There comes a time in every online retailer’s existence when the need to meet continuously evolving market and business demands calls for major upgrades of their ecommerce platform, or more bluntly, the migration to a whole different system. Beyond the logistical and planning challenges, the worry of losing hard-earned SEO rankings in the process is always present. Not only because the mighty SEO is fundamental to a retailer’s online visibility and reflects the brand’s reputation, but also because it is an arduous process, built over time through meticulous efforts and strategies.
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Although reasons like superior security and functionality, improved user interfaces, seamless integration with various payment systems, or more efficient inventory management, are sufficient reasons to make the shift, the decision to migrate is not something that companies will take lightly. The reluctance is fuelled by worries about operation disruptions, risk of downtime, and the fact that migrating to a new platform often requires rethinking all the integrations, which can be a complex and time-consuming task.
To add to that, a concern that arises every time, is the preservation of the hard-earned SEO (Search Engine Optimization) score. Changes in site structure, URL modifications, and potential downtime can negatively impact search rankings. That’s why the migration process requires careful planning and expert execution to maintain the delicate balance between upgrading technical capabilities and preserving the online footprint that retailers have worked so hard to establish.
Maintaining a good SEO score involves several critical steps to ensure a smooth transition:
Preservation of URL Structure and On-Page SEO Elements
URLs play an important part because beyond their role of giving an identity to pages, they help search engines understand the structure and content of your website.
Keeping the same URL structures ensures that the search engines’ understanding remains stable. As opposed to that, changing URLs during a platform migration can have a serious impact and it can disrupt the search engine’s indexing of the page.
If keeping the same URLs is not possible, using 301 redirects is recommended to help search engines understand the relocation of content. The process ensures that any link equity (the value passed through hyperlinks) is mostly retained. At the same time, users will not experience any broken links.
One step we always undertake when tackling a complex migration is mapping out all old URLs to their new counterparts. This mapping ensures that no pages are missed and that the user experience remains seamless.
Once URLs are addressed, all on-page SEO elements like title tags, meta descriptions, H1 tags, and alt attributes for images, have to be transferred to the new Magento website.
Magento offers several capabilities for managing 301 redirects. It has a built-in URL Rewrite Management tool which allows users to create and manage URL rewrites directly from the admin panel. For large-scale migrations, Magento supports the import of redirect data in bulk, a crucial feature for websites with a large number of product pages. Automation also comes in handy, and the platform can automatically create a 301 redirect when an URL of a product or category page is changed.
There are also several Magento extensions available that offer not only useful tools for handling redirects, but also complex SEO capabilities that can assist in transferring your in-page elements seamlessly, as well as monitoring the website’s performance post-migration and ensure that your online store is functioning as intended. SEO Toolkit Pro from Amasty is one of the best reviewed extensions, covering a wide range of tasks from redirects automation to complex SEO tools.
Website Speed and Performance
The new changes in Core Web Vitals signify a shift in Google’s criteria for ranking pages. User experience is now a priority. Websites that load faster are perceived as more efficient and user-friendly, which leads to better user engagement and reduced bounce rates (when visitors leave the site after viewing only one page), both of which are positive signals to search engines.
Google uses various metrics to assess a website’s performance and user experience. The Largest Contentful Paint analyses the render time of the largest image or text block visible within the viewport, when the page is first loading. Therefore images should be optimized to achieve a low value of 2.5 seconds or less. The Cumulative Layout Shift measures how often unexpected movement of page content happens, due to resources being loaded asynchronously.
When migrating to a new platform, it is essential that all development works are done in agreement with the best practices to ensure these metrics stay in their thresholds.
To prevent unexpected layout shifts, developers should define explicit width and height attributes and be cautious with content that loads dynamically, as it can cause shifts.
More about ways to improve Magento stores for Core Web Vitals can be found in our comprehensive article: https://blog.cleverplusplus.com/improving-your-magento-store-core-web-vitals/
Caching is exceptionally vital for website performance, particularly for online shops with hundreds of products, because it stores frequently accessed data in a readily available state, reducing the need to repeatedly retrieve the same data from the server or database.
Magento already has a powerful native Full Page Cache, but it can be enhanced further by using the Varnish cache service for the frontend, and Redis cache for the sessions and admin parts.
Google understood that customers want to browse and shop on the go with ease, and that’s why it now uses mobile-first indexing. Having a website that looks good and performs well on every mobile device, with signup forms and a straightforward checkout process, optimized for mobile, is crucial.
Staging Environment Testing
When preparing to go live with a new Magento site after a migration, it’s crucial to thoroughly test the site in a staging environment for potential SEO issues. Now it’s the best time to employ tools like Google’s Search Console to crawl the website and identify broken links, redirects, and any crawl errors that could harm your SEO.
All the other implementations, like o-page SEO elements, URL structure, mobile responsiveness and speed, can be thoroughly checked before hitting the Go-live button.
One of the necessary steps after migrating to a new platform is updating or creating a new sitemap to make your website pages more noticeable and understandable for search engines and submitting it to Google via Google Search Console. Also, developers need to ensure that the robots.txt file is correctly configured to allow search engine bots to crawl the website effectively.
Many of the complex Magento extensions that provide tools to up your SEO will also have the capacity to automatically generate HTML & XML sitemaps.
Also, make sure you avoid duplicate content, because if found, Google may penalize your domain and decrease the ranking. Magento has complex functionalities to handle this, like the ability to set canonical tags for products and categories right from the admin section.
Reports and audits play a critical role post-migration. It’s important to document and analyze the SEO performance before and after the migration. This comparative analysis will help you understand the impact of the migration on your site’s SEO and identify opportunities for further optimization. For this, tools such as Google Analytics, SEMrush, Ahrefs, can provide invaluable insights into your site’s performance and highlight areas that need attention.
SEO Extensions for Magento
Even if Magento is one of the e-commerce platforms kitted natively with robust tools to enhance SEO, those who want to take it to a whole new level have many extensions available that can help automate and manage some of the SEO processes more efficiently. The Magento Marketplace abounds with extensions to help your SEO efforts, but there are some that take pole positions due to their capabilities.
SEO Toolkit Pro from Amasty is an all-in-one extension covering all the essentials that we talked about in this article. Additionally, it is able to run automatic SEO health check-ups to monitor your website SEO effectiveness.
Magento 2 SEO Extension from BSS Commerce provides all necessary tools to optimize your Magento website, and can be easily coupled with the new Magento 2 ChatGPT extension, for creating engaging content. The extension is compatible with the latest Magento version and also with the highly acclaimed Hyva theme.
Migrating to a new e-commerce platform can indeed be a stressful process and even if SEO scoring is one of the main worries when carrying such projects, it is not the only one. Add to that the complexities of adjusting all the integrations to work well with the new system, performance, mobile responsiveness, design, user-experience, and you will soon understand why such tasks require extensive planning. However, with the right development team in place, and following the best practices, keeping your hard-earned SEO score and maintaining the continuity of your online presence can be seamlessly achieved.
The digital landscape is constantly evolving, and what works today may not be as effective tomorrow. Thus, the need for ongoing SEO audits and adjustments is not just a one-time task post-migration; it’s an ongoing commitment to ensure that your ecommerce platform continues to meet market standards and search engine algorithms.
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