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Six steps to overhauling your website without killing it

Monday, 20 August 2012 | By Fred Schebesta
We recently overhauled our Home Loan Finder website and, as we were building it, we learned a few golden lessons.



By not following them, we could’ve killed the site entirely. Some of these were quite technical but would apply to all websites.


With increasing numbers of start-ups realising that their websites are their key sales and marketing tool, it’s important that when you make improvements to your online presence that you don’t sink it in the process.


Here are my top six tips for your website revamp:


1. Maintain permalink structure


A permalink is the name of a URL to a particular page on your website e.g. http://www.mobilephonefinder.com.au/apple/iphone-4s/, the permalink here is /apple/iphone-4s/.


Normally on a website there is a naming convention and a structure which ties all of the pages together e.g. in this case the iPhone 4s lives underneath the Apple category.


What you need to make sure of here is that you don’t go and change this structure. If you change it what you will get is a massive list of 404 errors with Google and this will cause your site to appear very broken and rank lower in the search engines.


The main causes of the 404s are links from external sites and internal pages on your site pointing to pages that no longer exist. To avoid this problem:

  • Maintain your previous URL permalink structure
  • or set up 301 redirects of the old pages to the new ones so that Google and users can easily follow the links to the new locations.
  • Select your Content Management System (CMS) carefully and ensure it can preserve your permalink URL structure.

2. Test across browsers


Most websites still have a huge proportion of Internet Explorer users. This is because it comes default with Windows and most users are very basic in how they use a computer.


Most developers use Firefox or Chrome because it supports more features and it allows for faster browsing and more developer plugins.


The problem you will face here is that if you hire a web developer, there’s a good chance he or she won’t think to test your site on Internet Explorer.


Internet Explorer can be a real pain to develop for as it requires special code to make things work.


I’d strongly advise that your developer tries to use your website on an older computer.


I would also suggest you try using a lower resolution monitor and see what your website is like with that as well!


3. Check the user flow


When you develop your site, you become very close to it and you start to learn how it works.


You start to click in advanced and faster places that most first time users would never know to do.


The problem here is that you start to skip the basics that first time users will need to operate your website and you create a user flow that breaks.


The solution here is to hand your website over to someone who doesn’t know your business and has never seen the website. Get them to complete the main actions on the site.


You will be amazed at what you learn and the simple things that you missed.

4. Google Analytics and conversion scripts


The last thing developers do before they push a site live is roll out the pieces of code which track your users and conversions.


This is because they don't want to pollute the statistics with developer tests and fake user data.


This is completely understandable but it also means that a lot of the time you forget to add the scripts back onto the website when you are going live.


Always check that all of your scripts are installed after you go live. It will make sure your stats are consistent.


5. References to the old development sites


When you are building your site you normally build it on a development or staging site.


The problem you want to avoid here is that sometimes references to specific development environment elements are left on the actual live site.


Check before and after you go live that there aren’t any leftover elements from the staging or development site.


6. Work out the best time to launch your site


Everyone has different views on this, although I would suggest using one of the following:

  • Launch when the site traditionally has the least amount of traffic. This will avoid major interruptions and allow you to make quick changes to the live site.
  • Try and ensure you have as many hands on deck when launching. Usually a Friday launch might want to be avoided as people are winding down.

That said, sometimes Friday might be the best time to launch as it may be your lowest traffic day.


Fred Schebesta is the founder of comparison website: Finder.com.au. Fred's passion for comparison and helping Australians save money lead him to recently launch Mobile Phone Finder to compare mobile phones, and Life Insurance Finder to compare Life Insurance. You can follow him on Twitter @schebesta.