Migrating a site to an updated design, theme or platform can positively impact your organic rankings and traffic — but if done poorly, it can have the opposite effect. Usually, the negative impact is substantial and organic traffic takes a big hit.
Whether you’re redesigning your site or switching to a new CMS, the process can be stressful at best — a total nightmare at worst. To help you avoid unnecessary headaches throughout the migration process, we’ve put together a handy checklist of important steps for a successful eCommerce website migration.
1. Planning a successful migration
When migrating a site, you’ll need to consider the different teams that need to be involved throughout the process. Coordinating with each team could shorten or lengthen your expected timeline depending on their workload and other priorities. Here are some of the elements you need to consider when migrating/updating to a new or upgraded platform.
If you are building out new categories and subcategories, you need to consider how this changes the structure of the website. Each category of the site should be unique and the subcategories should relate to the main category.
Within any structure of the website, you’ll want to make sure your most important pages are easy for users to find and not buried too deeply into the website. The most important pages should be no more than two to three clicks away from every page of the website.
If your site’s content is largely remaining the same, you’ll still need to make sure it gets uploaded and formatted correctly to your new site. Here is a quick checklist for migrating content:
- All of the content is copied over
- All of your rich media – i.e. images and video files – are downloaded and saved to a database
- All images are compressed and optimized before being re-uploaded to the new site
- Title, description and other tags are optimized for keywords
- Blog Content categories and tags setup on the new platform to match the existing site
If you are completely rewriting your content to fit the new layout or style, you need to be extremely careful not to disrupt any keyword rankings you have established. When new content is added to a page, search engines will look at that page differently, even if the URL stays the same. For example, this site used to look like this:
After a site redesign it looked like this:
A+ improvement on designs. However, the new content is lacking keywords, which will negatively impact the site’s search engine rankings.
You’ll want to commit to a strong SEO strategy when revamping site content during a website migration.
Moz’s resources on site migration heavily emphasizes the need to “devise a flawless process.” While surprises can always disrupt the best-laid plans, that’s no excuse to dive into migration without a clear, concise vision of your end goal – and how to get there.
Site redesigns can take weeks or even months depending on the size of site you have.
For a quick checklist of things to do when migrating a site, you can download our checklist here. Link the image as well.
During migration, you may find old URLs that are no longer relevant, haven’t ranked in ages, or simply don’t convert at a rate worth keeping them around for.
Make sure to pull a report of all PPC landing pages running under your AdWords campaigns. It’s very easy to lose track of all PPC landing pages, and if they’re still driving conversions you’ll want to be sure to include them in your migration. Do the same for Affiliate, Retargeting (Adwords/Social), Display, Shopping campaigns and any advertising you are running to make sure you don’t kill pages driving traffic.
With many platform changes, you’ll might be migrating your blog alongside your eCommerce pages. Try to make sure the URLs for blog content remain the same. If your new platform does not allow you to create identical URLs for blog posts, see step 4.
Ideally, it’s best to keep all URLs on your site the same as before your migration. If the site has been around for a while, those product and category pages will have plenty of internal and external links to help provide authority, so losing those URLS can negatively impact your SEO.
When URLs need to change, it’s essential to put together a plan for where these pages need to redirect. All 301 redirects need to be in place when the new website goes live to minimize the number of error pages customers and search engines may find.
Here is a guide on how to successfully implement 301 redirects.
It’s possible that, while reviewing old URLs to redirect, your list of pages to redirect could grow into the thousands or tens of thousands. If this happens, you’ll have to:
A) Hustle to get all of those redirects finished within matter of days
B) Prioritize which URLs to redirect and which to abandon
If you go with option B you’ll need to do an audit of your site to determine which pages are high priority, as well as which pages have internal and (most importantly) external links pointing to them.
Authoritative backlinks remain critical to winning SEO strategy. If you’re not sure where all of your backlinks are — or which ones affect the authority of your site — you can use link auditing tools like Google Search Console. Ahrefs, Majestic SEO, and Open Site Explorer are also good options for identifying backlinks.
Additionally, you’ll want to update your business listings and local citations with your new URLs, rather than redirecting them to your new page.
3. Review your Metadata
Many website owners use migration as an opportunity to completely audit and re-optimize metadata. Page titles are an important factor of SEO, so this is a great time to rewrite existing titles and descriptions.
“The title tag is the boldest, most obvious element in a search result and therefore a major part in the decision-making process of whether a searcher will click on your result or not,” wrote Search Engine Watch in a great piece on metadata title tags.
Make sure all your pages have unique title tags and descriptions, and that they are properly optimized for customers and search engines.
4. Implement schema markup
Schema markup — AKA extra code giving search engines more info about your site — helps users find more useful information from you during searches. This makes it an important step for SEO success.
Want those snazzy star ratings to show up when people use Google to search for your products? Want users to see product prices and availability before they ever get to your website? These are all features from schema markup that Google can pull in to make the result look more enticing to click.
Schema.org is a great resource for implementing your markups if you weren’t directly in charge of them last time, or if your team managing the site migration needs a refresher on this step.
5. Check for duplicate content
If you have more than 20 products on a page (or decide to implement infinite scroll), it’s good practice to create filters. However, this can lead to duplicate content.
For example, the URL “https://example.com/bands?color=green&size=large” will display the same selection of products here “https://example.com/bands?size=large&color=green”.
Google warns against duplicate content because search engine bots can take up extra time crawling multiple versions of the same page instead of crawling more pages on the website. In order to eliminate duplicate content, you should use canonical tags.
Essentially, canonical tags take pages on your website that display similar or duplicate content on multiple URLs and consolidate those URLs into one “master” version. That’s the URL search engines see, and it increases your SERP position since you won’t get penalized for duplicate content.
Here are some other ways you could see duplicate content:
- https://example.com/bands (the main page)
- https://www.example.com/bands (notice that this page on the www subdomain is also accessible)
- http://example.com/bands?ref=blog-lady (this version tracks the referral source
- https://example.com/bands?sort=price (how users view the products by lowers to highest price)
Those are examples of pages that could be grouped together with a canonical tag to make crawling your site an easier experience for search engines. A canonical tag for these pages would look something like this (placed in the header of any of the above pages):
<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://example.com/bands”/>
Here is a great guide to begin using canonical tags to avoid duplicate content.
6. Test your Redirects
Better safe than sorry. You can check the redirect files your development team is planning to use as well to make sure all redirects are branded correctly with the new site theme. You’ll also want to gain an understanding of where the redirects will happen, as well. For example, you want to know if the redirects occur through your server access site via HTACCESS or files located inside your store’s platform.
Platforms like Shopify, Magento and BigCommerce have plugins or apps in order to implement redirects so double check and plan how you’re going to implement these.
You’ll need to test all of your redirects to make sure that they’re working properly. This testing needs to be done right after launch so error pages can be cleaned up as soon as possible. It’s best to use a crawling tool to help find the 404 pages that may have been missed in the design process.
Here’s a guide on testing your redirects during/after site migration.
7. Generate and Submit Your XML Sitemap
Once your new site is fully designed and ready to push live, you need to generate your XML Sitemap so you can submit it to Google and Bing Webmaster Tools as soon as possible. A tool like the Screaming Frog SEO Spider is a great one to use to create your XML Sitemap.
BigCommerce will automatically display your sitemap for you as well if your site is hosted there. WordPress, Woocommerce, Magento, and Shopify all offer the same service.
As you build your sitemap, you may need to create multiple sitemaps, depending on the number of products and SKUs available on your website. If you have over 100 SKUs, we recommend creating separate sitemaps for categories and subcategories and one for products.
Once the sitemap is created, it’s essential to add upload it to your website and then submit to search engines. Follow yet another simple guide from Google on submitting your XML Sitemap.
8. Ensure analytics tracking code is working
After the XML sitemap is submitted to Google, you need to double-check your analytics tracking code is working. If you haven’t yet installed your new analytics code on your website, now is the time to do so.
You can follow this guide from Google to test your analytics code to ensure that it is reporting traffic as it properly should.
During this process, you want to make sure your settings in analytics are the same for the new site as they were on the old site. This prevents a disruption in reporting, ensuring your analytics reports are still tracking the same events they were on the old site.
Most importantly, check the settings for your goals if those destination pages or the events have changed at all to ensure you don’t stop seeing completions. Make sure to run a few transactions to double check that ecommerce tracking is also implemented and working.
9. Double check links in emails and downloadable assets
Lastly, you need to go through your transaction emails, abandoned cart emails, and any other campaigns going out to update the links to the new pages on your site. This is a bit time-consuming, but it’s absolutely necessary.
You’ll also want to look at any downloadable assets – ebooks or PDFs – to ensure that hyperlinks within those assets are also updated and the new version is available on your website.
Site migration is a tricky process and one that has the potential to seriously harm your SEO. However, following this checklist and creating a deliberate, thorough plan for your migration will mitigate any potential problems.
10. Use annotations to track ALL changes to the site
Use annotations in Google Analytics to track major changes that happened to the site once it goes live. Use the checklist we created to make a note of what changed on the site from the new one to the old one. Some good annotations or notes to make include: New site launch, Summer product launch, Launched the “Hanvey” collection, changed the content on all category pages, etc.
You are able to write 160 characters for each new annotation you create. It is best to annotate major marketing or site changes that happen. This will help whoever working on the account to understand what may have caused a major spike or dip in traffic.