A milestone in the growth of your ecommerce business is when you realize you have outgrown your current web platform and need to upgrade. Maybe you nailed it the first time around and picked a terrific, scalable platform. But oftentimes, first-time site owners opt for the low cost, set-your-site-up-in-10-minutes option that starts to burst at the seams once they achieve a modicum of success.
When this occurs, site owners are sometimes paralyzed into inaction because they have already gone through so much heartache with their current providers, or fear that any change they make will result in continual problems. Well, change isn’t always easy, but there is a defined process you can go through to make your transition to a new system go smoothly. This article is not about which ecommerce platform to choose, but the steps to take as you prepare the move to a new platform.
1. Domain Name Issues
If your move involves a new web host, make sure your domain registration is in order. By this, I mean that you are listed as the owner and administrative contact for the domain name, and you have the ability to log into your domain account and update the domain name servers (DNS). If what I just said sounds like gibberish, I would start by going to DomainTools and typing your domain name into the “Whois Lookup.” Unless you have a private registration, you should see your domain registration information display on the page. The problem that can lead to heartache is when your previous provider has registered your domain name. When that happens, it can take a little finesse and negotiation to gain control of your domain so you can move it. Start on this process early to avoid problems when you are ready to make the move.
2. Impact on Current Processes
The growth of your business usually requires streamlining and automating business processes. Research how your new platform integrates with shipping vendors, accounting systems, and payment processors. Consider that the more your business matures the more fine-tuned your needs could become. Before you switch, confirm that the new solution offers reports and systems to suit your business, and that the solution will tie into whatever third party vendors you currently use.
3. Security Certificates
If you have an SSL (secured socket layer) certificate associated with your current website, you will need to move it to the new server. If you are not sure about the status or existence of an SSL, go to the checkout pages of your site and see if the URL in the address bar shows “https://” followed by your domain name. If the address shows the address of your provider and not your own domain, then you are likely using a shared certificate. Determine if the new provider offers a similar shared certificate or if it requires you to purchase a new one. Moving your certificate is not typically difficult, but does require some technical know-how. And, you don’t want to overlook the certificate transfer or leave it for the last minute. Not all certificates are compatible with all web server software. So make sure your current certificate will work before making the move.
4. Moving the Data
A site migration can range from mildly challenging to arduous. A key component is how easy it is to move your data from one system to the other. Ideally, you can export your products, accounts, and orders into a simple comma-delimited or tab-delimited format and then import the data into the new system. The more complex your products are, the more difficult it will be to import your data, particularly if you have complex product options. Most ecommerce systems will provide some explanations or charts of their database structures. If this information is confusing, then solicit the help of a professional for this part of the project. Product data is pretty straightforward. Order and order history data varies much more from system to system. Moving order data from your old system to your new system might not be realistic.
5. Avoid Search Engine and Linking Glitches
If your business success has been built on good organic search engine placement, that success easily evaporate if your new system generates different page URLs. Before making any move, study the page titles and URLs of some sites using the new system. Be sure that you will be able to adjust the page titles and URLs so they are identical to your current site. The next best option is install 301 permanent redirects of old URLs to new ones. This means that you create a file on your server that will direct web browsers and search engines to a new URL on your site that replaced a previous one and tell them that the change is permanent. Check with your new provider to be sure one of these options will be available to you.
6. Email Interruptions
Keeping your email flowing is key during the possible chaos of a site move. I recommend that you have a way to check email on the old server as well as the new server, or temporarily forward email going to the old server, for at least 48 hours after the move. Review all the accounts and aliases that your company uses. Sometimes site owners lose track of their list of email addresses and don’t correctly set them up in the new environment. Once the new site goes live, test every address and every form on the new site to make sure the email is functioning correctly.
7. Determine the “Live” Date
This is the crucial step to make a site transition happen quickly. At least 48 hours before you move your site to the new platform, log into the server management account at your old provider and update the DNS records so the time-to-live (TTL) is established within 300 seconds. This is a fairly technical subject; but by taking this step, when you actually update your DNS servers, the changed address information of your website should spread across the Internet within five minutes. If you are unable to adjust the TTL, then you dependent on the global Internet routing system as far as whether a site visitor sees your old or new site when he enters your address.
8. Test First
Before making your site live, place some test orders and confirm that the new site is connected with your payment processing system. Better to work out those bugs before actual customers are ready to order.
9. Schedule the Transfer
I recommend doing the cut over very early in the morning, say 1:00 a.m., before most of your customers are active. If you were able to establish the TTL, then the change should happen almost instantly and you can do your test orders and make sure all links are working correctly. If you have access to the log files on the old and new servers, you can see what is happening to your site’s traffic. Checking these files throughout the day is a good idea, as it will also show you if visitors are getting to pages that no longer exist.
10. Keep the Old Site
Keeping the old site active for an overlapping month is a good strategy. This gives you time to archive all old files and make sure that you didn’t miss a vital file, script, or piece of information.
Migrating your web site can definitely presents challenges, but following these steps will ease the transition and keep your website operating smoothly.