The good, the bad, the brilliant.

Migrating your website from one platform to another can be a sure-fire way to grow your eCommerce store. It can lead to an increase in traffic, generate more conversions, and ultimately make you more money. 

Maybe you need to improve efficiency, have scope to grow, or improve your online strategy with a more streamlined UX. 

It can also be a one-way ticket to sink you straight back to the bottom of Google rankings. 

Read more:  Make sure you’re ready to cross-migrate.

Even when migrating is the best choice for you, it’s important to take into consideration the effect it’s going to have on your organic Google ranking. 

Migrating leaves you vulnerable, and you might be left out in the cold if you don’t execute it properly. 

Of course, the goal with any site migration is to execute it with little to no drop in visibility and to keep your organic search revenue pumping. 

Once Google’s been crawling your established site for a while, any dramatic changes to content, architecture or location can have an effect on your site’s organic traffic. When it comes to migration and your SEO ranking, we recommend being prepared for the worst, and ready for the best. 

“If managed correctly, the changes you make to your SEO while replatforming may impact your business a little bit in the first couple of weeks but then obviously that will recover.” 

Carla Wright, Merchant Engagement Lead at Shopify Plus.

Here’s the scoop on what replatforming may do to your organic search results, and how to keep things running smoothly.

What is website migration?

Site migration, or replatforming, involves moving all content and data from your current website to another platform. You may be moving from WooCommerce to Shopify, for example.

The reasons for migrating vary – it could be that your current platform has limited functionality, no longer syncs with your other software, or your business has simply outgrown it.

You’ll know it’s time to replatform when the pain of remaining on your existing platform is starting to heavily outweigh the cons of moving. 

Website migration takes a considerable investment, a noticeable amount of time, and comes with one hefty risk; poor execution, coupled with an unhappy board of directors could mean you’ve put your job on the line.

Wait, what? 

You heard us. Rolling out a website migration without proper planning and preparation could lead to a massive drop in organic traffic and revenue that your business never recovers from. The fear of sunken costs, and the responsibility landing back on whoever pushed the migration, is very, very real.

That’s why you need the experts (i.e. us) to handle it for you, ensuring any risks are calculated and the transition occurs as smoothly as possible.

How Google ranks your site

To understand why migration can affect your Google ranking in organic searches, you need to understand how exactly Google ranks your website to begin with.

When Google discovers a new page, it crawls the page to find out what’s on it, using a program called Googlebot (also known as a spider). The Google spider then analyzes both the text and non-text content, along with the visual layout, and chooses where it should appear in the coveted Search results (your ranking). 

Though no one has the exact formula, SEO experts know that Google ranks websites based on their relevance and usefulness.

Pages are indexed and ranked according to metrics like:

  • Page Speed
  • Bounce Rate
  • User experience 
  • Time spent on your site
  • Links to your site from other quality websites 
  • Keyword search hits

Over time, Google scores your site using hundreds of different parameters, algorithms and calculations. If something changes between crawls, it has the potential to impact your rankings.

Why do rankings change after migration?

Your established site is already being crawled and indexed by Google, so any changes you make have the potential to affect those rankings, both positively and negatively.

What can go wrong? Actually, quite a lot. Rest easy by calling in the experts, and cut down on errors by learning the most common oversights that can cause your rankings to tank.

Negative effects on organic ranking

Missing or dropped links

These are especially damaging to rankings, which is why we recommend getting an expert to implement redirects as part of the migration process. If your website is constantly taking visitors to URLs that no longer exist, i.e. dreaded 404 errors, Google will punish you by pushing your website down the rankings. 

Redirects

Poor implementation of redirects can be fatal for your site’s organic traffic, which is why we recommend using 301 permanent redirects. No matter how popular a particular product or page is on your site, if the URL changes, it becomes invisible to anyone searching for it.  Using a permanent redirect allows Google to recognise it as a new version of the old page, and index it accordingly, without reducing its ranking.

Meta content

Another big deal, and one which can cause an immediate drop in search visibility. Be absolutely certain that your metadata, descriptions, headers, image titles, and copy have migrated across correctly.  Bear in mind, especially if you’re migrating to a new platform or structure, meta content may be placed differently within the new site – all it takes is a couple of missing or changed H1s for your page to become less visible. 

Site content and design

While it’s tempting to want to change your entire site at the time of migration, this is not the best move if you want to sustain your traffic flow. 

Changing content style, quality or design all pose a threat to your current rankings, so it’s best to introduce these changes gradually, post-migration, allowing you to focus on measuring the performance of the migration itself.

Rolling out a mass launch of a new site, with a new look, new content, and new style can be a bit of a shock to Google (and your customers) – so it’s best to roll these changes out over time, measuring the performance of each aspect as it happens.

A brilliant migration

Now you know the bad, let’s focus on the good. Actually, let’s make it fantastic, cause that’s how Zyber rolls.

Here’s how you prioritize SEO during a migration and keep your organic ranking as high as it can be.

Map Redirects One-to-One

It’s rare to switch platforms and keep the exact same URL structure across your site. To mitigate this, focus on one:one redirects versus many:one. Invest the time mapping each product to the same new product URL.

This kind of redirecting ensures visitors are still able to access the same content on the new URLs, while directing search engines to the new pages and showing them the new content is legit.

Keep on-page content the same

We know how tempting it is to go completely new and change your on-page content at the same time. Your design team and content team will most likely be pushing for it as well. But to keep your organic ranking as close as possible to what it already is, keep the content the same – for now.

If Google’s been crawling your site for a few years, any dramatic changes to words, images and design on the page will be noticed by the search engine – it may lead to a reindex and a significant dip in your organic traffic.

Mirror the structure of the website

Ensure all categories, and even non-primary pages receiving traffic, are kept as is on your new site.

Handle dynamic pages carefully

These pages include filter pages and search pages. Think about how you want dynamic pages to be crawled and indexed on your new site. As they’ll display different content each time they’re viewed, make sure they’re not indexable –  that way you won’t be sharing diluted rankings, or penalized for duplicate content. 

Test your baseline

Hear that? It’s the golden sound of data-driven eCommerce. The fewer aspects of your site that are changed during the replatforming process, the easier it is to spot the root cause of any SEO fluctuations or drop in organic rankings. Make sure you know your baseline measurements. Benchmark everything you want to measure, then monitor it well (often, if needed).

Keep it moving forward 

Sites up, and running well? Good. Once your site is heading in the right direction and all changes managed (give it a few months), we recommend using this opportunity to keep the momentum going.

SEO has constantly changing algorithms and updates, so it should be a permanent and ongoing part of your growth strategy. 

We like to think of migration as an opportunity to perform a SWOT analysis – the perfect time to keep your business moving forward (and the dollars rolling in), with expert testing, data-driven advice, and support.

Ready for a successful, seamless migration? Let’s chat.

Written.

by Raihanath Bindh Latheef
August 27, 2020

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