That's A Lot of Redirects
Thankfully, the domain didn't change, but the URL structure did change to directory style. I used Ruth Burr's template for domain migrations, but made some tweaks.
First, pull every single URL that's on your root domain. I used both Screaming Frog and our database to make sure I wasn't missing anything. Drop into Excel and start analyzing what's going where on your new site.
We work in agile web development, which accounts for short sprints of work (in our case, two weeks at a time) when at the end we'd be able to launch full functionally pieces of our website. Think of it like building a house one room completely at a time.
Because this bad boy needed to be up before mid-July, the planned to launch with the Slim Fast version of our sitemap: A lot of pages weren't going to exist yet, but they would soon. That meant a lot of pages of our existing site weren't going to move yet, but they would.
So, in addition to the 301s and 404s, I added a section of what was going to be in Phase II to make our support departments' lives a little easier. I think it worked.
I admit it: I didn't remember to install the analytics code on our new site until 24 hours before the site launched. *Facepalm*.
Seriously: Don't forget it, but also, don't settle for the basic version. There is so much more that you can see with a little customization, and you need to think about what makes most sense for you. For us, there were three big ones:
- Enhanced in-page to see where people were clicking.
- Page scrolling to see how far down people were going on our pages.
- Event tracking to see how people interacted with our video.
- Event tracking to see how often people clicked on our contact information.
If your URLs are changing, so will your sitemaps. Don't forget to generate a new XML sitemap and resubmit me that GWT to speed up indexation of your new site. We went the multiple XML sitemap approach, one of our main site and one for our blog.
Holy Crap: We Aren't No. 1 For Our Name
That's every SEO professional's nightmare. We're living that right now. We decided to change our name in January. In May, we took a match to our old site and started over from scratch. Around June, someone finally said "Hey, I wonder where we'll be ranked with our new brand name."
Page 3. PAGE 3?!
Logically, it makes sense. 352 is the area code of Gainesville, Florida, our headquarters and our namesake. Sure, we've been known simply as 352 (three-five-two) for 15+ years both by clients and internally, search engines weren't making that connection.
Why would they? All of our brand links are 352 Media Group, and all of our content was 352 Media Group. We also don't have nearly the social community that Moz does to blog, link and tweet the name change that would clued Google in sooner.
While our new brand does come with a whole new keyword targeting – Pro tip: Start your new keyword research very early – I couldn't care less about our exact-match anchor text until we're showing up No. 1 for "352." How do you do it? Pull your backlink using your favorite tool, go down and find all of the links with your brand name, and start contacting.
Trust me: Start this process very early if you're changing name, as in way before you officially launch. Start by reaching out to people who you know can queue up their change to go live on your exact launch date, for example, your author bio for any places you're a contributor. Don't forget to make sure your internal team changes any links they have on personal websites.
I'm in the thick of this now, and you never really realize how many brand links you have until you're staring at a 4-digit long Excel spreadsheet.
Keeping Momentum Post Launch
Last year, I went skydiving. There's a moment about 30 seconds into your free fall where you convince yourself that the shoot should have opened by now, and this was going to be it. Then, the chord pulls, you shoot up vertically, and you feel the biggest rush of relief because you are, in fact, going to make it through.
At 3:52 p.m. – see what we did there? – on July 16, 2013, I got that same rush from the launch of our site.
And while the honeymoon of the new brand only lasted about 24 hours until my inbox was flooded with feedback, I needed that kick to keep up the momentum our team had with post-launch iterations.
There will be things you don't think of. There will be bugs you missed. There will be internal feedback that makes more sense. There will definitelybe user feedback you didn't even know existed. You need an organized way to keep track of all of this.
My agency used TFS and work through a backlog of items based off client priority and effort to complete the task. This helps us better see the cool things we want to do and where it lies based on priority.
It's not the most intuitive, and we're searching for some something a little more user friendly, but it works well enough for now.
If you're going through a new site launch, I feel you, buddy. It's long. It's a pain in the ass. Sometimes, you just want to quit. It's extremely difficult not to get discouraged, but the end result will be worth it.
Don't get disappointed if you forget something. There's a lot to do, and we missed a few "Well, duh" things post launch, but it's OK. That's the beauty of constant iterations.