There inevitably comes a time in the lifecycle of any eCommerce retailer when switching platforms or migrating to a newer version of your existing one becomes an operational necessity.
Increasingly, that new platform is Magento 2. But whatever your choice of platform, switching is a daunting proposition; not least because you’ve heard about the very real risk of harming the search engine equity that you have built up throughout your entire trading history. You need to look to the future without sacrificing the work of your past. The good news is that there are lots of ways to address your very valid concerns. With careful planning and a clear development roadmap, your organic traffic need not take a hit. Let’s look at just 6 important steps you can proactively take to keep your search traffic coming in at the rate and volume you are used to.
If your existing platform is not currently on HTTPS, there is no time like an eCommerce platform switch or a site migration to make the change. To preserve your rankings and traffic flow you must set up comprehensive 301 redirects to your https pages from their existing http equivalents. Google has signalled that https is a ranking signal in it’s push to make the web more secure, so it’s not one to miss out on.
There are other “housekeeping” redirects to consider too. Make sure you systematically set up redirects from pages without the “www” prefix to the pages that do have “www” in their address. You need to be sure that Google and other search engines only index one version of each page and do not penalise you for duplicate content.
You can spot 404 errors, which most likely result from broken links with Google’s Search Console. The search console is an indispensable tool for broadly tracking issues with your site’s pages and you should be using it to monitor the general health of your site’s hierarchy. However, it will not flag 404s in real time, meaning you can potentially lose conversions and interrupt user journeys because of broken links before the search console informs you of the broken link. By the time Google Search Console alerts you to the 404, Google will will have already it meaning a potential decay in your search ranking.
To address this, you can (and should) set up Google Tag Manager to fire a 404 event to Google Analytics. This means that when the first user clicks your broken link, you have real-time visibility of it. You may be familiar with the process for setting up event tracking in GTM. If not, it is relatively straightforward provided you have access to the tools required. There is an excellent tutorial from Analytics Mania on how to set up 404 event tracking if you want some help.
After setting up 404 event tracking, you will need to actively monitor for 404 events in Google Analytics and ready to put in the 301 redirects required to repair your broken links.
Href lang tagging is a Google tool introduced back in 2011. It’s purpose is to tell search engines which version of your site to serve to users based on their location. This is important for currency, language and content in general. Naturally, you don’t want Google to view your USA intended content and your UK content as duplicate, thus worthy of downgrading. Href lang tags eliminate this possibility.
At present, href lang tagging is not an out-of-the-box feature of Magento so correct set up requires development work and/or the use of extensions. It is nevertheless an essential part of maintaining your organic traffic levels and should be give the requisite attention.
A common mistake that eCommerce site owners make is forcing redirection based on GEOIP location. This is not recommended by Google as users might want the experience they have requested. For example, why shouldn’t a Brit buy from a UK retailer while on holiday and take receipt of his purchase upon return? It’s always better to give users the choice to browse the site version for the country they are in without forcing them to do so, something often handled by a pop-up. Nevertheless, the practice continues against better advice, sometimes justified as a means of dealing with restrictions on sales of certain goods in certain locales.
— Sebastian Simon (@_sebastiansimon) 20 June 2017
A bigger problem arises when your site attempts to force redirect users but makes an exception for Googlebot by allowing it to crawl the page differently. Google considers this “cloaking” and an infringement of terms of service - not normally something that brings about a ranking advantage. In short, let Googlebot see what your users see.
To avoid Google etc. crawling filtered queries, you should make sure canonical urls are enabled. This is straightforward but will make sure your link juice isn’t diluted across multiple urls when your site is being indexed. In short, you want a category page to rank with its unfiltered url rather than every url relating to each filter a user applies being indexed as a separate page. That way, search engines measure the all traffic and search relevancy of your key pages and doesn’t spread your ranking across multiple variations of a page.
While the Google Search Console will alert you to problems its bots encounter while crawling your site, there are other tools available that can help you proactively monitor crawler activity to identify issues as and when they occur. Ideally, you should find a tool which allows you to take a portion of your server logs and classifies the server response code such as 200s, 301s, 404s. This allows you to review search engine activity on your site, diagnosing any issues quickly allowing you to rectify any issues in good time and preserve your rankings.
Switching eCommerce platforms is always complex. The challenge is as great as the opportunity. It therefore needs careful planning and management by a development team who have experience of switching and migrating and who are aware of the potential pitfalls and how to mitigate for them. A switch to Magento represents a big leap forward for your business and its scalability and the good news is that, in the right hands, it needn’t come at a cost to your prized organic search rankings.
If you prefer leaving it to the experts, magic42's team have helped many clients successfully make the switch to Magento. Get in touch with us to find out more about how we can help.