What better way to start the new year than with plans for a new site? We all go through redesigns. Whatever the reason, a decision is made to go through an overhaul on the existing site. Too often, companies reach out to their digital marketing team as a last minute thought, mentioning “oh guess what, we’ve decided to redesign… and it’s launching next week.” If you don’t want to make your digital marketing team cry, DON’T DO THIS! You’ll get much more value if you can involve them early. Your digital marketing teams can be an amazing help during this process, saving you time and resources when they’re brought in at the proper times.
So let’s run through this together to better define the redesign timeline and where you should bring in your Analytics, PPC, and SEO teams.
“It’s Time to Redesign Our Site”
The best time to alert your Analytics, PPC, and SEO teams of your redesign is the moment it hits the calendar. No time is too soon, as the more time you give them before, the better; plus, if developers have already been selected you can make the introduction right away.
The first thing you should do before the redesign is understand the on-site goals. In order to measure the success of the redesign, it is critical to have accurate data to compare the new site against the original. You can do this by working with your Analytics team to define the Key Performance Indicators of the existing site and decipher which actions you want visitors to take and what ideal engagement should look like.
Don’t de-prioritize Analytics fixes! Once big questions are answered and gaps are identified, the Analytics team can recommend new tracking functionality that can help your current site. After making the recommendations, the Analytics team should verify the changes after implementation to confirm that everything works properly. To follow best practices and properly track, KPIs, they should set up Google Analytics (Note: This post assumes Google Analytics use, but the majority of the information applies to other platforms.)
Once data has been aggregated, benchmarks for KPIs can be established. At this point you will want to work with your Analytics team, and this should be done as early as possible.
The first internal step for any redesign is defining the “what” and the “why” so you can help guide changes. It is incredibly important to understand why the redesign is being done and what the current site fails to do.
The impetus for the redesign and the actual goals can run the gamut. A few goals could be:
- Keeping up with the competition
- Ready for a new look
- Improve site engagement
- Improve on-site sales
- Increase conversions
No matter the goal, it’s important to know what you’re trying to accomplish, and this is how you will define your success. This phase is called the research and discovery phase, and is when the Analytics team should be brought in to discuss business objectives and information on proving the overall value. At this point KPIs for the actual redesign should be defined and partially tie into current site goals.
Remember: a redesign will not magically increase traffic, so don’t make this a goal. Increases in traffic will likely be a result of additional marketing efforts whether PPC, SEO, social, or anything else, making it a function of marketing and not the redesign. However, if a site isn’t built with SEO in mind, traffic could take a dive, so a full SEO redesign strategy should be developed to protect the current site and provide a smooth transition into the new one.
Once the existing site data is trustworthy, it’s time for a deeper analysis. Ideally this should be done very early in the process and before any coding is done so that plans can be formed and altered based on the results. This is the time to understand which pages, templates, or sections of the site perform best from an engagement and conversion perspective. Segmentation is also vital here in looking at sections of the site segmented by marketing efforts or visits behavior. A deep dive could also uncover a list of which assets are currently underutilized.
Redesign analyses are recommended in order to quantify the investment of resources in the new website and identify portions of the site that need to be protected.
The end result should be a high-level protection and creation plan that can be shared with your internal team and developers.
The redesign process can be the perfect time to create new content, but you’ll want to be sure the right language is used on the pages. This is where your SEO and PPC teams should get involved to help with keyword research by conducting extensive research to evaluate the best terms to use based on intent, competitiveness, and overall quality of traffic. The SEO team will start tracking and benchmarking existing term rankings for future analysis and a keyword matrix that can be used as a guide for content.
Unfortunately SEO could take months to work; if you start ranking for terms 6 months in but they don’t drive traffic or convert, this is where your PPC team is a huge asset. The PPC team could bid on the terms on the keyword matrix (sending traffic to relevant landing pages) and inform value of the terms prior to new site content creation. This is the chance to find out if terms and perform as expected and if they are worth the investment.
As plans are finalized for which pages will be kept and elimited, the SEO team can develop a redesign strategy to identify which existing pages will redirect to new counterparts, keeping the content similar and logical. They should also reference analytics data to prevent any valuable pages from being elimiated without the creation of a replacement.
Each iteration of wireframes gets more complex, and there’s more that your digital marketing team can do to help each time.
With the first round of wireframes, expect your SEO and Analytics teams to perform an in-depth review and come back with a series of questions and basic recommendations. Since the wireframes are just a basic sketch of the site plan, they won’t know exactly what the plan is for how to build everything out; this is the time to get that information and make high-level recommendations. The SEO and Analytics teams will likely provide a marked up version of the wireframes, complete with their questions, recommendations, and concerns.
The Analytics team will also look for the on-site conversion actions in the wireframes. They will want to confirm that these actions are still in place on the site, see how the flow has changed, and look for any potential barriers to tracking. They will also look for any new actions on the site that should be tracked and added to the redesign analysis.
The SEO team will look for any issues that could potentially affect the spiderability of the site. Since nothing has been built yet, recommendations will be made for how to code different parts of the site, features to include or omit, or new ways to structure assets on the site. This is when the SEO team will be able to provide feedback on the CMS being considered, like finding limitations or shortcomings, or provide best practices from an architecture perspective.
Expect the developers, SEO, and Analytics teams to meet to review this feedback, answer questions, and clarify any points that were unclear. Following these meetings, final recommendations will be shared that will help ensure the site is on the right path for long-term success.
Now armed with the full list of on-site actions to track, a detailed measurement plan that outlines steps, needs, and values of each action should be created along with a tracking matrix.
The Analytics team should also make recommendations for the based code to use on the dev site (ideally a different propert in Google Analytics so live data is not affected.) At this stage, a complete analytics testing plan will be developed with the goal to ensure the on-site actions are sending data to Google Analytics and that the new goals function properly.
Expect a flurry of activity once the dev site goes live. The SEO team should conduct a thorough review of the site, starting with the verification of the items listed in the wireframe review recommendations. This will be the point when tools could be use to spider the new site. The SEO team can also make recommendations to prevent the dev site from being indexed by the search engines if it isn’t behind a login, as you don’t want your new site to become public sooner than you would like.
To properly track through AdWords, the PPC team will share all of the codes needed, will start to rebuild retargeting audiences and planning new destination URLs for ads.
The Analytics team will verify the wireframe review recommendations and will run through each action on the site to create the full URL inventory and any areas of the site that pose tracking challenges will be identified. These could include pages with missing or misplaced code, incorrect code, missing event tracking, etc.
At this time the test Google Analytics property should be used to verify that information is flowing in properly, using real-time data a reports to confirm. The Analytics team will also set up all of the agreed-upon goals in Google ANalytics to capture on-site actions, and any kinks can be worked out ahead of time.
An Alternate Launch Plan
Rather than launching the entire site at once, you may want to test and experiment with how people react to the new site. This can be done via A/B or multivariate testing and user behavior testing. Paid search could also be used to test new site concepts via landing pages before the launch.
Prior to Launch
If the site is going to be down for any period of time, the PPC team should pause their ads from showing since there is no sense in spending money when visitors won’t be able to access the site. They may recommend enabling access to the site or pausing for a few days. The Analytics team needs to jump into pre-launch work immediately prior to the new site work to copy new goals from the test to the live property’s profiles.
Definitely let the entire team know of the launch date as soon as it’s determined, and the launch should occur early in the week to allow time for final review and recommendations.
The SEO team should run through the verification process again and utilize tools that can only access live sites. They can examine the robots.txt to make sure the site isn’t being blocked and changes to Google Webmaster Tools may be recommended. The SEO team can run queries on Google to see which pages are being picked up, how quickly they are getting cached, and how Google is interpreting the content. They shoiuld also run through the redirect recommendations to verify implementation. Analytics and PPC teams should also want to review the redirects to make sure campaign tracking isn’t stripped.
The PPC team should verify that all of their codes are in place, landing pages and calls-to-action look good, then turning the ads back on once they feel confident that everything is working properly.
The Analytics team will also re-verify everything from the dev site and throughout the re-launch, real-time data will be used to confirm that data is flowing in properly. Data should be closely monitored in the first week following launch for any issues or anomalies. Both the SEO and Analytics teams should monitor the 404 pages and the traffic to each page to find any that either didn’t redirect properly or that should be re-created.
You will experience a lull in the redesign work for a short time while your analytics team keeps watch of the data. Here you will have to let enough time pass to get a more comprehensive view of how the site is performing and also understand that there will be irregularities in the traffic due to search engines picking up the new pages.
The final step in the redesign analysis consists of a wrap-up analysis by the Analytics team. This is the time to evaluate the performaance of the site against the redesign goals and data will be reviewed from before and after the launch of the new site; the redesign benchmark will be established. You’ll want to address any performance drops and identify any goals or areas that are underperforming and detail the impact of the redesign.
After the launch of the new site, it will take some time before the search engines fully crawl the new structure. Allowing the search engines time to crawl the pages is necessary to ensuring the SEO team uses information from the most recent version of the site for the Architecture Audit. SEO data will also be aggregated so that in-depth analysis can be conducted that compares the old site to the new one. The SEO team will monitor trends and provide updates; once the new site has been crawled and indexed, they can provide a more comprehensive analysis of these trends.
(Note: This post was intended to be a high level overview of when to involve members of the digital marketing team. For additional information on the SEO website redesign process or the impact of the redesign on SEO pages, try http://www.seerinteractive.com/blog/seo-website-redesign-checklist andhttp://www.seerinteractive.com/blog/301-redirect-test-how-much-link-juice-are-you-losing/.)
There’s no such thing as too much communication during a site redesign, and everyone involved puts a lot of time into it. If a quick (or thorough) review of even the smallest planned change could save hours of development time and expense while leading to a better site, it’s absolutely worth it to over-inform throughout the process. In the end, we’re all working toward the same goal – a new site that performs better than the last.
Looking for help evaluating or preparing for a redesign in 2014? Click here to let us know!