Don’t Launch That New Web Site Yet!

After management complained the old site was stale, marketing, operations, sales, and technology sat down and restructured, redesigned, and recoded your site. Now, excitement is in the air. Thousands of hours of work culminated in a completely new Web site. It’s in beta and working flawlessly. Bugs have been squashed. You’re go for launch.

Wait! Don’t launch that site yet! Launching a Web site without a specific pay-per-click (PPC) or SEO (define) plan, and without proper testing, can be disastrous. Normally, I cover the PPC side of search. But the downside of a site relaunch that doesn’t take organic SEO into account is so severe, I want to bring certain issues to light.

The search engines want your content in their databases. If your site is up and crawlable, chances are good much of it has been found, even if it isn’t completely search optimized. In addition, the media, distributors, customers, and analysts linked to your site over the years, and not just to the home page. What happens when the search spiders show up at those old URLs after the relaunch? Will they find the same content? A redirect? A 404 error? A site map?

Think about it. You spent hundreds of hours getting people to link to you and making your site search-engine-friendly. Don’t throw it all away. Address the needs of users and search engine spiders, as well as corporate management who want the new site live ASAP.

PPC search also relies on your site, landing pages, and the landing pages’ ability to convey why your company can help visitors solve their problem. Customers buy to solve a problem, and successful marketers effectively communicate their products or services as solutions to those problems.

Before launching a new site, you have the perfect chance to validate all the work that’s gone into it. All too often, conversion marketing validation steps are ignored.

Your current PPC campaign’s success is directly tied to searchers’ behavior on your site. Conversion loss lowers your return on investment (ROI). If you have campaign management systems running to maintain a specific ROI, your bids will drop, as will click and order volumes.

While your new site is still in a staging environment, plan and execute a macro-level landing-page test. Compare site A (your existing site) with site B (the new one). Plan campaign trafficking, rotate campaigns on and off, and eliminate any random outcomes from external variables. Or, use a sophisticated campaign management solution to manage the clickstreams for you.

When you see conversion changes between site A and site B, don’t just declare a winner (hopefully it’s your new site, but often it isn’t). Dig into all the changes implemented between the two. Ask:

  • Did navigation change?

  • How did the copy change?
  • Did the quantity of copy change?
  • Are there new images?
  • Did color schemes change?
  • Are there new call-to-action messages?
  • If the site is e-commerce, did the buy flow change?
  • If the old site used cookies, will the new site do so as well?

When you have the new site ready and want to really test the differences, start with your most popular keyword (highest traffic level). Make sure you have a tracking, Web analytics, or campaign management system ready to measure the differences in conversion behavior between the old and new sites.

You don’t have a lot of trafficking to do for the test. Simply change the destination URLs in the engine. This may take some time in Overture, due to the editorial process. The change is fast in Google, but your ads may be temporarily slowed (Google reduces syndication when an ad change is made for several reasons, including data collection and editorial review).

Consider swapping creative back and forth a couple times for a more valid test (or use a system that manages this process). If your new site underperforms, don’t despair. Use Web analytics and common sense to determine what might affect conversion behavior. Then change the beta site and try the test again.

PPC search visitors might react differently to your new site than returning visitors, who may be more familiar with your old site. Testing doesn’t end with PPC search and organic search-engine-friendliness. Use the opportunity to validate your new site as a move in the right direction.

Once you prove the new site is superior, you can continue your PPC campaign. Consider all the inbound URLs in the search engines. Must they be retrafficked for the new site? Select the best landing pages (or select several options and test them against each other).

Your new site will be a great success, particularly if you conduct due diligence and test it. Invest the time and energy; the investment yields significant rewards and protects you and your company from a potential catastrophe.

Meet Kevin at Search Engine Strategies in New York City, February 28-March 3.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

Related reading

site search hp