How to Avoid an SEO Disaster When Replatforming

How to Avoid an SEO Disaster When Replatforming

Over the past decade, search engine optimization (SEO) has bloomed into one of the biggest marketing buzzwords for ecommerce sites. With reason – strong search engine rankings are an indisputable litmus test for a brand’s performance.

Anyone with a high-performing site will tell you that building rankings organically is a steady, time-intensive process that requires a lot of TLC. And the rumors are true: your SEO is certainly vulnerable during a replatform.

But fear not. Your rankings can stay safe and sound as long as you have a solid, comprehensive plan in place for before, during, and after the migration. If you do it right, you can even see an improvement!

Why Is My SEO at Risk?

First, a quick rundown on how replatforming can impact SEO.

Google and other search engines use complex algorithms to rank your site’s pages. These algorithms include both on-site and off-site factors. In terms of on-site factors, your content, site architecture, and user experience are some key breadwinners.

Search engines regularly crawl your site and index each page, recording metrics like traffic and bounce rates (among many others) and factoring them into your rankings. Each time something changes between crawls, it has the potential to impact your rankings.

The danger rears its ugly head when a replatform doesn’t take this into consideration. Changing on-page content, failing to properly tell search engines where your links moved to, and letting outdated pages get lost into the abyss are all examples of deal-breaking fouls in the game of SEO.

“Pre-platforming” Checklist

Truly SEO-friendly migration is no “one size fits all” project. So don’t accept a cookie-cutter strategy that hasn’t carefully combed through your site structure, your current performance, and your goals. However, while everyone’s strategy should be customized and tweaked when needed, there are some key concepts that apply across the board.

Though this list isn’t exhaustive, make sure your team adds the following to their pre-replatforming to-do list:

  • Install page redirects
  • Minimize on-page changes
  • Monitor duplicate content
  • Track 404 errors
  • Test site speed
  • Keep it mobile-friendly

Create a Redirect Map

In an ideal world, you’d be able to switch platforms while keeping the exact same URL structure across your site. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Redirects make sure that visitors are still able to access the same content on new URLs, while directing search engines to the new pages and informing them that there’s no need for alarm.

For many, the golden rule is to create a 1-to-1 map using permanent 301 redirects. This eliminates redirect chains or mixed strategies that ultimately gum up the works.

This article from Moz walks you through step-by-step what the Search tools giant did to prepare for their migration of thousands of urls. 

This gets fairly complicated fairly quickly, but there are tools to help. For example, Shopify Plus’s app Traffic Control is designed for bulk redirects with a simple feed upload, in addition to creating vanity URLs for your marketing campaigns.

Minimize Changes

While no one knows exactly how our almighty search engines do their bidding, many SEO experts suggest that it’s best to keep your site as identical as possible fresh after your replatform if you’re looking to preserve your current rankings.

The logic is that search engines will “notice” any major structural changes, which can lead to a dreaded dip in your organic traffic. Furthermore, the fewer aspects of your site that are changed during the replatform, the easier it’ll be to identify the root cause of any SEO fluctuations that might occur.

Tame Duplicate Content

If there’s one thing we know with certainty about the mysterious inner-workings of search engine algorithms, it’s that they’re not the biggest fan of duplicate content. Of course, it’s not always possible to avoid. In these cases, use canonical tags to direct search engines to the original content.

This ensures that only the originals are indexed by search engines. If you have dynamic pages that display different content each time they’re viewed, make sure they’re not indexable.

These steps can help ensure that your most valuable pages won’t have to “share” diluted rankings, and you won’t be penalized for duplicates. It’s a win-win.

New Platform, New Possibilities

Retailers may find themselves so intimidated by potential negatives that they fail to consider how replatforming may actually be a great step for improving their SEO. With constantly changing algorithms and updates, SEO should be a permanent, ongoing process. So you’ll need to keep your momentum going after you make the switch. And even if your site is performing well, it can always be doing better, right? Right!

Think of replatforming as an opportunity to perform an SEO-SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) on your site, which can provide you with gold nuggets of insight moving forward. Then you’ll be able to evaluate how your new platform can help bridge the gaps. Of course, as mentioned above, be mindful of the impact of your changes and their timeline as they relate to the physical migration process.

Ask yourself:

  • Does my site use targeted, high-performing keywords?
  • Are my URLs short-and-sweet at 75 characters or less, containing my keywords and using only alphanumeric characters?
  • Are my directory structures simple, with three or fewer levels of depth?
  • Is my site mobile-friendly?
  • Are my pages optimized to load as fast as possible?

Shopify Plus Knows SEO

Mads Timmermann of Danish Skin Care is one of the many customers we’ve helped to replatform swiftly and headache-free, complete with a sweet SEO cherry on top. When Google announced an SEO penalty for websites that aren’t mobile-friendly, Timmermann was smacked with a 30-day notice to fix his mobile-unfriendly site or suffer in rankings.

Fast-forward to today, and Danish Skin Care has 15,000+ loyal customers who contribute to a 10% sequential monthly revenue growth.

We’d say that’s a success, wouldn’t you? 

About the Author

Dan Virgillito is a storytelling specialist, blogger and writer who helps digital startups get more engagement and business through online content.