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Re-launching a hotel website without hurting SEO
When it comes to re-launching your hotel website, there’s a number of issues that you should be aware of before diving into any big changes. If you’re not careful, you could risk upsetting some of the big search engines that likely provide you with the bulk of your website visits and hotel bookings. In this article we’re going to take a look at how to re-launch a hotel website without minimizing the effects on its SEO rankings.
What could go wrong when re-launching a website?
A number of things can go wrong when you’re updating or refreshing a website design, the bulk of which will depend on your exact scenario. For example, if you’re going to be redeveloping a hotel website, simply making some adjustments to current pages, adding a few others, and relaunching on to the same web hosting platform, then you likely won’t be affected. But there are a few scenarios in which planning your SEO relaunch strategy is important:
- Changing your domain name (Ex. hotelalpha.com to alphahotel.com)
- Changing your web host or web platform
- Adding a mobile-only version of your site, or changing your mobile-only version to a responsive design (highly recommended)
- Adding new website languages
The more of these scenarios you have, the higher the likelihood of running into problems and potentially hurting your current SEO rankings.
Essentially, your current website, no matter how it looks or functions, has some existing search engine rankings. Perhaps you’ve had the site for eight years and it now ranks number 1 for the hotel name. If you’re not careful in your site launch, this search ranking could potentially drop when the new website is live. Luckily, with careful planning and solid attention to SEO launch strategies, you can avoid this potential pitfall.
Things to consider before you start redeveloping your hotel website
Before you even start considering the redevelopment of your current website, there are a few things you need to know. Using Google Analytics, if this is installed on the hotel site, you should find out some important background information, such as:
- Which are my top landing pages from organic search?
- Which are my most visited website pages?
- Which geographic regions are providing most website visits, and providing the most revenue?
- Which languages (if more than one) are being used by my website visitors?
- What does the mobile-device breakdown look like on my website?
- Which pages have high bounce rates, or which have poor user-interaction metrics?
The answers to these questions will help inform the website planning and design process, particularly as you decide what content you’ll want to keep, edit, or add to the site. For example, if your location page happens to rank very high on search engines and is a popular landing page, you’ll want to make sure that most of the content on the page is kept (including the page title, description, and copy) and that only minor updates are made on the page.
At this stage it would also be worth putting energy and effort into carrying out a content audit to pinpoint any weak content on your website, and to highlight any potential gaps in your current SEO performance. This will help you to decide on a stronger information architecture (the structure of pages on your site) and improve content for the new site.
Perhaps you’ve noticed your hotel website doesn’t rank well for a number of local attraction-based searches (for example, “hawaii hotels near volcano national park”), and you’d want this improved with the new website. Developing a strategy around this may involve creating specific pages for each local attraction you’re going to be targeting, including information about the attraction, a map showing its location in relation to the hotel, information on how to arrive there from your hotel (maybe there’s a shuttle bus), information on how to book tickets for that attraction (even better if your hotel has special offers that include tickets as well as room reservations as a package deal), contact information for the attraction, and so on.
Tasks to carry out during the website redevelopment phase
Once you’ve finalized the information architecture, pulled together all the content (including photos and copywriting), and finished the design, your website will be ready to go into development. While your website developers are working hard at building you a beautiful, responsive and sleek hotel website, there’s a number of SEO tasks you should be working on in the background.
Now would be a good time to carry out an SEO benchmark report, which will include reviewing your top organic search rankings, analysing the number of backlinks to your website, reviewing your visitor numbers from your website Analytics data, and reviewing your website crawl and index data using tools such as Google Webmaster Tools. This is all important data which allows you to build up a picture of how your website is performing in its current state, before you make any big changes. Later on you’ll be able to refer to this report and check how your site is doing in comparison.
At this stage in the proceedings you should also take time to crawl your current website and save the output (Screaming Frog is ideal for this), and then this document can then be used to build out a list of 301 redirects. A 301 redirect is the technical name for code that allows you to permanently reroute visits from page X to page Y. If you are changing your URLs at all in order to better optimize them for search rankings, then you’ll definitely want to plan your 301 redirects carefully.
Example scenario for setting up redirects
Imagine if you have a page on your hotel website that sits at www.hotelname.com/great-page. This page might have some great content, and in its lifetime it may have received backlinks from a number of really authoritative websites (nytimes.com, etc). Partly due to those backlinks, that page now has a great SEO position, and this in turn helps with your website’s overall SEO rankings.
Now say you want to switch your hotel domain name from .com to .co.uk. The above page will now exist at www.hotelname.co.uk/great-page. If you don’t implement a 301 redirect that says any visits to www.hotelname.com/great-page should be sent to www.hotelname.co.uk/great-page, then you will be losing visits to that old page whilst also losing all of the SEO “juice” from that old page too. This is exactly what you don’t want to happen, and so it’s essential that if changing page URLs then you must implement the necessary 301s at the same time.
When building this redirect document, you should bear in mind that redirects should point to the most relevant page, otherwise you risk a) frustrating your visitors and b) confusing or misleading the search engines.
Checks to make before putting your hotel website live
Before you proceed to launch your new website, you should first make sure that you’ve written out all redirects in a proper format (the .htaccess file is the usual method for implementing redirects). Then you’ll want to prepare an XML sitemap, a listing of all the URLs on your site, for submission to the major search engines.
The XML sitemap is used to instruct search engines how to best read and crawl your site. The file includes not only all the pages and subpages of a website, but also their priorities and dates of last changes. When the new site is finally launched, you’ll want to submit this XML sitemap through various webmaster tools (such as Google webmaster tools), which will help search engines to index your site faster and more efficiently.
Things to monitor after re-launching your hotel website
After launching the new hotel website, one of the first things I like to check is the number of crawl errors within Google Search Console.
This report shows you the number of errors Google has encountered while crawling your website, and here you will be able to pinpoint any specific issues with your site. Big peaks in this graph might show site-wide issues, so keep an eye on this report regularly after relaunching the site.
Another way to check for site errors is by using Google Analytics’ Behavior and Top Pages report. If you go here and then manually enter in the page title of your website’s 404 page (typically “Not Found” will work for most sites), you’ll be able to see the dates and visitor figures to any 404 error pages. This is a great indicator for an internal linking issue, or a missing 301 redirection.
How to assess whether the website’s SEO was affected by the relaunch
One of the best ways to keep on top of your website after its relaunch is to rerun your SEO benchmark report, as discussed earlier in this article. With this benchmark you can rerun your SEO rankings report in order to see how your website is ranking—have any search phrases dropped or improved? A small drop is always likely with a site launch no matter how thorough you are, but things should settle after a couple of days. Big changes in search rankings are a cause for concern, so you should investigate any of these further.
Watching the Google index status report will also be a popular task after your new site is live, as this can show a good insight into your organic search performance. Again you can expect a small dip when the site is launched, but as the changes are absorbed by the search engines it shouldn’t take long for things to return to normal. You can use your SEO benchmark report as carried out earlier to run a comparison against, and you would be best off running the same report again in several weeks’ time to check for the long term effects of the site relaunch.
So there you have it—by following the tips and advice detailed here in the post, your new hotel website will be ready for its relaunch without dipping too low in the search engine rankings. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions or feedback, or if you’ve just carried out your own website relaunch, we’ve love to hear how it went!
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