Migrating to a new commerce platform can seem like a daunting project. With so many technical, financial, and scheduling factors to consider, all too many store operators lose track of one of the key ingredients that’s helped make them successful: search engine optimization.
Some platforms may include basic SEO features, but the bulk of the work is going to be up to your own digital marketing expert to assess, implement, and verify. You absolutely cannot avoid this and expect your shiny new platform to automatically retain and migrate your SEO juice—even if you’ve performed your technical due diligence, hired the best development agency, and spent a fortune on the migration. If you don’t make SEO a priority, your traffic and Google rankings are going to drop significantly.
Here’s a high-level summary of the critical tasks for preserving—and maybe even improving—your search rankings through a migration. For a more detailed step-by-step plan, download our Ecommerce SEO Migration Checklist.
Smart project planning and pre-migration data cleanup can make or break your migration. Follow these steps to get off to a strong start.
Plan your launch and cutover date
Make a detailed project plan, with task tracking and assignments, for your SEO migration. Consider contract start / end dates (and auto renewal clauses!) with your current and new platform providers, along with your marketing schedule for the year.
Clean up product, category, and customer data
Like a good spring cleaning, having a well-organized dataset for migration will make the whole process a lot easier to manage. Remove any old, outdated, or inactive products and categories. We suggest doing the same for customer records, too.
Once you have a thorough project plan and a clean dataset, it’s time to dig into the stuff we normally consider “real” search engine optimization. You’ll want to make sure these tasks are covered in your project plan.
Get an SSL certificate
Google has been using the HTTPS protocol as a ranking signal since 2014. If you do not secure an SSL certificate, not only will your Google rankings decline drastically, but visitors will be shown a rather scary blurb cautioning them to stay away.
Review meta tags
A migration initiative is a great time to revisit and evaluate the meta tag values on your content and product detail pages. Follow Google guidelines for title tags (60 characters max) and description tags (between 165-320 characters). Be sure to include the terms you believe your best potential customers are actually searching for.
Optimize your images
Consider image optimization techniques, such as renaming images to contain your product title, ensuring all images have ALT tags, and leveraging an image CDN that dynamically resizes and compresses images served up to the client browser and device.
Add “sitemap” and “robots” files
Ensure your new platform has
sitemap.xml files at the root level. These files are critical for bots to crawl and index your site. The sitemap file needs to have a complete list of all page URLs that you want to be publicly accessible, and it needs to be kept up to date when you add or remove pages.
Manage 301 redirects and backlinks
Create a list of 301 redirects for your most active pages. You’ll want to ensure you don’t lose the SEO value of these URLs when switching platforms. While you’re at it, you’ll probably want to review existing backlinks to your site and ensure that they are either replicated or redirected.
Track 404 errors
No matter how much you plan, there will most likely be a few straggler orphan pages that slip past your radar. These pages will throw a 404 error for bots and visitors trying to land on them. Monitor these very closely during the first month of your launch and triage them accordingly, with the end goal being no more 404 errors.
Enable Google Analytics and Search Console
Be sure to verify and enable Google Analytics (GA) and Google Search Console (previously known as Webmaster Tools). Your new store will need the same setup steps and code snippets embedded as your previous site. While you’re at it, set up and test the Ecommerce Tracking functionality within your GA account.
Review and update footer links
Evaluate all the links on your current footer to determine what makes sense to keep or purge. Links on your homepage do get higher crawl priority by bots, which is one of the reasons webmasters tend to dump a ton of URLs in the footer. For best results, try to balance what you put in the footer for search bots and for human readers.
Resubmit your URL to Google
And finally, let Google know that you’re ready for their bots to reindex your site! Visit Google’s Submit URL tool for more info.
Want to know more?
Check out our free downloadable Ecommerce SEO Migration Checklist. It includes more details, a step by step checklist for your project plan, and links to even more resources and info. You can download it here.