SEO Best Practices: Site Re-Platform & Migration Strategy

Digital marketing practices have the potential to be overwhelming. These strategies can change and evolve leaving you to figure out which ones are truly valuable for your dental practice. A challenge most dental brands face is identifying how to implement the latest and greatest strategies. Wonderful Dental stays current and implements best practices in its digital marketing strategy. A best practice you can apply today is creating a website that engages users and drives new patience to your practice. Re-launching a new beautiful site gives you the opportunity to also implement the best dental SEO strategies to improve your online presence.

Site Re-Launch Overview:

Creating an SEO strategy to handle a Website Re-launch is critical to maintaining your keyword rankings and organic traffic. Catastrophic drops in natural search visits often result when SEO strategy is not properly built into a Website launch plan. (Some companies lose over 70% of their organic traffic during poorly managed site launches!) This is why it is important to plan for the redesign well in advance and cover some basic SEO checks before re-launching your site. We’ve put together the following site launch best practices to help ensure a smooth rollout.

Establish Keyword Rankings and an Organic Traffic Baseline:

Having a baseline for organic visits and knowing which keywords and landing pages rank in Google is the best way to begin planning for a re-launch. This helps us monitor what is going on pre and post launch and allows us to stay on top of your site’s SEO efforts during a redesigned roll out.

Find All the Landing Pages That Generate Organic Visits:

Knowing which pages are sending you organic visits is the best place to begin planning your site re-launch strategy. You need to determine which pages are important for SEO so you can either build these pages into the new site or redirect them to new pages. Determining which pages send you organic visits helps you plan ahead. Large organic traffic losses usually occur when sites do not understand which pages are important to their SEO. Find the top organic pages by:

    1. Login to your Google Analytics or Adobe SiteCatalyst account. (or whichever site analytics suite you use!)
    2. Navigate to the top landing page report or an equivalent site content report.
    3. Apply an organic traffic advanced segment to this report so you are only seeing SEO traffic from search engines.
    4. Change the dates on the report to pull visits for the last two years.
    5. Filter the report by visits so the highest traffic driving pages appear at the top of the list.
    6. Increase the number of URLs that the report shows until you see all SEO traffic driving pages
    7. Export all SEO landing pages from the report into an Excel file.
  • You now have a list of the top organic landing pages.
  • Create a Page Mapping for the New Site Structure:

    This is the most important step of the re-launch planning process. Use the top organic landing page report you created in the previous section to determine how all existing landing pages fit into your new site structure. Map existing SEO landing pages into the new site. Determine whether pages will:

    • Maintain the existing URL
    • Change the existing URL
    • Not include the existing URL

    Note: Use different colors to determine how each page will be handled. 

    Transitioning Pages to a New URL Structure:

    For pages that you plan to transition to a new URL, you will want to make sure that a 301 redirect is in place. This type of redirect tells Google that you are permanently moving the old page to a new location and that your organic rankings should be updated with the new pages. It is imperative that 301s are created to ensure your organic traffic is maintained. Failing to create 301 redirects during a site re-launch is the most common cause of organic traffic loss. 

    Transitioning Pages to the Same URL Structure:

    Pages that keep the same URL should be noted in the page mapping. You need to ensure that these pages are added to the new site architecture and that they produce a 200 server response code when the new site is launched.

    Note: If pages yield a different response during launch they could run the risk of losing existing rank-ability.

    Check the organic traffic value of pages before you choose not to migrate them over to the new site. Your new site structure may not support some legacy content. This is OK, but know the organic value of pages before you exclude them from the redesign. 

    Transitioning Existing URLs to be Excluded from the Re-launch:

    It is also wise to determine the value of page groupings if you plan on excluding entire sections of legacy content from your new site. For example, some blog articles may only generate fifteen organic visits per month. Excluding one article will not negatively affect your organic traffic. However, if you plan on removing your entire blog, this may affect your organic visit count on the whole.

    Handle pages that you plan on removing by either letting them 404 (properly) or by implementing 301 redirects to similar pages that will exist on the new site. The 404 status code lets Google know that the page has been removed. 301 Redirects will pass existing page-level value to the desired page.

    Don’t expect to maintain your organic traffic for pages you 301 to non-relevant content. Also, it is often better to let pages 404 if there isn’t a new page that maps directly to the old content. Know and understand the organic traffic value of pages before you decide to let them 404.

    Submit and Test Your Page Mapping Information Architecture:

    Having a page mapping is a good start, but this document will not add value if you don’t use it. Submit the document to your development team with instructions on how to handle each page type. 

    Testing should begin once your new site is up in staging and your development team has implemented redirects based on the mapping. At this phase in the process, it is often best to create a copy of the mapping with a development URL prefix substituted for all pages in the mapping.

    Use a URL status code checking tool to make sure that pages are sending the correct status code and resolving to the right page. The Google Chrome browser has a status code checking tool built in, so this is often the best option for checking URLs in the mapping. You can also use the following Header Status Code testing tools:

    Use a production version of the mapping to test pages after the new site is launched.

    Page Layout and Wireframe Review:

    If your new design dramatically alters important on-page SEO elements, you may risk losing organic traffic when the site launches. It is important to check that the most impactful ranking signals are either maintained or improved. 

    Pay attention to how the following page elements are treated in the new design:

    • Use of page headings <h1> - <h5>
    • Page copy placement in the layout (above or below the fold content)
    • Amount of text on pages (healthy text-to-code ratio)
    • Use of tabs or AJAX that hides content from a user’s initial view (masked content)
    • Navigation and Internal Linking structure

    Maintain or Optimize Key On-Page SEO Elements:

    A site re-launch presents an opportunity to improve your existing on-page ranking factors, so build time into your development schedule to update and optimize these organic ranking factors.

    • HTML titles
    • Meta Descriptions
    • Canonical tags
    • <h1> - <h5> page headings
    • Image ALT tags

    Check and Update Content:

    If your page content is changing, make sure that the new copy is optimized for search. Site re-designs present an opportunity to improve the content of your core pages.

    Repoint Internal Links:

    301 redirects work best for informing Google that pages it has indexed were moved. These redirects also help you maintain “link equity” from all the external sites that are linking to your old pages. For human users who have content bookmarked, 301s send returning visitors to the updated version of page URLs.

    Breaking out your page mapping, it is best to have your development team identify any internal links to pages that will be redirected. The site migration will be smoother if all internal links go directly to new page versions instead of 301 redirecting. You should use status code checking tools to ensure that internal links send a 200 status code and go directly to the new URL instead of 301 redirecting.

    Update XML Sitemaps:

    Like internal links, all of the pages in your XML sitemaps need to point directly to new URLs. If links to your redesigned pages 301 redirect, Google will stop crawling the sitemaps. Make sure that all links in your XML sitemaps are updated to your new pages. 

    Dev Site/Staging Site Review:

    Before the redesigned site goes live, it is always a good idea to run through a checklist to make sure the launch goes smoothly and your SEO traffic is maintained. Perform a last minute review of the following page elements before launching your new site.

    • Retest Redirects
    • HTML Titles
    • Meta Descriptions
    • Internal links
    • Site Speed
    • XML sitemaps
    • ALT tags

    404 Error Check and Post Launch Opportunities:

    When re-launching a site, there are always a few pages that get missed. If you accounted for your site’s critical SEO landing pages then most of your organic traffic should recover. Other, less critical pages may have been missed. A few days after launching your new site, log into your Google Search Console account and take a look at the 404 report. If you missed any pages, you will start seeing them show up here. If you are seeing a lot of 404s after launching, mark down the pages that are causing them and create another 301 mapping. Send this to your development team so they can add redirects.

    Summary:

    Site launches and re-launches can be a difficult time in a site’s lifetime. It’s important to think through each element of a site redesign and relaunch phase to ensure that all SEO Strategy and existing organic value is maintained. If your team requires additional support – feel free to reach out to the SEO experts at El Toro Interactive! 


    Day of Launch Checklist: 

    • Check for NoIndex tags left over from staging
    • Check that Google Analytics still collects live data
    • Check other on-site tags using TagAssistant
    • Test new redirects:
      • Redirects should all test out as 301
      • Check for redirect latency
      • Check for redirect chains or loops
    • Check that Security Protocols are maintained
    • Check that existing redirects are still in place:
      • Non-secure to secure
      • Non-www to www
      • etc.
    • Title tags should be maintained (or added if missing) 
    • Meta Descriptions should be maintained (or added if missing)
    • Header tags should be maintained (or added if missing)
    • Check that image alt-tags were maintained
    • Check PDP pages:
      • Add to Cart button functions
      • Complete conversion process
    • Check on-site forms:
      • Form fill outs still collect information
    • Check device compatibility and look & feel:
      • Mobile view
      • Desktop view
      • Tablet view
    • Test site speed on day of and compare to last site speed test:
      • Pingdom Speed test
      • Lighthouse Speed test
    • Submit homepage to Google Search Console for Fetch / Render / Re-index

     

    In today’s digital age, it is important to ensure your website complies with ethical guidelines and is built for the user. With the internet at your service, you have all the marketing resources you need to market and grow your practice. When you partner with leaders in the industry like Wonderful Dental, you will stay relevant and leave a lasting impression. 

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