Migrating to a new ecommerce platform can be daunting. With so much to think about (site design, moving product catalog data, configuring payment & shipping settings, and much more), it is common for something to be overlooked. Very often a key item that is forgotten until after go-live is mapping URLs and creating 301 redirects.
In this article we lay out a guide to considering URLs BEFORE go-live to minimize broken links and diminished rankings.
Why URL mapping & redirection is important
Imagine you spend months migrating your site (say from Magento to BigCommerce) only to have your traffic tank due to URL changes that result in 404 errors for all inbound links and a resulting drop in search rankings. This nightmare scenario has happened more than a few times.
For example: if your top category with a large amount of inbound links is was previously found at www.youstore.com/collections/widgets and the equivalent category on the new platform is found at www.yourstore.com/widgets, all incoming links will result in a 404 “not found” error if not taking precautions.
This results first in a poor user experience. If they had come looking for widgets and cannot find the page immediately, there is a good chance they will bounce and look elsewhere.
As search engines see this, they respond accordingly and rank your store lower for widgets.
Be sure to follow the steps outlined below so that you do not fall victim to this scenario.
Matching URLs during the migration process
Where possible, it is helpful to keep your URLs exactly the same when migrating. If your Widgets category was previously found at www.youstore.com/collections/widgets, then configuring the Widgets category to be found at www.youstore.com/collections/widgets on the new platform would ensure that inbound links remain intact and all link equity (the value of inbound links) carries over.
In order to do so, you need to move more than content, you need to move the URLs.
Fortunately, BigCommerce allows you to define product, category, or page URLs to just about any URL you want to set. This makes it easy to map the old to the new.
You can set a custom the (full path) URL for products, brands, categories, web pages, and blog posts.
While the above scenario conveniently does not require redirects, not all pages or resources can have a custom URL. In these cases, it is important to create a 301 redirect to point the old URL to the new target.
Here are a few scenarios to keep in mind:
Cart, checkout & account pages
In BigCommerce, some of the pages have fixed URLs. These include:
- Cart – /cart.php
- Checkout – /checkout.php
- Account – /account.php
- Login – /login.php
While not generally important for SEO, redirecting from previous locations to these new ones can help with user experience.
Resources (ie PDFs)
If you have key resources like spec sheets in PDF form, these will need to live under a particular directory on your store (usually uploaded via WebDAV).
So, if you previously have these stored at a location like yourstore.com/assets/0000-spec-sheet.pdf, you will need to store the new version in a location like youstore.com/content/assets/0000-spec-sheet.pdf.
If these resources are indexed by search engines or linked to, you should create 301 redirects to link send users to the new destination.
Other Changed URLs
Sometimes there are reasons not to match the URLs as explained in the previous section. For example, you may take the opportunity to update product URLs in order to optimize them for SEO.
If you have modified them for SEO or other reasons, be sure to track the changes and create 301 redirects to link the two together.
Identifying broken links before go-live
After working through the above steps, it can be helpful to proactively search for changed or missing pages on the new site prior to launching. While it can be a hassle, we recommend crawling both the old site and the new site, then comparing the differences to identify potential issues in advance.
This can be achieved by using a crawling tool on both sites, opening the results in your favorite spreadsheet program, and searching for variances between them. Be sure to compare the relative URLs (as the root yourstore.com and yourstore.mybigcommerce.com will obviously not match until after you launch).
Our favorite tool for crawl sites is Screaming Frog SEO Spider. The free version allows you to crawl up to 500 URLs at a time.
Tracking & Responding to Broken Links after Go-Live
Even the most diligent effort will likely still have some links that are not matched up. As such, it is critical to have tools in place to track 404 errors and fix them as soon as possible.
There are two important tools for this effort.
Google Search Console will tracking Index Coverage issues. This will help capture issues with URLs submitted for indexing (ie from your sitemap). As of March 2019, the Crawl Errors report will no longer identify other 404 errors on your site.
The Swerve Redirects app will find all 404 errors that are experienced on your site. Moreover, it allows you to conveniently create 301 redirects for each error to quickly resolve issues.
Ecommerce platform migration is not an easy task. However, diligent focus and helpful tools can help you succeed.
Evelyn Bai is the Digital Marketing Strategist at Inkblot Digital. She’s a passionate improvement addict and info geek who seeks to improve the world and ecommerce one little post at a time.