Why the First Year for a New Site Is the Most Important
Some people seem to think that once a website goes live, their job is done. They might need to add some new content now and then but overall, the majority of the on-site work is done. And sure, the design and layout tasks might be finished for the moment — at least until you decide to redesign — but the work of managing a website is never done.
And that’s never more apparent nor more important than in the year after it goes live. Let’s spend some time going over why that is exactly and how to make sure you’re all set up for post-launch success.
Establish Your Baselines
Before you even launch your site, it’s important for you to benchmark your stats. This will give you a sense of where the domain currently ranks and if there are any issues present. Registering a domain only to find it had a penalty levied against it in the past is highly problematic. You’ll be put in the sandbox before you can get started!
That’s why it’s important to take an inventory of where your domain is at before the site itself goes live. A few things you’ll want to pay attention to include the Google cache date, how many pages are indexed by Google, domain authority, and any errors that show up in Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools. While you’re at it, make sure you’ve registered your site in Webmaster Tools. You’ll need it later.
This is Your First Impression
After a site launches, your primary goal should be to steadily increase site traffic. The more eyeballs on your site, the greater the likelihood of getting signups, making sales, or accomplishing whatever your site goals are.
This is also the time you begin to establish yourself in your chosen industry. It’s a critical time that you can begin to build a reputation for yourself. You’ll make connections with industry leaders and build authority.
Of course, that’s assuming everything goes right. If you make the most of this time period, you should see an uptick in the chatter about your site. As you might imagine, what people say about you is really important. Make regular site updates, engage with visitors, and build a rep as a thoughtful industry voice and you’ll make a good impression. But if you slack on making regular updates and fail to respond to email or comments, you’ll only hurt your site in the long run. Which actually leads me to…
Now’s the Time for Brand Building
Along with first impressions comes the all-important task of building a brand. Your brand includes absolutely everything having to do with your site, including its design, its graphics, the kind of content you produce, your products or services, your social media presence, and your customer service. Branding is wrapped up in every little aspect of a business, so it makes sense that it would be wrapped up in your website, too.
Branding is something you build prior to launch, of course, but its reception will help dictate what direction to go in next. And I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be consistent. Those first 12 months after launch are when you clue people into what your site is all about. Do you post on time? Do you offer original analysis? People will get a sense of who you are and what you stand for just in how you communicate and interact with/through your site.
You have this valuable tool at your disposal here. So use it!
Crucial Site Indexing
I’ve already talked at length about the importance of making a good first impression. But that was directed at site visitors. You know, real people with real eyes. But it’s equally important that you make a good first impression on search engines. You absolutely need to pay attention to the SEO side of things, too, if you want your site to do well in the first year and beyond.
Remember how I told you to sign up for Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools earlier? Now’s the time to dig into those tools and really use them. Follow the webmaster guidelines to the letter. You should do this before your site even launches, in fact. But it’s important to make regular checks on your accounts to make sure there aren’t any crawl errors or messages. You also want to make sure that you have your 301 redirects in order.
Be sure to hop over to whatever analytics you’re using to make sure your site is logging traffic, too. These are things you’ll need to check on a regular basis, not just for the first year, so it’s best to get into the habit now.
Doing Well Out of the Gate is Easier Than Fixing Mistakes
Taking a lackadaisical approach to your site’s launch could come around to bite you later on, especially if you don’t pay attention to the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Mistakes you make during this first year could result in penalties that knock your site down in the search results by a considerable margin.
And let me tell you, trying to fix an SEO problem is a lot harder than just doing well outright. It can take months to reclaim your former positioning in the search results, and that’s only after you’ve a) fixed the issue and b) filed a reconsideration request. And that’s assuming all goes well with the reconsideration and you don’t have to provide further details on what you’ve changed.
Take the lyrics site, Rap Genius, for instance. It got caught for an unnatural link scheme. They sent out emails to bloggers asking them to include links to their lyrics pages in exchange for tweets on the official Rap Genius account sharing their posts containing the links. The company got caught around Christmas last year when Google slapped it with a penalty. Many of the site’s lyrics searches were knocked far back in the search results overnight. Even worse, the site no longer ranked for its own name!
Rap Genius was able to have the penalty lifted after just 10 days because they took swift action to remove the unnatural links. And it probably helped it made for a prominent SEO story, too. Most of the time, it takes a few months to have a penalty removed.
All of this is to say, making SEO mistakes — intentional or not — is basically a big headache that you want to avoid if you can help it. That’s why from the moment you register your site’s domain name, you need to be ever vigilant in how you approach working on your site, including what content you publish, what SEO tactics you use, and how you approach site maintenance.
During the first year, you’re setting the tone for the life of your website. So make sure days one through 365 end on a high note, okay?
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