Nothing spoils the excitement of a new, killer site launch faster than a report showing a huge drop in keyword placement, a 35% drop in organic site traffic, and a 20% revenue dip in the first weeks after launch. How did this happen?!
Neglecting search engine optimization (SEO) during a site launch is a fairly common occurrence. Marketing, creative, and tech teams are busy working to hit the deadline. Or maybe one important SEO action item was inadvertently overlooked.
To prevent this from happening, keep these critical SEO strategies in mind before your next site launch.
Remember that search engines don’t judge on design—they base rankings on context. There is a lot of value in a beautiful, decluttered website. But even though image recognition is on its way, in 2015 you have to have enough text for search engines to understand what your page is about. Currently, optimization isn’t just about copy; it’s about video, images, and much more, especially for large denomination and luxury purchases. Work with content strategy and design teams early on in the design process to ensure they understand best practices on how they can provide context to the search engines and to the user with the right type of content. Your content should be tailored to the needs and wants of the audience you are trying to reach and optimized for the words and phrases they use to find it.
Consider the needs of the person on the other side of the screen before you make decisions about content, technology, creative, etc. This applies to the broader digital strategy as much as it does to just SEO, but it is important to remember that you need to define the desired end-experience before you can identify the appropriate SEO plan (and corresponding impact on content, technology, or creative/asset decisions). Technology, content, and functionality should be enablers of a great experience, not limit your ability to reach your target audience.
Understand how your customers expect to find your products, and then organize your taxonomy based on their preferences. If you are an insurance provider that sells automotive coverage, should your site navigation and product page content focus on “auto policies,” “automotive policies,” “car insurance policies,” or some other phrase?
Do keyword research and usability studies of your own customer base to understand how they view your category, brand, and products, then build a comprehensive site taxonomy that defines what you are going to call things and how those things will be organized for users to find them.
Beware: Your brand team is going to have their own opinions on what products should be called, so come armed with data about how using a particular term/phrase will be received and understood by your customers. Or better yet, bring them into the conversation early.
Don’t lose what you have earned. There is simply no reason to “scrap” your entire old site and the organic search positions you have already built when you launch a new site. Use a combination of a tiered content/feature rollout and optimizing your site technology (through things like site redirects). This combination ensures users are able to easily find the content they are looking for in the new site layout—even if a search engine has not updated their index. With the right approach, your redesign can serve as a chance for immediate search growth, not a dip-and-recover.
Implement an SEO strategy that can scale and serve future needs. Over time, people’s interests and expectations may change, and the way they expect to search for your products (context, device, etc.) is evolving quickly. Start by analyzing where your audience is. Are they looking for your brand in search engines? Or are they primarily finding your brand on social media? Does your audience search differently in these environments? Optimization of assets is important, no matter where they live. You can optimize everything from your site nomenclature, structure, organization, and tagging to ensure your customers can find what they need easily as their expectations and search habits evolve.
Take advantage of multi-language functionality. If you are rolling out a new site across several different geographies, use tagging features that allow you to serve the right site and language preferences based on users’ default browser settings (regardless of the country they are in) to ensure you are optimizing the experience across all geographies.
Don’t forget about the search engine robot “experience.” Most commerce systems have the ability to produce xml site maps by default. It is important to distribute or identify its location so search engines can see all your content more quickly than if they had to try to crawl the site and find all assets on their own. Alternatively, but equally important, your robots.txt control files tell robots where not to go to ensure script and other non-customer facing elements of the site do not show up in search results.
Be ready for quick optimization during launch time. Even being well prepared doesn’t guarantee a flawless launch. The most important thing will be to have a point person in place and the analytics needed to quickly identify a problem. Fortunately, search engines like Google are quick to fix issues once your team has identified and worked to correct it. In one case, after noticing low conversion rates on a new product page, we added five lines of new content on the landing page. In three weeks that client saw a 16% increase in traffic from related keywords to that page.
Done right, a new site launch can be a great opportunity to increase the revenue driven by search engines. And that great looking, new web experience that quickly increases sales is sure to be deemed