By Brian Richardson
As a small cost-conscious business, there is a strong temptation to do-it-yourself (DIY) and design your business website in-house. About a quarter of my clients start a new website themselves on one of the popular content management systems (WordPress, Wix, etc.). This ends well for a slim minority. The remainder run into one of the many roadblocks that delay launching a new site and hinder the success of their business.
The reality is that developing a website in-house to save costs is often a misguided and costly effort. While the upfront costs of building on platforms like WordPress can be very inexpensive, the opportunity cost of developing a website in-house is very high for novice website builders. In general, the higher-quality the website, the higher the learning curve. I’ve had clients who spend months, even years, attempting to create their new website in-house in an effort to spare expenses. If against all odds they finally get their site to launch, the sweet success of in-house website design is short-lived. For these clients, a seemingly endless barrage of post-launch technical issues appear.
In short, actually designing and launching a website is just half the battle. The following is a brief overview of the many technical pitfalls that damper the success of new websites on launch.
301 Redirects / URL issues
In transitioning from an old website to a new one, your URL structure almost certainly will change to some degree. For example, let’s say your old About Us page was at website.com/about. You designed your new About Us and upon launching see that the page resides at website.com/aboutus. The search engines will obviously pick up on this small change in URL structure and redirect traffic to the new page, right? Wrong.
Search results will still point to your old URL structure for quite a while until they have fully re-indexed your site. This means if someone clicks on your About Us link in search results, they will land on a 404 Error page. Not good for business…
To avoid this issue, you should design your new page to have as many identical URLs as possible. For those URLS that do need to change, or for pages that are retired and should direct elsewhere, you must log into your website host and provide 301 redirects (there are also WordPress plugins that can help you do this). A 301 redirect is a way to tell the search engines that your page has moved permanently and from now on should point to your new URL. Setting up proper 301 redirects ensures your viewers don’t land on error pages and search engines understand your new site structure.
This is a big one. Images and media must be optimized for load time, which means they should be compressed using Photoshop or TinyJPG before uploading to the website. I try to keep my image sizes under 200kb. Many amateur designers will load very large images onto their site (many Megabytes), which ultimately leads to very slow load times for viewers on mobile devices and with low bandwidth connections. In an age of diminished attention spans, a delay in load time often results in viewers leaving your site.
Caching & Speed Issues
Is your site loading too slow? Besides weighing it down with oversized images and media (see above), you probably have inefficiencies in the way your server provides content. You can check on the speed of your site using online tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and GTMetrix. I generally suggest setting up GZIP compression at the server level and allowing for some degree of caching. Larger websites can also upgrade to more powerful servers.
XML sitemaps & Webmaster Tools
Once you launch your new website and ensure all the above has been taken care of, I suggest you set up an account in Google Webmaster Tools and submit an XML sitemap. This speeds up the rate at which your new site is indexed by search engines.