Migrating an Ecommerce Website to a New Platform – Without Losing SEO Equity
Migrating an ecommerce website to a new platform, also called, replatforming, provides an opportunity for companies to increase sales, improve user experience, scale up, and add value to a growing business. It can also be a very stressful experience fraught with peril, as the site migration could result in a significant loss of SEO equity, a decrease in traffic and a serious loss of ongoing post-launch revenue.
Companies are often told, “Don’t worry, the dramatic drop in sales is only temporary,” and soon realize that their traffic is way down and not coming back as promised.
This article will provide insights into replatforming an ecommerce site with minimal or no loss of SEO equity, and help you actually increase SEO value after migration with careful planning.
Rule #1: You don’t have to lose SEO value when you replatform or migrate the site.
The consensus among web developers and SEO gurus that you have to lose rankings and traffic when you migrate a website is not true. You may experience a slight dip for a few days, but with proper planning and execution, the site migration can result in an increase in traffic and an increase in sales post-launch.
Take this case study of a major sunglasses brand for example. With millions of dollars in company revenue at risk, our team was called in just a few weeks prior to their go-live date to evaluate the website platform migration and to make sure their team didn’t miss anything. As it turned out, many items were missed, and if were launched with the issues we discovered, we knew that the site statistics would have crashed severely if migration was implemented without resolution of the issues.
After presenting the findings of our audit to the executive team, the site launch was postponed by approximately 4 weeks to allow time for our team to finish a technical audit of the existing site, and of the new site, and prepare an ‘SEO Roadmap.’ The roadmap was a list of tasks organized in priority order, which included assignments to the appropriate members of the development team.
With this type of careful planning and collaboration, and Q/A of all items prior to go-live, the Sunglasses brand not only avoided a disastrous launch of their new platform, but in the next 8 weeks saw a significant increase of over 200,000 clicks compared to prior performance, and went from 366K clicks to 570K clicks post-launch.
In addition to an increase in clicks, the client showed increases in click-through-rates, improvements in keyword rankings and an increase of approximately 1,000,000 impressions in the same period after launch.
In addition to the improved GSC statistics reported, the client experienced significant gains in Google Analytics and sales KPI’s as shown (below), in the same period immediately after migration. The key takeaway is there was zero loss of organic traffic, and there was actually an increase in traffic. Even more impressive, there was a significant gain in organic transactions. We attribute this to many of the improvements we made to page architecture and other items resolved in the course of the technical audit, and resolution on the new site. This resulted in more focused traffic, a lower bounce rate and a higher CTR. Transactions improved by 94.90%.
The point being, with proper planning you don’t need to be afraid to migrate the site to a new platform, or to replatform. Traffic does not have to decrease, and you can actually improve the statistics after migration.
Why you should consider replatforming an ecommerce site
There are many reasons to consider an ecommerce migration. Each one below is important, and any one of these, if important enough, may make a site migration a necessity:
- Financial – the current site may be too expensive and each time you need to update a feature the cost is prohibitive. Maintenance costs may be too high.
- Technical – the existing site may have technical limitations which do not allow you to make changes required to keep up with the competition.
- Marketing – the website may not have the look and feel or features necessary to convert visitors into paying customers, and conversions are suffering.
- User Interface – if the existing website’s UI is out of date and no longer user-friendly, visitors may not be able to find the products easily and sales suffer.
- Mobile Issues – if the existing site is not mobile friendly, and not responsive, this is a major issue. Google’s algorithm has shifted to favor mobile. The functionality of the mobile site is more important than ever and needs to be changed.
- Scalability – ecommerce sites must be able to accommodate the roll-out of new products quickly and easily, and have a wide variety of functionality to help the business as it grows.
What are the options when it comes to site migration and replatforming?
In some cases, there are options available which may work without a full migration to a new platform, which may save time and expense:
- Option 2 – Upgrade existing platform to the most recent version, and/or customize the existing platform. For example, the company may benefit from migrating from Magento 1 to Magento 2.
- Option 3 – Rather than using the existing platform’s upgrade feature, install a fresh installation of the newest version of the platform and migrate onto the new platform. This could help prevent legacy code and possibly bugs from migrating. Treat the migration as if you were completely switching platforms, and only import content such as product details and categories (for retailers) or static and blog content.
- Option 4 – Migrate the website to a completely new platform. Upgrading the platform comes with significant upside and risk, and it is important to have an experienced SEO partner to help guide the process.
How to Avoid Losing SEO Value and Performance Degradation During Site Migration
In many cases we’ve seen significant drops in statistics (and sometimes disastrous crashes) when an ecommerce site is replatformed. Large drops in organic traffic, significant and ongoing loss of revenue, and rankings for important keywords which ranked well prior to the migration suddenly fall off a cliff.
Sites can crash during a migration and replatforming for many reasons, and it is recommended that you have an SEO expert work with the developers to ensure the site migration is well-planned BEFORE THE MOVE. Don’t begin the SEO upgrade AFTER the site migration. SEO should be thought of well before the move begins, and a detailed SEO Roadmap should be created which outlines all the tasks to be followed by all teams to ensure a smooth ecommerce site migration.
The SEO Roadmap (example below) should contain a detailed list of all activities required for the successful migration, with complete documentation and delegation to the appropriate developer(s) or 3rd parties involved in the implementation.
Here are important checklist items to consider for a successful ecommerce site migration:
Pre-Migration Benchmarking of Important Site Metrics
Go through Google Analytics and Google Search Console and record important metrics prior to the migration. Keep a close watch on items of importance, traffic, HTML errors, 404’s, and meta data before everything is changed. Crawl the site and maintain records on everything you’ll want to check after the move.
Benchmark the subdomains and their indexing in SERPs. There are many items you’ll want to know about. Compare these benchmarks with the new site’s performance at various intervals after migration. You will be surprised at how much will change when mistakes are made, and you’ll be able to identify them.
Perform a Pre-Migration Audit of the Existing Site and the Staging Site
It is critical to do a premigration audit of the existing site and the staging site, to look for issues and discrepancies between the sites which may cause problems. A detailed roadmap of issues with recommended resolutions should be prepared for all items found which are not following Google Best Practices and/or do not line up with the new site architecture.
Pre-Launch Technical Website Audit checklist (short list below)
- Pre-Launch Technical Website Audit Items
- Domain Equity inheritance to LPs throughout the site
- URL Structures
- Internal Link evaluation
- XML sitemap evaluation
- Search Engine Crawling
- 301 and 302 Redirects
- 404 Errors
- Internal Server Errors
- Appearance of site within the SERPs
- Markup / Structured Data
- Technical optimization of content as related to server and source code
- Mobile Friendliness
It is also recommended to do a complete post-migration audit of the new site. Ensure the status of all technical items before they have a chance to cause performance issues.
301 Mapping – Important for Site Migration
Create a database to be used for all URL’s of the old site which maps out each 301 redirect to the new site structure. Many of the pages on the existing site have significant link value, and the redirect map should provide details for each page. This is extremely important for catalogue and product pages as there may be new URL versions for products. In this process you will likely find many pages which have broken links, 404 pages and double-hop redirects. This is an excellent time to resolve these issues and gain significant SEO value in the process.
Below is a simple example of a URL Map which can be used as a guide; the actual list needed may require thousands of lines for implementation:
Site migrations may also involve updating the site from HTTP to HTTPS. There are many issues to consider with conversion to HTTPS including internal linking (hundreds or thousands of broken links can result after conversion) and images which may contain HTTP may still exist. In addition, properly planned HTTPS conversion should ensure that the old HTTP pages are not still resolving. If they are this will result in duplicate content, and SEO equity will be decreased across all pages with HTTP. This is another area that merits careful SEO evaluation.
Email Considerations During Ecommerce Migration
When a site is replatformed, especially if the site is moving to a new host, it is important to duplicate the MX records from the old server and match the DNS settings previously utilized. This is a process that is critical and should be done when email activity is off-peak as it will take time to propagate the changes.
Impact of Migration on Current Processes
Do research on how the new platform integrates with shipping vendors, accounting systems, and payment processors. Before you commit and switch to the eCommerce site, confirm that the new solution offers reports and systems to suit the business, and that the solution will tie into whatever third-party vendors you currently use. Ensure that the shipping prices, credit card processing fees and any other fees align with the business budget.
Validate and Test Business Process Migration
It is crucial to monitor performance throughout the migration process. Especially when it comes to traffic and search rankings after the migration. Keeping an eye on all metrics, including organic traffic, direct traffic, referral traffic will give you a glimpse into the new site’s performance. Compare the new performance to the benchmarking you did prior to the site move.
In addition, thorough testing of all third-party applications, accounting systems, credit card processing, reporting systems, should be done in staging to ensure all is well before going live.
Which eCommerce Platform is the Best for My Business?
Choosing the right ecommerce platform can be difficult, and it’s important to make the best decision. It’s helpful to speak to an expert who is familiar with the systems you’re considering, and get the pros and cons. A good consultant may know specific plugins that already exist to provide functionality the business needs at a fraction of the price of developing an application.
Some of the ecommerce platforms available are:
Shopify – great for beginners with conventional requirements. Has remained one of the ideal eCommerce solutions.
- Very simple and easy to set up.
- A large variety of attractive template themes.
- Straightforward pricing packages.
- Excellent customer care available 24/7
- Templates can get pricy not many free options.
- If you wanted advanced options, they are expensive.
- Additional transaction fees for not using Shopify Payment.
- Customizations are an additional cost due to liquid markup language system.
For more information on shopify, visit: https://www.shopify.com/
Magento – Recommended eCommerce platform for enterprise-level merchants involved with large product volume.
- Excellent user experience, easy to use.
- Customization built on open source platform, so the sky is the limit.
- Vast number of plugins so very good scalability.
- No transaction fees.
- This is a complex technical platform, so you must have tech skills or hire someone for customizations.
- The advanced Enterprise version is going to cost you a lot to get those high-end features.
- You will need to spend time with this platform as is it complex to get it the way you want it.
For more information on Magento, visit: https://magento.com/
Woo Commerce – recommended for those familiar with WordPress.
- It’s free, although there are premium extensions you can add which would be paid.
- It’s easy to learn, as if you have previous experience with WordPress working with Woo Commerce should be intuitive for you.
- Since it’s such a popular plugin, there’s plenty of support available if you have issues or need assistance.
- Use of plugins can slow down performance of the site, as is the case with any WordPress site.
- Plugins can conflict, and adding additional plugins may conflict with existing plugins, causing problems for the ecommerce site.
- Vulnerable to hacking – as any open source WordPress site, Woo Commerce is susceptible to hacks.
For more information on Woo Commerce, visit: https://woocommerce.com/
BigCommerce– Caters to stores of all sizes and is ideal for those who like built in features with little technical knowledge and no desire to mess with code.
- Large variety of built in comprehensive features like coupons, newsletters, shipping, analytics, and more.
- Charges not transaction fee.
- Themes are very responsive and offer a smooth mobile experience.
- Great customer service support.
- Can easily build a site with clear and concise directions.
- Provides only a small selection of free template themes.
- Limits on sales volume as per plan.
- Billing is not featured within the platform.
For more information on Big Commerce, visit: https://www.bigcommerce.com/
Site Migration Resources:
- Search Engine Journal, 9 ways to avoid SEO disaster during an eCommerce platform migration, https://www.searchenginejournal.com/seo-ecommerce-platform-migration/217307/
- Search Engine Journal, How to avoid SEO disasters during a website redesign – top marketer concerns, https://www.searchenginejournal.com/how-to-avoid-seo-disaster-during-a-website-redesign/42824/
- Search Engine Land, Relaunching your site? Don’t even think about it without a solid SEO game plan, https://searchengineland.com/relaunching-site-dont-even-think-without-solid-seo-game-plan-231315
- Search Engine Land, A site migration SEO checklist: Don’t lose traffic, https://searchengineland.com/site-migration-seo-checklist-dont-lose-traffic-286880
- Workarea, An SEO guide for a successful eCommerce site migration, https://www.workarea.com/blog_entries/an-seo-guide-for-a-successful-ecommerce-website-migration
- Micro Focus, Top Email Migration Considerations, https://blog.microfocus.com/top-email-migration-considerations/
- Stryde, Pros & Cons of the top 5 eCommerce platforms, https://www.stryde.com/pros-cons-top-5-ecommerce-platforms/