Deciding to migrate to a new platform like Shopify can be an exciting time for an ecommerce merchant. A fresh storefront with all the new features and integration possibilities the platform offers can open up a world of opportunity for growth. While replatforming can be a big step in the right direction in developing your business, it isn’t without its concerns - the biggest being what happens with your old storefront’s SEO. Thankfully with proper planning, you can maintain your SEO and preserve our store’s ranking with search engines as well as being able to develop your future SEO strategy.
How replatforming affects SEO
Search engine optimization is crucial in acquiring new customers and making sure more people discover your brand. If your store doesn’t rank on search engines, you start having to rely on other forms of promotion such as social media, paid search and other forms of digital advertising. However 44% of consumers use ad-blockers, citing that they’re intrusive and they get too many ads that they simply don’t pay attention to. Moreover, 49% say they use Google to discover or find a new brand, and social media contributes just 1/11th as much traffic as organic search. It’s clear that organic search is the best for driving traffic to your store. However when you decide to replatform, your store’s SEO is put at risk.
So why is this the case? Search engine algorithms rely on many different processes to determine ranking such as crawling, as well as looking at all different factors such as page speed and content. Search engines crawl and index sites on a regular basis looking for changes, and if their bots run into issues such as a redirect for a page that’s slipped under the radar or major changes to site content then this can have a big impact on your store’s SEO.
At the same time, it can also be seen as an opportunity to make improvements to your SEO strategy. You can rethink aspects of your store that you could develop to improve the customer experience such as site structure, and adding new content like blogs that will grow your keyword strategy.
How to protect your store’s SEO
#1 - Take stock of your existing store’s SEO
It’s important to have an idea of benchmarks for your store’s SEO before starting a migration. By taking stock of these ahead of replatforming, you’ll have data to compare to when the migration is complete so you can better monitor performance from before and after. You’ll want to look at metrics around page speed, conversion rates, organic traffic, keyword ranking, and mobile responsiveness. It’s important to prioritize key landing pages for your existing SEO strategy, so that any performance issues that may occur post-migration can be dealt with quickly.
It’s also worth mapping out the different elements that you’ll need for SEO such as meta data that will need to be imported, image and other content URLs that may need to be redirected, and your internal linking structure. A full picture of your current technical SEO will help make sure that nothing gets overlooked in the migration process.
#2 - Plan 301 redirects and 404 errors
If you’re planning out a new store and rethinking how that store is structured, chances are your URL structure is going to be different to your old store. Some pages will be reworked or changed, and some will disappear altogether as you clear out old content. However in doing this, you risk links being broken or leading nowhere which is bad for your store’s SEO because it signals a poor customer experience. They can’t find what they’re looking for, they leave disappointed, and that impacts your ranking. On top of this, once Google’s bots go to crawl that link, they won’t find anything. By properly planning out your 301 redirects and your 404 errors, you can ensure that your store doesn’t lose traffic and crucial rankings.
Map out your store’s current URL structure using a sitemap spreadsheet, then plot out where each URL will redirect to. Some will be like-for-like such as product pages, and others will perhaps need to redirect to a catalog collection page such as products that aren’t being carried over. This ensures that if a customer has a link saved that it still points them in the right direction, and that you don’t lose any valuable backlinks. When it comes to 404s, the same generally applies - map them out and plan for them. In going through your store’s structure you’ll be able to identify all the 404s that currently exist and figure out how to resolve them.
It’s worth noting that when you redirect a link, the content of the page should be as similar as possible to the old link. For example, say there’s a product collection that you aren’t carrying over to your new store. You could set up a 301 redirect to a different collection, or to your homepage. However this content isn’t similar to the old link, so when a customer navigates to it they’ll only be left confused. In cases such as these, you want to have a custom 404 page set up so that customers are clear that the page no longer exists but can be recommended pages or content that they might be interested in.
#3 - Test, review, and test again
One of the most crucial aspects of replatforming your store’s SEO is to ensure that you’re constantly testing everything you’re putting into place. This likely will involve not just double checking it, but quadruple checking it. By identifying any changes that need to be made before the new site goes live, you mitigate any potential issues flagging up when you go to launch. It also avoids making changes once the site is live which could cause potential performance issues that affect the user experience and your store’s SEO.
Some elements you’ll want to review:
- 301 redirects - are they all working as they should?
- 404 errors - are there any unexpected errors?
- Speed - how has the site speed performance changed?
- Content - is there any duplicate content to fix?
- Meta information - check title tags, meta descriptions, etc.
Once the new store has launched, ensure you’re keeping a close eye on the metrics and performance of your key landing pages. This will help you to flag up and fix any issues in the days and weeks after launch.
#4 - Migrate first, improve content later
Whilst replatforming can be a great opportunity to improve your store in line with your SEO goals, you don’t want to change too much too soon. Focus on migrating your store and its current SEO over to the new platform first, and plan for how you’ll optimize your store’s design and content afterwards. There are a few reasons for this, the major one being that both replatforming and content and design changes impact your SEO. If you do both at the same time, it will be difficult to accurately determine which is responsible for changes to your store’s traffic, speed, and other factors that might affect your traffic. By focussing on the migration first, you can take the time to monitor analytics across your store and fix any SEO related issues. Use this crucial testing time to plan out your store’s SEO strategy moving forward, looking for areas where you could improve the customer experience using content and design. Once the migration is complete and the impact of it on your SEO is measurable, you can then start to look at these design and content improvements. You’ll be able to better inform these improvements with performance data from post-launch SEO.
Migrating to Shopify is a big move for any ecommerce merchant, and one which can open new doors for growth and development. With the right strategy as part of your migration, you’ll be able to minimize the impact to your store’s SEO ensuring you don’t lose valuable organic search traffic. You’ll then be able to focus on all the exciting parts of migrating to a new platform such as adding fresh content and design, integrating new apps, and improving the customer experience.