Make Your Website Relaunch Go Right

We’ve been working hard to create our new branding for Concured and part of that effort is relaunching our website (watch this space!)

Relaunching a website is a lot of work, but if you’re planning a brand update or your site has fallen behind the times, it’s necessary. We want to share some things that we’ve learned about making a website relaunch go right.

Why Relaunch?

Relaunching your company website can be done for several reasons like:

  • Rebranding
  • UX improvements
  • SEO improvements
  • Content overhauls

These things aren’t exclusive. In our case, we are focused on a rebranding effort along with a content overhaul. The speed of change in our industry is fast and older techniques and advice need to be updated with the times. On top of that, we wanted to update our branding to reflect how far we’ve come in growing our business. That’s why we decided it was time to relaunch.

When you relaunch your site, it should be done with a goal in mind. You’re changing the heart of your online branding, and that shouldn’t be done lightly! Ask yourself if the changes you have in mind are aligned with your buyer personas and your buyer journeys. Avoid changing your site just because of aesthetic reasons or because a few years have passed. There should be solid data-backed or strategy-backed reasons for your relaunch.

Change Only What You Need

An error that many brands fall into is thinking they have to change every facet of their website. You can waste months in strategy meetings arguing over color shades and UX design, then spend thousands of dollars on an overhaul that doesn’t perform.

It can be exciting to brainstorm ideas about a new website, but you should be careful about changing too much. Your existing customers have already invested in your branding. If you change things too radically, it can sour the impression of your brand.

If you’re thinking about relaunching, start by discussing what is working well with your site right now. What doesn’t need to change according to your data? Which pages have high dwell time and need to stick around? Which pages have good rankings? What features do your customers enjoy?

On the flip side, there may be things that need to be changed to keep up with current technology. A simple example is if you have a website that doesn’t work well on mobile devices. Sites like this still exist! With over half of people using a mobile device as their main internet portal, this is a serious error. Fixing accessibility issues is another thing that could require a relaunch.

If you do this right, you can relaunch your site without the need to go through a major redesign that could cost your company a lot of money and a lot of time. You can also avoid some costly SEO errors that could make your site drop in rank. Each thing should change should have a reason behind it that furthers the goal of the relaunch.

Do Your Research

In addition to your team’s input, you should also talk with your current clients about their perspective of your website. You can skip this for internal websites, but most website relaunches deal with customer-facing material.

You already know that clients want to be able to find the information they want from you when they want it. But do you know how well you’re doing that? If you’re taking the step of doing a relaunch, go beyond your metrics and talk with some of your clients or run a survey on your site for a month to gather data. This can help you avoid incorrect assumptions about your audience’s behavior.

Test What’s Currently Broken

If it has been a while since you’ve relaunched your site and you’ve been adding content, it’s quite likely that some of your older pieces may have problems. You might have broken links, for instance. Or some photos you linked from elsewhere might not be valid anymore. There may be references to older marketing collateral or promotions that aren’t valid anymore. Should visitors stumble on to these references, it will confuse them.

There are tools that can be used to find broken links and images, but here’s another trick you can use. Have your team comb through every part of your current site to find flaws. Have them pretend they’re customers seeing the site for the first time and try things. You may discover flaws that are easily fixed. These should be taken care of first before you work on the relaunch, as they are problems that could affect current visitors now. It will also keep you from propagating errors from your old site to the new one.

Make Your Punch List

A punch list is all the things that need to change on your site to bring it in line with your new vision. Now that you’ve done all of your research and done some basic fixes, it’s time to document your relaunch strategy.

Here’s one way to go about this. Get a list of every page of your website and write out the goal or purpose of each page for driving people along your buyer’s journey. Then use the research and data you’ve collected to see if the page is meeting that goal. If it’s not, write out what you feel needs to happen to bring it into alignment and how you’ll measure the improvement after the relaunch.

Making a punch list doesn’t just tell you what to do. It also is a list of what NOT to do. If a page is already working for your brand, you can document that nothing needs to be tweaked with it at this time. That’s one less thing to worry about.

One thing you can do at this stage is to plan your redirects. If you are completely removing a page from your site, you don’t want it to show up as missing in the search engines. You can set up a redirect to force the old URL to go to a different page on your website that serves up similar information. That will keep people from thinking your site is broken and also eliminate SEO penalties for having broken links.

Separate Your Punch List

The components of a website can be broadly divided into three categories:

  • Content
  • Design
  • Functionality

Indeed, the three core components of web code, HTML, CSS, and Javascript, are responsible for these domains respectively. Thus, it also makes sense to divide your punch list into these domains.

Here’s the reason why. It’s better to keep your site up and functional as much as you can while you make your changes. It’s easy to make content changes. Design changes may need testing first, but are relatively easy to implement. Functionality changes may require you to take your site offline.

Changing what you can over time while causing minimal disruptions maximizes uptime. Also, since you have a punchlist, if something breaks while you’re improving things you can have a record of your changes. If you’re planning a huge overhaul, you might even consider using a CVS like Github to track the changes you make so you can revert them if needed.

That said, if you want to update your site all at once anyway then separation is still useful. Your relaunch team can focus on different categories of the punch list and avoid stepping on each other’s toes.

Besides the Javascript you create on your own for your site, another part of checking its functionality is ensuring third-party tools like Google Analytics migrate over successfully. Doing research now on how to do that will prevent problems with your metrics later.

Test Often

Before you make a change that goes live on your site, it’s good to test the changes on a separate page first. The same people who trawled your current site for problems can do the same on your changed page to look for bugs that might have crept in.

You will also want to perform cross-browser compatibility checks, especially with the design phase. Different browsers will render HTML and CSS in different ways, as will different screen sizes. You can use tools like BrowserStack to look at how different web engines will render your final page. That way, no matter what browser is used, your site will look the way you want it.

Most important, you’ll want to ensure that all parts of your buyer’s journey work by testing them before and after the change. Do your downloads work? Does a form add information to CMS and subscribe visitors to a mailing list? Can a demo be scheduled successfully?

Schedule Launch Windows

Whether you update all at once or do it in stages, you should choose a dedicated window of time to make your changes go live. The current best practice for this is to pick a weekday with the least amount of traffic and when everyone is on-hand to address issues.

This means you should avoid launching changes over the weekend. If something breaks, it will be much more difficult to fix. Also, choosing a low-traffic time window will minimize the chances of people seeing two different versions of the same page. It takes time for the internet to fully register the changes to a page and there’s little that can be done about it. Thus, it’s best to pick a time with low traffic.

Run A Post-Launch Checklist

After you’ve completed your relaunch, the last thing to do is to do some final checks to make sure everything works as you expect it to.

The first thing is to use a site crawler to find any missing pages (404 errors). If you find any, set up a redirect to other pages to avoid an SEO penalty. Google Search Console is a good tool for this because you can also look for crawl errors and robots.txt errors. Errors with robots.txt are especially serious because that file can tell search engines to ignore your site!

Next, upload a new site map of your most important pages. Site maps are used by search engines to crawl your site more quickly. This can also be done in Google Search Console and there are many tools out there to automate the process. Your CMS may have one built in. Be sure to remove any old site maps so search engines don’t get confused.

Finally, check to ensure that any third-party tools you have are correctly configured so there is no loss of data between the old site and the new site.

Start Tracking

After you’ve finished your changes, now you can start tracking your new metrics over time to see if your pages are doing their job better or not. With luck, your new site will be more appealing to your visitors and you’ll see improvement. If not, it’s time to reexamine the assumptions made with the changes for the underperforming pages and start making new tests to improve CRO or whatever may be wrong with them.

Implementing a website relaunch is a lot of work, but if you follow these tips you can ensure your changes are data-driven, useful to your business goals, and can be tracked over time to see if they work.