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How to Mitigate Risks When Migrating Your E-Commerce Store

Ronald Dod
Ronald Dod

It is important to maker sure you have all your bases covered when migrating your e-commerce store.

With Black Friday online sales hitting an all-time high in 2019, many e-commerce retailers are prospering. As their brands continue to grow, website migrations often become a necessity to offer better online experiences to larger customer bases.

That said, there are a variety of common e-commerce website migration issues that retailers must look out for, particularly as it relates to SEO.

To help avoid such pitfalls, today, we will be exploring how sellers can successfully mitigate the inherent risks associated with site migrations.

No matter which platform a retailer is coming from or going to, the first step is to analyze the features that a store uses, as there is a chance that the new platform may not offer the same functionality. Therefore, retailers would need to make preparations to no longer have a particular element or to hire a developer that can replicate features and possibly initiate new ones.

The next step is to establish a launch strategy by selecting the best time to conduct the migration. Naturally, this will be when the site's traffic is at its lowest, as this mitigates the potential for mass customer confusion. This is one of the most common website migration issues, so be sure to inform customers of the switch beforehand.

Finally, given how vital data is to e-commerce operations, it is essential to create a complete backup of the store's data, including everything from images to order histories. The chances are that the hosting provider already has a backup in place. Either way, this step is critical to a successful migration in case things go awry.

With these elements in place, it is time for retailers to initiate the re-platforming process. This is where the magic happens. That said, the process is a delicate one that requires strict oversight. To successfully transfer a store to a new platform, it is necessary for merchants to:

Run a store audit

Maintaining SEO performance is of prime importance when migrating e-commerce stores. The data on the current site is essential for this; however, by auditing a store before re-platforming, retailers can also pinpoint areas that require further optimization.

To achieve this, merchants must run a crawl of the existing site. Tools like Screaming Frog, Ahrefs, DeepCrawl, and similar services are ideal for this task. Such tools will provide site owners with a complete list of URLs, along with other relevant information like title tags, meta tags, headers and the like.

Additionally, it is important to export as much of the old site’s Search Console data as possible, including crawl errors, mobile usability issues, URL parameters, links to the site, internal links and similar information.

This data should be analyzed to determine any potential opportunities for SEO optimization.

Stage the new store and migrate data

If the platform that merchants are moving to is hosted (like Shopify), register the account to create the store. Alternatively, if it is self-hosted (like Magento), then sellers will have to install a fresh copy of the latest software.

Once this has been done, it is vital to ensure that search engines cannot crawl the new site to prevent indexing. To avoid this, it is recommended to require server-side authentication, employ IP whitelisting or use no-index tags.

At this point, merchants are safe to begin migrating their data. The process for completing this task will be dependent on the platform selected. For instance, if retailers have opted to migrate to Magento, they can utilize the platform's Data Migration Tool or UB Data Migration Pro. In the case of a platform like Shopify, users would want to employ a migration tool from Shopify's app store to aid in the process.

While it is possible to transfer data manually using CSV files, this method is not recommended as it requires far more time and is more prone to error.

Examine page hierarchies

At this point, sellers should compare the page hierarchy of the new site to the old one to ensure congruence between the stores. Moreover, it is important to determine which URLs will be altered and which are marked for removal.

Using the data pulled from the crawling tool utilized earlier, this task should be relatively streamlined.

From here, merchants can set up any applicable redirects. Moreover, pages that are eliminated should be redirected to a relevant page in the new store, as opposed to the site’s homepage.

Analyze the new site

With the data in place and migration complete, site owners must examine the new site to ensure that everything has gone according to plan.

To achieve this, sellers must run a crawl on the new site to ensure that 301 redirects are correct, internal and external links are working properly, there are no duplicate content issues or 404 errors, along with similar tasks. Moreover, verify that "nofollow" and "index, follow" tags are present on the appropriate pages, that image tags and attributes are applied and that everything is in working order.

Next, retailers will want to run speed tests on a variety of pages to ensure optimization. A great way to do this is to automate PageSpeed insights for multiple URLs using Google Sheets as this will significantly enhance the efficiency with which merchants can ensure proper load times.

Finally, it is time to generate a new XML sitemap and make it available to Google to have the newly migrated site re-indexed.

After completing the migration and running the necessary tests to ensure things are in working order, merchants must continue to monitor their new property to ensure that nothing goes wrong unexpectedly.

Among the post-migration maintenance tasks, retailers should review their Search Console account to verify that all the site's pages are being properly crawled and indexed. Moreover, while speed tests have already been conducted, it is essential to run these periodically to establish any potential ways to improve site speeds for further optimization on both desktop and mobile.

It is also critical to keep a close eye on search and referral traffic, so be sure to review these daily for at least a week following the migration. If there is a noticeable dip in traffic, analyze things on the page level and contrast the new figures with that of the old site to determine which pages have lost visits. Review these destinations for crawl errors or linking issues, as these are likely culprits.

Remember, it will take some time to fully establish if a site migration was successful, so continually monitoring performance is critical as doing so will enable merchants to quickly act if issues arise.

The reality is that website migrations are complex and often encounter unforeseen complications. Therefore, establishing measurable objectives is key to determining the success of a re-platforming endeavor. For most sites, the primary goal should be to retain traffic and revenue levels.

If everything is done correctly, retailers should be capable of preserving (if not elevating) their traffic and sales. However, it is extremely common for organic traffic to tank after a launch. In the real world, mistakes happen.

In such a scenario, all hope is not lost. In most cases, the cause of the drop is likely attributable to problems stemming from:

  • Missing pages

  • Content alterations

  • Redirects

  • Protocol or domain issues

  • Optimization problems

The best chance of avoiding such bungles is to partner with an e-commerce SEO services provider as they can assist in ensuring that tasks related to the pre-migration audit–creating proper redirects, site optimization efforts, and other re-platforming essentials–are all handled by capable and knowledgeable professionals.

When migrating to a new platform that is intended to improve a brand's financial outlook, hiring an industry-leading team is a wise decision as there are a variety of company-crippling problems that can surface during the process.

Conducting a successful e-commerce website migration is no easy task. However, for most brands, it is well worth the effort.

To retain SEO performance and mitigate other risks involved, business leaders must create the proper framework for success through laying out a launch strategy that spans pre-migration efforts all the way through post-launch maintenance.

Image Credit: millindri/Getty Images
Ronald Dod
Ronald Dod Member
I am the chief marketing officer and co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end e-commerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. My passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.