This article is to help you easily launch your WordPress website that has been developed on a staging site to your live url.
This is a specific guide for when you have a newly designed site replacing an old site and you want to ensure the best SEO continuity and that the new site works.
The new site may have a vastly different page structure or page content although the more this is the case, the more volatile your SEO rankings may be once you’ve launched.
It’s something that seems like it might be overly technical but with some helpful tools and tips, it’s pretty straightforward. Just follow the checklist below:
Okay here are the steps to follow to ensure you don’t mess up the SEO of a site when you launch it.
There are no guarantees even if you do it right that it’ll go well since Google does what it wants when it comes to SEO rankings for site revamps even if the URL is still the same and the directories/pages are pretty much the same.
1. Take index of current website structure on Screaming Frog (for reference)
Use screaming frog to capture current site structure, links and SEO titles and descriptions on the current live site.
2. On draft site, set up Yoast to match the SEO titles and descriptions on the live site
Basically copy in and improve on the info you get from Screaming Frog for SEO titles and descriptions. Use the bulk tool on Yoast for editing or better still export and import settings from Yoast on the current live site.
3. Set up redirects from any different URLs from old site to new site structure (redirection plugin)
You can use redirection or Yoast Premium for this. Basically switch on the plugin and record any urls that exist on the live site that are different to the draft site and then point them to the correct place e.g. 301 redirect /services to /solutions or whatever the new equivalent is. Take care to notice category pages and the way blogs are set up on the live site versus the draft site. That’s normally the biggest challenge.
4. Prepare other plugins on draft site (ready for launch) e.g. Manage WP (used for cloning, site management and security)
There aren’t that many plugins to set up on the draft site before launching as most of them require a live environment to set up (since that contains the correct permanent URL not the draft site). However, there are a few plugins I recommend installing before you start drafting the site for image compression and for tagging of images and these are Imagify or ShortPixel and Auto Alt Attributes to auto tag images with the filename keywords. Others you can set up before migrating include WordFence but I’d set this up after launch so you don’t get into any firewall issues.
What you should do though is set up Manage WP. It’s by far the easiest tool I’ve come across for migrating/cloning/publishing WordPress sites. It’s dynamite. They’ve built an amazing engine to do this work that doesn’t fail very often. If it does, it’s normally down to the size of the site. I’ve had some take a few hours that were 4gb plus in size. Even then, I was left in limbo thinking it wasn’t progressing but when I was checking file space on the server for the website account, I could see it was working and going up. You just need to be patient. The tool itself is way more robust than its reporting. Sites that are 200mb to 500mb typically take about 10 minutes to clone/launch.
5. When ready, clone to live site from dev staging site
Use Manage WP to take a fresh backup of your draft site and then make sure the live site is added then clone it over.
6. Configuration on live site e.g. Yoast walkthrough, Google Analytics, Simple SSL, WordFence, iThemes Security
Set up all the plugins you want or don’t want. It’s best to not have too many but some are essential e.g. WordFence. I set it up as well as iThemes.
7. Check live site links and SSL certificate. Optimize website. Check Cloudflare configuration.
So, you can use a search and replace tool to check that all links have been taken care of on the live site. For example, (old-draft-site url to new-live-site url) and variations of http:// to https:// or // depending on how you want to do it.
8. Submit to Search Console for indexing
Go to Search Console and make sure the sitemap is correct and then try to submit it for indexing.
9. Monitor Redirection 404s for next few weeks and redirect any links that go to new content on the new site
Go back to the redirection plugin and check for any obvious 404 action and make 301 redirects to clean up the user experience on the site.
10. Monitor SEO keyword rankings
Expect some fluctuations as Google gets used to your new site structure and content.
Andrew Jackson lives on the North Shore and does SEO and digital marketing for a living. He is passionate about footy, DJing, craft beer, and of course, his family. He is married with 3 lovely daughters.