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Your SEO Platform Migration Guide

6 optimization best practices

Platform migrations can be a lot of work and, unintentionally, entail subsequent risk to your organic channel, which is typically one of the top two contributing channels to most sites. Any negative impact could result in substantial losses of site traffic—and revenue. While a change in platform can be a necessary endeavor for your business, it is important to consider all of the work previously done from an SEO standpoint and how to mitigate any risk to your organic rankings now and in the future.

Christopher Birkholm
Director of Strategy, Consulting, at Astound Commerce

The following is a list of six best practices to consider when replatforming that can help reduce the degree of impact on your organic channel and can result in even more positive results if done accordingly.

1. Use the proper redirects

When executing a platform migration, it is important to ensure that you redirect site visitors to your existing content in its new location using the proper type of redirect. 

To ease the transition, crawling your old site before the migration can ensure that you collect all web addresses, or uniform resource locators (URLs), on your site and then redirect those old URLs to the new URL using a 301 redirect, indicating a permanent redirect. Not only does this help improve the user’s experience but it will enable search engines to map your old content to the new location. The value of each page on your site as assigned by the search engines relative to a search query, also known as authority, can be transferred and your SEO rankings are mitigated from substantial loss. 

You should also update redirects for old media assets like images and videos. Likewise, the authority is transferred over, and any major loss to your rankings can be mitigated. 

2. Setup analytics and tagging methods

Analytics and tag management are integral to the success of any ecommerce site. Ensuring that you are capturing the necessary data—and doing so in a manner that has minimal impact on overall site performance—will allow teams to make more-informed decisions and help drive your overall site strategy. 

Analytics is table stakes for any website, and as your redesign or replatform progresses, it’s important to activate any custom tracking methods that were in place before the site upgrade, but also plan for any additional tracking methods beyond what existed before. Such methods can include step tracking, enhanced ecommerce tracking, additional custom conversions, and so on. It’s also customary to set up a tag management solution and use it to create more-performant pages. Also, make certain that you have created and optimized your data layer to effectively collect your data. Performing extensive website quality assurance (QA) can ensure that all tagging and tracking solutions are enabled throughout your new site.

Establishing a baseline of your data before and after the migration will help you compare performance metrics more accurately, like bounce rate, conversion rate, average order value, revenue per visitor, time on site, and pages per session. As a result, you will have a clearer understanding of how users interact with your new site compared to before the migration. 

3. Map your content

Serving relevant, personalized content is central to your overall content strategy. However, that depends on effective URL planning.

Using a spider, also known as a web crawler, you can frequently crawl your site to ensure you obtain every URL possible within your domain. Another approach is to use other SEO tracking platforms that store URL information—you can then cross-reference those URLs with the URLs of your new site.

Take a comprehensive look at all new URLs and map them in as close to a one-to-one relationship between all old URLs as possible. Pay careful attention to ensuring that no old URLs are unintentionally left siloed or result in a 404 (page not found) error. This exercise helps transfer authority by using 301 redirects and, more importantly, lays the foundation for creating a seamless user experience.

It’s also recommended to complete a similar exercise for your content by mapping it into groups. This helps to ensure that you are not leaving large gaps in content, particularly content that performed well from a user experience and organic perspective. And it can also expose opportunities to create specific types of content that may be missing from your content strategy. 

4. Optimize your metadata

As you build out your new site, ensure that you have a scalable way to generate unique content for all your metadata—as in title tags, meta descriptions, alt tags, and canonical tags. Creating descriptive and unique alt tags for all of your images will not only benefit your SEO strategy but also increase site accessibility. Building on what currently exists is a good starting point, and aligning that with your keyword research will help minimize any potential negative impact on your organic search strategy.

It’s pretty likely that your site includes content that is duplicated, given the nature of how content is always evolving. Therefore, implementing a universal canonical strategy ensures that your pages do not compete with each other for ranking in the search engines. Also, create a strategy for how to manage product variations, parent products, product bundles, and so on to help mitigate future content duplication.

5. Update your robots and sitemap files

Updating your robots.txt and XML sitemaps (a text file that lists all your site URLs) helps search engines better understand how to index and crawl your site and can show how to correctly display language and locale by region. It is also best practice to list the location of your XML sitemap within your robots.txt file.

Be sure to block all unnecessary pages from being crawled on your site, including search results pages, checkout pages, and any other pages that do not belong in the index. For pages you want to prevent from being indexed that are already indexed, follow these steps: 

  1. Apply the noindex/nofollow tag to the page. 
  2. After 30 to 60 days, add these categories to your robots.txt as a disallow

These two steps help ensure that (a) they are removed from the index and (b) once removed, search engines are instructed to no longer crawl them. Also, create an updated and comprehensive XML sitemap, and link to this sitemap in your robots.txt file to help search engines better understand what should be indexed on your site.

For cross-border sites with multiple languages for different regions and similar product catalogs, implementing HREFLang tags, the attributes responsible for ensuring that your site is appropriately indexed in each region for each language, is critical. This will help prevent misaligned languages in different regions from showing up in the search results pages for that region.

6. Do a site performance analysis

Site performance is key to usability and search engine optimization. Keeping a consistent record of how your site is performing post migration will help your teams identify areas of improvement on a regular basis.

To begin, determine a set number of page types on which you will regularly run a performance analysis. The results will provide insight into page performance as your site changes content, adds/removes tags, and so on over time. 

Effectively implementing a content delivery network (CDN) can help improve page performance by using geographically distributed servers to deliver content closer to the end user, thereby reducing the overall time it takes to make content requests. Improving page speed can help boost your rankings on Google’s search results, provided that your pages meet the page speed threshold.

Undergoing a platform migration can deliver a more-seamless site experience for your end users, but you should also consider the impact on your organic traffic and your broader SEO strategy. 

Need help identifying and acquiring new consumers through your performance marketing campaigns? Connect with one of our performance marketing experts.

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