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18 Safe Ways to Prepare & Optimize Your Website for the Holidays

Implement these tips to secure your site, protect your domain name, and prevent any problems from arising this busy holiday season.

18 Safe Ways to Prepare & Optimize Your Website for the Holidays

The holiday season is upon us.

At this time of year, it’s really too late to make major changes to your website or to even work on tasks that will improve your search engine rankings.

After all, you don’t want to do something that could potentially hurt your website’s traffic or rankings.

Doing an SEO audit of your website, changing content, working on your site structure, and adding a lot of new content are better done during the “off-season,” so to speak.

However, there are things you can do right now that don’t take a lot of time, which can lead to more traffic and sales, and protect your website and domain name.

These are things that I would consider “safe” to do at this time of year, right before the busy holiday season.

I’ll explore all of these things, how long it will take, and tell you why it’s “safe” to do it.

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The priority here, with all of these tasks or small projects, is, again, to make sure that any of them won’t lead to a loss of traffic.

They won’t lead to a loss of search engine rankings and visibility, and they’ll offer you some sort of protection.

These aren’t necessarily in any order of importance.

There are generally four types of tasks that I like to put these in:

  • Identifying and fixing errors and issues.
  • Recovering lost traffic and links.
  • Improving email deliverability.
  • Protecting your website and domain name.

Identifying & Fixing Errors & Issues

A good safe thing to do is to work on fixing errors and issues with your website.

Generally speaking, you’ll want to start with a crawl of your website using a website crawler.

You could use OnCrawl, Siteliner, Deep Crawl, Screaming Frog SEO Spider, or Sitebulb, just to name a few.

Each of these will help identify certain types of issues, and many will find the same types of issues.

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Think of these tasks as general site maintenance.

Your website should just work.

It shouldn’t be full of errors, typos, or broken links and images.

It’s just a bad user experience and will not help improve rankings.

1. Look for Errors on the Site, Such as 404 Errors, Redirects, Duplicate Content & Grammatical Mistakes

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Medium

Degree of Safeness: Pretty Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad could happen, you’re improving the user experience on the website.

Use a crawler to help you find common errors on the website.

Each will help point out typically issues and errors with the website.

For example:

  • Do you have the same title tag on multiple pages?
  • Do you have multiple H1 tags on pages?
  • Are your title tags too long?

Site maintenance like this is a good thing, and over the 20 plus years I’ve been doing SEO, I’ve yet to see a loss of traffic because a duplicate title tag was rewritten so it’s unique.

2. Look for Errors in Google Search Console & Bing Webmaster Tools

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Medium to Difficult

Degree of Safeness: Very Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad could happen. If a search engine points out an error, it’s probably safe to fix it.

Review the various items in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools and fix errors that they point out.

I’ve seen a lot of structured data errors lately, and those can be sometimes not easy to fix.

You’ll need a web developer to help fix structured data issues if it involves a lot of pages or data is pulled from a database.

If it’s code that you’ve copied and pasted from a Structured Data generator, that can be a little easier to fix.

Fixing errors that the search engines point out is safe to do, and can really only help the site.

If you have an ecommerce site, I’d be especially proactive in fixing structured data issues, as those can affect visibility (and possibly rankings).

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Fix those errors, and you’ll get more sales.

If you have errors and you fix those errors, it will only help the site – not hurt it in any way.

3. Fix Errors & Omissions on the Site, Add the Site to the HSTS Pre-Load List

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Difficult

Degree of Safeness: Very Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad could happen. Fixing errors generally will help, not hurt a site.

The HSTS Pre-load list is a list of domain names that must be loaded via HTTPs and not via HTTP.

If you’ve made the commitment to go full HTTPs on your website (and you should), then you should be on the HSTS Pre-load list.

Web browsers have this list embedded in the code of their browser.

So, there could possibly be more “trust” there if your site is on the list.

It also helps you fix errors and omissions of data, as you can only qualify if you have your site set up properly.

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Go to HSTSPreload.org and enter your domain name.

Check your status and eligibility. If your site qualifies, then great.

But most won’t, the first time you check it.

Fix the errors and then submit your domain to be listed.

These errors can be confusing, and it can be difficult to implement if you’re doing it all manually on the web server.

However, if your site is using Cloudflare, then it can be relatively easy to change the settings so that your site qualifies.

In the Cloudflare dashboard, check the HSTS page and turn it on.

Then check the other settings to make sure they’re set up properly.

Then, re-check the domain in the HSTSPreload.org site until it turns green and says that your domain qualifies.

Improving Email Deliverability

Email deliverability essentially is whether emails, when sent from your domain name, are actually delivered to the recipients.

When you send an email to a customer or potential customer (or someone on your email list), you want to make sure that they get the email.

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They can’t open up your email and read it if they don’t get it in their inbox.

So, email deliverability is key.

There are settings that you can check right now to make sure everything is working properly.

An email still might be marked as “promotional” because of the content of the email, but you need to first check to make sure that all the settings are set up properly.

I spoke with Chris Lang, an email delivery expert from Better Call Chris Lang.

He offered these tips:

“First, I would make sure you have DMARC set up on your domain name. There are email spoofers (scammers) and spammers out there actively looking for quality Domains and a list from email addresses that are not properly protected and monitored by DMARC tools and high security policy. Setting up DMARC on your domain name can protect you from those issues.

Also, if you have an email list, then continue to send out an email at least once a week to your subscribers. That way you continue to “bounce out” poor quality subscribers.”

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That brings me to the next tip which is to make sure your domain name’s email settings are set up properly.

4. Make Sure That Your Domain Name’s Email Settings Are Set up Properly

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Medium to Difficult

Degree of Safeness: Pretty Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad could happen to overall visibility, you’re improving the deliverability of emails.

There are settings, let’s call them domain settings, which are the DNS (domain name system) settings.

The DNS settings have specific “entries” called “records,” that tell internet traffic what to do.

For example, when there’s a request for the website to load, then the DNS tells that traffic to go to the IP address of where the website is located.

For email, there’s a separate IP address or location (it can be the same web server as the website, though).

There are also “security” type of records, such as the DMARC record, DKIM, and SPF records that need to be added.

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You’ll still get email without these records added to the DNS of your domain name, but the email, when sent to someone, will be “trusted” more if those records are set up.

So, there’s a better chance that the email will be delivered to its recipient, and not go into their spam filter automatically.

And some domain names are blocked if they have a history of sending spam.

That means that any email sent from your domain name won’t get to its recipients.

If you’re sending email to customers or a newsletter list, then you need to make sure that these are all set up.

The easiest way to check if there are email deliverability issues and the proper records are set up on your domain name is to use the free service DNProtect.com.

Enter your domain name and it will run a check on a bunch of different services.

This includes checking the DNS records for DMARC, but it also includes a check of the email blacklists, for example.

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5. Check to See If Your Domain Is on Email Blacklists

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Easy

Degree of Safeness: Very Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad could happen – you’ll only have the potential to remove your domain from a blacklist, which could be causing recipients of your emails to not receive them.

As I mentioned earlier, you can use services such as DNProtect.com to check for multiple issues with your domain name.

If that service shows that the site is on an email blacklist, then you’ll want to know which one it’s on.

You can use the free tool MXToolbox to check to see which email blacklists your domain name is on.

Enter the domain name and it will check all of the lists.

Use their “Blacklist Check” to see which ones your domain name is on if any.

If your domain name is on a list, then search for the name of the list and “remove” so for Spamhaus DBL, then Google “spamhaus DBL remove” or “spamhaus DBL blacklist removal”.

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They will have specific instructions on how to submit to get your domain name removed from their blacklist.

In some cases, they’ll tell you why your domain name is on the blacklist so you can get it fixed before you request that it gets removed.

Recovering Lost Traffic and Links

One of the safest things you can do that won’t have a negative effect on traffic or search engine rankings is to recover lost traffic.

I see these as opportunities where you can make changes to your website that would improve traffic and generally won’t have any negative effect.

6. Find Old Pages From the Past & Revive Them or Set up 301 Redirects to Pages That Are Live Right Now

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Medium

Degree of Safeness: Pretty Safe

What Could Happen: Rankings could be affected if the pages on your site have bad links pointing to them.

I’m marking this as pretty safe to do since you’re going to identify pages on your website that used to be on the site.

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The idea here is that you want to find pages that used to have traffic or pages that are 404s that have links.

A good example of this is pages that are related to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Especially since Black Friday and Cyber Monday are coming soon.

I asked Dave Rohrer, Principal at Northside Metrics, about what you can do right now to prepare for those two days.

“If you have not yet set up a landing page for them, you should do it now. If you have set up landing pages for Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the past, however, it is best to use those landing pages whenever possible.

Often websites will create pages on their website with a URL like theirdomain.com/2019-black-friday/ or theirdomain.com/CM-2018/ and then a create a new landing page the next year.

If you have done this, find all of those landing pages and redirect them to the most recent landing page. Or a new landing page that you will never ever change again. The goal should be to use the same URL each and every year.”

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Old pages, such as pages Black Friday or Cyber Monday pages from a previous year (or from several years ago) most likely aren’t live pages on your website.

You’re probably not linking to them on the website, and you’re not promoting them.

So, the URLs might lead to 404 errors.

But, those URLs might actually have some links pointing to them.

Those links typically are good links to revive.

But, in some rare cases, they might have “bad” or “toxic” links pointing to them from other websites.

So, before you revive those pages and/or redirect them to a new page, you’ll want to use Majestic, Ahrefs, or Moz to review those links.

7. Find Orphaned Pages That Are Still Ranking & Link to Them in the Site Structure

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Medium to Difficult

Degree of Safeness: Very Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad can happen.

The concept here is to find pages on your website that are already ranking in the search engine results pages that aren’t currently linked in the site structure.

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If the page is already indexed and it has traffic but doesn’t have any links from the site structure, then linking to it from somewhere on the website will only help the page.

It really can’t (or won’t) hurt it or cause the site to drop in rankings.

Let’s say that you have redesigned the website (at some point) in the past.

For some reason, there’s a page (or a few pages) that are still on the web server but there aren’t any links to those pages from the current website.

Perhaps you forgot to mention them.

Maybe they’re old articles or even a landing page that was a PPC landing page.

For whatever reason, the page is still indexed and it has traffic (according to Google Search Console and/or Google Analytics).

There isn’t a problem with the page, as it is ranking and has traffic.

But, it doesn’t have a link (or links) from the current website.

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You can do two things to boost the page:

  • Link to it from a few pages (or put it in the navigation if it’s appropriate to do so).
  • Or, if you don’t offer that service anymore or the topic of the page isn’t appropriate for your site anymore, you could redirect it to another page on the site.

There are a few ways to find the orphan pages (if there are any) on your website.

I’ve found that most websites have at least a few orphan pages if the site’s been around for a while and has redesigned the website.

There are crawlers such as OnCrawl and SiteBulb that will help you find those orphaned pages.

You’ll need to connect Google Search Console and Google Analytics before you crawl the website using those tools.

Another option is to do it “manually” so to speak.

Use a crawler like Screaming Frog SEO Spider to crawl the website.

Export a list of all of the URLs from the crawl.

Export a list of all of the “ranking” URLs in Google Search Console then, put both lists in a spreadsheet and compare the results.

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If there are pages that are ranking that aren’t in the URL list from a crawl, then it’s an orphaned page.

Another way to do this would be to compare the list of ranking URLs from Google Search Console with an exported list of Google Analytics URLs (set the date back a few years if you need to).

Again, compare the lists of URLs and look for pages that aren’t on the list of ranking URLs.

If you’re really adventurous and want to be especially thorough, compare the list of URLs from website log files with crawl data, Google Analytics, and Google Search Console to get a list of orphaned URLs.

Once you have the list of orphaned URLs, you’ll need to decide if you should link the pages from the rest of the site, redirect those pages, or literally just delete those pages altogether.

That’s your call, and it should be based on the content of the orphaned pages, on whether you still want them ranking and bringing traffic.

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8. Find 404 Error Pages, Put the Content Back on Those Pages or Redirect Them to Existing Pages

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Medium

Degree of Safeness: Very Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad can happen, typically.

Use a crawler to crawl the website and look for pages that have 404 errors.

Decide what to do with them: put the content back up, redirect the pages to another page on the site, or fix the links pointing to those pages.

If there are pages on the site that you’re linking to internally, fix those links.

Sometimes the link was just “fat-fingered” so to speak, and it’s linking to a URL that’s misspelled.

Link it to the proper spelling of the URL, and it will be fixed.

Or, maybe it is a page that was removed from the site.

Simply remove the link to that page.

Or, maybe the 404 error is on an image or a PDF file.

Fix those errors.

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If it’s a broken image on a page, I’ve found that the search engines may keep those out of the index or, if they index the page, it won’t rank well.

Fix broken links.

9. Review the Links to Your Website, Find Links Pointing to Pages on Your Site That Don’t Exist & Revive Those Pages or Redirect Them to Current Pages on the Site

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Medium

Degree of Safeness: Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad can happen, typically.

Take a look at the links to your website.

I prefer to use a link crawling tool such as Majestic (look at their Pages report after getting all the links to your site).

They’ll report the pages that have links that have 404 errors.

Typically it only takes a few minutes to find those pages, but you’ll need to decide if it’s worth it to revive those pages, redirect them to current pages, or just let them still have a 404 error.

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If you can revive the pages, then great.

Link them in the site structure as well.

If it’s old content, then you might want to redirect those URLs to other pages.

Look at the quality of the links.

If the quality of the sites linking to the pages isn’t that great (like it has Zero Trust Flow and a high Citation Flow number), you may decide not to revive the page or redirect those URLs.

This tip really requires an external tool such as Majestic.com or Ahrefs or Moz.com to find the links.

10. Check the Internal Redirects on Your Site on Different Versions of Your Site

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Medium

Degree of Safeness: Very Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad can happen.

Check to make sure that you are properly redirecting from the HTTP version of your site to the HTTPs version of your site.

Use a server header check tool (there are lots of free ones if you search for “server header check”).

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Check the HTTP versions of your site to make sure that you’re 301 redirecting from HTTP to HTTPs.

Check, for example, HTTP://www is redirecting to the HTTPs version you’re using, such as HTTPs://www.

For an extra bonus, make sure you’re not redirecting and causing multiple “hops” to the final version.

For example, when you type in http:// does it redirect to http://www and then redirect to https://www or does it just go from http:// to https://www.

Reduce the number of “hops” it has to perform before reaching the final destination.

Protecting Your Website & Domain Name

The worst thing that can happen is losing your website or your domain name right at the start of, or even during, the busy holiday season.

These issues aren’t related to online visibility and traffic and rankings.

Well, they are: if your website goes down or you lose your domain name, then you will have no online visibility.

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There will be no traffic.

You are guaranteed to lose search engine rankings.

And, you’ll lose sales and revenue.

These tips will help you protect your website and your domain name.

11. Back Up Your Website

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Easy to Medium

Degree of Safeness: Very Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad can happen.

Make sure that you’re regularly backing up your website.

Ideally, you should be backing up your website at least once a day.

This can be automated, and there are plugins for WordPress that will do this in an automated fashion (set it and forget it).

For example, UpDraftPlus is a popular one, as well as CodeGuard.

Code Guard will not only back up your website, it will notify you if there are any changes to any of the code on your website.

This is helpful because you can be notified if the code changes (like if someone goes in and hacks the site).

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Even though the automated backups are done, I still don’t necessarily fully trust them.

So, I usually go in and start a manual backup, and then download it to a separate hard drive.

A final option is also to make a full cPanel backup.

cPanel is quite often used with many web hosts, and it offers a backup, as well.

12. Keep Plugins & Themes Updated – Install the Latest Versions

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Medium

Degree of Safeness: Very Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad can happen.

Using WordPress for your website?

Back up your website, and then make sure that you have the latest updates of the plugins and themes.

Oftentimes these updates are for security purposes, as the plugin or even the theme (or page builder) of your website got hacked or the author of the plugin or theme is fixing a security issue.

Even page builders like Elementor can get hacked sometimes, so if there is an update, you’ll want to perform that update.

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13. Check Your Website for Viruses or Malware

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Medium

Degree of Safeness: Very Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad can happen unless your site has malware and you don’t fix it.

I recommend scanning your website for security issues and malware.

Sucuri, for example, has a free malware scanner that you can run on your website.

Run it and see if there are any issues.

If there are issues, then contact your web host, they should be able to help.

If your website has malware, you’ll end up getting a malware warning on your search engine listing, and web browsers may block visitors.

So, you’ll need to clean the website.

Best case scenario, your site loses just about all its traffic for a day or so. Could be longer if there are more complex issues.

If there is an issue or a security issue, then it will most likely show up in Google Search Console.

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14. Add a CDN & DDOS Solution

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Medium

Degree of Safeness: Very Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad can happen by implementing this.

If you’re not using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) on your website, then you’re missing out on solutions to cover you in the event that there’s a DDOS (Denial of Service) attack on your website.

These can occur quite often during the holiday season.

Using a CDN can help load your pages faster, but can also help in the event there’s an attack on your website.

Cloudflare and Bitmitigate are two popular options.

15. Check the WHOIS of Your Domain & Register It for a Few More Years

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Easy

Degree of Safeness: Very Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad can happen. Except if you don’t renew your domain name.

Manually check the WHOIS of your domain name.

I recommend looking specifically at the expiration date of the domain name to make sure it doesn’t expire until some time next year.

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But, if you want more protection from administrative errors or failing to renew your domain name, I recommend registering the domain name a few years in advance.

On the domain names that I care about, I register them for at least 5-10 years in advance.

16. Make Sure All Data in WHOIS Is Correct

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Easy

Degree of Safeness: Very Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad can happen. Only bad things can happen if you lose ownership of your domain.

Make sure that all of the contact information on your domain name is correct.

ICANN requires that your domain name has the correct information, or you could lose ownership of your domain name.

Someone could file a WHOIS accuracy complaint if the information is incorrect.

17. Implement DNSSEC On Your Domain

Degree of Difficulty to Implement: Easy

Degree of Safeness: Very Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing really bad can happen. Your DNS won’t be hacked.

Implementing DNSSEC is important.

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The DNS information, as I mentioned in Tip #3 earlier, is sent via a secure method over the internet when DNSSEC is turned on for your domain name.

You’re already encrypting part of your site when you set up HTTPs on your website.

But the DNS information is not encrypted unless you turn on DNSSEC on your domain name.

Your registrar must turn this feature on, and only a few domain name registrars doing this by default.

It’s something that you have to ask them to do.

Most registrars don’t charge any fee to turn it on.

However, whenever I’ve asked a registrar to turn it on, I had to typically put in a support ticket to do so.

18. Work on the Page Speed of Your Site

Degree of Difficulty: Medium to Hard

Degree of Safeness: Safe

What Could Happen: Nothing can really happen. Your page will load quicker than before, pleasing the search engines and your users.

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Making changes to your website to make the pages load faster than they currently do will help users –and provide a better user experience.

It will also please the search engines, as it can potentially help search engine rankings.

I recommend, obviously, that any changes made don’t really have to do with any web page design or major design changes.

Rather, optimizing images, moving the site to a CDN provider (like I previously mentioned), and caching pages can help.

If you’re an advanced user or have a web developer on staff, you should consider optimizing the site for the Core Web Vitals.

All These Tips Are Safe

All of these tips are generally “safe”, as they generally are tasks that will either make your website more secure, or issues that will help you “recover” lost traffic that you otherwise might lose out on.

I know it’s not a great time of year (right before the busy holiday season) to be making lots of changes to your website.

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Right after the holiday season is over is the best time to perform an SEO audit and make changes to the site.

At this time, however, it’s better to focus on securing your website, protecting your domain name so the website doesn’t go down.

Make sure you’re in a position to recover quickly if, in the unlikely event, there’s an issue with your website.

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Bill Hartzer

SEO Consultant at Bill Hartzer

Bill Hartzer is an independent SEO Consultant. He relies on his 20 years of direct Search Engine Optimization experience to ... [Read full bio]

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