If you’re shopping for a new ecommerce platform, there are a lot of factors to consider. One often overlooked consideration, a site’s SEO strategy, must be thoughtfully addressed to avoid a potential hit to search rankings. After all, if an ecommerce site can’t be found in organic search rankings, how well it is designed doesn’t matter.
Before we get into replatforming-specific recommendations, let’s quickly break down SEO (search engine optimization) and why it matters:
SEO includes any and every effort to improve the organic (non-paid) ranking of your website on search engines, typically with regard to specific words or phrases.
And it’s critical, because nearly three fourths of consumers use search engines when seeking, comparing or learning about new products according to Forrester. If you’ve been operating a website for a while and considering a move to a new platform, you’ll want to take all of your SEO goodwill with you!
And if you’re still skeptical of the importance of an SEO strategy, here are some eye-popping stats which may make you think twice:
Search engines (most notably Google and Bing) employ algorithms to rank the pages within your site for relevance to a searcher’s query. Almost everything about your website impacts rankings: content, site architecture, links, user experience (i.e. traffic and bounce stats), etc.
The bots, or crawlers as they’re sometimes called, frequently scan your pages looking for any changes (positive or negative), and replatforming can cause issues if you don’t point them in the right direction.
Before taking the leap, use our trusty checklist to avoid a needless hit to your rankings.
Slow loading times are penalized heavily by the crawlers, but there are steps you can take to ensure you have best-in-class speed.
For starters, select a professional development partner with a strong track record. Ask for references, review portfolio sites and take time to understand their game plan for your site. Using a well-developed and proven theme can also de-risk replatforming (and slow load times).
Finally, limit the use of front-end apps in the Shopify ecosystem. Non-native functionality can increase load time and decrease ranking.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, that’s probably because it’s a new metric system for user experience being incorporated into the Google algorithm. Here are the three specific page speed and user interaction methods Google considers a requirement for positive browsing experiences:
As mentioned in the previous section, working with a seasoned developer to tackle these concerns is the surest way to achieve your desired outcome.
It’s prudent to schedule a migration during quieter periods of business. If you sell consumer wares, perhaps Black Friday/Cyber Monday is not the best time to shake things up! In the event that anything does go wrong, pick a date when you’re able to manage it best with the least amount of disruption to business.
You can’t manage what you can’t measure, so establish a baseline for all your relevant web stats prior to replatforming. Here are some key performance metrics to gather for your before/after comparison:
It can be a bit mind-numbing, but make certain all of your old URLs are properly redirecting to the appropriate new ones. Fortunately, Shopify Plus offers complete control over URL and metadata structure and even allows you to bulk upload your redirects with a CSV file.
Our industry-leading ecommerce collective here at Uncap migrated to Shopify PLUS over 100 ecommerce websites to Shopify, and the traffic never decreases more than 5% if 301 redirects are done properly and the recommendations are followed. The traffic is bound to return and grow within three months of replatforming.
Critical Shopify URLs needed to be mapped:
Tempting as it may be when replatforming, don’t rock the boat on content changes. Don’t remove content if possible, and also avoid duplicating any of it. The crawlers are smart and may penalize a site for duplicating content.
For best results and least disruption, try to keep your site as similar as possible until you’re ready to start building new content.
That said, if you have outdated, irrelevant or “thin” content (the latter referencing content which lacks depth or usefulness to a visitor), this can be a time to prune the material which potentially harms your rankings.
Not all is lost, though; here are a few things you can do to repurpose your outdated content:
The 404 page is where a visitor lands when they click a link that’s broken or directs to a page that no longer exists.
Nearly 75% of visitors will bounce once they land on a 404 page, so it’s important to get those wayward visitors to the right location.
And your website/broken links only account for a fifth of the 404 page hits, so you need to plan for the occurrence even if you are vigilant with your own links! (Other major drivers include typos and broken or outdated referral links.) Here are some tips for building a productive 404 page:
Several years ago, search engines began prioritizing the mobile version of a site when determining search rankings, which makes sense considering the majority of web traffic these days is coming from mobile devices.
Key to the mobile evaluation is load speed and User Experience.
Clicking a search result with one’s smart phone and waiting a long time for content to load is a frustrating experience, and the search engines know this and ding companies for it. There are a number of ways to boost the speed of your site’s mobile version, so make sure you’re working with a partner or team member who understands this is a priority, and then remember to measure it (both before and after the replatforming).
Take advantage of Google’s free, easy-to-use tool for assessing the mobile readiness of your site today. And while we won’t dive into each mobile optimization factor in this post, this guide from SEM Rush provides a deeper look at what needs to happen.
Make sure your site is using HTTPS, which signals to customers their information (personal, financial) is kept safe. Additionally, keep your directories simple with fewer than four levels of depth. Finally, let’s take a closer look at URL structure. Here are some best practices:
Replatforming can be a catalyst for diving into your site’s performance and identifying areas of opportunity.
For starters, launch (or expand) a blog. Providing high quality content will always be valuable not only for SEO purposes, but for your customers.
According to SEM Rush, the most popular content types include “how-to” articles (77%), listicles (57%) and news and trends (47%).
Work with a professional, SEO-trained writer or be sure to incorporate as many long-tail keywords into your content as possible.
Additionally, make it prominent and easy to find the blog on your site; a great article with no traffic really won’t do much for your SEO efforts. Also take this time to clean up any underperforming or irrelevant material, which can clog up the user experience and potentially detract from higher rankings.
Finally, this is a great time to ensure all of your analytics are properly tracking and reporting. You will want to evaluate and show the results of all your hard work (and continue investing in the right things)!
Replatforming can be a daunting effort, but it also provides a tremendous opportunity to evaluate what’s working and where there’s room for improvement. Whether you have a high-performing, search-optimized site or you’re hoping to build one, take advantage of this checklist to ensure you’re in position for success once you launch your ecommerce site on Shopify PLUS.
About the Author
Denis Dyli is the founder and CEO of Uncap, a Chicago-based web collective focused on Shopify Plus ecommerce strategy, design and execution. Uncap has been recognized as a leading Shopify partner and is a top-ranked firm by Clutch. Over the past decade, Dyli and Uncap have delivered more than 100+ ecommerce sites.
Our customers value boutique agency approach with access to a seasoned team, profit-based goals, and clear communication.