eCommerce Website Migration Checklist: What You Need to Avoid Catastrophe

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While there are a variety of indicators that it is time to upgrade to a new eCommerce platform, the decision should not be taken lightly or entered into haphazardly.

Website migration issues are extremely common and stand to negatively impact businesses in a myriad of ways.

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 is transitioning 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.

Ready to plan out your company’s eCommerce exodus?

Dive on in.

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.

meta description highlight

Moreover, failing to note any redirects from the original site will result in a massive uptick in broken pages on the new storefront, also hurting 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)
  • All title tags and meta descriptions for working pages
  • Canonical tags

This data can be easily gathered with tools like Screaming 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 the staging site will get indexed while the new website is still being built.

Ramifications of forgetting to hide your staging site from search engines

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 the robots meta tag.

To verify that none of the pages from the staging site are surfacing in the SERPs, go to Google and enter:

If any of these pages are present, utilize the Remove URL tool in Google Search Console to block the listing.

4. Compare Page Hierarchies

From here, retailers should compare the page hierarchy of their new site to that of the existing store. This task should be relatively simple with the data pulled earlier from Screaming Frog.

While comparing the two sites, it is vital to establish which URLs will change from the current version of the site to the new one and which pages will be removed altogether.

For those that are poised to be eliminated, save your site’s SEO performance by instead implementing a 301 redirect.

5. Set Up Redirects

In previous iterations of Google, redirects would result in some loss of PageRank. However, back in 2016, Gary Illyes confirmed this 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.

301 page errors screenshot

It is essential to underscore the importance of this task as redirects 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 like SEMrush to monitor any potential keyword ranking changes for the most influential terms during the website migration process.

If a page displays a substantial Google 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 essential Google 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.

xml sitemap by yoast seo

(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 the various 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 creating the new document, make the sitemap available to Google.

8. Update Analytic Tracking

After submitting the sitemap, it is time to install the new analytics tracking code on the new website. Retailers can utilize Google’s guide to checking the tag set up to ensure that it is reporting data accurately.

google analytics

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 that conversion 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
  • Login pages

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.

Review the Site for SEO Errors

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 a 301 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 like HeadMasterSEO to ensure functionality.

fixing duplicate content

11c. Flush Out Duplicate Content

Fixing duplicate content for eCommerce SEO performance is vital as retail websites are incredibly prone to this issue.

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.

Of course, there are a variety of tools that can check for and identify duplicate content as well.

12. Double Check Email Links

Finally, retailers must go through their emails that might include any defunct links. This includes transaction emails, abandoned cart emails and other email 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.

Visiture site migration

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 to consult 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.

Join 150+ Leading eCommerce Brands

And see how Visiture can grow your revenue online through award-winning transactional focused marketing services.

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