How to Properly Switch Over to a New Ecommerce Platform
After using the same ecommerce software for a while, you may decide that you want to try something else. I know the feeling because I have been there.
Unfortunately, very few people plan things out properly prior to making the switch.
Of course, if you're store only contains a few items and has been online for a short period of time, you might not need to do everything that I've listed here.
However, if you have an established business, you really should think things through.
One of the biggest issues that I have seen has been loss of traffic:
While reading one of my favorite blogs, I noticed a person complaining in the comment section about how their established online store lost traffic for nearly a year due to a change in software.
After reading that, I asked myself, why someone would let that happen?
You see when you have an established business and decide to make such a move, you must plan ahead. Below I cover some of the most important things that you should keep in mind.
So let's start with:
Preserve your site's URL structure:
Each ecommerce platform has its own unique structure. For example, osCommerce's structure is different from Magento's structure.
A standard category page (without URL rewrites) on osCommerce may look something like this:
While a standard category page on Magento may look something like this:
Your goal when switching from one platform to another, should be to focus on helping people find those newly formatted URLs.
So what you need to do is make a list of all of your important URLs and map them out to your newly formatted URLs.
So if you are using osCommerce and want to switch over to Magento, you should make sure that your osCommerce formatted URLs redirect to the corresponding Magento formatted URLs -- this includes category pages, product pages, review pages etc.
To make things search engine friendly and to avoid a drop in rankings, you should use a 301 Moved Permanently redirect to ensure that search engines understand that your site has permanently moved.
Also if you have quality links (which you have earned) pointing to any of these pages, you are preserving that pagerank by doing this. As reference, see this article which confirms that a broken link (404 page) will result in a loss of pagerank.
Aside from search engines, these redirects also help retain traffic from social media sites, bookmarking sites, affiliates, directories, links, browser bookmarks etc.
Backup your store's database and files properly:
Prior to moving your inventory to a new platform, make sure that you fully understand how the new software works and which data sets are required. In some cases, your new software might even require additional data.
Aside from backing up your inventory, you should backup other data as well; user account and order data are just a few things. Not doing so will prevent your existing customers from accessing their accounts and viewing orders.
Example of things that could go wrong:
I remember trying to place an order with a supplier of mine after they upgraded their store's software, and wasn't able to because their calculated shipping rates were off by about $80.00. Rather than immediately calling the supplier, I tried to diagnose the problem myself but of course this didn't work.
After calling, the operator told me that their shipping rates weren't properly configured and that they were fixing this issue... They basically blamed all this on their "new software".
They also said that it will take them a few days to fix things. After hearing this, I couldn't help but wonder how many people abandoned their carts... Yet another reason why you should make sure that is working perfectly prior to going live with the new software.
Setup a test interface:
When I move, update or change the software on my sites, I always setup a sandbox. Depending on my setup, I usually do this on another web hosting account, virtual server or dedicated server.
Of course, you can also setup the sandbox on your existing server or hosting account -- in a subfolder or on a subdomain -- but this might require more work after you've completed your test.
I then move all of my data; category information, inventory, images, orders, user data etc to the sandbox site.
After I finish setting everything up, I run my tests to make sure that everything is working properly. When I have finished thoroughly testing things out, and if I am happy with the results, I turn my sandbox site into the production site.
This also prevents me from having to take my site offline for a long period of time. It also allows me to work at my own pace.
Of course, if you're site is very active, you may need to take your site offline for a little while so that you can resynchronize the sandbox site with the production site.
After you have resynchronized your site, you can turn your sandbox site into the production site by simply pointing your domain at it. By doing this, you are saving yourself the hassle of things not functioning properly on your production site.
Keep a backup of your old software:
After going live with your new software, you may want to hold onto a backup of your old software. Because what may have seemed like a good idea initially, may turn out to be a bad one...
Keep an eye on how things are going. Is your site converting as well or better than it was before? Do people find your site easy to navigate? How's traffic, up or down?
If you are happy with the results, it was obviously worth switching over to the new software.
Of course, if there are only a few negatives, and if the positives outweigh them, you can always try to figure out a way to correct those issues.
For example, if your site is converting well, but people are having a harder time navigating around your site, you can always try to improve the layout, link structure etc.
Obviously, if the negatives outweigh the positives, you'd want to switch back to the old software.
Note: be careful when it comes to judging traffic because if most of your traffic comes from the search engines, you may need to wait a few days or even weeks for your site to get reindexed before you can truly factor this in.
Choosing the best online store software:
Sometimes carefully evaluating all the ecommerce solutions on the web, can save you a lot of time and frustration in the future.
To help, I have written this article which covers what to look for when choosing a solution, and it also goes over some of the most popular solutions that are out there.