Migrating your e-commerce website with confidence

by Simon Spicer

Migrating your e-commerce website, just reading those words is enough to send fear running through even a strong hearted e-commerce manager.

So much so that many companies will put off major upgrades or migrations, sometimes for so long that the existing platform starts to damage the business, forcing a change.

Making the change when its forced, is never ideal because there is an urgency that can lead to rushed decisions and implementation.

Two birds low flying over a lake

Running your business on an outgrown or poor performing e-commerce platform can cripple your business.

Try to see migrating your website/re-platform as a necessary evil brought on by success.

Read through this guide and you should be ready to take on your migration armed with a clear head, a solid action plan and a set of checklists to help it run more smoothly.

Guide Contents

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Team members looking at a laptop screen

Do you need to migrate?

Should you upgrade or migrate? Lets find out

So, you think you might need to migrate to a new e-commerce platform or upgrade your existing platform.

Some signs that you need to upgrade or migrate:

  • Security issues or concerns about future security
  • Frequently patching platform or looking for workarounds
  • Existing platform missing functionality that you now require
  • Existing workflows or jobs taking too long or cumbersome
  • Platform runs too slowly
  • Customer complaints about existing site
  • Scalability, you are starting to outgrow the platform in terms of features or requirements
  • Issues with the existing platform are impacting sales
  • The platform is now out of date and no longer supported
  • Stability, the system itself or connected systems failing
  • Agenda - management or investors decide you need to upgrade for a reason other than a specific need
  • A linked business system has been updated, forcing an update of the e-commerce platform

There is every chance that you will pick more than one reason from this list above.

Awareness is the key and will help you avoid choosing the wrong platform

Make sure you are clear on the reasons for the change. Understanding what the issues are will have a significant impact on the next platform you choose. Awareness is the key and will help you avoid choosing the wrong platform and change for changes sake.

If you are looking to hire an agency to carry out the migration for you, then you will need to brief them. Just asking them to “move” your site from one platform to a new one and leaving them to it, is a bad idea.

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Managing your migration fear

It’s quite common for companies to put off migration because it’s a big and daunting job.

Why are you delaying starting the migration? How can you begin pushing ahead?

Someone pointing a pen at statistic

We just spent £x on our current solution 12 months ago

This is the sunk cost fallacy at play, you are letting a cost you have already incurred affect your decision making.

Sunk costs should not be considered when making your migration decision

Sunk costs (previous costs) should not be considered when making the decision to invest in upgrading or migrating to a new e-commerce platform since these initial costs cannot be recovered at this stage.

If your business has developed and you have outgrown your current solution, then you should migrate.

If the current solution could potentially be losing you sales, damaging the business or is affecting productivity then you need to migrate.

You must make this decision strategically without the distraction of "sunk costs".

Fear of no predictable ROI

Understanding your budget when beginning the process of upgrading or migration your e-commerce website is essential.

Your budget should be a sensible mixture of affordability vs value

If your business turns over $50,00 a year, then spending $30,000 on the project would be ill-advised.

However, worrying and overanalysing how you will earn back the cost of the migration is wasted energy. Your budget should be a sensible mixture of what you can afford vs the value of the new solution.

You need to see the migration cost as part of the total cost of ownership rather than an investment made to generate a return.

Yes, earning back the money spent is important because you don't want to operate the business at a loss. However, don't let the over-analysis or fear prevent you from moving forward.

Man raising questioning hand in a meeting

Fear of it all going wrong and losing business (short & long term)

This particular fear is broad and born out of a lack of perception and planning. The best way to address this fear is to face it and create a solid plan.

Understanding the fear

Has anyone else in the history of time, less intelligent or less driven figured this out? Chances are the answer is “Yes"

If you have this fear, then you're assuming that the worst could happen and the damage will be irreparable. To move forward you could use something like "fear setting" from Tim Ferriss, I have given a small edited overview below. I would recommend watching the video in full.

For this, you will need three sheets of paper, on page one write something like "What if I migrate my e-commerce platform from X to X?"

Then you want to write a list for each of the following:

  • Define - list all of the worst things that could happen. You are looking for about 10-20.
  • Prevent - list everything you can do to prevent each of these happening or at least decrease likelihood.
  • Repair - if the worse case happens, what can you do to repair the damage? Who could you ask for help?

While doing this keep in mind - "Has anyone else in the history of time, less intelligent or less driven figured this out? Chances are the answer is “Yes.” - Tim Ferriss

On page two, describe the benefits if you are successful, even if it's a bumpy success.

On page three, you want to document the cost of inaction. If you avoid taking action, what might the business look like, what would be the cost, get very detailed. Think about it in terms of six months, one year and three years.

Drops in sales due to changes to site

While a similar fear to the one above, there are specific measures you can take and metrics you can track before, during and after launch to help identify and resolve any issues.

Changes that can impact sales:

  • Changes to the UX/UI
  • Changes to the checkout process
  • Changes to order of content on site
  • Changes to the navigation
  • Changes to the site search
  • Issues with payment gateway
  • Slow site
  • Broken links

You should make sure you bear these in mind when migrating the site.

Two ladies pointing at a laptop screen
Two people poinitng at printed spreadsheets with pens

Metrics to review and track during the process:

  • Rankings (see next fear for more on this)
  • Traffic
    • Organic
    • Paid
  • AOV
  • Conversions
  • Uptime / site speed
  • Bounce rate
  • Baskets %
  • Mobile vs desktop (watch for changes)
  • Cart abandonment
  • PA for paid traffic
  • Traffic sources
  • Revenue
  • New vs returning customers
  • Average page views / time on site

For extra peace of mind you can follow the steps in this guide to help minimise disruption.

Drop in Search Engine positions

While a similar fears to the one above, there are specific measures you can take and metrics you can track before, during and after launch to help identify and resolve any issues.

Changes that can impact sales:

  • Changes to content
  • Changes to page structure (H1 tags, Alt tags, etc)
  • Changes to content structure (location and order of text)
  • Changes to robots.txt
  • Changes to htaccess file
  • Algorithm updates
  • Broken links and increase in 404s
  • Internal 301 redirects

You should make sure you bear these in mind when migrating the site.

Metrics to review and track during the process:

  • Search engine positions
  • Google Search Console warnings
  • Analytics for drop in SE traffic
  • Analytics for drop in SE orders & AOV

For extra peace of mind you can follow the steps in this guide to help minimise disruption.

A collection of UK currency

Worry concerning the potential of escalating costs during the migration

Runaway costs are a reasonably common concern and one that is relatively straightforward to overcome.

Escalating costs can occur if a project isn't specced in sufficient detail or accurately quoted for. Both issues can typically stem from an inadequate brief at the start of the project.

Create a detailed brief using this guide and make sure you have someone to manage the project to help keep things on track.

Mastermind your migration

This guide is not to help you find the right e-commerce solution. It won't help you pick between SaaS, bespoke or off the shelf.

With so many components, an e-commerce migration is never faultless. There will always be problems during the project so you will need to be ready.

So how can you get as ready as possible before you start the move?

Happy team members looking at a laptop screen

Planning

  • Decide if you are upgrading or migrating
  • This may be self-evident but make sure that you are migrating to the most appropriate/best e-commerce platform
  • Decide who will be responsible for what part of the process
  • Have a clear and detailed plan, make sure you know what you will do before, during and after the migration. If you are working with an agency request a copy of their plan, review it and ask what they require from you.
  • Document all potential issues you can and write a list of measures to prevent them or recover from them.
  • Map out all integrations because there are probably processes and workflows going on behind the scenes for so long they are almost invisible
  • Document all of the data and functionality that your e-commerce site has and needs to be migrated. Review what will be removed and any functionality that needs to be added.
  • What 3rd party applications do you need still? Document existing ones that you still need and any additional ones that you want to add. If any existing ones are not compatible with the new platform, how will you resolve this?
A diary with 'Make it Happen' written in
A man standing infront of a planning board
  • List out all of the data that you need to migrate
    • Products
    • Customers (if can’t move passwords, reset)
    • Orders (or keep an archive of old site online)
    • Vouchers
    • Affiliates
  • How will you migrate all of the data, how will you ensure you have it all and who will be responsible for the process?
  • Ensure that any business processes/workflows are ready to change if required, you should include both digital and physical processes.
  • List all emails that you send, you will be testing these during and post migration.
  • Create a plan to train staff BEFORE the switch over. Make sure that everyone is comfortable with any changes resulting from the migration. People sometimes resist change, however, early and frequent training will help to address this.
  • Think carefully about when you switch the new site live, make sure the final migration doesn't fall during a peak business time of the year.
  • Try to carry out the final migration when the site is quiet. The only caveat is that you must have a team to monitor the site until office hours start again.
  • Do not migrate on a Friday unless you have a team to monitor over the weekend, Monday is always preferable.
  • List your most authoritative pages from an SEO perspective, and try to ensure these don’t change at all during the migration.
  • Do you have people with the relevant expertise to support the migration? Ideally, you want someone internal involved in the project that understands all of the implications of moving an e-commerce site.

Preparation for Migration

This stage of the project is where you take everything from the planning stage and do a large part of the work.

Set up the new site

When re-platforming you ideally want to make as minimal changes in the initial move.

Then make all non-critical changes once you know the switch has been successful and little or no negative impact on sales or SEO positions.

  • Set up a staging version of the new site. (Make sure set to no-index)
Timelapse photo of blue lights
  • Transfer over all of the data
    When exporting your data, make sure it remains in its original format. For example, ensure that a leading zero is not being added or removed from any numbers.
  • Configure e-commerce store
    Any changes to content, URLs, navigation and metadata can affect your SEO rankings, try to change as little as possible during a migration.
Scrabble counts spelling out 'SEO'

Be mindful of SEO

SEO is one of the major considerations to consider when switching.

Site URLs

If possible, don't change URLs during the now, you can optimise and 301 redirect them after the migration. If you are required to change URLs during the migration, then make sure you can 301 redirect them all.

404s

Manage your 404 pages, if you have a suitable replacement pages then 301 redirect from old to new. If the page is not required, for example, a product that you no longer stock then you can leave as a 404 page. Just make sure you have a well designed and helpful 404 page, with other related products, for example.

Backlinks

If you have an authoritative page on your website and you are forced to change the URL, then make sure you 301 redirect the old page. Then email as many of the powerful backlinks as you can, requesting them to update the link.

  • Ensure is set to allow indexing and links are not set to no-follow
  • Ensure all good content still prominent
  • Make sure metadata is still present and preferably untouched during the migration. If any metadata is missing then add during the migration.
  • Use a tool such as screaming frog to crawl your website and get a list of URLs. You can retest these after the migration to spot any issues.
  • Keep an eye on all changes to site layout and structure
  • Ensure internal linking remains the same, but avoid internal 301 redirects.
  • If you have any hardcoded links, you will need to change them.
  • Keep the breadcrumb the same
  • Ensure canonical URLs are present and correct
  • Try not to change the menu navigation
  • Avoid changes to site hierarchy (inc cats and subcats)
  • Try and avoid drastic changes to the page structure change. For example, keep good practices such as H1& h2 tags.
  • Check product feeds to make sure they are still performing as expected.
  • Set up payment gateways
  • Install 3rd party software and tools including tracking pixels
  • Link up to business systems

And the rest...

  • Train staff
  • Validate and rigorously test everything, making sure you have a test plan and log.
  • Document any changes that could affect SEO or UX, for example, are you moving to technology that is not SEO friendly out of the box such as AngularJS
  • Test .htaccess on a staging domain to ensure all redirects work.
  • Have a phone number for people to call on launch day to get support if they have any issues.
  • When you are ready to go live with the new site, keep customers updated with a countdown. Then give updates 48, 24 and 12 hours before the launch via:
    • Emails to customers to explain the process
    • Banners on-site / Countdown
    • Posts on social media
  • Ensure SSL updated if required - supported by new system, move, get a new one - ASK GAJ?

Migration day

  • Make sure everyone and everything is ready!
  • Update customers
  • It is now time to make the final switch over.
    • Move the old website to https://old.domainname.com (or similar) and make sure it is set to no-index.
    • Put the new site live, ensuring that it has the latest version of the database/data in it.
  • Mark the switch over in analytics using the annotation tool.
  • Test the website once live to ensure nothing has gone wrong or been overlooked during the migration.
    • Browsing site
    • Adding different items to cart
    • Checkout process
    • Wishlist (and other lists)
    • Notify when back in stock
    • Emails
  • Watch everything like a hawk and carry out continuous testing and reviews during the day.
  • Be ready for things to go wrong but don’t panic if they do, you have a plan, so stick to that.
A collection of large shipping containers
Happy man looking through a note book

Post Migration

Your new site is active and has been for at least 24 hours, so you are now in the post-migration phase and still have a little work to do.

  • Continue to monitor and carry out occasional spot tests.
  • Keep an eye on Google Search Console (GSC) for any issues or warning.
  • Keep an eye on your feeds in Google Merchant (for example) for any issues or warnings.
  • Once stable start to roll out all other no critical changes, keeping in mind all of the relevant points in during and post migration checklists (as most of these still probably apply)
  • Stats to monitor post-migration
    When monitoring stats post migration, remember not to panic, we don't want any knee jerk reactions. Just because something changes since you migrated the site, it doesn't mean the migration caused it, it could be correlation rather than causation.
  • Rankings
  • Traffic Organic/Paid
  • AOV
  • Conversions
  • Uptime / site speed
  • Bounce rate
  • Baskets %
  • Mobile vs desktop (watch for changes)
  • Cart abandonment
  • PA for paid traffic
  • Traffic sources
  • Revenue
  • New vs returning customers
  • Average page views / time on site

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