Encyclopedia of eCommerce Upgrade / Migration: Part 9
Efficient 301 Redirect Planning
When you migrate your store, one important thing you could lose in the process is your SEO efforts of your previous website. It is pretty obvious that losing your SEO efforts will significantly reduce your website’s rankings and hence its traffic. This is why it is critical to ensure that you don’t lose your website’s ranking in the migration process.
In this scenario, a 301 redirect strategy comes to the rescue. No matter how much better your new website might be, without an efficient 301 redirect strategy, you will be forced to rank your websites for relevant keywords right from the scratch. It simply is not worth losing the effort you put in for years in your previous website.
Let’s evaluate how to effectually create a redirect strategy for your eCommerce store.
Creating 301 Redirects to your New Site
In simple words, a 301 redirect is a permanent redirect from one URL to another. It is often used when a web page is either updated or moved and is used to point to the latest version of the web page. It is also a tool that informs search engine crawlers about the update so that they can index the new page for the current URL and transfer the SEO benefit and the page rank of the previous web page to the new one. These actions collectively ensure that none of your previous efforts go to waste and are only added to your latest efforts thereby making 301 redirects a crucial strategy for your eCommerce migration.
There are quite a few strategies to follow for 301 redirects. Each one depends on the kind of scenario your store falls under.
What does your 301 Redirect strategies depend on?
Your 301 redirect strategies and planning primarily depend on the following two scenarios:
Scenario No. 1: Is it a Platform Upgrade or Migration:
Upgrade: In case of a platform upgradation, you most probably will have access to either an inbuilt functionality or an add on provided by the platform’s team to create your new URLs. Most of the times, the built-in functionality or add-on will take care of all the URL redirects and you wouldn’t have to worry about anything.
Migration: In this situation, you will have to plan meticulously. This article is basically meant to address this exact situation at length below. Since in platform migrations, most eCommerce platforms may not have an inbuilt functionality for 301 redirects to/from a different platform, you might have to carry out the method manually.
Scenario No 2. Is the Product Data Transferred/Imported or Created manually:
Manual Data Entry: If you’re manually entering the data on the new platform, you will most likely be tempted to remove some unused/redundant products, categories or may plan a different category tree to better organize your products and align it with your marketing strategies. In such a case where the data is altered, your team will have to manually sit and map each old product URL with the new URL individually to create the 301 redirects. Some obsolete or redundant categories which are removed will have to be redirected to their corresponding new categories or substitute products.
Import done with a Script or Tool: In the case that your data is imported using a script or tool and especially if while doing so no heed is paid to the URL structuring or the team doing it did not consult with your developers to understand the URL structure, then, you will be left in a situation that will require you to browse through each and every product of your database. This again will require you to manually map individual URLs for your new platform. Your development team may be of help and write down a smart script to map the new vs. old URLs based on SKUs or Unique Product Names though.
Once you understand the scenario you fall under, you can move on to initiate the redirect strategy for your store.
Infallible Process of Implementing an Effective 301 Redirect plan
To craft an effective 301 Redirect Strategy, one needs to follow the below process
STEP 1: HOW TO EXTRACT A LIST OF ALL URLs OF YOUR LIVE SITE
There are various methods to extract all of your URLs. Your purpose may be served with one method but most of the times you will have to use a combination of methods given below:
a. Built-In Export function:
Most eCommerce platforms have an inbuilt facility that allows you to import the list of Products and Categories as a file; some provide the facility to export URLs as well, but many still don’t. If you have the source code of your current platform, your developer may be able to extend the built-in export function to add the URL field as well.
b. Using an Add-On:
Many platforms also might have a plugin or an extension that will allow you to directly extract all of your website’s live URLs. Search for a reliable and well rated add on to perform this task. If it’s open source and customizable, it would be a lot more helpful.
c. A Web Based Tool:
If none of the above is available, you can look for a website crawling software for the same. There are tools available that crawl your complete website and provide you with a list of all the URLs. These tools are effective only if the URLs are limited in number, if you have a product range in thousands, then, normally these might not be as efficient.
d. Google Search Parameters:
Even after you have a comprehensive list of URLs of your existing website, you may still be missing many important ones. Conduct a simple Google Cache search using the search phrase:“site:www.yoursitename.com”. Do it with and without WWW prefix.
It will list the cached URLs of your website and you may be surprised to find the many different versions of your website URLs have been indexed. Make sure you carefully analyse the results to ensure that you didn’t miss out any URL that is currently active and drawing traffic to your website.
STEP 2: HOW TO MAP YOUR OLD URL STRUCTURE WITH THE NEW ONE FOR THE NEW PLATFORM?
For eCommerce stores, the primary pages for which the URLs are to be extracted are as follows:
301 redirect of Home page is pertinent if your homepage gets opened or cached with a suffix like home.html, default.php, default.aspx etc. or with WWW or without WWW etc.
You might have changed your categories and hence their URLs to better organize your products. It is important to make sure that the old categories should be redirected to the new ones that are created to substitute them.
Product List pages:
Since the categories are changed, the products listed too will be different because of the modified category tree. So you have to make sure that your old URLs are directed to the correct product lists.
Individual product pages too will have to be redirected to the places where they are placed on the new platform since their original positions might be changed. Sometimes store owners might have also changed the names of the products for SEO purposes which again may have changed the product URLs too since product URLs mostly depend upon the Product Name. So this will require a very careful redirect.
General Information Pages:
Contact Us, About Us, FAQs, Terms and Policies and others
Apart from above commonly used URLs, there can be many other URLs which could be missing from your redirect plan and should be included too. For instance:
1. Individual Blog Pages
2. Landing Pages designed for Marketing
3. Search Page Campaigns (if ever run based on search parameters)
4. Search Page Variations cached by Google
At this point, you should have an elaborate list of all the URLs active on your current website that you have access to or have them accumulated and loaded up in an Excel/Spreadsheet file.
STEP 3: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT METHODS OF 301 REDIRECTS?
Once you have your URLs for both the sites laid out, you can now move on to executing the redirects. There are three primary methods to process this:
This is a method that can be used when both the URL structures have a thumb rule difference between them. In such a case, your developer will only have to write a simple code that will redirect all the old URLs to the new ones. However, make sure to test the URLs before going live.
Most of the URLs like the about us page or the contact us page may not even require a redirect. Make sure these are set correctly if you automate the process.
2. Individual URL Based:
Again, in case there is no similar difference between, your developers will have to place a simple command to redirect each URL individually to the new one.
3. Individual-Automated Hybrid:
This method, which is the case most of the times, is something which can be used when a group of URLs follow a same pattern of difference while others don’t. For instance, the product URLs and the category URLs can be divided into separate groups and a different code can be run to execute the redirects separately. A few pages which don’t have any patterned difference will have to be redirected individually.
So this was the overall procedure of creating a 301 redirect strategy during a platform migration. With your 301 redirect planning complete and successful, you have now ensured that none of your previous URLs swaying customers off of your website. Plus, you have also ensured that all of the SEO effort you put in over the years in your previous website are transferred with equal benefit to your new website. All you have to do now is to continue your store forward rather than starting everything from scratch.