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Our new website is due to launch later this year and I would like to know the top pitfalls to avoid and top tips to carry out

Firstly, it’s great that you are considering this now rather than the day of launch like some projects I have encountered in the past. Below I have highlighted the four biggest considerations you should be looking at or preparing for as the launch date looms.

1. Assess how Google will see your site

One of the main things to realise about technical SEO over the last ten years is that the challenge has pivoted from getting the good stuff into Google to keeping the bad stuff out. Google is a hungry search engine and will actively investigate any URL you though at it so it is important to crawl your website prior to launch to understand all of the URLs you are exposing.

You will often find the 50-page website you thought you had is actually vastly larger due to potential technical issues and you should take action to resolve these prior to letting the bots in.

A top tip here would be to not rely on robots.txt or the canonical tag. If you can, identify how the crawler has reached the suspect URL and look to remove the links that have caused the page to be considered.

Doing this will prevent “Indexed though blocked by robots.txt.”, will ensure all of the value passed around your site is kept within the important pages and will prevent Google from discovering duplicates, weak pages etc.

2. Maintain your existing equity

Over time all websites amass value. This value is a precious thing and should be looked after. It amazes me sometimes that in 2022 we still see new sites launching that have not taken into consideration what users and search engines already have on record for the old site.

Crawl your existing site, find out your most important URLs, discover where your external links are pointing. Armed with this data, map the important URLs to their new equivalents on the new site. If the URLs are changing, make sure the old 301 redirects to the new so that over time that amassed value is allocated to the new URL.

Set up 404 error tracking. This can be as simple as ensuring your 404 page has tracking on it and an obvious title like ‘404 Error Page’. This will allow you to monitor visits to the page over time and head off any gaps in your redirect map as they occur.

A top tip here would be to check to see what redirects are already in place from older versions of the website to the current version. You may find efficiencies can be made to avoid redirect chains, loops or even just to slim down the volume of redirects on your server – although this is less of an issue unless you have many thousands in play.

3. Make sure your new site still says what you actually do

New websites often mean new designs which – if managed via a design-first approach – can lead to a new set of boxes that your content needs to be fitted into. Ideally, you should come up with your content first and then pay a designer to implement a design that it works within rather than vice versa, but this is still rare.

The important thing is that your site still says what you actually do. A simple trick I run clients through to visualise this is to take a page, print it out, then overlay a solid colour over everything that is either boiler plate – main navigation, footer, contact forms, consistent page elements etc. – and anything that is purely visual – header images etc. that have no live text.

Can someone who knows nothing about your business make sense of what is left? Do you feel the remaining elements convey that you are an expert in what you do, that you can be trusted, and all this is backed up? If not, you might want to address that now rather than having an SEO expert tell you that X, Y and Z needs adding later.

My top tip here would be to ensure everyone understands the consequences of removing content. Page X might be ranking for terms A, B and C because of the level of detail expressed. Dumbing down page X is only going to reduce its ability to rank and worse, getting rid of page X is likely to result in the rankings disappearing altogether as Google has nowhere to send the user anymore.

4. Get your tracking requirements baked in early

Real value is backed up with data. You want to know moving forward that your work is moving you in the right direction and you are tracking everything that has value to your business. You also don’t want to be explaining that you don’t know how well the new site is performing due to the tracking not being added at launch. Don’t leave tracking to the last minute.

A lot of SEO can be layered on top of a firm base website. Getting the above four points in place before launch can greatly reduce both the period of traffic fluctuation as Google figures the new site out, and the effort needed to grow from that point.

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