It finally happened! On Tuesday June 19, 2018 I pulled the trigger and we launched the new Things Engraved website onto Shopify Plus. Why was this a big deal? 3 reasons:
- A migration to a new website platform had been needed for years, for YEARS. So it was a momentous occasion when it finally happened.
- Due to the nature of the personalized gift business the vast majority of gifts get either engraved, lasered, or embroidered meaning the website needed to be customized in multiple ways for customers to place orders and communicate their customization desires to us. Not an easy task when you're trying to customize an out-of-the-box platform such as Shopify.
- This was my baby! It was a very long project (14 months from end to end) requiring a lot of thinking, planning, and execution among a team of people. And I was ultimately responsible for all of it. There is no "e-commerce team" or "support staff" for me to lean on - it was me representing the entire needs of the business and the partner we teamed up with on the technology side who made this happen.
So ya, big deal... at least in my little corner of the world and a big giant step forward for the company too. So now, here are the 5 things I learned during this project that may be helpful to you as an e-commerce manager facing the a re-platform project:
- Choose the BEST technology partner possible - and this is number 1 for a reason - I feel it's the most important of any advice I could give. When I say "technology partner" I am referring to the person, people, vendor, or team that is going to take YOUR website requirements (as the ecommerce manager for example) and make them work on the internet using the platform. So this requires a lot of coding and experience with the chosen platform. In our case we wanted a firm that would do the design (make it pretty and on-brand) as well as a partner that could code our custom requirements. I was lucky in that after vetting 4 such technology partners the one I settled on was absolutely dynamo! (Shameless plug for "Cinnamon Toast" right here.) Overall, you need to choose a partner who you can trust, who understands the scope of your project, who delivers on their sprints/timelines and with whom you communicate well. I cannot stress enough how important the partnership relationship is for a large website rebuild.
- Know what you want (and don't want) on your new site. What IS working from our old/existing website that you want to maintain on the new site? What is NOT working that you know must change? At the beginning of the project be crystal clear with your partner about the functionality requirements of the new site. Yes, the needs may change as the project evolves but the better list you can build from the beginning (and be able to communicate those needs and wants!) the smoother the new build is going to go.
- Get to know your new platform. If your website build is going to take months like ours did, find a way to learn the platform before your "real" site goes live. We did this twice over. We created a live e-commerce website, using Shopify Plus, where we sold items at clearance prices for 6 months before the launch of the real website. We also created a "Business to Business" website for volume discount information on a wide range of our products that would appeal to specific business sectors. Creating and running these websites for several months before the launch of the "real" website allowed us to learn how to integrate our existing inventory, accounting, and shipping systems with the platform. So when it was time to integrate the big build website to our back-end systems our IT group already had the foundation of knowledge which simplified this process greatly. So my suggestion is to create a micro-site while your new big bad website is being developed.
- Maintain your SEO at all costs. If there is a way to maintain your existing inking structure, do it. I am not convinced that re-directs are "enough" to salvage great SEO. Unfortunately it was also decided (NOT BY ME) that we would launch the new website on the .com url and redirect our 10+ years of traffic/links/ranking of the .ca to the .com. Google was not happy with this action so in hindsight this was a mistake. Traffic results in the first 30 days have fallen by more than 50% some days and more than 20% every single day. Lesson learnt: do every.single.thing you can to maintain all of your SEO rankings with Google.
- Test. Test. And test some more. This is not rocket science but if you're re-launching an already successful website onto a new platform and had several customizations done on your behalf, you will need to test until your fingers hurt. And find good people to help you test. It's not something everyone can or should do. Asking office mates to "play around on the new site" will help you find your best testers. And it's not always who you think it'll be! Find a core group of 3 or 4 people who thinks about all the possible scenarios of shopping on your site and rely on them to find and report all the bugs for you to vet through to your technology partners for fixing. Yes, things can get fixed after launch, and will need to be fixed after the fact, but if your site is already successful you'll lose sales while you're fixing the bugs if not addressed beforehand. Test as much as possible before you pull the launch trigger. One or two more weeks could make all the difference to a successful re-launch.