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The Senior Executive’s Guide to Site Migrations – Step 1 of 4: Plan

This video is the first in a series of videos designed to help you execute a successful site migration project.

A site migration requires a significant monetary and time investment, so it’s important that it’s done right and drives business growth.

In this video, Matt Ruud, Director of Digital Marketing at Perficient, and Eric Enge, Principal of Digital Marketing, walk through the first step in the four steps to a successful site migration, Plan.

Watch to learn why upfront planning is critical to success, what questions you need to ask, and how the right plan can help you minimize traffic loss and maximize the long-term potential of your site.

Questions? We Have Answers.

A website migration or re-platform is a complex project and there are a lot of considerations that must go into the process. We have migrated and re-platformed hundreds of websites. If you have questions about your site migration project, we’d love to answer them and discuss how we can help position your team for the best chance of success. Contact us to get started.


Matt: A site migration is a huge undertaking. Getting it wrong can have a dramatic negative impact on your business. But, if you get it right, it can lead to growth for years to come.

In this video we will dive into Step 1 of the 4 steps to a successful migration – Plan – and discuss what every marketing executive needs to consider when planning a site migration.

Matt: Hello, I’m Matt Ruud, Director of Digital Marketing at Perficient, and I’m joined today by Eric Enge, Principal for the Digital Marketing Solutions business unit here at Perficient. So, how can you ensure your site migration is done right?

Eric: Great question, Matt. Well, every successful migration starts with the right plan. And to create that plan, you really need to start with the strategic objectives or outcomes for the business over the next few years or whatever it was that the board decided at the beginning of the year. Because the migration is likely to be the best opportunity you’re going to have any time in the near future to help you make great strides towards accomplishing those objectives, at least as it relates to the role that the website plays in helping you accomplish those objectives.

And this concept that I’m talking about here spans the entire migration project. But let’s just take a moment and understand why this opportunity is so important.

And here it is in a nutshell. A migration is a large undertaking for the development team, and it’s going to tie up substantial resources for a fairly long period of time. And during that period of time, those resources won’t be working on other projects for the company.

And during a migration, you take the site, typically, through some fundamental modifications. To use an analogy I like to use, it’s a little bit like a construction project when you pull down all the walls, and you’ve ripped down the house to the studs, and everything is wide open. And that’s actually when it’s the best time to lay down big improvements really in the foundation for SEO, conversion rate optimization (or CRO), and analytics. Because these things often require structural changes.

To continue with my housing analogy, this is akin to being able to work on the plumbing, and the wiring, and the heating, and the cooling systems while the house is, in fact, opened down to the studs. So, that’s cool.

And in addition, once you’ve launched the site, the structural changes that you would want to make for SEO, CRO, or analytics become very, very difficult because now you put the walls back up. It’s no longer so easy to make those changes, and the development team will likely have moved on to other tasks.

But let’s think for a minute. What does that mean…what does it mean to plan for a migration? And what questions must absolutely be addressed? And how do we keep tying that back to the business goals here? Matt, what do you think?

Matt: Yeah, I think it comes down to constantly trying to make the right calls. Really figuring out where should you invest, how should you invest, and how do you do so strategically? Really, you should have this roadmap that guides the entire effort. Like, actually write it down. Refer to it. Have it up on a wall. Have conversations about it. Because a true plan is more than just a list of goals and objectives. It’s a systematic, strategic, prioritized effort. But it can’t have everything. Then what do you do?

Eric: Yeah, I know it’s a great question because I think some things do need to be left out, right? You can’t boil the ocean during this process.
Matt: Yeah, and we’ve seen that if you don’t do it now, you may have to wait years to get it done. If you don’t do it now, you’re probably not going to do it within the next two to three years either. So, you have to make those tough calls and really start to figure out what’s important for right now. How can folks do that right?

Eric: Yeah. Well, I mean the big thing is to make smart decisions with, as best you can, a uniform way for coming up with what you think the ROI is going to be across different channels and technologies. You might only have one shot to get it right. And as I like to say, doing it later might be five times more expensive. But what I’d like to do is share a little bit of a case study of something we did with one client where we really took advantage of the migration, or re-platform really, to help dramatically drive the client’s success.

So, this particular client had 200 million pages in their website. And a lot of that was due to an extensive faceted navigation, where you could make small little configuration changes across a rich array of products with many configuration options. And we actually had them convert a lot of those faceted navigation choices into something that was implemented in Ajax. And as a result, we eliminated a lot of physical pages that Google could crawl because when a new page is created with Ajax, it doesn’t create a new URL, and so the user still was getting what they wanted, if they wanted the color red for something, or color blue or brown or whatever, but Google wasn’t seeing another page to crawl.

The resulting site was 200,000 pages. It was a thousand to one reduction in pages. Very dramatic. And in fact, what happened for their results was really dramatic, too. The overall traffic grew by about 4x, and they went from being a second-tier player in a highly competitive market to number one. It was awesome.

Matt: Very cool. And it just kind of proves the point that rework might be more substantial than you think. Something like that problem on the surface seems pretty easy to correct, but really you’ve got to go deep in the guts of the site to make that work the way it’s supposed to. We’ve also seen this with user experience where if you get that part wrong, you may have to rebuild the entire site and the architecture to try to get it right. And that’s a pretty massive undertaking. It’s almost like migration part two.

We usually see this pop up sometimes. If people take the buffet approach, they want to add a little bit of everything, and it’s usually not going to end up winning the day. We really do advise heavily to go deep on a few key channels, or a couple of technology objectives, rather than scratching the surface on everything. But at the same time, you have to put on more than just a fresh coat of paint.
Eric: So, what else can be done to plan the Build phase, Matt? I mean, what steps do we typically recommend?

Matt: We, first off, catalog everything. Content, products, URLs, page features. We take screenshots of individual pages. So, we’ve got a record that we can go back to and look at if things go right, wrong, or sideways throughout the project. We need to have strategic alignment. So, that usually involves competitive research, opportunity analysis, and really laying down the right plan before you even begin the process of building. Or even the planning process. You have to know where it is you want to go, and what you want to get done.

And there’s so much at stake with this investment. We have to make sure we don’t screw it up by not spending enough time planning properly. Really mapping out those integrations, mapping out those dependencies, so you’re not shoving them in at the very end of the project. Have everything accounted for, give it an approximate timeline, and then go and execute against it.

We also like to clearly articulate the plan for each and every digital marketing channel that you want active at launch, even if you don’t have it now. So, if you want to do email for the first time, choose your technology. Have your first three or four campaigns written in the background and know what you’re going to launch with, so that you’re not trying to stand something up at the eleventh hour.

Eric: So, what about planning for Launch now? I mean, what steps should be taken in this first phase that you can do to help ensure a smoother launch?

Matt: Yeah, really looking at your channel mix to account for paid media and email to continue to drive initial traffic to the site and confirm any assumptions about user behavior while SEO shakes out. We usually see a bit of a dip from organic for the first six to eight weeks since Google reprocesses and reindexes the entire site. We also see those dips throughout the various process show up in other places as well. Maybe there’s a paid ad that gets turned off or emails that don’t have the proper destination URLs.

You should always be planning and accounting for them and moving the pieces on the chessboard to maintain any competitive advantages you might have. The one thing that we usually see that accounts for a lot of people taking their eye off the ball is distractions. Teams can be stretched far too thin, and not having a game plan to rely on their bread and butter when things get lean. You should be thinking about – are you going to activate media, change budgets, move stuff around – so that it’s not a big last-minute decision that requires a lot of intervention from higher-up executives.

And really focus on what’s best for you right now. Should you be focusing on maintaining throughout this process? Or is it going to be so long that you have to continue to grow your market share? Or, do look at just maximizing margins? So, you’ve got a little bit of a piggy bank that you can rely on if things don’t go smoothly right at launch.

Eric: And how does this get to the Run phase? The post-build phase, if you will. How do you ensure that you’re building a site that achieves your long-term digital marketing objectives?

Matt: Just always go back to the priorities. If it doesn’t support the primary goals and objectives, it can wait. I mean, and we always look to the customer first. Have them in mind. Continually ask, is this going to help serve them better? Is this going to attract them to the site? Is this going to answer their questions and help them complete transactions? If so, great. If not, and it’s kind of a nice to have, it can probably be left behind.

Eric: Yeah, it makes complete sense. So, Matt, that was great, and I think I’d like to summarize for the viewers the key takeaways. And really there are four.

First of all, the migration is likely the best opportunity to achieve many of your business objectives for years to come.
And the second one, you might only get one shot to get this right because doing it right, or trying to do it right later, is likely five times more expensive than doing it when you’re in the middle of the migration process.

And number three, you want to go deep on a few key channels and technology objectives rather than scratching the surface on a bunch. It’s likely you’re going to have to choose between some things and other things. Rather than do kind of a crappy job on a few, just do an excellent job on the most important ones.

And then make sure you clearly, for the fourth one, make sure you clearly articulate the plan for each and every digital marketing channel you want active at launch, even if you don’t have it right now.

So, once you have a plan for your migration, it’s time to start building the site or going through the process. To learn more about that, watch our next video, which details key considerations for that step, that’s step two, of the four steps to a successful migration. We call it the Build phase.

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