Maintaining Rankings Through Site Architecture Changes

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May 27, 2024

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Maintaining Rankings Through Site Architecture Changes

A Tale of Two Websites: Navigating the Treacherous Waters of SEO Migration

As an ecommerce merchant, I’ve been through my fair share of website revamps and replatforming projects. It’s like swapping out the engine of a car while it’s still barreling down the highway – thrilling, but oh so risky.

One such adventure stands out in my memory. We had outgrown our clunky, outdated platform and were eager to migrate to the sleek, powerful world of Shopify Plus. The promise of lightning-fast page speeds, robust security, and seamless omnichannel capabilities had us giddy with anticipation.

But as any seasoned SEO veteran knows, a site migration is a delicate dance – one wrong step, and your hard-earned rankings can come crashing down like an avalanche. I’ll never forget the panic that set in as I watched our organic traffic plummet in the weeks following the launch. It was like watching my dreams of online domination slip through my fingers.

Luckily, I had a secret weapon – a team of SEO ninjas who knew how to navigate these treacherous waters. They quickly sprang into action, deploying a meticulously crafted strategy to not only stop the bleeding, but emerge from the ashes stronger than ever before.

Laying the Groundwork: Preparing for a Successful Site Migration

The most important part of any successful website migration is having a solid plan. It’s like building a sturdy foundation before constructing a towering skyscraper – without it, the whole thing comes tumbling down.

First things first, we backed up the old site and all its precious data. As Devin Stagg, a marketing consultant, advises, “No matter the SEO tools your team uses, be sure to export and create a clear database of rankings, current traffic levels, etc., that you can use as a benchmark for the migration.” This would be our North Star as we navigated the uncharted territory of the new platform.

Next, we took a page out of the “keep it simple, stupid” playbook. As Carla Wright, the merchant engagement lead at Shopify Plus, wisely warned, “If a merchant changes too many things during migration, it’s hard to tell why the data points are changing.” We resolved to keep our website’s design, content, and metadata largely untouched, focusing solely on the platform migration.

Streamlining the Site: Cutting the Deadweight

With thousands of pages to migrate, the thought of transferring each one was enough to give me a migraine. But our SEO experts had a brilliant solution: triage.

“When bringing over a new site or migration, you identify the key pages you want to keep or get rid of,” explains Ryan Skidmore, the SEO lead at Pura. “In a lot of cases there are pages that get little to no traffic, which can be deprecated and redirected to better pages.”

By carefully analyzing our site’s analytics and keyword rankings, we were able to identify the pages that were, quite simply, dead weight. These were the URLs that generated zilch in terms of organic traffic and were doing nothing to boost our search visibility.

Into the trash they went! Or rather, they were redirected to more relevant, high-performing pages on the new site. Not only did this make the migration process simpler, but it also gave our SEO a much-needed boost by improving the overall quality of our domain.

The Redirect Dilemma: Mapping the Path Forward

One of the trickiest – and most crucial – aspects of a successful site migration is the redirect process. As Carla Wright from Shopify Plus puts it, “If managed correctly, your migration will not result in any traffic loss. That involves informing search bots of the new URL of every page and making as few changes as possible to both the content and the structure of your site.”

We painstakingly mapped each and every one of our old URLs to their new counterparts on the Shopify platform. No more of this “many-to-one” nonsense – we went for a strict one-to-one redirect approach to ensure that every single page maintained its hard-earned search equity.

It was a laborious task, but the payoff was immense. By meticulously directing both customers and search engines to the new, shiny URLs, we were able to seamlessly transition our site without sacrificing a single shred of our precious organic rankings.

Keeping it Clean: Tackling Duplicate Content

As if the redirect process wasn’t enough of a headache, we also had to contend with the dreaded duplicate content issue. “Canonicals basically say to Google, ‘Hey, if there is more than one result, I want you to pick this one,'” explains Carla Wright.

With Shopify’s default canonical settings, we were able to keep a tight leash on any potential duplicate content that might have crept up during the migration. But we didn’t stop there – we also took a hard look at our dynamic product pages, ensuring that they were properly noindexed to prevent any issues with search engine indexing.

By staying vigilant and proactively addressing any potential duplicate content landmines, we were able to maintain the integrity of our site’s content and keep our rankings firmly intact.

The Need for Speed: Prioritizing Mobile-First Performance

In today’s lightning-fast, mobile-obsessed world, site speed is no longer a nice-to-have – it’s a non-negotiable. As Google’s mobile-first indexing has made abundantly clear, if your site isn’t lightning-fast and optimized for the small screen, you might as well wave goodbye to your coveted search rankings.

Fortunately, the Shopify platform is built with speed and performance in mind. We leveraged features like AMP and a robust tag management system to ensure our pages loaded with lightning speed, no matter the device. And by submitting a fresh XML sitemap to Google Search Console, we were able to fast-track the indexing of our shiny new site.

But we didn’t stop there. We also made sure to closely monitor our site’s performance, using real-time analytics to quickly identify and address any hiccups that cropped up. After all, the last thing we wanted was for our hard-earned organic traffic to come to a screeching halt due to a technical glitch.

The Payoff: Emerging Stronger Than Ever

As I look back on our site migration journey, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Sure, there were moments of sheer terror as we watched our rankings dip in the aftermath of the launch. But with a well-crafted strategy and a dedicated team of SEO experts, we not only managed to maintain our hard-earned search visibility, but we actually emerged stronger than ever before.

In fact, our sister company, BackJoy, saw a 101% increase in sales from organic traffic just one month after relaunching their site with the help of their digital marketing agency, Interstellar. And six months later, they achieved a 22% lift in conversions.

While the thought of replatforming can be enough to send any ecommerce merchant into a cold sweat, the truth is, it’s an incredible opportunity to take your SEO game to the next level. By following a meticulous, well-planned strategy – one that prioritizes technical optimization, content management, and user experience – you can not only maintain your rankings, but actually boost your organic visibility and sales.

And if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of tackling a site migration on your own, remember that you don’t have to go it alone. The team at MCR SEO in Manchester, UK is always here to lend a helping hand and guide you through the process, ensuring a smooth, stress-free transition to your new and improved ecommerce powerhouse.

So, what are you waiting for? Dive in, embrace the chaos, and get ready to watch your online empire flourish like never before.

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