Here is some solid advice to consider if you are considering a redesign of your current website. Remember the saying, a stitch in time saves nine!
Before Your Web Site Makeover Goes Live: A Checklist
The web designer shows you her final version of your long-in-the-making revamped site. You click around and can hardly believe how gorgeous and rich it is.
"Love it! Launch it!"
Oops, not so fast. Too many times I've seen that sentiment lead to frantic scrambling, even to disaster. Before making your revamped site live, use this checklist to make sure you've caught or prevented horrible new-site glitches.
1. Timing. Never, never launch your new web site on a holiday, weekend or even on a Friday. Why? Because chances are high you'll discover something weirdly wrong with your shopping cart, images, blog or regular web pages, and the tech support you need will be closed down or just skeletally staffed. Likewise, make sure your web designer or developer will be on hand for the next day or two to quickly fix any problems that become evident.
2. Test on as many computers as you can, and request feedback with the site parked in a test location. A colleague of mine (whose experience inspired this article) replaced her old site with the new one, then asked for feedback on a discussion board. Several people reported pages looking peculiar in their browsers or receiving an obnoxious warning message instead of simply seeing the home page.
Too late, she learned she should have asked for this feedback before the site went public. What looked great and worked fine in her office had not-so-positive results in various browser and monitor combinations no one had tested the site on.
3. Match the new file names with the former ones. When your web site has been up and running for quite a while, visitors have bookmarked various pages of it or created links to your pages on their sites. You'd be foolish to sacrifice the benefit of those bookmarks and links by having all new files names and sending those looking for the old page names to an error page. Instead, as much as you can, make the new file names match the old ones and redirect any old pages lacking a corresponding new page to the nearest equivalent.
Designers and developers, focused on creating a new site for you, don't usually take care of this unless you ask them to. I often run across this foolish oversight when updating one of my reports that has a lot of links in it, discovering article links that go to a dead link rather than to the article that was given a new URL during a site makeover.
4. For SEO purposes, keep page titles the same. Experts in search engine optimization advise that if your site was getting good traffic from search engines prior to your makeover, keep your old page titles as much as possible. (The page title is the text that shows up in the upper left corner of the browser.) To search engines, a new page title can cause the built-up search engine ranking for the page to get lost.
5. Hunt down and eliminate boilerplate copy. If your designer or developer used a template (and if so, they'll rarely tell you they did), the template may have pre-written text on extra pages that unexpectedly become visible to your visitors. The testing described in step #2 above usually flushes out these blunders so you can purge them from the site. Unless the new site is gargantuan, you can also hunt down the unwanted content by viewing all the pages one by one from your file manager program.
6. Run a sample order and subscription signup from the new site. If possible, test the ordering and list signup procedures from your test location before making the new site live. Sometimes the "thank you" messages don't show up properly or orders just don't go through correctly after a makeover. If you can't check this from the test location, run these checks as soon as possible after making the new site live and be prepared to fix the glitches immediately. Having a non-functioning site up even for an hour can lose you sales!
7. Delete all the old pages from the server. Do this just before uploading the new site if you can, or after uploading the new site hunt for and delete any former pages that were not replaced by new ones. Otherwise, you'll be startled later by a visitor finding pages you thought had been superseded.
8. Immediately after uploading the new site, recheck all the links and pages. Start from the home page and first systematically follow all the links in your navigation system, then follow all the links on pages that contain many links, like an index of articles or your newsletter archive. As you do this, keep your eyes peeled for any missing images. Fix any problems you notice.
9. And last, for the next four or five days, monitor all the errors that show up in your web logs. This alerts you to images that visitors aren't seeing, pages that aren't linked to correctly, pages that are taking too long to load for some of your visitors and other problems. Fix any remaining glitches and bask in the praise for your well-done, nicely functioning makeover!
Marcia Yudkin is author of Web Site Marketing Makeover: Improve Your Message and Turn Visitors into Buyers and other books on marketing. A Webby Awards reviewer since 2001, she performs site reviews for business owners and managers who want objective feedback: http://www.yudkin.com/sitereview.htm
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