Ready to Change E-Commerce Platforms? Be Prepared!
If you’re reading this,
it’s too late I hope you read our previous post: Thinking About Changing E-Commerce Platforms? Think Again! If not, please take a moment to back the train up and review our sagely advice from last week. It might save you a whole lot of time and worry! If you’re up to speed and you’re still considering moving, this guide is going to be essential to your planning. Keep reading so that you can be prepared for all the dangers, bumps, and bruises that go along with this ride.
Pick me! Pick me!
First thing’s first, where are you moving to? Every platform out there is going to be vying for your attention. Which ones are the best? There is no good answer to that. They are all different and competitive. What is an awesome platform for one merchant might be terrible for another who is selling something else in an entirely different manner, so to each his own.
Don’t get distracted. If you know the reason you are moving, make sure the new platform meets that need plus all the needs your previous platform is meeting for you. Otherwise, understand what you might be sacrificing in order to move. Remember to double check that the new platform is compatible with your payment processor, shipping providers, tax needs, and inventory control.
Migrating is for the birds!
Let’s talk about what to consider next. You’re going to take a few hits when you move. The first of which is the move itself. Your store holds a vast amount of information from product data and images to customer and order data. How do you get that from point A to point B? There is no easy import/export between most platforms. Your data isn’t usually going to come out in a pretty little package that can just easily be uploaded to the new platform. You’re going to have to think about options.
If you’re lucky, there might be some 3rd party tools that you can use to make your migration easier. These are usually feed based. A company can setup a feed to pull your data out of your current store in some neutral format and then use a secondary feed to send it to the new platform in the desired format. There are obvious fees associated with this. Generally, the more products you have, the more expensive this is going to be.
up a feed to pull your data out of your current store in some neutral format and then use a secondary feed to send it to the new platform in the desired format. There are obvious fees associated with this. Generally, the more products you have, the more expensive this is going to be.
Do you remember all the effort that went into setting up your original store? Migrating is all that and more. You’ll need to setup a new store and all that goes along with it. Then, once your content is migrated, you’ll need to go through your content to make sure everything is correct. If there wasn’t a feed service available or if it only brought over partial data, you’ll need to manually spend time adding your data and making changes. This can be cumbersome. If you don’t have the time or experience, you many need to hire someone to do this for you. However, that can be pricy as well. I’ve seen merchants put 40-100 hours into moving data.
You’re also going to need to figure out what to do with all your customer data. Hopefully, you can export your order data in a spreadsheet or another convenient format so that you have it for tax and business purposes. Keep in mind that things like orders and customer accounts don’t typically transfer well to different platforms.
Now that you have a pretty good idea of what you need to research, prepare, and do let’s move on to one of the biggest issues with migrating e-commerce platforms – your SEO. If you’re not familiar with what search engine optimization (SEO) is before migrating, you will be afterward when you ask yourself why is my store suddenly tanking?!
SEO really is the scariest part of moving to a different platform. First of all, there are very important things you need to do before moving in order to have your best chance of retaining your search rankings. Your number one priority should be to make sure that you have Google Analytics installed and working properly on your website. You’re going to want at least a few months of data recorded in Google Analytics before you move so that you have something to compare your new metrics to later.
While you’re at it, make sure that you have Google Search Console setup for your site, as well. This is going to be a very important tool. It will allow you to monitor issues on your site that are impacting your SEO. You’ll also use this to resubmit your sitemap once the migration is done.
While you’re migrating data, you’re going to need to make sure that you take extra special care to ensure that the following data is brought over properly:
- Page URLs / Canonical Tags
- Product Descriptions
- Meta Descriptions
- Page Titles
- Image ALT tags
Return to sender. No forwarding address found.
All of this data impacts SEO. We’ll talk about each element, but first and foremost let’s focus on Page URLs. So, let’s say you have a product and the URL to that product page is:
That is the exact URL. By that I mean that, if Google sees any other URL for that product. It counts it as a different page. Therefore, if you don’t have canonical tags setup, you could be getting yourself into some hot water (in terms of SEO) with duplicate content. Without canonical tags, the following pages are all different than the product URL listed above in Google’s eyes – even though they all redirect to the same product.
https://www.mystore.com/category/super-awesome-product https://mystore.com/category/super-awesome-product http://mystore.com/category/super-awesome-product https://www.mystore.com/category/super-awesome-product?ref=twitter
If this is all new to you and your mind is blown right now, take a few minutes to find out how you can implement canonical tags on your site today or reach out to us for help.
While you can easily pick one version of that product URL as the primary and tell Google to refer to that one for SEO purposes with canonical tags, that is not the correct solution to use if you’re actually changing your URLs. The above examples are just HTTP/HTTPS redirects, www / non-www redirects, and query strings, which are typical redirect setups for most websites. That’s not quite the same as actually changing your URL.
Why would you change your URLs? Well, in a perfect world, you wouldn’t. However, migrating platforms exists well outside of the world of perfection and leans more towards that dark and scary world where monsters live under your bed. Long story short, your platform might use a different structure to generate pages URLs that is incompatible with the way you did it before.
Let’s say you’re migrating from WooCommerce, so your product URLs look something like the examples I gave above. You’ve chosen to move to Yahoo Merchant Solutions. URLs inside a Yahoo store do not use any hierarchy, so you’ll never see the category as a piece of the URL. Also, all of their pages end in the ‘.html’ file extension. Here is a before and after of what this product URL would look like:
WooCommerce – Before Address
Yahoo – After Address
If you don’t tell Google the product at the “Before” address can now be found at the “After” address, it’s not going to know. That means it will assume the WooCommerce page no longer exists and you’ll lose all search engine rankings associated with that page. Furthermore, the Yahoo address will be treated like a brand new page with no history. Enter the 301 redirect! You’ll need to setup 301 redirects for all of your pages where the URL has changed. That is how you attempt to keep the link equity of the previous page and pass on that ranking power on to the new page. Forgetting to setup 301 redirects is like completely scrapping your current site and starting from scratch. You’ll be back to square one on your SEO efforts.
Content is King
If you read our blog, follow us on social, or check out our videos/webinars, you’ll know that we’re always prattling off, “Content is KING!” That’s because it’s true. The biggest part of how search engines rank your website is according to how helpful and informative your content is. Therefore, if you’ve spent time investing in the quality of your content, it’s probably delivered you some pretty nice results with the search engines. It would be a shame to lose all of that. Make sure you don’t!
Once you migrate your content over, make sure that it’s all intact and in the correct place. Also, be sure that it’s still user-friendly, especially on mobile. Google is ranking sites based on their mobile versions instead of their desktop versions ever since they rolled out their ‘mobile first‘ initiative.
We’re not METAphorically speaking
Meta descriptions and page titles are serious business. They are a foundational part of SEO. Chances are you either have automatically generated meta, meta that you’ve optimized yourself or maybe you’ve even paid some experts to do that for you. If this information isn’t brought over to the new platform exactly that way it is, you risk messing with your rankings. Therefore, do your due diligence to make sure it’s done properly. If you have automatically generated data, make sure the new platform generates it in the same manner using the same data or take this as an opportunity to optimize your data.
There is no ALTernative
The mighty ALT tag; it’s important to have on your images. Why? Because this is what visually impaired users will hear when they use a screen reader to view your site instead of it reading off the terrible file names. Also, Google loves it. Why? Because Google is concerned about usability and therefore it cares about the accessibility of your site for all users. Furthermore, even though Google can recognize faces and crazy stuff like that, it’s still got a long way to go before it really fine tunes that whole determining what’s in a picture thing. It’s relying on you to tell them what’s in your photo and this plays into your image search rankings. Make sure your image ALT tags get brought over to the new platform.
I’ve done all that stuff, so I should be good, right?
I wish it were so! The unfortunate reality is that even if all of this advice is followed to the letter, you can’t guarantee your rankings won’t be affected. When you move platforms, the HTML code of the page itself changes. This is enough for Google to say, “Hmm…looks like something changed over here.” Then, Google typically proceeds with a fine tooth comb to look over your site thoroughly.
This can result in pre-existing problems that were flying under the radar to suddenly get noticed or something in your new code might affect one of the 100+ considerations Google looks at when determining ranking.
You’re way more likely than not to experience at least some fluctuations in your search engine rankings after migrating to a new platform. If all is done correctly, these fluctuations should hopefully level out within a few weeks. From there, things will probably remain level or improve a bit. If you continue to see downward trends, there is probably an underlying reason.
Since you’re at the mercy of search engines like Google, who ultimately determine how you are ranked, you should keep a watchful eye on your metrics and tools. Things like Google Search Console can notify you quickly of errors found with crawling. You should take action on any issue listed there immediately. However, I wouldn’t just rely on your standard toolbox. This is the optimal time to run a full audit on your site.
You should able to obtain a complete SEO audit of your website from any reputable SEO agency for a reasonable cost. Once you have an audit done, you might initially be shocked by the report. These things tend to return thousands of issues. A trusted consultant can help you determine which ones are actually important or imperative. Furthermore, they can help you prioritize issues. Sometimes you get something that is causing 10,000+ errors that can actually be fixed by a 15-minute change to your website. Other times you might have something that is only showing up as 1 error, but it is mission critical to your success and might take hours to fix. Get yourself an experienced guide who can put together a strategy with you.
With careful planning, meticulous migration, and cautious monitoring, it is possible to survive a migration to another platform with minimal losses. If moving is truly in your best interest, take the plunge, but don’t do it unprepared. Allow this guide to serve as your outline to success. It’s a dangerous journey, but it can be a fulfilling one. If you ever need any professional advice or disaster recovery, your personal team of experts is only a call or email away!