Finally it’s Summer. And it’s launch season for a lot of companies (including clients of ours!). For those of you who have been hibernating all Winter designing, coding and producing a new e-commerce site, you can empathize. That’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve got big 5 e-commerce sites we’re getting out the door for clients in a 10 week period. That’s one every other week. Whew. But there’s no time like this to pass along some of the key factors to pulling off a successful new e-commerce site launch. Take out the transaction stuff and it’s also a great reminder of some of the more obscure but still critically-important tasks needed for a successful corporate site launch as well. Admittedly this list of reminders may be a bit marketing and SEO-biased, but we’re always concerned with preventing traffic loss after launch, and these tasks can be easy to overlook.
Ensure you have a solid testing program
It’s very tempting after months of work to gloss over testing, especially if you or a client is anxious about getting a new site live as soon as possible. It’s important for people to be testing who did NOT do the development and they should be using a test plan to test all of the site functionality. Your developers should have conducted thorough unit testing on their own before releasing the site to test. Full-cycle testing with actual, live credit cards should also be conducted multiple times before going live. HINT: strapped on time for creating a test plan? Use your final requirements and test against those! Make sure to log any your issues and share them with your developers. Then iterate until you have a solid, high-quality, launch ready site.
301 Redirects are very critical. 301 Redirects are instructions that the server reads when a user is trying to access an old URL that no longer exists point them to where (which URL on the site) the content they are looking for now resides. The more your site architecture is changing with your new site the more you need to pay attention to them. Here’s a handy article for the steps you should take in creating your 301 Redirects from set up to installation on the server. HINT: for an e-commerce site, and especially if your site is really big, you may want to pay attention to PRODUCT CONVERSIONS not PAGES in Google Analytics when deciding where to prioritize your 301 redirect efforts.
Expect Deployment Demons
Just because everything has worked great in development doesn’t mean diddly. As you move your site from development to staging to production there are many little demons lurking to throw you off…especially if you have a complex e-commerce catalog, integrations into 3rd party systems, multiple payment processing, and complex network security requirements. So don’t plan for a single day when you think you’re ready to move from Dev to Stage for a final check and then production. Think in weeks, not days. Because demons are lurking.
Google is Waiting for You to Screw Up. So Don’t.
So you may have worked hard for years to create content, set up a product catalog, and get your critical site pages indexed with Google. Of course as a part of your redesign you’ve tried to make everything BETTER so you’ve changed some categories, added some content, and now you’re worried wants going to happen to your SEO prominence when you launch and / or move thousands of pages to a new platform and new web server.
Make sure your launch plan includes plans for:
SEO-friendly, canonical URLs. They are URLs that actually mean something and that can index when a Google Bot reads them. www.mydomain.com/safety-accessories/60watt-nightlight is a URL that you can understand by reading it. Oh good, if you can, Google can too. Google doesn’t know what this is: www.mydomain.com/category42/sku456-098.html
Create Properly Formatted Title Tags without Duplicates. Many e-commerce platforms (like Magento) allow you to either import catalog pages as-is or you can programmatically define the title tag to be associated with a page title, the product, the category, and the site. If you use that method make sure you don’t have an abundance of duplicates.
Remember Description Tag. Although no longer important in terms of page rank with Google, your description is the text that will show up below the link on the search engine results page. SO include it. And don’t repeat it throughout the site. It can be similar to others but it should describe what’s on the page.
Get Rid of Duplicate Content. If you have numerous pages stuffed with keywords you want your business to be associated with and you think you might have paragraphs of that stuff repeated throughout your website do yourself a favor and get rid of it. Google hates duplicate content unless it’s related to navigation, direction and / or a succinct repeat of a statement that describes your business.
Consider a Soft Launch or Pilot. A “soft launch” is when you move a new site to production and only announce it to the people that need to know. No marketing, no hype, no buildup. Sometimes this is not possible if there is a supporting media campaign starting on a specific date or if there are other dependent factors tied to a date. But going live with a couple weeks to patiently watch the site and get reactions to the site is a good idea. It also puts less pressure on the infrastructure smoothing out expected spikes in traffic.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Everyone’s launch checklist is different but these are a few of the areas that we consider as we get close to launching a new complex e-commerce site.
-The Accorin Team