Taking your e-commerce platform live is never easy or painless. Moving any business onto a new technical platform is fraught with challenges, and e-commerce is no different.
You’ll likely have a new user experience, new data, new integrations, and a completely new toolset for the business to use. You will have built up a good amount of SEO equity, and your customers and staff will be used to the status quo. You will have invested a great deal of time and a considerable amount of money planning, implementing, and migrating to the new platform, and will naturally expect a good return on your investment.
There is not a great deal of point in doing it otherwise. If implemented and managed well, that return is likely to come, but not before some rocky moments immediately during and after go-live.
Taking your e-commerce platform live: The good, bad, and ugly
Having seen a large number of e-commerce go-lives during my career, almost all experienced a drop in sales immediately after. In each case, sales eventually recovered and then grew, delivering the expected return on the investment. But the ugly reality is that the first few weeks, and even months, after go-live requires strong nerves and a lot of hard work.
Although this drop in sales is almost inevitable, good planning and careful consideration can mitigate the challenges. A general expectation among businesses is that the go-live will be an immediate and roaring success, but reality is often different, and you should prepare for this.
SEO is mission critical
One of the biggest factors impacting sales immediately after go-live is SEO. You’ll likely have built up a significant amount of SEO equity, probably spending years honing your e-commerce application to make it as search engine friendly as possible.
The new website will probably have a completely new HTML structure, different content, and new url structures, all of which can have a large impact on SEO. No matter how much preparation you make to mitigate negative SEO impacts, it is very likely you will see a drop in organic search traffic of up to 20% in the weeks after go-live, which can impact sales.
It is crucial that you engage your SEO agency early in the development process to ensure that the SEO impact of the change is minimized as much as possible. They can help devise an SEO migration strategy that will look at content, HTML, and url structures. This should be baked into the project from the start rather than being considered just before go-live.
Realistically, you shouldn’t expect your systems integrator to be experts in SEO – this is a speciality in itself. You just need to look at how much of your revenue is generated through organic traffic to understand that SEO is important, and makes an incredible impact on your inbound traffic.
Many merchants will temporarily fill the SEO gap with paid search until organic search traffic recovers. Although this can be an expensive process, it should be considered and even budgeted for as part of the project if necessary.
Get real: Business readiness means an honest assessment of the workload
A lack of business readiness is the most common reason for a go-live being delayed, and can also seriously impact the performance of a new e-commerce website immediately after go-live. Businesses often underestimate the amount of work that they need to do themselves to go live with a new e-commerce platform.
A vast amount of new content is normally needed, as well as a clean-up of product and customer data, and, crucially, learning how to use a completely new platform. This last point is the most crucial. The e-commerce team will have spent the preceding years getting the best out of the existing platform, and are likely experts in using that platform, but will have little to no experience using the new platform.
Everything from content, product ,and order management is likely to have changed, and it can take a while to get used to using new tools. The world of retail is fast-moving, and retailers are used to updating content, products, promotions and merchandising on a daily basis. Doing this on a new and unfamiliar platform is not an easy task.
It is critical that your e-commerce team has enough time to learn how to use the new platform, and the intensive support of the systems integrator in the months after taking your e-commerce platform live.
The early bird: It’s true
Planning go-live is often something that’s left towards the end of the project, but that can be a mistake. It can be an incredibly complex process involving a lot of people and it has a lot of dependencies.
Knowing when and how you are going to go live can massively impact project timelines, so don’t leave that until the last minute. Consider things like staff holidays to assure all key people are available.
Don’t let the web bugs bite (Kidding: they will)
No matter how much you test, you will go live with bugs. This is inevitable. Just the other day a client said they expected to have zero defects before going live, and I told them that they would never actually go live if that was the case.
It’s normal to agree on an acceptable defect level with clients, as long as there are no known critical or high-priority defects. Keep in mind that it’s a guarantee that users will find more issues once you go live. It is almost inevitable that some of these defects will have an impact on your conversation rate, and, ultimately your sales.
To help mitigate the impact of this, ensure that your systems integrator can provide you with an intensive level of support for the first two months after go-live, and that you are ready to rapidly deploy fixes.
Avoid user confusion
Do not underestimate the importance of familiarity. Your customers are likely to be familiar with your website, know where to find the products they want, and how to use the tools it provides.
Your new website is likely to have a completely new user experience, which can temporarily throw users. Most web purchases are the result of multiple visits to a website, and when a site changes overnight, users who are coming back to finalize their purchase may be confused, which will impact your conversion rate.
This is not a particularly easy thing to mitigate against, but you should consider how dramatically different you want your UX to be, and how much this may initially confuse customers in the middle of their purchase journey with you.
UX pain points
You will hopefully have spent a lot of effort designing and testing a new user experience for the new platform. However, no matter how much testing you do, there is no substitute for releasing your new platform into the wild and watching what happens.
You’ll likely discover certain UX pain points not identified during testing that are impacting your conversion rate. This is almost inevitable, so it’s vitally important to have tools in place to quickly identify these pain points and processes in place to quickly fix them.
Making good use of web optimization tools like Hotjar will allow you to rapidly find these issues. Plan regular releases in the weeks after go-live, which will allow you to quickly ease those pain points.
Tick-tock: Timing matters
Go-live timing is very important. Most businesses have seasonal peaks and troughs with marketing activity happening at different times throughout the year. It sounds obvious that you should go live in a quiet period, but you must consider the months after go-live, too.
Going live a month before Black Friday may sound like enough time, but this is quite a big risk. If you’re ready to go live at this point, you should weigh the additional revenue you could generate with the new platform versus the risk of going into peak with issues.
In general, it is advisable to leave a minimum of two months between a go-live and a peak period of selling and marketing activity.
Measure, measure, measure, then measure some more
There are few things worse than seeing a drop in sales without insight as to why. It’s vitally important to ensure you have all the tools in place to measure all aspects of your platform’s performance and to give you visibility into where any problems exist.
It’s very unlikely that you’ll have just one issue. In those hectic moments after go-live, you must be able to focus your efforts in the right places, rather than hunting for a needle in a haystack.
You should not go live without full integration with an analytics tool, as well as other monitoring and measurement tools. The more data and visibility you have, the better. However, it isn’t just about having the data, it’s about ensuring you are enabled to use that data. There is little point in having analytics tools nobody uses.
For more articles by Branwell Moffat also see https://www.the-future-of-commerce.com/contributor/branwell-moffat.