How to Avoid a Catastrophic SEO Ecommerce Site Migration
Moving your website to a new ecommerce platform is a sign of progress. Your business is growing quickly, and you've outgrown your current platform. But that growth often comes with a side of anxiety. While a fantastic growth opportunity, replatforming might have you concerned about unintended side effects.
You want to replatform you ecommerce site but don't want to risk your search rankings and SEO equity. Without a comprehensive SEO strategy in place, even the most technologically adept replatforming project runs the risk of disrupting your traffic and impacting your bottom line.
To make sure your ranking and traffic stay solid–and to give both the opportunity to improve–it's crucial to start thinking about SEO as soon as you start planning your ecommerce website migration. SEO is not something you tack on later. When done right, SEO should be a business strategy that is fully integrated with the rest of your operation. Don’t let SEO be overshadowed while you are focused on the design or technical aspects of a replatforming project.
Follow the advice in this ecommerce SEO guide to keep your traffic, preserve your search engine rankings, and maximize revenue.
Benchmarking and SEO, Right From the Start
Merchants who understand the importance of organic search traffic start planning for the SEO of the new site well before it exists. That's because SEO considerations often have a role to play in big-picture decisions such as the architecture and taxonomy of the new site. Embarking on an ecommerce platform migration, and then bringing in SEO expert at the end of the project, is sure to prove detrimental and frustrating for everyone.
Your ability to accurately track traffic and trends before and after the migration is dependent on how well you set up your benchmarks. Do you already have reports for organic traffic, landing pages, keywords and rankings? Make sure the tools you're using to measure these ecommerce KPIs, such as Google Analytics or Omniture, are properly set up to allow pre- and post-launch comparisons.
To move your site to a new platform with minimal disruption to your traffic, first understand how your current search traffic arrives at your site. When replatforming, your site taxonomy may change. Some pages could be removed while other’s content may change. You don't want to inadvertently remove any pages that are attracting a lot of traffic and generating revenue.
Analyzing thousands of pages may seem overwhelming. Where should you start? One approach is to divide the bulk of the site into sections that may include category pages, content pages, and product pages. Within those three buckets, start with the highest-trafficked pages.
Our basic toolkit includes Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and SEMrush. SEMrush, in particular, shows you which keywords lead shoppers to which landing pages, as well as the percentage of traffic that is coming from organic search.
Don't simply analyze your own traffic though. Now's a great time to take a fresh look at competitors' traffic and at how their sites are structured. Look for opportunities to create new content that could boost your search results for keywords focused on your business goals. Look at the keywords that cause your competitors' sites to do well in search results, and draw up a list of valuable keywords that you aren’t currently targeting.
You Need to Migrate Your Content
After completing this analysis, you may find that some content pages don't seem to be doing a ton to bring in traffic. These pages may not be ranking as highly in search results as others. Maybe they don't seem to do much for conversion. Is it worth the trouble to migrate them
Usually, the answer is going to be yes. The important thing to understand is that trying to figure this out later is not a wise move. An ecommerce site migration is a big undertaking, and it’s understandable that online retailers are looking to make it easier and less time-consuming. It’s important to understand that, in aggregate, those content pages are contributing mightily to your site's pagerank. As soon as you launch the new site, the new URLs will be submitted to the search engines to be crawled. Your rank will suffer if you’re missing content that once generated traffic.
Always consider all of the elements on the page: title tags, meta description tags, images, image attributes, alt-text, and paragraphs of text. Some part of this transfer will be done manually, but your technology partner should be able to import and export the majority of the metadata in bulk.
As you may have experienced, many blogs don't get updated frequently after an initial burst of activity. Even an out of date blog on its own subdomain should be considered an opportunity. If your blog content is outdated, you should still use it to go after certain keywords. Update your best performing and outdated blog content where possible. Refreshing your blog content can typically be accomplished without a huge time investment. Migrating to an ecommerce platform with a native blog and content management means you can stop hosting the blog on a subdomain. Reassess where your blog lives now and consider moving it to your main site during the move. While it’s always a topic of debate, the evidence points to one domain being the winner.
Should you redirect or 404 your content?
Mapping redirects is the most important part of protecting the search rankings and SEO equity of your site. Every single page of your legacy site needs to either be mapped to a corresponding page on the new site or designated as a 404 page. Otherwise, you’ll be losing the link value that you've worked hard to build.
There are a few different types of elements of your sites that will need redirects. As long as your page’s content isn’t changing much and keeping the same URL, you shouldn't need to do anything. If the URL for that content has changed, always use 301 redirects. These redirects tell search engines two things: users should be sent from the old page to the new one, and that the value of the page should be passed along as well.
Redirects should bring users to a specific new page that accurately reflects the content of the old page. It might be tempting to send users to a category page instead of a product page or even to a home page, in an effort to save time. If you’ve decided to consolidate or remove a category for design or marketing reasons, keep in mind that this is putting page traffic at risk.
In general, you don't want to create a situation where the visitor is landing on a page with content they weren’t expecting. This results in an error known as a "soft 404." Doing this tells Google that the user is being redirected to a live page, but it’s not a page that gives them the information or content they’re expecting to find.
If the old page is a category page for men's hats, for example, the new page should also be a category page for men's hats. Redirecting users to a page for men's accessories, while it seems reasonable, is not going to be relevant enough.
During your site evaluation, you may find that not all of your old pages have corresponding pages on your new site. In that case, carefully consider creating the pages in an effort to preserve your site's ranking.
When considering whether to use a 404 or a 301 redirect, take a close look at the page’s traffic, conversion rate, and existing backlinks. There are definitely times when landing a visitor on a 404 makes the most sense. For example, it’s typically best to serve a 404 for a retired product page. This keeps the page from being indexed or crawled and your search listings up to date. Redirecting to a similar but different product is generally not a good approach in this case. If your metrics show there is a need to maintain the page, you should probably take a closer look at why that product was retired in the first place.
Don’t forget that all of your internal links needs to be updated. Making sure that internal links are redirected and updated properly helps search engines determine which pages are related to other pages and how. While you’re looking at the internal links, review the anchor text that you’re using in your links.
Inbound links can be more difficult to manage. It's important to make the attempt, because these links help create authority for your pages. Start by sorting all your inbound links by relevance and domain authority, and begin with those that are most important. The ideal solution is to have the site owners at the referring domains update their links. If you can’t contact them or it’s just not feasible, preserve the power of those links by assigning them the proper 301 redirects.
SEO For New PageNew pages will be created as part of an ecommerce website migration. Each one should be designed to have as much SEO influence as possible. That means each page should be focused on two or possibly three keywords–a main keyword plus one or two secondary ones. After deciding on those keywords, it’s time to focus on all of your primary SEO content. Create the URL, page title, meta description, header tags, alt text for images, page copy and internal links. Every page of your site should work to improve the site's rank.
Create robots.txt and disallow rules
It’s also important to tell Google which pages to ignore. To do this, you’ll need to properly set up a robots.txt file that specifies which pages to disallow robots from crawling and indexing content. There are a number of pages that would create a bad experience for a visitor to land on and some that you’ll just want to be private. Some standard examples include the cart, wish list, checkout, login and account pages. Internal search results pages also follow within this group.
There are many aspects to an ecommerce website migration, and it's easy to get overwhelmed. From experience, we know it’s crucial to spend the time throughout the entire process to carefully consider the SEO aspects of the change, and how they might best be handled. That’ll give you the very best chances of keeping your site's search ranking, SEO equity, and revenue rock-solid as your ecommerce business continues to grow.
Looking for more? Download an SEO checklist for your replatforming project.