Have you noticed how fast ecommerce has been growing in recent years? It’s not showing any signs of slowing down.
After months of work, we recently enjoyed going live on a large ecommerce project for Hamilton-based Mobility Centre. The project had the added complexity of merging two existing ecommerce sites, under two different brands, into a single new site. Out of the approximately 2000 products on the two sites, several hundred products were double-ups, listed on both sites.
Added to this, their existing site received a lot of organic search engine traffic, which produced the majority of their sales. Replacing a large ecommerce website with a completely new site means all the product URLs would change. If this wasn’t done carefully, visitors clicking on Google search results for either of the previous websites would end up on a “Page not found” error message, which would kill their business overnight.
So, what are the secrets to executing a project like this in order to achieve ecommerce success?
The first step with a major ecommerce upgrade is to review the navigation experience you want visitors to have, and especially the category structure of your products. It is very hard to make large category structure changes to a live site, so during a major upgrade is a perfect time. It’s important to decide on any category changes or major navigation changes before you prepare the product data for the new site.
Mobility Centre wanted visitors to be able to navigate by either product category or disability/condition. Deciding on this in advance meant we could plan how the product data needed to be structured.
Once you’ve confirmed your navigation and category structure, the next big focus needs to be getting the product data right. The old adage “garbage in, garbage out” is never truer than when you’re handling large amounts of data to a computer. Taking the time to get the product data right is time well spent.
When merging data exported from two different sites, one of secrets that helped this project was to make sure that every product had a correct and unique SKU number. This enabled cross-over products that were listed on both sites to be quickly identified and deduplicated. Another lesson is to draw on staff expertise – Mobility Centre used a person from the accounts department to give correct SKUs to every product in the exports because they were very familiar with the SKUs. Another staff member reviewed the entire catalogue to identify products that were no longer available but had still been listed on the sites. You should also run checks on your data to make sure no SKU is used twice.
Additionally, in the world of ecommerce, detailed descriptions on product listings help increase sales. For the cross-over products that were listed on both sites, we used formulas to compare the product descriptions between the two sites and automatically pick the longest description to use on the new site.
But the most important secret when replacing an ecommerce site is to apply “301 redirects”. 301 redirects do two important things – firstly, when visitors try to visit one of the old product URLs from the old site structure they will be redirected automatically to the new URL for that same product. The user doesn’t even notice the change – they simply click the (old) link in Google and they land on the right page. But without the redirect in place they would have landed on an error page that said, “Page not found”, because the URL of the product changes with the new site.
Secondly, a 301 redirect tells Google, and other search engines, “The page URL has changed. The new URL is over here – please update your search results to show the new URL”. By doing this any search rankings that the previous page had earned should now be attributed to the new URL. This way, the new site keeps all the rankings that the last site had, which is critical.
Every page that has changed URL needs to have a redirect. This means every product, every product category, every product tag, every information page – all of these need to have redirects put in place. For Mobility Centre, we created 1751 redirects to make sure that search engine rankings didn’t drop and users ended up on the right pages.
These are just some of the secrets to ecommerce success. Building a large ecommerce website requires hundreds of details to be done well, including site structure, mobile optimisation, product schema, and hundreds of other aspects.
The end result for Mobility Centre was that since launching their new website at mobilitycentre.co.nz their organic traffic from search engines has doubled! Sales have skyrocketed. Foot traffic through their local stores has also increased.
So, if you’re considering launching or revamping your ecommerce site, even though taking the time to get the details right can feel painful, the benefits can be well worth it.