Launching a new website? Don’t flip the switch just yet. I’m sure you’ve done all your site testing and everything looks good. But one thing you absolutely, positively, without a doubt must do is make sure you have a list of all URLs that will no longer work once the new site goes live.
You may be inclined to think that old URLs are no longer relevant for the new site. If so, you’re wrong. And that ignorance is detrimental to your new site’s success. Even if you have a catch-all 404 page, that won’t be sufficient. In fact, what you’ll end up with is a bunch of visitors going to these old URLs, only to be told the content isn’t there. What next? Sure, they can try to find it themselves. Some will. But many won’t. They will just leave.
But arguably, even worse than that is losing any link equity these old URLs have. Depending on your site, this could add up to a loss of 50-80% of your site’s total link value. That could be enough to kill any search engine rankings you worked hard to achieve.
The solution for this starts before you even roll out the new site. You see, once the new site goes live, getting a hold of those URLs can be difficult. Maybe even impossible. So you need to plan ahead before the old site is gone and the new site is live.
Simple tools such as Xenu Link Slueth can crawl your site and grab every URL. Copy and paste these into a spreadsheet. Then, once you have all your new site pages and URLs determined, you need to correlate each old URL with its new URL counterpart to set up a 301 redirect.
Every old URL should have a destination. Even if there is no exact counterpart for it, redirect it to the next closest page. That might be a similar product, a product category for a no-longer-existing product or the home page for lack of anything better.
If you want to get real fancy, whenever a visitor is redirected to a non-exact match page, throw a quick CSS popup layer that lets them know that the content they wanted is no longer available and they are being redirected to the next best page. It’s a bit more work but creates a more seamless experience for the visitor.Redirecting ensures that visitors get to the right page and most of the old URLs’ link equity transfers to the new one.
Planning ahead on this ensures you can get all your redirects in place before you lose them. Many sites have been devastated by this simple lack of planning. Don’t let it be yours.