Upgrading your website – a checklist of what to consider

Find out what you need to consider when switching your website to a different website building platform such as Squarespace, WordPress, and Wix.

Article

If your current website is a few years old and your existing platform is out of date or no longer supported, you might be looking at upgrading it by switching to a different website building platform (such as Squarespace, WordPress, Wix, etc.).

You may have a few questions, such as:

  • What do I do with my old website?
  • Can I keep my domain name?
  • What about SEO rankings?

Below, we cover the answers to these questions and other things to consider when upgrading your website yourself on a different website building platform.

Before you begin

1. Make a plan for your site

Ask yourself what you need from a new site and what content you need to include.

  • Why are you upgrading your website? Think about what problem the new site needs to solve (e.g. the platform is no longer supported, it’s difficult to manage, design is out of date, need to improve conversions, want to rank better in search, etc.) so you can create a site that addresses these issues. For example, if the design of your existing site is out of date, make sure you select a platform that has templates that you like and will let you add the images and design you are looking for.
  • What action do you want site visitors to take on your site? Consider how your site can support sales (do you want visitors to email or call you, sign up, make a purchase, etc.). Add strong ‘calls to action’ on your site to help customers take this action, for example you could add a prominent phone number or email link to prompt contact.
  • What content will be best at persuading your customers to take this action? Look at what content has worked well previously on your old website or on your social channels and showcase this content on your new site. For example, you may find that social followers respond well to high quality photos of your products or latest projects, and testimonials from clients.
  • What other housekeeping content do you need to include? Alongside sales focused content, you’ll need to add more functional content such as privacy and cookie policies, product specifications, delivery details, service particulars, terms of service, etc.
  • What marketing activity will the site support, if any? Consider where traffic will be coming from and how this impacts your content. Will you be linking to the site from print materials, will it need to rank in search, or will you be landing PPC or display ads on the site? This will impact elements of your site such as content, images, design, keywords, etc. For example, if you would like your site to rank better in Google, you’ll need to choose a platform that contains SEO elements, then you’ll need to research keywords, create new content and alter the SEO elements of your site.
  • Do you need to meet any new legal requirements? Your site must adhere to all applicable laws and regulations (including company information, data protection & GDPR etc.). A new site is a good opportunity to make sure you are up-to-date. You must research all of the requirements applicable to you and ensure your site is compliant.

2. Decide which site building platform to use

Once you have made a plan, you should have more information on what you need from a website building platform. This will vary from business to business, so it's important to look into a few options before deciding which platform to go with. Some of the most popular website builders include Squarespace, Wix, WordPress, Weebly, and Shopify, but there are many more.

When choosing, consider:

  • Functionality. What functionality does your site need? If you sell online, you may opt for a specific ecommerce platform like Shopify, or a website builder that offers an ecommerce option. Alternatively, if you require other functionality - like forms, live chat, a membership area, or integrations with other apps like online booking apps - your chosen platform will need to be able to support this.
  • Cost. Most website builder platforms have a monthly fee, however the costs of platforms do differ, so make sure you understand the difference packages and look to see what is included in the monthly cost and whether there are any add on costs.
  • Usability vs flexibility. When selecting a platform, there can often be a playoff between how easy and quick a tool is to use (i.e. a novice user can set up a site relatively easily) vs how many additional features and customisation options are available. For example, Squarespace is a useful tool with a lot of templates and ‘out of the box’ features, which enables small businesses to build a site themselves relatively easily. However, a platform such as WordPress, still offers a ‘do it yourself’ site build, but offers a lot more flexibility and complex functionality with their integrations and plugins, which can require a little more knowledge to use.

Technical considerations

When designing and building your new site, you will need to consider the technicalities of transferring elements of your old site.

3. Your domain

Your ‘domain’ is the web address of your website, where customers can visit your site online. When creating your site on a website builder, often you will be given a built in domain (such as ‘tuvwxyz.platform.com’), which you can then replace with your own domain (i.e. ‘yourcompany.com’).

You need to decide whether you are keeping your existing domain or changing it.

  • Keeping your existing domain: This is your default option (particularly if your site has been live for a while, your marketing materials carry the address, or if your customers know it). This is also the best option for SEO. Once your site is ready to go live, you’ll need to either transfer your domain over to your new platform (so it is hosted there as well) or connect your domain with your new site (if you stay with your existing host). This is a fairly technical process so head to your platform’s support section for step by step instructions.
  • Changing your domain: Generally, you would only change your domain if it is no longer relevant (i.e. your business name has changed or if it relates to a service you no longer offer). In this case you’ll need to register your new domain. You can often do this through your website building platform. Head over to your platform’s support section for a step by step process.

4. 301 redirects & technical SEO

When you create a new site, you could lose your SEO rankings unless you take some specific technical steps.

With a new site, often the ‘URLs’ of your new content will be different - for example if you have kept your existing domain (e.g. ‘yoursite.com/news’) but renamed the section (e.g ‘yoursite.com/blog’), or if you have changed the domain.

You don’t want to make these old URLs redundant because they may rank on Google, other sites may link to them, or your customers could have bookmarked them. To make sure that these URLs land on a live page and not a ‘404 error page’ (which will make these old URLs lose any Google rankings) you need to ‘redirect’ them to point to new, live URLs.

  • Map out your old site. Before you move your old site over, you should map out all of the existing URLs of your old site in a spreadsheet (noting what the old page titles and meta descriptions are for each). You can then list the new, most relevant URLs that these pages should be redirected to on your new site (or to the homepage if the page has been deleted). Also plan out any new page titles and meta descriptions needed.
  • Implement 301 redirects. As these URLs have ‘permanently changed’ you should use 301 redirects, which are also better for SEO. Head over to your platform’s support section for a step by step instructions for how to add 301 redirects.
  • Add unique page titles and meta descriptions to each page. Ensure that all of the pages on your site have unique page titles added to them - containing keywords where applicable - and that you have added useful and unique meta descriptions. (These may be pulled through automatically in your platform or they can often be added within the SEO section of your platform - read your chosen platform’s help documentation to find out how to add these.)

5. Web analytics and cookie acceptance

If you are running third party web analytics (such as Google Analytics) on your existing site, you will need to add your tracking code to your new site.

  • Add your Google Analytics 4 code to your new site. Many website building platforms have a built-in integration with Google Analytics, where you add your Google Analytics 4 code or tracking ID to your website builder. Follow the instructions within the support section for details on how to add Google Analytics 4 code. (Remember to update the relevant settings within your Google Analytics 4 account - such as new event goal settings if confirmation urls have changed, etc.)
  • Add consent management options. If you are using any cookies (such as for tracking and analytics) you must inform your users and gain their consent before you track their use of your site. Ensure that you understand your GDPR and other legal obligations, and that your use of tracking is compliant (see the ICO website for more information to get you started). When gaining users' consent, your web-builder platform may have a cookie acceptance banner option, however make sure that this also covers third-party cookies. You may want to consider using a consent management platform such as CookieBot. (Ensure you are up-to-date with legal requirements first.)

6. Cancel old hosting

You’ll need to keep your old website live with your existing host until your new site is fully designed, tested, and ready to go! However, if you chose to transfer your hosting over to your new website platform, this means that you can probably cancel your old hosting subscription. You’ll need to check this with your current provider.

If you didn’t transfer hosting over to your new platform, you’ll need to keep your existing hosting contract.

Support from DigitalBoost to help you do all of this!

For further advice and support on all aspects of your digital marketing, processes & platforms check out our DigitalBoost programme, which offers free 1:1 consultancy, online resources, training and webinars to help businesses in Scotland develop their digital skills.

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