SEO Mistakes: 6 Weird Errors That Can Hurt eCommerce Store Rankings and Traffic

Even our experts were confounded by these 6 eCommerce SEO errors. Avoid these mistakes for your online store.

eCommerce marketers know that when search engine optimization (SEO) errors occur, search volume goes down. This means that fewer visitors will arrive to your online store and enter your sales funnel.

If an error goes unresolved for too long, this opens up the possibility of it then causing additional errors that lead Google to bury the site’s webpages under many other search results in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Most content about SEO mistakes references the same commonly made errors:

Common SEO Mistakes

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Over-optimized anchor text
  • Low-quality content
  • Link building too fast
  • Too many low quality backlinks rather than high-quality
  • Duplicate content
  • Unoptimized page titles and meta descriptions
  • Broken Links
  • Slow site speed
  • Site is not optimized for mobile devices

The list goes on, and these are HUGELY common problems that large enterprise sites deal with. Most of the time, you can monitor for these errors without an external SEO expert consulting.

Sometimes, though, a strange technical error can occur that results in one of these other errors, but you won’t know that it’s happening. Why? Because the original error can be hard to detect. For example, we often see problems created by website redesign mistakes that destroy SEO.

After years in auditing hundreds of online stores, we’ve seen that these common SEO errors tend to repeat themselves. Sometimes, though, we only find the uncommon “oddball” errors after running a technical SEO audit.

In our experience, it’s vital to follow a technical QA process to periodically audit eCommerce websites (which tend to have a large volume of pages compared to other sites). 

Adding a QA process to your SEO strategy will help you to avoid both common and uncommon SEO errors that could have an impact on your search rankings, traffic, and thus your bottom line. A technical audit is especially important after doing a redesign or eCommerce platform migration.

Below we’ll show you 6 uncommon SEO errors we’ve encountered that not many people know or think about. They’re lesser-known, but they could potentially happen to any enterprise retail site.

If you have seen SEO performance lag on your own site recently and aren’t sure why, running a technical audit can help catch weird errors like these and prevent one error leading to more.

Note: We audit sites all the time and it’s how we catch any errors that could make a big negative impact. Get in touch to see how we can make sure your eCommerce website’s SEO is completely optimized for maximum growth.

SEO mistakes: a photo of a magnifying glass and a Google search bar.

SEO Error #1: A Corruptive App or Plugin Added to the Site Has Unintended Consequences

The Problem: One of our clients, a pool supply store, added an app (added as a plugin) to their site. This app was intended to make the site mobile optimized and responsive. To do this, the app added a meta robots tag to the mobile templates which unintentionally blocked Google from indexing them. 

This was somewhat odd in that the eCommerce platform the client used was already mobile responsive. The client had added it for aesthetic reasons, and they used the plugin to style mobile pages to their liking.

Meanwhile, the plugin didn’t add that meta robots tag to the desktop pages, so those were indexed. 

Google Search Console alerted us as to the issue, but not the cause. We were scratching our heads at the beginning. We didn’t know it was this app that was causing it. (Imagine not knowing the reason why all of your site’s pages aren’t getting indexed all of a sudden!)

Normal crawls (using default, desktop settings) looked fine across multiple tools, but Google Search Console didn’t consider the issue resolved, and neither did the Structured Markup Testing Tool (which we use to view Googlebot rendered code.)

Given the world of mobile-first SEO, all pages (mobile and desktop) were deindexed until the source of the issue was discovered in the mobile template and our client took our recommendation to remove the app.

To solve: From this issue, we found that changing the user agent of the standard crawl to a mobile crawler instead of the desktop one was how you could find this issue if it occurred again. We recommend crawling the site in both modes to identify discrepancies.

There are other ways apps can break SEO. These issues might include:

  • Security concerns
  • Page load issues
  • Deindexing images
  • Inflating crawlable URL count
  • Automated dynamic parameters (such as automatic URL changes)

Takeaway: Plugins gone wrong can be BAD in many different ways. When adding new software to your website, do multiple crawls afterward, including a crawl where the user agent is a mobile bot in order to check for any issues on mobile pages. Since not all bugs are found via a crawl, an SEO QA process will also help you to discover them.

SEO Error #2: A Server is Delivering the Staging Environment Instead of the Live Site

On a major craft supplies ecommerce store, Googlebot was blocked from the site via the robots.txt file, according to Google Search Console. 

A visual view of the robots.txt rendered a normal .txt, though the robots.txt testing tool in GSC displayed the text of the file as a rule instructing Google to block all crawlers but AdsBot crawlers:

User-Agent: *

Disallow: /

As a large online retailer, this client used 8 load balancing servers for their website. One out of those 8 servers was delivering the stage environment version of the robots.txt file. This stage environment was blocking everything that was on the live production environment. Google just happened to access the site on the wrong server one day.

To solve: The Robots.txt was fixed, and we recommended rules to put in place to ensure it was crawlable and the error couldn’t happen again.

Takeaway: Google can access a site through any server they aren’t blocked on, so all servers need to be consistently the same. Keep track of any discrepancies that might exist between multiple servers that you are using, and any SEO errors Google reports to you. When your website uses multiple servers, Google may crawl one as a point of reference rather than observe all of them. If that one server has an error, it doesn’t matter if the rest are correct.

SEO Error #3: Your Site is Triggering Dynamic URL Changes 

In January 2019, we noticed that most of the URLs in the main navigation menu of a client’s site in the home renovation / building materials niche was redirecting. The category page URLs (like from /category-66/ to /category-70/) kept changing with a new number every day.

We looked at Google Search Console and found there were many variations like this that all redirected to the newest version. We asked them if they knew what was happening and they told us that their site has been changing URLs every day.

The website did this for about 90 days before the client finally fixed it. Unfortunately, this was a bit too long for the error to go on. As a result, the site took a big hit in traffic because of it.

This story doesn’t end tragically, though. Their site recovered once we found the problem and gave a recommendation on how to fix it.

To solve: To fix the issue, their dev team stopped pages from being created every day and 301 redirected all variations to the correct page without the number in the URL /category.

Takeaway: Watch out for dynamic URL changes on your website. If a certain platform or setting is causing them to change, it can be very detrimental to your traffic.

SEO Error #4: You’re on a Bad eCommerce Platform

Picking the right eCommerce platform for your store is vital. Some platforms are better for SEO than others. On a client site in the grocery/foods niche, we’ve seen that the platform they use repeatedly causes all sorts of technical errors without the client’s knowledge.

The platform made seemingly random updates that consistently messed things up. For example:

  1. There have been several occasions where the platform accidentally made a site they were using to test updates indexable, even after we asked them to make it non-indexable. The problem with this is that it creates a duplicate content error and can lead customers to pages that don’t have working checkouts before launching them on the main website.

  2. The platform made the canonical tag on every page of the client’s blog point to a non-existent page, which caused a 404 error. We have no idea how this happened. We just happened to notice it the day after it happened, and thankfully, caught it quickly.

To solve: If errors like this pop up frequently, it may be best to consider migrating to a better eCommerce platform that doesn’t undermine your control over certain settings.

Takeaway: Make sure that your SEO team is monitoring for these sorts of things regularly. We use a technical audit as part of our QA process (which is how we catch these things).

SEO Error #5: Part of Your Site is on a Separate (Unsecured) Platform

This same client in the grocery / foods niche who had problems with their eCommerce platform also had big problems with their blog platform.

Some sites choose to host their store on an eCommerce platform like BigCommerce or Magento, and their blog on a CMS like WordPress.

This method sounds good, in theory, by having the best of both worlds: a specialized eCommerce platform to host the store and a specialized blog platform to host the blog. However, in this case, the store and blog platforms were hosted on the same server, and the WordPress blog was not secure.

Unfortunately, a major hack occurred. As a result of hosting the blog on the same server as the eCommerce platform, the server the store was hosted on got accessed by the hacker.

To solve: The recommendation to solve this would be to use only one platform, and only the blog that comes with that platform (if it has a blog feature—in this client’s case, the platform doesn’t, so that’s why they used WordPress). If you need a separate platform, keep the blog on a totally different server to keep your main one protected. This client had to move the blog to a subdomain—blog.client.com.

Takeaway: Need we say it? Make sure every part of your website is secure to ensure hackers stay out. This means if you are hosting different parts of your site on different platforms, all of those areas of the site need to be secured. If you use WordPress, make sure the installation is secure, up to date, and that you are using other security plugins.

Additionally, Google weighs whether a site is secure or not as a ranking factor. They don’t want to send people to an unsafe site (an unsafe URL beginning with HTTP vs a secure site’s URL beginning with HTTPS).

SEO Error #6: Not Fixing SEO Mistakes Quickly Enough

Remember our client in the home renovation / building materials niche that had URLs changing to a different number every day? This large online retailer had some additional problems.

The initial problem now was a common one: thin, low-quality content. Their internal search result URLs were getting indexed by Google (thin pages that only showed search results and no content, etc.) and we were trying to clean it up.

To solve the thin content error: we recommended adding a canonical tag to the internal search result URLs that pointed back to a main search result page.

This created a new problem due to another error that was present: The main search page canonicalized all of those internal search URLs to have a noindex tag.

To solve this additional problem, we asked them to remove the noindex tag right away, but it took a long time for that to happen on their end (remember: we recommend fixing SEO errors as soon as possible to avoid them being noticed by Google).

The longer all of these URLs canonicalized to a page with a noindex tag on it, the more their indexation numbers climbed. Google started ignoring canonical tags and indexing a ton of low-quality URLs (the original problem we had been trying to solve).

As a result of waiting so long to fix it, another new problem was created:

Once the noindex tag was removed from the main search page to fix the low quality URLs being indexed, there was an even larger number of them indexed.

To solve THIS, we had them change the internal search URLs from having a canonical tag to instead having a noindex tag. This was to simply stop their being indexed by Google and hopefully fix the situation more quickly.

Finally, those low quality URLs started to come out of the index fairly quickly.

The bottom line here is: When you find an SEO error, whether uncommon or not, take care of it quickly, or you’ll find new ones popping up!

Conclusion

These examples illustrate that SEO errors can come from a variety of sources.

Make sure to use a technical QA checklist that can catch these things as they happen in any number of ways as part of your search marketing strategy. (Here are some of our main technical SEO checks).

We know that technical SEO can be intimidating. As experts in eCommerce SEO, we’ve dealt with the unique SEO situations that come from different eCommerce platforms.

Clients who work with us not only get any errors present on their site removed by our expert eCommerce SEO consultants, we also optimize the site further to drive more organic sales from search engines.

Does it seem like your site’s SEO could be doing better? We run SEO for hundreds of eCommerce Sites and we’re ready to get to work on yours. Get started now.

Long Tail Keywords for eCommerce: Our Advanced Strategies to Rank for and Profit from Them

Get your products on page 1 of Google using these overlooked strategies for turning long tail keywords into eCommerce sales.

We have seen that eCommerce marketers tend to chase keywords with a high search volume. As a result, everyone in a given space is hunting for the same keywords that get search traffic. Does that sound familiar?

These higher volume keywords can get good, sometimes great results…if you can beat the competition. Often, however, you end up running out of high volume keywords to target that you can actually rank for.

We’ve noticed an interesting pattern, though. Sometimes there are low volume keywords that do get clicks.

For example, take a look at one of our eCommerce clients in the moving company niche. They are getting clicks on “0” volume keywords:

1724 clicks on an ELEVEN-word keyword! (And another 559 clicks on a separate six-word term.)

Trying to outrank your competitors can get tiring, quickly. So, why not change the game to one you can win by going after less competitive keywords that people are searching for?

In our experience doing SEO for a variety of eCommerce stores, we’ve often noticed our clients bringing in traffic and revenue from these terms.

Long tail searches for eCommerce are often less broad and more targeted to the people at the bottom of the marketing and sales funnel. They convert well as a result.

We recommend that companies do some research to see if they can cash in on long tail keywords. Below, we’ll tell you how to do it.

Note: If you want us to improve the SEO for your eCommerce store, we’d love to help you to target these keywords as part of a strategy to increase organic traffic and sales from search engines. Get in touch.

What are long tail keywords, and why do eCommerce marketers ignore them?

Long tail keywords are typically 3-4 words (sometimes more). They are typically very specific to a product a company is selling, like “Honeywell Wifi Thermostat RTH6580WF.” Or they will be a question the customer has, such as “control thermostat with smartphone.”

Short tail keywords, as you might guess, are one word, sometimes two. Like: “thermostat” or “wifi thermostats.”

High Competition vs. Low Competition: Single Word Phrases > 2-3 Word Phrases > Long Tail Keywords

As you can see in the graphic, long tail keywords are named because they make up the long tail end of traffic (there are many of them and they don’t get as many searches).

eCommerce marketers with less experience will overlook or write off long tail keywords because they see the low or non-existent estimated monthly search volume as a sign that it won’t bring in traffic. As should be clear by this point, that is a mistake.

Long tail search queries convert well because they are down the funnel compared to head terms. Somebody searching for “wifi thermostat” may be shopping around and comparing models while someone searching for a specific brand or model is WAY closer to making a buying decision. It’s all about the search intent behind them.

About eCommerce Search Intent

In order for long tail or short tail keywords to convert, it’s important to look at intent.

We’ve noticed that companies doing SEO for eCommerce will sometimes pick keywords without considering what led someone to type in that phrase, and what they are actually looking for.

A simple way to check search intent for a keyword: Type the keyword into Google and look at the first page of results. This shows you what people are actually clicking on because it matches their intent.

For example, you might think that someone with the intent to buy would type a keyword like “vegan makeup.”

Yet, a bunch of articles from 3rd parties like magazines and the PETA listing vegan makeup brands are what come up. Not eCommerce stores with individual products:

Google search results for "vegan makeup"

Google is always learning from what people type in and what they engage with. The results they push on the first page for a given keyword are generally a good indicator of what people want to get when they type it that keyword or phrase. So for a short tail term like “vegan makeup,” people are researching what’s out there but aren’t looking to buy any makeup just yet.

Long tail keywords, on the other hand, do tend to have high intent. Especially if they contain a branded phrase. For example, “tarte maneater mascara” brings up available stores where you can buy the brand’s product:

Google search results for "tarte maneater mascara"

Long tail keywords are important for ranking product and category pages, for the same reason we’ve been talking about: those pages are near impossible to rank for competitive short tail terms.

The bottom line: You can have less competition, a lower cost, and a better conversion rate when you keep search intent in mind.

Our Process to Find Good Long Tail Keywords for eCommerce

Our typical keyword research process for long tail keywords consists of several steps:

  1. Look at the client’s site and their competitors in Google Search Console.
  2. Sort by clicks to find the most relevant terms that are ranking for the website.
  3. Are there any keywords without volume getting clicks? (If we identify a longtail keyword opportunity we will typically optimize existing pages for them, or create content targeting the keyword if our client’s site doesn’t rank for it yet.)
  4. We then do some additional research in a keyword tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush. (We sometimes find other keywords to target through those tools.)
  5. We’ll sort by search volume, then start plugging keywords into a spreadsheet to match them up to the page that ranks for those terms.
  6. Then, we check each term manually in search results to make sure it matches the intent. (We don’t want to optimize a product page for a keyword when people are looking for blog posts, and vice versa).
  7. Usually (but not always), we find long tail terms in the top 6 keywords for that page and will optimize for them.

Keyword Monitoring

Another thing we like to do is set up keyword alerts in Ahrefs to monitor for new long tail terms we should incorporate. Each week, Ahrefs sends us an email of the keywords our client’s site is ranking for that jumped into the top 20 (or 40-60) of results — and we can optimize further to get in the top 10 results.

Over time, a page will rank for additional long tail keywords as the keyword research tool indexes it. If we think one of those keywords can convert well, we make a recommendation to our clients to optimize for that phrase.

Additional Ways to Find Long Tail Keywords

There are plenty of tutorials for finding keywords and implementing them (our eCommerce Copywriting Guide is an excellent primer). So, rather than go in depth we’ll list some other methods for finding them.

  1. Google Keyword Planner shows which long tail keywords have commercial value, but we typically find fewer of them.
  2. Google Suggested Search and “People Also Ask”, on the other hand, is an easy and quick way to get some additional long tail ideas. Just start typing and look at the autocomplete options:
     

    Google search for "Women's red..." and the autocomplete results.

    Or type in your keyword and look at the questions people are asking (these questions are long tail terms):

    Google search: "vintage men's watches" results in multiple "people also ask" questions.

    Sometimes, an article on your site answering the question can fill the “People Also Ask” box.
  3. Google Ads Search Term Report will show you which ads were triggered by actual searches. Sometimes you will see that somebody typed in a relevant long tail keyword you didn’t think of and your ad came up for it!
  4. Keyword Research Tools: Ubersuggest, Moz, SEMrush, and Ahrefs all have huge keyword databases. Type in a head term (short tail keyword) and swipe long tail keywords from the related terms that these tools show you. Even if you see <10 searches a month for a long tail phrase, you will get at least a couple of clicks. Rank for enough of these phrases and you can get a significant amount of traffic.
  5. Answer the Public is another good tool. With this one, you put in a head term and see a good list of questions that people are asking about it in search engines:

    Answer the public: For example, when you insert the word "dress", here are common questions/results.
  6. Last but not least, Amazon is a great source of long tail keywords for eCommerce.

If you are listing products on Amazon, you can use their search term report to see which phrases people typed in to get to your product page. Then, you can add those keywords to your Amazon listing AND the product page on your own website. Chances are, people are typing those same shopping-related phrases into Google.

Plus, just like Google, Amazon will give you suggested search suggestions when you start typing. Pair your suggested searches in Google, Amazon, and elsewhere with a tool like Keywords Everywhere to see quick stats about the terms:

Amazon also gives suggested search suggestions, as seen here with "ping pong paddles" and the results.

How We Implement Long Tail Keywords for Conversions

Now you know how we find long tail keywords for eCommerce. To make them work for your online store, you need to make the right pages relevant for them.

Here’s our basic process for implementing long tail terms that we’ve targeted:

  1. Once we have a long tail keyword to target in mind, we take a look at the page we’re optimizing to see what else it is ranking for, and what products it converts for so that we can tailor our optimization to that.
  2. Then we optimize the page including ‘H1’, Title, and meta tags, body copy, and images. If we are optimizing a page for a head term, the long tail keyword will be included secondarily to help the page rank for both the short and long tail phrases.
  3. Depending on the page type, we may add more content to the page to make it relevant for the long tail keyword. This works better on product pages rather than category pages in your catalog. Too much content on a category page pushes the product grid down further down the page and that added scrolling space can hurt conversions.

  4. To increase relevance for the long tail phrase even further, we’ll search for blog posts to internally link to from the product or category page and use the long tail keyword as the anchor text.

  5. If we aren’t adding content to an existing page, we will create a new page or update one to optimize it. When updating content, we look for pages that performed well in the past based on their former rankings or sessions from visitors but have since dropped off.

For these, we’ll try to reoptimize the page by:

  • Sprinkling long tail keywords into the copy
  • Adding new sections to the page that weren’t there using the long tail term as an ‘H2’ 
  • Refreshing the page by adding more useful content for visitors

What might this look like in practice?

We have a client with an eCommerce store in the freeze dried food niche. In our research, we discovered that their product page for freeze-dried ice cream was ranking for adjacent phrases like “space ice cream” or “astronaut ice cream.”

Rather than simply sprinkle those words onto the product page, we created new ‘H2’ headings on it for those long tail keywords to really target them. Their rankings for “space ice cream” and “astronaut ice cream” increased as a result.

Now they are targeting and ranking for three separate terms that their customers used in Google when looking for freeze-dried ice cream rather than just the one.

Important: If you’re running PPC ads, use the longtails for that too! Google ads are there so that you can pay to beat the organic rankings. So, we recommend you target longtails in both SEO and PPC.

Conclusion

Business growth doesn’t tend to happen overnight. It’s the result of small pieces of value adding up over time. This same mindset is useful when thinking about what keywords to target.

Ranking for more long tail keywords than your competition is a tried and true strategy for increasing the value of your eCommerce store. The extra traffic from each longtail keyword you rank for can really add up.

Keep in mind that inbound marketing for eCommerce relies on the pain points (or simply the needs) of your customers.

Start by taking an inventory of all the products, questions, and objections that potential customers have about what you sell. Are there certain questions they have to ask before they buy a product? Is there something else in their head that is preventing them from making a purchase?

Take all of those answers you have for your customers and put them on your website. Now, because you’ve put the content there, they’ll be more likely to:

  • Find the right product
  • Get the answer to their questions
  • Trust your store to make the purchase

This might sound simple, but it’s the core of why SEO works, and it’s why long tail keywords lead to conversions.

Note: We do this type of work for our clients day-in and day-out. If you want us to increase your traffic and sales by implementing our winning SEO strategies, please contact us.

eCommerce Migration Checklist: How to Migrate Your Website Without Losing Your SEO

Review this eCommerce website migration checklist before you migrate to a new platform to keep your SEO.

Public service announcement: Migrating your eCommerce site to a new design, platform, or domain means that you have to be ultra-diligent in executing the move.

Otherwise, you risk a hit to SEO that affects your traffic, conversions, and revenue.

In our experience with helping dozens of eCommerce stores migrate, we’ve seen that a lot of “gotchas” can occur. These are a variety of little errors with the potential to create a big downswing in your organic traffic and rankings.

Most eCommerce migration checklists present a vague list of SEO factors to consider, without giving you a real, strategic workflow to follow that avoids those errors. Fulfilling this checkmark or that checkmark without knowing the strategy and reasoning behind those actions leaves your site vulnerable.

Here, we’re sharing our internal 5 Phase Migration Checklist that we implement for clients who want to protect their SEO from a potential hit after migrating. Review it before launching your new site in order to minimize any potential negative SEO impacts caused by a site migration.

At Inflow, we handle migrations often and are here to help you make sure any SEO impact is minimized. If you’d like us to handle this on your behalf please give us a shout.

What to Expect with a Website Migration

Getting your ducks in a row prior to an eCommerce website migration is crucial for ensuring its continued success.

While a downward bump in SEO is usually to be expected when migrating a site, historically: we’ve observed that fixing errors prior to launch can actually help traffic remain steady. In some cases, it can even help traffic go up by improving the new site’s SEO.

Not all migrations are the same ⁠— things change and it’s smart to consider certain specifics for each scenario when you migrate to:

  • A new design
  • A new hosted or self-hosted platform
  • Or a new domain.

Migrating your website can be a stressful process given its risks.

The goal here is for you to understand how to reduce any organic rankings/traffic drops by adopting an optimized and streamlined SEO migration strategy.

Why Migrate?

If you’re thinking about a migration, it’s important to know why that migration is occurring so you don’t do it superfluously.

It makes sense to migrate in certain situations, including when:

  • You have an old/outdated website design.
  • Your business changes priorities or service offerings, so you need to add new information or change existing information to be more current.
  • You rebrand (this can involve migrating to a new domain when the business name changes).
  • There are problems with your CMS platform and you want to change to a platform with more/different robust features, or a lower cost.
  • Your site just isn’t converting, and you want to start from scratch on a new domain.

What is the best eCommerce platform for SEO to migrate to? In a previous article, we outlined what to consider when picking a new platform to migrate to, so we won’t be covering that here.

Instead, we’re going to get into the nuts and bolts of migrating successfully. Starting with the risks involved.

Before You Start: What Type of Migration Is It?

The risk of impact to your SEO varies depending on the type of migration. Some migration scenarios are more risky than others.

Low SEO Risk: Site Redesign/Reskin

When the extent of the migration is limited to simply changing the design of the website, the risk is relatively low.

When comparing a design change or reskin to other migrations, there is a lower risk of an SEO drop simply because no URLs are changing.

Depending on your team’s experience, it may not be necessary to enlist help from an outside agency to keep SEO protected from a site redesign or reskin.

Side note: Certain designs contain JavaScript that cloaks content. Hiding or “cloaking” content is not something Google tends to like. This type of code is common on spam sites attempting to keyword-stuff their pages without the text visually displaying.

Watch out for such designs containing JavaScript that could trigger inadvertent SEO impacts.

Medium SEO Risk: URL / Changes (With No Platform Change)

You’ll want to monitor things carefully when your domain changes, or when other changes occur that require a new URL structure with abundant redirects.

In this scenario, there is a moderate amount of risk as any URL changes create a risk to your SEO. Your website’s new URLs will need to be indexed.

The goal is to get new URLs indexed quickly by Google post-launch by making them easy to crawl. Whether the actual design changes or not, new URL paths are a fundamental change to a site’s SEO and should be monitored.

Medium SEO Risk Scenario 2: Change in eCommerce Platform

In general, a platform change means that the site’s URLs will also change. This is due to the way that various eCommerce platforms structure their URLs differently.

For example: As a path to products in Shopify’s “collections,” the URL structure has to be domain.com/products/productname or domain.com/collections/collectionname/products/productname

An example of Shopify's URL structure

Meanwhile, WordPress and other CMSs have their own URL structures with different needs. This is why in many cases, maintaining the original URL isn’t possible ⁠— even if you want to.

Changing platforms also presents the risk of losing core functionality that your SEO (or your other marketing channels!) are currently benefiting from. Evaluating and minimizing such a risk is key when migrating platforms.

High SEO Risk: Domain Migration

Regardless of any URL changes or design changes, migrating your eCommerce site’s domain presents a lot of risk.

The problem is that a domain name has a lot of context and history with Google. So, unfortunately when starting from scratch you are bound to lose some equity.

In this scenario, be prepared to do a bit more work to mitigate the SEO impact and pain of losing traffic.

Why change domains in the first place? In this case, the short term hit to SEO should be for a long-term gain ⁠— like a rebranding or name change of the organization.

So, what migration scenario fits yours? Now that you understand the risks, below is a detailed list of all the factors to verify.

Note: Please do not be overwhelmed by the level of detail we’re presenting.

There are many small factors in SEO. Usually, drops happens as a result of multiple little factors going wrong…or one catastrophic miss.

So while the list of checks is numerous, there’s a reason for it:

  • First, to create the optimal website structure for Google to index
  • And second, to catch any potential errors prior to the launch of the new site

Let’s start with Phase 1.

Phase 1: Evaluate Live Site & Opportunities for Improvement. Collect Benchmark Data. 

A very important first step is to review the live site in order to see where everything stands.

Since this is a data migration process from one platform to another, you’ll use the old site’s data as a benchmark for reference and comparison to the new site in a later step.

The goal is to launch the development site with as few discrepancies as possible when comparing its features to the live site.

Step 1. Crawl the Current Domain Using DeepCrawl and/or Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog is a widely used tool and its data output is suitable for this process.

A view of the Screaming Frog Dashboard

We like to use DeepCrawl for larger sites or Screaming Frog as a cheaper and easier option for smaller sites. That said, you can use the crawl tool of your choice.

A view of the DeepCrawl Dashboard

Crawling the current live domain provides us with a list of URLs on the site plus a wide variety of data about those URLs that we can use for checks and benchmarks.

Step 2. Perform Google Search Console Analysis

Google’s own data about your site is important to review.

Data is provided in GSC in a dashboard format, where you’ll:

  • Export .csv data of the site 
  • Does any structured data need carried over to new site?
  • Do hreflang tags need to be carried over to new site?
  • Do any 404 errors need to be addressed pre-launch?

If any data is present that should be transferred, or if any errors exist that Google says should be corrected, that’s a checkbox to mark early on in the process.

Step 3. Crawl and Analyze the Old Site

Now that you have crawl data and Google’s data, you’ll document the following points to be able to reference them in comparison to the new site:

  • Look for Meta robots nofollow tags in source code
  • Document GAID & type of code being used (Universal, GTM)
  • Look for pages with noindex tag
  • Review canonical tags
  • Review Title tags
  • Review Meta description tags
  • Review header (h1, h2 etc) usage
  • Collect all known live URLs (via a site crawl, serp scrape, GSC, GA, etc. as needed) in a file (to crawl & verify working redirects upon go-live).

Often, we’ll look at this data and use it to identify opportunities for optimization of the new site’s SEO as well. It is generally part of the process for doing an SEO content audit.

Step 4. Other Considerations

The data collected from the above steps is necessary regardless of the type of migration.

To double check your relevant migration scenario before doing further work, make sure you have evaluated the characteristics of it so that you can take the proper steps.

To determine the ‘type’ of migration as mentioned earlier, identify if it’s a:

  • Redesign (the site’s design is the only change)
  • URL Changes on the Same Platform (with or without design changes)
  • A Platform Change (usually involving URL & design changes)
  • A New Site on a New Domain

Some other important questions that help determine the risk level of your situation are:

  • Is the domain name changing?
  • Is the URL structure changing?
  • Is the site architecture changing?
  • Have you performed keyword research, created a keyword matrix and/or a keyword gap analysis to ensure a solid keyword strategy is in place?
  • Is conversion optimization a consideration?
  • Do you currently need help selecting a new eCommerce platform, system, software etc? (If so, please reach out to us for help to determine it.)

In the next phases, you’ll identify the needed action steps and fixes to implement to the staging site prior to migration.

Phase 2: Evaluate Stage Site & Technical Opportunities for Improvement

Now, we’ll do the technical work of going through the possible errors (“gotchas”) and take the needed steps to test and address them.

eCommerce sites have many facets that can get affected during a migration.

Revenue is linked to SEO, and a migration presents a risk of impact to it. If there was ever a time to be thorough with a technical checklist: this is it.

Tip: Understand Your Development Timeline

Without the right approach, technical SEO can seem like a never ending process. If the migration is to be completed by the target date, the team needs to have the scope of work and a deadline to help keep things moving.

Structuring the work according to the below outline should help you to do that.

Step 1. Check for Server Changes

Is the server changing?

Ask your developer to host the development site on the new server to identify potential issues. Don’t forget to ask the developer to block search engine bot access to the staging or development sites using the robots.txt file.

Step 2. Establish a 301 Redirect Strategy

To get new URLs indexed, a systematic approach to implementing redirects is a vital step.

To do it:

  1. Formulate a 301-Redirect Strategy using the site crawl data.
  2. Document how the redirect strategy will be implemented, and who is responsible. Everyone should be on the same page on how redirects will be structured and implemented
  3. Are there legacy redirects that need updated? Eliminate redirect hops it’s best to have fewer redirects if possible.

We’ll also be checking for success of the redirects upon launch/migration.

Step 3. Conduct Technical Dev Site Optimization

Remember: we’re trying to get the development site optimized prior to launching it.

Conducting a technical audit is key for success:

  1. Review Sitemaps & Wireframes for new site
  2. Ensure site is being blocked from indexation
  3. Verify a custom 404 error page exists & properly issues a 404 header response. Page title for 404s should always read “Page Not Found” (or similar) so errors can be found in GA, as well (aka those errors that users access)
  4. Crawl the Dev Site; fix 404 and soft 404s
  5. Ensure links/URLs that you don’t want indexed on the dev site are Nofollowed. This would be needed for new faceted navigation, for example
  6. Test redirects (if possible)
  7. Browse the Dev site with multiple devices
  8. Plan for Faster Indexing; Create an XML sitemap (if necessary) with all of the old URLs and plan to leave this up after the site has launched
  9. Test & enhance site speed, as much as is possible for a dev site.

When possible we do a live site to dev site comparison of site speed. But staging environments don’t often have caching setup, or other things that make site’s actual speed visible. 

Since the speed of the dev site is an estimate, enlist the development team to help you see where things are lacking and what you can do to improve it.

Step 4. Determine Analytics Migration Strategy

In this step, we’re essentially preparing to share information about the new site with Google to get it indexed faster.

To do it:

  1. Add the analytics code to the dev site. (Block the IPs of team members accessing this site.)
  2. Goals: Compile a list of URLs to update in the analytics goals when the new site goes live
  3. Check mobile-friendliness of different types of pages on the site
  4. Check that parameters function as expected (and critical tracking parameters aren’t dropped from the URL during a page reload or redirect)
  5. Check parameters report in GSC for duplicate content issues (this feature from the old GSC may not remain around for long)
  6. Check GA to ensure that this website cannot be its own referrer (on the Property level, in Tracking Info > Referral Exclusion List)
  7. Social Media Shares: Compile a list of URLs with highest social counts. Maintain old embed code to keep social counts. If no pages have worthwhile counts, don’t waste development efforts to implement this.

Now, your dev site is further prepared for parity with Google.

Phase 3: Compare Live Site vs. Stage Site to Ensure Parity (or Better!)

To further evaluate the stage site prior to making it live, compare it to the old site to find a list of prioritized discrepancies to fix.

The broad steps for this phase are:

  • Look at the new site, compare to old site,
  • Make a checklist of things to fix with the goal of keeping traffic as close as possible to flat during migration.

Note: Content and mobile site specific tasks will apply to everyone, but some are more specific (for example, if your site has AMP pages or is hosted on WordPress).

Content

  1. Is the site at risk for duplicate content and/or URLs?
  2. Migrate all content to Dev site; is as much as possible staying the same?
  3. Ensure title tags and meta descriptions are being carried over and are the same as or better than the current site.
  4. Check page content, canonical tags, internal linking, usage of H1s/H2s, IMG ALT tags.

Mobile Site Specific Tasks

  1. Crawl as mobile googlebot in Screaming Frog; validate mobile parity among page: titles, descriptions, headers, content, inlinks, images, directives, etc. 
  2. Implement meta=”viewport” tag to <head> section of site <meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1”>

Javascript Site Specific Tasks

  1. Visually audit all major page types (Fetch & Render in GSC if possible)
  2. Audit HTML source for missing content 
  3. Audit using inspect element for missing content
  4. Compare HTML source vs. inspect element for contradictions
  5. Identify content based on user-interaction (any pages that are critical for search engine access, any that are not?)

AMP Page Specific Tasks

  1. Each non-AMP page (i.e. desktop, mobile) should have a tag pointing to the corresponding AMP URL.
  2. Each AMP page should have a rel=”canonical” tag pointing to the corresponding desktop page.
  3. Any AMP page that does not have a corresponding desktop URL should have a self-referring canonical tag.

eCommerce Specific Tasks

  1. Do category pages contain indexable links to the products?
  2. Check faceted navigation, pagination for best practices
  3. If link to image comes before anchor text link, is keyword rich ALT text used?

WordPress Specific Tasks

  1. Redirect URLs in WordPress on Dev site using Simple 301 Redirects Plugin
  2. Install Google Tag Manager Plugin on WordPress site & CMS and configure it
  3. Set up Yoast WordPress SEO & Yoast Analytics plugins
  4. If you use a CMS like HubSpot – Install & Set Up the CMS plugin
  5. Set up Yoast Analytics

As a separate task, we also create conversion optimization recommendations based on the Dev site to help optimize the new site’s conversions.

How to Prioritize Tasks

The live site to dev site comparison helps you to launch the new site while minimizing the effect on your current traffic.

As you create a list of fixes for the development website from this migration checklist, keep in mind that launching a worse site (in terms of SEO) is what is most likely to harm your traffic potential.

We’d urge you to ensure that, at a minimum, the new site is “on par” with the previous site to reduce the risk of traffic drops post-migration. Any fixes that help establish parity between the old and new site should be prioritized as a necessity.

And if your goal is to actually grow traffic, try to ensure that there are clear wins/improvements in addition all other factors being equal.

A Warning About Waking the Beast

Finally, if you are a larger, more complex site with any present SEO issues and a long (favorable) history in Google, keep in mind that “on par” is likely not a good enough standard to hold yourself to.

A site migration represents an opportunity for Google to focus on your site in detail, and, rest assured, they do. They may suddenly start noticing things wrong with your site that you’ve been getting away with for years… but suddenly you aren’t getting away with them anymore. We’ve seen this enough times that we’ve nicknamed it: “waking the beast”.

If you have any major issues present: fix them, and do so prior to migration. Otherwise, you risk stepping off your current rankings pedestal to a lower one, and spending the next several months (to years) recovering your existing rankings. 

It isn’t really a separate phase, but at this point: launch the new website!

Phase 4: Launch Checks to Ensure All’s Gone Well

Now, the benchmark data collected from the old site to aid in parity of the newly-launched site comes into play.

Even the best planned migrations can have technical issues.

Data that was prepared to be migrated seamlessly hit an undetected technical snag that changed its parameters or didn’t transfer it through. Another common mistake is accidentally including things that were part of the staging environment, such as the bot-blocking robots.txt code on the live site. Catching such issues early on and fixing them is crucial.

We always make sure to stay on deck when a launch happens or shortly after to verify that everything is functional and working properly.

With all of the many moving parts and URLs that are typical to eCommerce stores, we’ve found that the earlier things get fixed the better.

Step 1. Site Crawl / Analysis Checks

In this step, you’ll check for matching data between the live site and the staged site:

  1. Verify 301-redirects were all properly implemented:
    • Run a redirect chain report in Screaming Frog
    • Identify redirect chains
    • Use the crawl file from Phase 1 to verify all known URLs correctly 301 to the expected, 200-status code pages
  2. Crawl the new site to identify technical issues and accessibility. 
  3. Ensure the new live site is not blocked from being crawled and indexed.
    • Check robots.txt
    • Look for noindex tags in site crawl
  4. Verify that a “Nofollow” tag was added to pages you don’t want indexed. These should have been identified on the dev site, such as on faceted navigation links.
  5. Make sure the “index, follow” meta tag is on each page as necessary
  6. Look for 404 pages that shouldn’t be there
  7. Check internal links: Look for broken links, AND links to the Dev site
  8. Verify proper implementation of canonical tags
  9. Check for canonicals and duplicate URLs (“www” vs non-www, “http” vs “https,” /trailing-slash/ vs. /non-trailing-slash URLs)
  10. Check Title Tags (match to old data)
  11. Check Meta Descriptions (match to old data)
  12. Check H1, H2 usage (match to old data)
  13. Check IMG ALT attributes (match to old data)
  14. Check word count (match to old data. Account for all template text within <body> tags)
  15. Check internal link counts by page (match to old data; are any critical pages losing links?)

Step 2. Google Analytics / Search Console Checks

Now you can see what data Google has registered for the new site:

  1. To ensure its accurate: verify analytics code is on all pages, and that the correct code is implemented
  2. Update goals in analytics; verify they are working correctly
  3. Annotate analytics with the date the site launched

Step 3. Site Speed Check

  1. Run a few pages through the site speed tool. Compare to site speed on old site & dev site
  2. Make notes for improvement, if applicable

Step 4. Other Tasks

  1. Did the site change servers? Make sure there are no server-related issues
  2. Compare top landing pages; before and after (title, meta description, headers, page content etc)
  3. Verify 404 pages return a 404 status
  4. Verify old XML sitemap is on new site; re-submit to Google Search Console & Bing Webmaster Tools
  5. If the domain is changing, claim the new domain variations in GSC and submit a change of address request.

Phase 5: Site Monitoring Over 1-2 months

Now, the benchmark data collected from the old site to aid in parity of the newly-launched site comes into play.

To minimize a traffic drop, the priority is to look for organic traffic decreases. If there are any, dig into why and where they are happening.

For example, are the traffic drops widespread, isolated to a few pages, or affecting just one section of the site?

Knowing where the drops are happening clues us into what is broken that needs fixing.

We recommend to monitor new websites periodically: 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, and 2 months after launch to ensure that everything is going smoothly and correct anything that isn’t.

Sometimes monitoring should go on even longer because the bigger and more complex the site, the longer you’ll need to monitor its indexation.

1 Week Post-Launch

  • Monitor Google Search Console (crawl stats, rankings, traffic, indexed pages, etc.)
  • Check GSC for new indexed pages (and check for any that haven’t)
  • Check the old GSC profile to ensure the old pages are getting de-indexed
  • Leave old XML sitemap(s) up for Google to re-crawl 

2-3 Weeks Post-Launch

  • Monitor Google Search Console (crawl stats, rankings, traffic, indexed pages, etc.)
  • Remove the old XML sitemap(s). Replace them with the new XML Sitemap(s)
  • Check the sitemap.xml file. Are the correct URLs in there? (no extraneous URLs, no Dev URLs etc)
  • Submit the new XML sitemap to Google Search Console & Bing Webmaster Tools

1 Month Post-Launch

  • Monitor Google Search Console (crawl stats, rankings, traffic, indexed pages, etc.)
  • Check analytics for loss of traffic. If so, which pages lost traffic and why?

2 Months Post-Launch

  • Continue to Monitor Google Search Console (crawl stats, rankings, traffic, indexed pages, etc.)
  • Most migrations typically see a dip and rise in traffic after launch. That said, every site and migration is different, so the actual impact is hard to predict. At Inflow, we work to negate any drops prior to site launch and the result tends to be steady traffic or sometimes gains.
  • The best bet is to follow this process. Doing so ensures that the data of the new site remains indexed by Google and thus visible to potential customers.

Conclusion

We know that this checklist seems comprehensive and technical, but believe it or not we could go on. There are so many unique situations to consider that are individual to specific eCommerce websites when they migrate.

A successful migration is definitely worth it for many businesses, and to keep its value in doing so, it’s important to get the technical aspects of migration right.

This migration checklist is something we developed to help make migrating as streamlined as possible, and make sure the new site is launched on time.

We believe anyone knowledgeable in SEO should be able to execute on the above process, That said, this checklist was originally something that we developed for our internal team.

If your team isn’t highly technical, we highly recommend you enlist our help to migrate your store! We’ve handled all kinds of situations to help make sure our clients’ ducks are in a row before migrating.

Contact us to learn more and get our recommendations for your migration scenario.

Understanding Google Webmaster Tools

As much as you might think Google is making it hard to get traffic, they really aren’t. They have tools like Google Webmaster tools and Google Analytics. The difference between the two are the fact that Google Analytics measures your traffic, and Google Webmaster Tools tells you how Google actually sees your website. This article…

The post Understanding Google Webmaster Tools appeared first on Diamond Website Conversion.

google-webmaster-tools-logo-thumbnailAs much as you might think Google is making it hard to get traffic, they really aren’t. They have tools like Google Webmaster tools and Google Analytics. The difference between the two are the fact that Google Analytics measures your traffic, and Google Webmaster Tools tells you how Google actually sees your website.

This article is written to help you understand Google Webmaster Tools better. In fact, this article is part of a series, so there will be other parts to check out so you can become more familiar with Google Webmaster Tools.

Understanding Google Webmaster Tools

As mentioned before, Google Webmaster Tools is designed for you to see how the search engine (Google) sees your website. Consider it kind of like the doctor promoting healthy search for websites. Some of the results are:

  • Sharing what type of markup data format the search engines are seeing in your site, like Schema.org
  • Suggesting how to improve user experience and performance
  • Allowing you to demote specific areas of your site from Sitelinks
  • Giving a details list of search queries done on your website
  • Giving a list of links to sites linking into your website
  • Listing internal links
  • Showing Index status
  • Giving a list of keywords that are organized by the most significant one first
  • Allowing you to remove URLs from your website
  • Displaying crawl errors, as well as what types of errors
  • Having the ability to block URLs from the search engines
  • Being alerted if there are any security issues

In order to be able to use Google Webmaster tools, you must sign up and submit your website. The process involves putting a verification code somewhere on your website or verifying it through your domain registrar. After you verify the site, you need to submit a sitemap, once that is a valid Sitemaps.org sitemap.

The Sitemap.org valid sitemap allows Google to easily crawl the site. The markup used that search engine crawl is XML. For website owners that use WordPress and have the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin, finding the link to the sitemap is easy. For other content management systems, there is a somewhat equivalent method to find the sitemap. For static websites (ones not powered with a database and may be solely HTML), building a sitemap may be necessary.

Once the sitemap has been submitting, Google may take a little while to crawl the site. Some site are lucky to be crawled within the week, and others, two weeks. After your site has been crawled, you can view information on what Google is seeing.

search-queries-gwt-screenshotYou probably will want to make sure that there are no crawl errors like a page not found, or any server issues. You will also want to make sure to observe if you have any duplicate meta descriptions and duplicate title tags to improve your search results. You obviously don’t want the same article description for several posts, right? 😉

Another area you might want to check out is the search queries. It’s probably good to check out the first time in order to make sure that the keywords are relevant to what your website is about. If they aren’t, you might need to go back and improve your content.

One last area that you should check is to make sure your site isn’t flagged for spam, duplicate content, or has any security issues. If you’re accepting paid links, you probably should stop. Google has gone to great lengths to discourage website owners from accepting paid links. If you have any alerts, fix the issue. Once done with fixing anything that was flagged, you can reply to Google’s team and they will review to make sure your site is not violating any of their rules.

It’s important to understand that Google Webmaster Tools can be a powerful tool in making sure your website is listed as accurately as possible on the search engine results.

Do you use Google Webmaster Tools?

The post Understanding Google Webmaster Tools appeared first on Diamond Website Conversion.