The hidden costs of web migration – four areas for digital due diligence

private equity, venture capital, technology, internet, websites, SEO
Tim Lacey, non-executive director of Infinity Nation. Photo courtesy of the firm.

By Tim Lacey, Infinity Nation

Giving companies the budget they need to migrate to new websites and platforms? Sound thinking. Assuming the process will be straightforward and won’t require expert help? Expensive thinking.

I’ve recently come across a number of PE investors who have invested in ecommerce businesses either in need of a platform migration or that have just migrated, and who aren’t fully aware of the potential pitfalls and expense that a migration can have from a performance marketing perspective.

The potential impact should not be underestimated. I’ve seen 25% to 30% drops in traffic on the back of poorly executed migrations, for which there may be no quick fix.

A comprehensive plan that anticipates and addresses these risks well in advance of proceeding with such a project is thus absolutely critical.

Here are four key areas you should ensure are covered in digital due diligence or your portfolio CTOs are on top of.

Blanket redirects 

Some developers try to save time by redirecting an old site in bulk form. In a blanket approach, old product pages tend to be redirected, and typically too many pages end up getting rerouted to the homepage.

Blanket redirects have at least two major drawbacks: They make it more difficult for search engines to crawl your site – an essential search process — and they can result in key pages being deindexed from Google because it thinks the pages have been duplicated.

If high-performing category pages do not appear on the new site, traffic and revenue will be reduced. Make sure key pages are carefully identified and matched to the new structure.

Third-party teams are best placed to flag and manage these performance issues. When it comes to platform migration; experience counts.

Legacy issues

It’s incredible how many companies are willing to spend thousands on a fantastic-looking new platform that produces the same glitches as the old one.

This happens because existing digital performance issues are not fully analyzed.

The most common legacy issues include 404 errors and dead pages (which appear when pages don’t exist on your site), and poorly optimized and/or duplicated metadata (words that are hidden in the site’s code).

Always address these before undertaking the migration process.

Updates of internal links

Google allocates a certain amount of crawl budget to a website and will visit it up to four times a day. If it gets bogged down in unnecessary redirect chains and loops, this allocated crawl budget is squandered. And Google will spend less on its next visit.

So-called 301 redirect chains are not good news for search-engine optimization. If your developers create a redirect rule, whereby navigation links, on-page copy and breadcrumb structure all pass through the new structure, link equity gets diluted. The website loses value.

If the links themselves are updated, 301s are usually unnecessary in the first place.

Careful timing

Most stakeholders don’t want to hear the boring tech details; they just want the new website live by a set date. This is entirely understandable, especially given the time-sensitive nature of press coverage, rebranding and product launches.

The reality is that digital restructuring requires a certain amount of built-in flexibility.

Even with a smart migration plan and sharp SEO team, a website transfer takes four to six weeks to stabilize. This is because Google must recrawl and reindex the new pages. If metadata or content has been modified, it has to reevaluate searcher intent, too.

Again, migrated sites usually stabilize within four weeks but depending on their size and structure, it can take longer. Six weeks is the accepted industry average.

If, as often happens, someone insists the new website go live before it is ready, issues can increase.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of potential performance risks of a platform migration. But it serves to emphasize the value of conducting thorough due diligence ahead of pulling the trigger on such a pivotal project.

Tim Lacey is non-executive director of the Wiltshire, U.K.-based online retail growth consultancy Infinity Nation. Lacey, a PE operating partner and investor, also runs Middle 8 Capital and has worked in a range of PE-backed businesses. He can be reached at  [email protected].

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