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Migrating Your Ecommerce Website and Keeping Your SEO Intact

18.08.2021

After launching a site from scratch, migrating a website is the most comprehensive project an eCommerce business has to go through. 

Whether you’re creating a new domain, re-platforming, undergoing a complete redesign or revamping your website architecture, a top priority in your eCommerce site migration needs to be SEO.

Despite its vital role in the outcome of any site migration, SEO is surprisingly easy to overlook. It’s a less obvious, “under the hood” kind of consideration, easily missed among a thousand other factors. 

But do so at your peril: without a proper SEO migration, your launch daydreams can quickly turn into one big nightmare.

Why do you need an SEO plan when migrating?

It would be best to have an SEO plan to maintain the search engine visibility, rankings and authority your brand has gradually built up over time. 

Without one, you might find yourself plummeting down search engine results pages in the aftermath of a migration, out of sight and out of the mind of potential customers. In the worst cases, it can take months to recover from this kind of loss fully. 

This can occur because making significant changes to your site – whether that’s a change in URL, a redesign or a new CMS – dramatically affects how search engines rank it. 

The relative complexity of eCommerce websites doesn’t help this; they’re particularly tricky for search engines to get to grips with due to the quantity and large variety of pages, including supporting pages that shouldn’t rank. 

Fortunately, a careful SEO migration can transfer your hard-won search visibility, minimising or completely negating any loss. 

To put it plainly: an SEO plan prevents a site migration resulting in a loss of traffic, which equates to a loss of revenue in eCommerce. 

The SEO migration plan

An SEO migration is an in-depth process with numerous steps. It’s best approached as three distinct stages: 

  • work performed prior to the migration
  • during launch and 
  • post-launch. 

We created a detailed process with a lot of small but important steps for a successful SEO migration. 

Phase 1: Pre-launch migration work

Redirect files

The first step is to collect all of the current URLs and the new URLs on the staging website, then merging the two to create a redirect file.

This is done to ensure that all URLs are healthy and correctly optimised, directing users and linking juice to the proper pages. It is an inevitable action step to guarantee all URLs, whether they are in any way changed or not, are performing in the best way possible, without losing their value.

Even if URLs aren’t changing, this step guarantees that all of them are functioning correctly.

XML sitemap

Creating a new XML sitemap that’s showing all of the new page URLs is the second step of the pre-launch migration work.  

An XML sitemap is a roadmap for search engines. When the bots crawl it, 

it makes them understand the structure and content of the website, indexing any new URLs so they can appear on search results pages. 

Tracking set up

Setting up adequately configured tracking codes for Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager is essential for the migration process. We need to ensure that we’re using the correct data to make further decisions based on accurate insights.

Phase 2: Migration work during the launch

Technical site audit

A full technical audit works like a health check for website migration.

It’s a final check to see if everything is done right upon launch. 

Updating the XML sitemap

The XML sitemap created in the pre-launch phase should be updated to the Google Search Console. 

The update alerts Google there’s something new, a fresh site structure to be crawled, properly indexed and ranked. 

Check robots.txt / .htaccess

Robots.txt and .htaccess are tools that tell search engine crawlers which URLs they should or should not access when crawling your site. It’s vital to thoroughly check these have been implemented correctly to ensure no new content has been accidentally blocked, and to prevent pages that you do not wish to appear in searches (such as internal or private sections of your website) from being crawled.

Google search console check

By checking any possible 404 pages every three days, we ensure that users are able to access the closest page on the site to what they are looking for, resulting in a positive user experience. It’s also good to maintain a tidy site, which Google can crawl and understand easily. 

Phase 3: Post-launch website migration work 

Crawl error monitoring 

During a new site launch, it’s highly likely to run into a few crawl errors. It may be that some pages were missed in the redirect process, leaving with dead internal links, or it could be a more esoteric problem like passwords protecting pages. 

Either way, it’s essential to examine these and redirect any 404 “Page Not Found” errors caused by broken links to the most relevant page available.

301 redirect check

Checking for any incorrect 301 redirects and creating new ones to replace them is equally important. It’s also vital to ensure no pages are 404ing after a launch, as this could lead to a significant drop in rankings, mainly if the error involves a page that’s a central pillar of your site.

URL indexing

Reviewing the indexing of all new URLs on the site to ensure this has been done successfully for each one.

Sitemap indexing 

Similarly, reviewing how the sitemap has been indexed can help identify any pages that crawlers have missed. 

Site speed review

The following “check-up step” is conducting a site speed audit to ensure fast loading times across multiple browsers, including mobile devices. One of the leading causes of a high bounce rate is pages that take too long to load, so it’s essential to ensure each page is loading as quickly as possible without sacrificing any of its value. Once the analysis is complete, any necessary changes can be considered. 

Review keyword rankings 

In the weeks after the site migration, it’s essential to keep a watchful eye on a website’s visibility. Track how well you’re ranking for your chosen keywords and search terms to quickly identify if there are any fluctuations and in what areas. If you’ve done everything right, this should be a precautionary measure, but it’s best to know early rather than late if you need to make further changes.

Review organic performance

Reviewing your new URLs’ organic performance to ensure they’re ranking for the search terms you’re targeting. You mainly need to analyse the organic traffic reaching your central pages to see if any adjustments to structure or content are required.

Be thorough to keep positions

Following all of these steps keeps SEO positions intact during migration. 

It’s by no means a doddle – as we said, there’s a lot to consider. However, as long as you know what you’re doing and treat each stage of the process with the proper care, not skipping ahead or rushing at any point, it should be plain sailing. 

With an effective SEO plan in place, you can proceed with your migration worry-free, confident that you’ll be maintaining the visibility and authority your eCommerce platform has accumulated over time and not giving up any ground.

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