Refreshing your website? Don’t let your developers make these mistakes.

Steve Zehngut - March 1, 2018

As a digital agency, we get a lot of calls about website projects. One of the most common challenges we hear about sounds like this:

We just paid a lot of money to get our website redesigned and suddenly we’re not getting any traffic anymore.

Sometimes it sounds like this:

We just had a developer redo our site and now it’s not appearing on Google search results.

As you can imagine, this is a scary situation for companies that not only count on that traffic, but also just spent a lot of money on a website relaunch.

Here are three rules to protect you from common mistakes we want to make sure your developer hasn’t made.

Rule One: Checkboxes Count

There is a setting in WordPress that turns off search engine visibility. It is under SETTINGS -> READING. The way to enable it is to check the box called “Discourage search engines from indexing this site.” It is good practice to check this box while a site is under development because you don’t want search engines to crawl a development site until it is ready.

One of the most common mistakes we see is that developers forget to uncheck this box when they deploy the site. If this is missed, you can end up with a site that Google can’t see. And that’s bad news!

Rule Two: Permalink Changes Require Redirects

Let’s say you have a site that used to put the post date in the URL of each post. Now you decide you want to have those posts show up without the dates in them. Your developer forgets to add the code that helps direct inbound links to the new URLs. Guess what? You’re going to have errors and reduced traffic everywhere. This is commonly referred to as link rot.

If your developer needs help, Yoast has a fantastic tool for the job. This tool will generate the redirect code for your site. Something like this is easy to get wrong if your developer isn’t great with writing this kind of code (and frankly not many developers are good at this).

RedirectMatch 301 ^/([0-9]{4})/([0-9]{2})/([0-9]{2})/(?!page/)(.+)$$4

Make sure that any changes to your post slugs (the part of the URL after the domain name) is accompanied by a change to your .htaccess file, like the above code.

Sometimes you’re not making a complete change to your site, but simply moving pages from one place to another. This happens a lot when you refresh your site and make structural changes. If your developer hasn’t created redirects from one url to another (old to new), you’ll also lose that traffic.

We use this plugin for redirection changes. Your developer can use anything they like. But make sure they take care of it.

Rule Three: Content Inventory is a Must

Maybe the most important thing we recommend when doing a site refresh is a content inventory. Do you have a list of all your content? All your posts, pages, and more? And have you pulled Google Analytics data for each? In other words, do you know what content is getting what kind of traffic?

If you don’t know what “normal” is, how will you know if your new site is getting better or worse?

Making sure you can show a developer exactly what’s wrong (ie, “this page is now getting 54% less traffic”) can help tremendously when diagnosing a problem. But you can’t do it if you never had the “before” data. So make sure your developer has created a content inventory sheet you can review.

We’re Always Here

Of course, if your developer does make any of these mistakes, or forgets to follow these rules, we’re always here and able to help you out. Just reach out and we’ll follow up and help your new site get the traffic and results you’ve been looking for.