Therefore, when conducting an eCommerce website migration, team members must be extremely diligent in their execution. Failure to implement a migration strategy with rigor and precision can result in a significant decrease in SEO performance, traffic, conversions and retail revenue.
No matter if a merchant istransitioning to Shopify Plus, Magento, BigCommerce or any other of the excellent eCommerce platforms available, there are tons of potential missteps, big and small, that can create a seismic shift in the effectiveness of a company’s online operations.
Given all the perilous possibilities involved in conducting an eCommerce website migration, we thought it would be helpful to share our checklist of what merchants need to know to avoid catastrophe when moving from platform to platform.
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1. Planning the Migration
When planning a website migration, it is essential to take into consideration all the potential parties involved. These groups include internal team members and external customers alike.
Therefore, it is important to notify customers when the migration will be taking place so that there are no unfortunate surprises or orders that get lost in the shuffle.
Moreover, coordinating with the different teams involved will help to engender a smooth transition.
2. Mine Existing Data
As mentioned earlier, during a website migration, a variety of things can go wrong. Therefore, it is vital for merchants to save a copy of their most important information from the current site.
This is a merchant’s safety net in case anything goes awry. It is not uncommon for developers to forget to copy things like meta descriptions, thereby losing a tremendous amount of data and rankings.
Moreover, failing to note any redirects from the original site will result in a massive uptick in broken pages on the new storefront, alsohurting a site’s SEO rankings and user experience.
The elements that retailers should copy include:
MySQL and content files
A comprehensive list of all indexed pages (this includes 301 and 302 redirects and 404 errors)
This data can be easily gathered with tools likeScreaming Frog or similar services.
3. Impede Google from Crawling the Staging Site
One of the more significant mistakes that the dev team can make is to forget to hide the staging site from search engines. If this scenario comes to pass, pages within thestaging site will get indexed while the new website is still being built.
The ramifications of this are twofold:
Customers might accidentally access the staging site, thereby causing confusion and negatively impacting the brand’s image
Google can perceive the staging site as the source of the new website’s copy, thus ranking the dev servers instead of the new site
There are several strategies that merchants can use to avoid this outcome, including requiring server-side authentication, IP whitelisting and implementing a noindex tag in therobots meta tag.
To verify that none of the pages from the staging site are surfacing in the SERPs, go to Google and enter:
In previous iterations of Google, redirects would result in some loss of PageRank. However, back in 2016,Gary Illyes confirmedthis was no longer the case, stating that “30x redirects don’t lose PageRank anymore.”
Therefore, any pages that will cease to exist after the website migration should be redirected to a relevant page. Moreover, any pages where the URL is to be altered should also be redirected appropriately.
It is essential to underscore the importance of this task asredirects can make or break a website migration. However, during this process, it is vital to abide by redirect best practices by not redirecting to the homepage, but to a relevant URL, and not creating redirect chains.
In the event of a chain, eliminate any middle links by redirecting from the original page to the new URL.
Additionally, retailers should utilize a tool likeSEMrush to monitor any potential keyword ranking changes for the most influential terms during the website migration process.
If a page displays a substantialGoogle rankings drop, the most common culprit is a technical SEO issue. Analyze the destination to determine the underlying cause.
6. Review Metadata
Many site owners use the website migration process as an opportunity to audit their metadata and ensure peak optimization.
Given that page titles (directly) and meta descriptions (indirectly) are essentialGoogle ranking factors, it is wise to review and potentially rewrite any of these that can be optimized better.
Ensure that title tags are relevant to the page and include the primary keyword as close to the beginning as possible and that meta descriptions accurately reflect the contents of the page and actively provoke clicks.
7. Create a New XML Sitemap
XML sitemaps are important for eCommerce stores because of their ability to enhance SEO performance. These documents ensure that Google understands a site and its hierarchy and is cognizant of the content featured on a website, thereby helping the engine to return relevant results for a given query.
(Image from Yoast)
Therefore, when conducting a website migration, generating a new sitemap is an essential task.
Fortunately, producing a new sitemap is extremely simple with thevarious sitemap generator tools available online. Moreover, those utilizing Screaming Frog will be pleased to know that this tool features a sitemap builder as well.
After submitting the sitemap, it is time to install the new analytics tracking code on the new website. Retailers can utilizeGoogle’s guide to checking the tag set up to ensure that it is reporting data accurately.
At this point, merchants should verify that their analytics settings are congruent from the new site to the old version. Doing this will help to prevent any reporting disruptions.
Moreover, it is essential to run several transactions to ensure thatconversion tracking is implemented and working correctly.
9. Launch the New Site
After handling all the previous steps, retailers are finally ready to launch their new sites.
However, that does not mean the work is finished.
From here, is it time to delve into the post-launch SEO necessities.
10. Update Meta Robots and Robots.txt
One of the biggest mistakes that developers make during a website migration is spacing on updating index settings. While working on the staging site, retailers told Google not to index any pages within the new store.
Now is the time to change that by going to the robots.txt file and removing any applied “Disallow:/” tags. Moreover, developers must also go into the meta robots settings and change the “noindex, nofollow” implementations to “index, follow” for all applicable pages.
Some exceptions where retailers will want to leave “noindex, nofollow” applied include:
Shopping cart pages
Order confirmation pages
“Thank You” pages seen after filling out a contact form
Those that forget to take this crucial step can prevent their new eCommerce website from showing up in the SERPs, thereby resulting in a detrimental impact on SEO rankings.
11. Review the Site for SEO Errors
After updating the meta robots and the robots.txt file, it is necessary to run a crawl of the new site to pinpoint any potential SEO errors that may exist. For this task, SEMrush is an excellent tool for quickly crawling an entire site and establishing any possible problems.
However, for those with smaller sites or that prefer to perform the task manually, the most essential issues to look out for include:
11a. 404 Errors
For those not using SEMrush, crawl the site with Screaming Frog to identify any 404 errors and redirect these destinations to a relevant page using a301 or 302 redirect, depending on what is most appropriate for the situation.
11b. Broken Internal and External Links
Finding and fixing broken links is a vital task whenever URL structures are altered. This is because developers can often miss redirecting old pages to the new ones.
At the same time, retailers will want to test their redirects to ensure that everything is working properly. As they say, better safe than sorry. This testing should be completed immediately after launch so that errors can be remedied as quickly as possible. This task can also be completed with a crawling tool of the team’s choosing. Alternatively, sellers can utilize a bulk redirect checker likeHeadMasterSEO to ensure functionality.
Duplicate content can ravage an eCommerce site’s organic traffic and rankings. Fortunately, search engines could take anywhere from two to four weeks to crawl a new site, meaning that these issues are unlikely to be uncovered by the likes of Google in that window. However, retailers should still complete this task as early as possible.
To check for duplicate content, go to Google, and conduct a site search. Take note of the number that shows below the search bar indicating the number of results (“About XX results”).
Next scroll to the bottom of the last page of the search results to see if the following message appears:
“In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the XX already displayed.
If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.”
If it is present, take the number shown in the message and subtract that from the initial amount. The difference is the number of duplicate pages that are indexed by Google.
Finally, retailers must go through their emails that might include any defunct links. This includes transaction emails, abandoned cart emails and otheremail marketing campaigns that might feature outdated information.
While this task may be tedious and time-consuming, it is essential.
At the same time, sellers will also want to review any downloadable assets like look books, eBook or similar items to ensure that those links are also updated accordingly.
Successfully completing a website migration or re-platforming project likely will not go smoothly from start to finish; there will be bumps and hiccups along the way. However, the more prepared a retailer is for the adventure, the better.
That said, conducting a website migration to a bigger, better platform that will enable greater functionality and scalability is undoubtedly worth it for many eCommerce retailers, despite the frustrations and complications.
To ensure that the migration is a prosperous one and that the technical components are all properly aligned, follow this website migration checklist to help your company create a streamlined process that gets the site launched in a timely manner.
However, we understand that this is not something that all eCommerce teams can handle. Therefore, if your crew isn’t so technically inclined as to be able to successfully conduct a website migration, reach out to Visiture toconsult for a site migration, and our expert team can help discuss the best practices and custom solutions that will make your company’s site migration and seamless as possible.
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Ronald Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end eCommerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.
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