I’m probably the only British person who doesn’t drink tea or any hot drinks in fact (they’ll probably take my passport away now.)
Specifically I’ve never drunk a cup of coffee in my life and I still don’t really know how to make one despite living in a house with three coffee machines and a coffee grinder. Everything about coffee seems complicated. Instant? Ground? Whole beans? What kind of beans?
It definitely seems like there is a right and a wrong way to make coffee so I’ve been putting it off since forever.
I was doing a bit of research recently to find out what people struggle with the most when building their own website.
Nearly everyone said that they were worried that they weren’t ‘doing it right’ or even that they were doing things in the wrong order.
I’m not usually in favour of saying that there is only one right way to do things, but when it comes to redesigning and launching your website, there are definitely wrong moves you can make.
What to Keep
“It’s over. We’re breaking up”.
Most clients who come to me for a new website are keen to just throw the old one in the bin because they hate it. It happens. We fall out of love with our websites but that doesn’t mean we should scrap everything.
I always make sure we do a ‘yes, no, maybe’ audit of everything on their current site first.
Here’s the pre-build ‘flight check’ I run through before every build.
- Go deep into Google Analytics to see which pages, posts or images are already getting high traffic. Those are keepers.
- Use an incognito browser to see which content is showing up in Google Search for your chosen keywords.
- Look at the structure of every page that ranks well (heading tags, keyword density, word count) to make sure you preserve what’s already working).
- Export a list of pages into a spreadsheet to keep track of which urls need to be preserved and matched and which can change and be redirected.
- Make a note of the blog permalink structure to match in the redesign.
Tackling the Redesign
So, you’re ready to redesign your website and you want to minimise mess and downtime. It’s easy to underestimate a re-build (ie. thinking you’ll get it done in one day) but be wary of putting yourself under pressure, rushing things and making mistakes. Here are your basic options.
Redesigning on your live site ‘behind the scenes’ using a page builder
Simply create some new pages, make sure they don’t appear in your main menu and when you’re happy with your newly designed page, save the layout ready to apply to your live page. Good for minimal redesigns.
Redesigning on your live site ‘behind the scenes’ using a test-drive plugin
You can use a theme test drive plugin which allows you to show your current theme to visitors but try a new theme which only you can see when logged in. Good for smaller redesigns but any content changes will still be seen by visitors and sometimes content changes don’t make sense in the context of the old design.
Creating a second fresh install of WordPress to use as a development or ‘dev site’
Normally my chosen path. A great chance for a fresh start, getting rid of old files and plugins and installing a new copy of WordPress. You can completely change your content and design in a separate environment to your live site. However it’s not ideal for complex websites where things like transaction history can be lost during a migration. Which brings us to….
Using a staging site via your hosting
Most hosting companies give you the option to create a copy of your site to a staging server. When you’re ready to ‘push your staging site to live’, you can push only the changes to your live site, leaving the original content intact.
For more tips on how to redesign your website behind the scenes, check out my blog post here.
Backing Up The Right Way
I’ve talked about backing up your website many, many times before but when you’ve finished redesigning your website and you’re about to go live, it’s time to do the mother of all backups.
- Backup and (crucially) download a backup of your whole website. But don’t just leave it there. Open up your backup and check that you can easily find and access your uploads folder (Media Library) and all of the images inside.
- Export your SEO settings. If you have substantially changed the structure of your site, you may have some copy and pasting to do. There are plugins available which allow you to do a detailed export so that you have the page and blog post SEO meta in a spreadsheet.
- Export any settings from plugins you intend to keep. Forms, for example, are easy to export rather than having to build from scratch.
- Make a note of any ‘hidden’ code. For example, if you’ve ever added a code snippet to your functions file (or had a developer do it), just take a copy, because you never know when you’re going to need it.
- Make a note of any social media verification snippets or Google Analytics tracking code from your theme settings areas.
Hitting Go Live Is Scary
Pushing the go live button on your website is scary. I mean, we’re all human and it’s easy to forget something. But there are some key things you can do to take away the fear factor.
BTW, if any of the points below make you break out in a nervous panic, don’t worry! I’ve got some free video training on the way.
- Backup your whole website, download a copy and make sure you are using a backup system where you know how to restore a backup (and not just in theory).
- Make sure you can access your hosting either through the File Manager in your hosting control panel or through an FTP app like FileZilla. This can be really useful when you want to check if your image files, for example, have migrated properly. Or you need to troubleshoot core WordPress files like your htaccess or wp-config
- Use a migration tool that does all of the heavy lifting for you. I use BlogVault for everything, but if you don’t have that, the same team make an excellent migration plugin, called Migrate Guru. All you’ll need are your hosting FTP details. The plugin does all the work by migrating everything onto a fresh installation of WordPress.
- Top tip. Make sure you have a valid SSL certificate (which gives you your nice green padlock) in place before you do your migration. It will save you having to update a lot of urls and filepaths.
- Check, check and check again, particularly when it comes to your media library. Go back to your oldest blog post, check all of the images are still showing correctly and inspect the media url to make sure that your image filepaths have been updated during the migration. If they haven’t, you may need to use a plugin, like Velvet Blues, to update your urls.
You’re Live! Now What?
Obviously, pop the champagne. Launching a new website is a big deal. But now it’s time to do those final little jobs that can make or break how your website performs for you.
- Google is looking for continuity, so make sure you re-upload your SEO settings and / or copy and paste your SEO meta data for each page.
- If you’ve gotten rid of some page or altered URLs use a plugin like Redirection to create 301 redirects, which will let Google know that the page has permanently moved and send any existing SEO juice to the new page url.
- Make sure you’re hooked back up to Google Analytics so that you can track how your new site is performing.
- Head over to Google Search Console to submit your new sitemap and keep an eye on it for a couple of weeks to acknowledge any 404 notifications. Google just wants to know that a real person is managing the website.
- Test your contact form at least twice and any email signup forms you have throughout your site.
Good luck with your redesign. Remember, if you’re fully backed up and you know how to use your backup system, then nothing can really go wrong.
If you’d like to join an inspiring online community, you can find out more about Melissa’s online membership, The Marketing Fix, at www.themarketingfix.co.