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.

On top of all of the normal details that need to be done just right when building an ecommerce site, this project had the added complexity of merging two existing ecommerce sites, that were under two different brands, into a single new site.  They had approximately 2000 products on the two sites, of which several hundred were double ups, listed on both sites.

Added to this, their main 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?

Navigation and Category Structure

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 the perfect time.

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.

Getting Product Data Right

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 handing large amounts of data to a computer. Taking the time to get the product data right is time well spent.

Use SKUs for Merging

When merging data exported from two different sites, one of the 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 quickly be 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.

We also recommend that you run checks on your data to make sure no SKU is used twice. (This is important even if you’re not merging two sites. Double ups of SKUs can cause headaches down the road, so check the data before it is imported into your site.)

Longer Descriptions Win

Additionally, in the world of ecommerce, detailed descriptions on product listings help increase sales.  For this project we used formulas to compare the product descriptions between the two sites, for the products that were listed on both, and then automatically picked the longest description to use on the new site.

301 Redirects are Crucial

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 correct new URL. 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 had changed.

Secondly, a 301 redirect tells Google, and other search engines, “The page URL has changed. The new URL is over here”. 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.

Contact us if you’re interested in upgrading/replacing an existing ecommerce site or launching a brand new one.

Josh Moore

Josh Moore leads the team at Duoplus – a Hamilton-based digital marketing agency that helps businesses generate more leads & sales through highly measurable online marketing.

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