Updating your e-commerce platform can do a lot of positive things for your brand. But if you aren’t careful, it can also wreak havoc on your site’s authority with search engines.
Here are nine things you should do to safeguard your SEO efforts during the process.
1. Create a List Of All URLs On Your Existing Site
It’s important to have a record of every URL on the old site that you can reference and redirect (if needed!) during the site migration. The last thing you want is to lose any existing authority you have built with the search engines because of the migration.
Create a list of any broken links on the site, as well as all existing redirects already on the site.
If your URL structure will be changing at all as a result of the site migration, do not introduce redirect chains (in which one redirect leads to another redirect, etc.). This will put a load on your servers, slow down performance for the user, and leak PageRank causing your site to lose visibility in search results.
You can use a tool like Screaming Frog to crawl your site and create this list. Any tool that allows you to crawl all your site’s links, identify broken links and redirects, will also do the job.
2. Clarify What Changes Will Occur During the Site Migration
Updating to a new e-commerce platform can introduce a wide variety of changes to your information architecture, among other things. It’s important to take stock of all these changes before you complete your migration.
It’s vital to set up a sandbox and test your database on the new platform before implementing any change on your domain. Without a test implementation, you can’t predict every change that the new platform will cause.
Don’t skip this step – even for the most user-friendly e-commerce platforms.
Make sure that your test implementation is set as noindex. You do not want search engines to start displaying results from it. (Also, don’t forget to remove the noindex after the migration!)
Things to look for include:
- Changes to menu navigation.
- Changes to breadcrumb navigation.
- Overall site hierarchy.
- URL naming conventions.
Identify if and how any of these are different.
3. Create a List of the URLs That You Will Implement on the New Site
Before the site migration, you should have a thorough understanding of how:
- To construct page URLs.
- The results will be different after the migration.
Understand the URL naming conventions so that there are no exceptions when you update the site.
4. Create a Redirect Map from Your Legacy Site to the Updated Site
Use your understanding of the new URL naming convention to construct rules for use in .htaccess. This will redirect all old URLs to the new URLs after the site migration.
5. Account for Any Manually Created Links
It’s important to identify which links on your site are:
- Dynamically generated by the e-commerce platform
- Manually created and inserted into the content in static fashion.
Static links aren’t automatically updated, even when you update your e-commerce platform.
If you did well with your redirect map, you don’t have to worry. After the site migration, your manually created links should still redirect to the appropriate page.
That said, you should avoid linking to any redirected pages on your own site. The purpose of setting up redirects is to send users and PageRank to the appropriate page when they are visiting from an external link.
Internal redirects are sloppy and slow down performance. You should avoid them.
6. Create a List of Your Most Authoritative Pages
Use every external link crawler you have access to, such as Ahrefs and Open Site Explorer, to create a list of all of your existing pages, sortable by factors such as the number of inbound links and page authority metrics.
Ideally, after your site migration, the most authoritative URLs should not change. We have updated sites by switching to HTTPS and made other migrations where we changed every URL – all without observing any changes in rankings. That said, it’s always possible that you could lose some link equity by changing the URLs of your most authoritative pages.
Besides crawling tools, I’d also recommend using Google Analytics to identify any pages that have had at least one visit from an external source in the past year. This is a good proxy for search engine authority. Any page that is receiving visitors is a page you almost certainly want to keep, regardless.
To avoid losing search engine traffic, make sure to preserve pages already receiving search engine traffic. You can do this by using a redirect during the transition.
Your top pages should also keep their prominent status. It’s important that no changes during the migration rob them of that status.
7. Measure Your Rankings
You can use a tool like SEMrush to compile as much ranking data as possible on your site before the transition. Make sure to track not only your top keywords, but also keyword data for as many pages as possible.
Verify that you will be able to track changes in these keywords both before and after the site migration. In case you lose or gain any search engine traffic after the site migration, you will be able to identify where the changes occurred more quickly.
8. Address Any Pages That Will Go Missing
A site migration should never result in any unintended missing pages. It’s essential to catch these issues before they happen.
Here are the most common causes of missing pages:
- The site migration handles dynamically generated URLs but doesn’t account for any static pages or pages produced using other platforms. If you have created any pages as static HTML or using another platform, make sure that you address them.
- Inconsistent URL naming conventions. There may be sections of the site that use different URL naming conventions. If not addressed, it will lead to an entire section of the site going missing with 404 redirects.
- Pages falling out of navigation. If the new platform navigation is different from the old one, entire sections of your site may be inaccessible from the internal navigation. When this happens, you won’t be able to find your pages using a site crawl. These pages will lose a significant amount of their authority.
To ensure that none of these issues takes place, run a crawl of your test implementation and verify that the number of URLs is identical. If not, you will need to account for the difference in URL count.
Removal of duplicates might result into the difference, which is good. That said, missing pages or an inflated URL count caused by duplicates may also be the reason. Both are problems that you should address.
9. Post-Launch Monitoring
Immediately crawl the site for errors after you migrate to the new platform. Test for any issues that may have arisen during the transfer from the test implementation to the fully operational site.
Always verify that the new implementation isn’t using the noindex tag.
Monitor your traffic and rankings to identify where any changes may have occurred.
If you implemented a large number of redirects, expect a significant amount of your traffic to shift from “organic” to “direct”. This is because Google Analytics doesn’t identify redirected traffic as organic. This will persist until Google updates its index.
Keep these nine necessities in mind as you update your e-commerce platform. We’ve seen too many sites lose visibility in search results unfairly by ignoring them.
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