What to think about when moving your website
Posted: Thu 19th May 2022
So - after nine months of hard graft, my beautiful new website was delivered to the internet.
And yes, the time it took to create is precisely that of a human pregnancy but actually, moving to a new website has been more akin to moving house. In fact, the similarities between moving house and moving your website are so evident that I decided to do this blog article about it.
If you are a non-techy person like me, then you may find this useful when deciding whether - and how - to move your website! It is based on shifting an e-commerce website, but the same considerations might apply to other types of site too.
Is it time to move?
Like moving home, the first step towards moving your website is the recognition that it’s time to go.
Are you fed up with your current website? Perhaps things feel a bit clunky and outdated, or maybe it’s getting harder to maintain and fix the problem areas.
If your online business has expanded and evolved, then there’s a chance that you have also outgrown your existing website.
Too much historical content that feels impossible to unpick; stuff in the wrong place - or worse still - stuff that you have not yet added to your website for fear of making things even messier.
There may be a combination of reasons but consider truthfully whether your website is still capable of making you, your business, and your customers - happy.
Listen to yourself. When you look at your own website do you grumble, sigh and bang your mouse on the desk - or do you wander peacefully and proudly through the content, pausing occasionally to admire something that is particularly awesome. Be honest.
If you are happy where you are, and your website is performing well, then why move?
Now be really honest. Are you living on your existing website because you want to? Or because you can’t be bothered to move?
An easier question is to ask whether you feel a green monster emerging? Do you find yourself staring longingly at other people’s websites? The simplicity and beauty. So much content but with such a fabulous minimalist feel to it. Oh, and the ease with which one page flows to the next.
A natural, irresistible journey to the checkout. The unbearable smugness of the owner in their ‘About Us’ section.
My friend - do not be ashamed of envy, for it is a powerful driver for change. There is no harm in “Keeping up with the Joneses” electronically you know!
Is your existing website sh*t?
If your website isn’t doing it for you anymore - you will know!
Whether it is a nagging voice which has been telling you, for months, that “this is sh*t” - or a seminal, impulsive moment in which you suddenly decide that ‘this is sh*t’ or maybe even a bold friend or peer who quietly tells you that ‘this is sh*t’.
When that final moment comes, there is no going back. You know your website is sh*t and so you are faced with two choices; namely to renovate your existing website, or move to a brand new home.
Renovation definitely has its advantages. You can stay in your familiar setting and work with what you have. You can tear down a few walls, rejig the categories and the navigation; have a good clear out and spruce up the furnishings and photos.
Again - you will know if this is an option, but remember that it can sometimes take longer to renovate your website or home than it does to move to a new one, especially when so many clean, modern options have arrived on the scene.
Also, if you do decide to renovate your website, there may, after months of hard graft, be an unwelcome voice which whispers ‘this is still sh*t”.
Chances are that it may be time for a fresh start. Imagine you and your website moving to a new ‘des res’ in the popular part of town. Hanging out in a cool pad with all the cool people. You - beaming smugly from your ‘About Us’ section.
Why did I want to move my website?
Before we look at the process of choosing your new web home, let me tell you a little bit about why I decided to move my own website.
For me, a combination of factors highlighted that it was time to move. Our existing website was a WooCommerce platform which had served us well but I had lost sight of it.
Actually, I never had sight of it to start with. WooCommerce is a great base for bespoke, flexible websites but I didn’t have the skill to build and evolve it myself.
Thankfully, I didn’t need the skills because we had the most fabulous web developers doing everything for us (shout out to Creatomatic). I am a massive fan of outsourcing to people who know better than me - but there comes a time when you need to put your big girl pants on and start learning.
We sell on multiple channels including Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Faire, Wayfair, Orderchamp and Fairling. I have detailed experience and knowledge about how these channels work.
In fact, I deliver training to other businesses on how to use some of them. Funny then - that I knew nothing about WooCommerce or how to use it properly.
I have a marital relationship with Amazon, eBay and Etsy. I love them; I hate them; I shower them with love and threaten to leave them. But I kinda get them.
Not so for WooCommerce. This was an awkward stranger in my house; someone to make superficial conversation with.
I didn’t really ‘get’ WooCommerce and so, over the years, I began to avoid it. It scared me and bored me, so I neglected it until it began to fall into unloved disrepair.
My housekeeping stopped and so the website felt dirty, cluttered and difficult to work with. The fact that there is no monthly or annual fee was of little consolation once I started to lose interest in it.
Inevitably, I reached a ‘this is sh*t’ moment.
Now, I could have gone down the renovation road. I have no doubt that Creatomatic would have given the website a new lease of life, but I needed to learn more about this myself.
I wanted to be more involved and I wanted a new start on a new platform. My eyes were quickly turned by other shiny things. Talk of Shopify and Magento and BigCommerce convinced me that I should be thinking less about renovation and more about moving home.
To do that I needed to stop focusing on what was ‘sh*t’ about my existing website and start thinking about what I wanted from a potentially new website.
What do you need from your new website?
Going back to the drawing board can be a liberating exercise but also a depressing one.
If you have spent many years working on something, then starting from scratch can make your old work feel like a waste of time. But it isn’t.
For you, starting afresh is an informed process and nothing like the task of starting up a completely new web business.
You know you made a balls-up of certain things last time round so imagine how lovely it might be to put it all right.
Hindsight is a great thing and if you apply all of the experience and knowledge gleaned from running your existing website you will already be well down the path of creating something which is more tailored to your needs. You will know what you want - and what you don’t want.
Like any new house, you want your website to look and feel nice; you want lots of visitors so it needs to be comfortable and have the right character and facilities. This is going to be the next home for your online business so don’t be shy about listing your requirements.
Cost is another consideration, but when pricing your options do look at the long term.
Saving money in the short term may mean compromising on some of the things you want from your site. In other words, you could quickly find yourself back to the point of banging your mouse on the desk and thinking ‘this is sh*t’.
In pursuit of simplicity
In an ever-complex world, there was one word that featured at the top of my own wish list:
In my mind, keeping things simple would be an end as well as a means.
Following simple processes and creating a simple product was my ideal. It would mean that I was capable of learning about it. Keeping things simple would also mean that I could wax lyrical with words like 'clean', 'fresh', 'modern', and 'user-friendly'.
I felt happy to pay for a platform that would bring these desires to life.
I could also have placed ‘flexibility’ at the top of my wish list but, these days, ‘flexibility’ seems to bring endless options which often send me into an indecisive and agitated rage.
As it happens, there is no need to choose one over the other though, because many simple e-commerce themes still offer plenty of flexibility.
In opting for ‘simplicity’ I was conscious that there is a world of difference between simplicity in the eyes of a professional web developer, and simplicity in the eyes of an amateur like me.
And so, I had to be clear that when I talked about ‘simplicity', I meant ‘simplicity’ for me and my customers.
The new website had to be something which would be easy for me to help build, operate, maintain and tweak.
Moving from WooCommerce to Shopify
I confess that I did not do masses of reading and research, although I could easily have spent a long time doing so.
In my pursuit of simplicity, I also took a simple (and somewhat lazy) approach to decide on a platform.
That meant going with the crowd - and that meant going with Shopify. I read a little bit about it, but I also talked to people who were using it.
People like me, with e-commerce businesses like mine, were living on Shopify and enjoying it. That was all I needed to make my decision. I was given a Shopify development site to play around with, and that confirmed my choice.
As luck would have it, I was also fortunate to be in touch with a Shopify expert who agreed to take us on as clients.
Let me quickly introduce you to Rakesh Davda, a truly great guy with exceptional insight, all-seeing eyes and a deep-rooted understanding of ‘stuff people need’ for their website.
He is so much more than a Shopify expert because he covers all the other things that might come with it. Like decluttering your email systems and finding apps which fit beautifully with your plans and processes.
The best thing about working with Rakesh is that he guided me through the whole Shopify journey as a vocational exercise.
He made sure I did a lot of practical stuff myself. He embraced my desire for simplicity and presented me with great options.
He set structures in place but left me to work on the details and explore some of the features I might like.
He sorted all of the technical matters but explained everything to me too. In this way, I have benefited from learning a great deal about my own website.
I hope that Rakesh will always be on hand for anything major, but I also feel more confident about managing the day to day website activity myself.
Setting up your new website home
Regardless of the e-commerce platform you choose, getting your new online home ready is exactly like moving house.
When setting up a new home, there are rooms and hallways to plan alongside colour schemes, fixtures and fittings. How will you move around your home, and have you made sure there is no ill-fitting furniture? Do you know where everything will be stored?
So too with your new website. You need to think about your categories, sub-categories and how customers will navigate through your website.
You want them to move freely and logically and to meet no obstacles. They should be able to find cupboards and open them; shelves should be ready and waiting. If you have your web house in the right order, then you are halfway to making this a great move.
As with all house moves, there is an easy way and a hard way. It starts with preparation and if you plan ahead for your website move, then you will thank yourself later.
Start clearing out well in advance. Get rid of the clutter and if there is anything that you don’t need on your new website then leave it behind.
Have a look at what you are taking and think about cleaning it up beforehand. If you have planned the layout of your new website, then you will know what stuff you need to fill it.
You have already chosen your platform so there will likely be a product spreadsheet template you can refer to.
Check that you have all of the data to populate it. Now is a good time to fill any information gaps and to make sure your site has everything it requires to look and perform well.
Of course, you can also choose to pack up everything from your old website and chuck the whole lot into an unfinished new web home.
You can sort it when you get there can’t you? But will you? Most of us take that path when we move house, but those boxes of stuff that we intended to sort ‘once we got there’ are probably still in the attic/garage/spare room.
Do yourself a favour when it comes to your new website. Sort out what you are taking and leaving - before you move!
How I prepared for my website move
In terms of my own preparation, I spent a long time choosing the right Shopify theme and layout.
There are plenty of free themes, but I wanted to choose one which will last a long time.
With so much choice, I sampled far too many of them, resulting in yet another indecisive, agitated rage, the type of which I spoke earlier.
Rakesh soon nailed it though. He suggested a choice between the Flex theme and the Impulse theme.
Both were great and so we trialled them for two weeks each before settling for Impulse. It has been the right choice so far!
With simplicity in mind, I opted to reduce the number of product types to three (rugs, soft furnishings and homewares) and to limit the sub-category collections.
This made for a tidier appearance than the old site. I also arranged a set of pre-populated values for things like colour, material, pattern etc and I used these as tags. This has created simple filters in the left-hand sidebar.
By limiting the filter values I can hopefully prevent the sidebar menu from hell, which we experienced on our old site.
My sorry experience has taught me that the more value options you add then the longer your drop-down menu choices. If you add 200 colour combinations then your customer will be left to choose from them.
And if they are anything like me then it may trigger that indecisive, agitated rage which you now know so well...
Aside from navigation improvements, I also added in lots of features which I had not previously bothered with.
I included plenty of opportunities for customer engagement through a ‘Your Creations’ and ‘Our Testimonials’ section.
I included links through to sales, best selling items and some of the GoodWeave certified products we sell. I also put more in about Our story, Our Team and Our Products. I had a better Contact Us page.
And of course, I included a link to my blog, a task which has been avoided thus far but which will now be squeezed somewhere into the working day or night.
All of the layout is reflected on the homepage - and I don’t want to brag but I must tell you that I love my new homepage.
The banners, the images and the slides. The promotions, the colour scheme and the symmetry. In fact, if someone were to say ‘this is sh*t’, I would give a high pitched laugh in their face, because they would have to be joking – or just plain jealous!
Aside from choosing the theme and the structure, I was also able to start planning my product database right from the start.
Regardless of what theme you go with, the ability to add products is open to you as soon as you open your Shopify account. You can use CSV files or type in the details manually.
I did a bit of both and it meant that I could transfer information into Shopify right away. The stuff I wanted to keep went into Shopify while the rest was left behind.
Be careful what you throw away!
At this stage, let me share one crucial piece of advice with you.
When I talked about the importance of decluttering, I did mean it - but be careful what you throw out.
There may be stuff that you want to leave out of your new website; a pile of sorry old products which have no place in your shiny new world.
By all means, leave them behind but be sure to check all of your web traffic and to have the correct redirects set up from your old site.
I speak from a genuinely painful position here, because I failed to do this during a web overhaul in 2015 and, as a result, our web traffic and our sales crashed horribly and never did return to former glory.
I remember the scene all too well. Me bitching about how much sh*t there was on the site before losing the plot and obliterating hundreds of listings in an uncontrolled frenzy.
Gone were these ridiculous items like the hideous carved rabbit, a creepy hand ornament which we used to chase each other with - and those throws which had been ordered in ‘oatmeal’ and delivered in ‘peach’.
I grabbed as many as I could and marched them to the local charity shop before wiping them from existence on our website.
It was great and by the time I had finished slashing at everything, the website lay in ribbons while I smoked a post-obliteration cigarette in the garden.
My best-selling and popular products were all that remained and I was absolutely delighted with myself.
I did not arrange any redirects because the sh*t never seemed to sell and who, in their right mind, had been searching for it anyway.
Well, it turns out that there were rather more people who loved ‘random sh*t’ than I imagined - and many of them had entered our website on the back of a ‘random sh*t’ based search.
They may not have bought the ‘random sh*t’ but they rode in looking for it in the first instance.
When I threw everything away, I threw away half of my traffic and customers as well.
I can only hope that they will be tempted back by my NEW WEBSITE because I can’t bear the thought of listing those creepy hand ornaments again.
Anyway - enough said about that!
Making your web house a home
So once your web house is ready - you need to move in there and make it a home.
Save plenty of energy for the finishing stages because arranging everything into the right place can take longer than the rest of the web move put together:
Making sure that everything fits, uploading amazing images and any other media you are using, working on your SEO content, using meaningful relevant titles, improving your product descriptions not to mention tagging and linking everything like crazy.
You have your payments to set up, legal notices to add and a blog to write!!
I admit that I started to flag a little towards the end so don’t be surprised if you find yourself hitting a wall.
With the creative stage completed, the boring stage is unavoidable but has to be completed sometime.
For me, tasks such as updating images, deciding on SEO content and writing all of the additional material for the new features did seem to drag on for weeks.
I found myself sighing and whining and banging the mouse on the desk again - but motivation soon returned when I saw the site coming to life.
The ‘to do’ list became shorter and shorter until all the essentials were done. All that remained was the stuff that I could continue to work on once the site had gone live.
When Rakesh texted to say that the site had now launched there was much whooping from me and the team.
Despite knowing the new website inside out, it still felt great to look at it and through it as a live site, knowing that it was open for anyone to visit.
I am not ashamed to tell you that I stared lovingly at it for a very long time.
Inviting everyone round
Of course, finishing your website and setting it live is only half the battle.
You still need to get people through the door. In the same way that you might invite friends and family to come and see your new house, you need to invite customers back into your store.
This may take a little more effort because you’ve moved, so people need new signposts and directions. Even with lots of redirects from your old website, there is likely to be a slow down in traffic while your website settles into its new home.
A little patience will be required and actually, it is no bad thing to use this quiet time to test the visibility and functionality of your website. Launch in haste and repent at leisure because if your site has some glitches or broken links then your customers may pile in and leave again, thinking ‘this is sh*t’.
Consider using the bedding in-period to plan a web warming party instead. And once you have finished your faffing and fluffing; your pruning and preening and the sorting of your snagging list, you can confidently tell the world what and where you are.
Share the details on your social media and ask friends and family to do the same. Write a piece about it for Linkedin or other business groups. Offer a special launch discount code to create some interest and think about what other promotional and advertising tools you might use.
Of course, we did none of these things at first. In fact, on hearing that the website was now live, we had our own team launch drinks with much clinking of glasses and patting of backs.
But during our toasts and blessings, I realised that we had done nothing to make our customers welcome.
There was no sweetener waiting for them and no heartfelt welcome. In fact, our approach to potential website visitors was the equivalent of receiving visitors in your home and failing to offer them a cup of tea.
Had I learned nothing from my mother about good manners and basic hospitality?
Hurriedly, I asked Rakesh about how to set a ‘launch’ discount code. Then I wrote a welcome article for our News section and shared that around too.
Finally, I arranged a promotion offering a ‘free mystery gift with the first 200 orders’.
A great way to show our appreciation and possibly to clear out the last of the creepy hand ornaments.
And now we wait….
It’s too early for me to talk about whether any of this has worked because, right now, my web-warming plans are all theory.
As I write, it is only a few months since the new website launched and I have been running around trying to deal with everything I neglected while the website was being developed!
I have not undertaken any promotion or advertising work yet (because I have not the faintest idea how to do that) and I need time to assess the SEO strategy that I used (again with probable help from others!).
Traffic had been falling on the old website before we moved. I can’t expect instant miracles on the new site, but I can surely expect something positive given that we are moving on from a relatively low traffic base.
Over the short term, I hope to build up enough analytics to guide our next steps.
For now, I am not going to get too hung up on instant hits.
I will simply hang out here on the About Us page and revel in the magnificence of our new Shopify website.
I will think about how to nurture and care for this lovely creation. Maybe set some rules about the format to follow when adding new products; follow up on my promises to be more engaging with customers; commit to keeping up the blog articles.
Just think - if I do this right then I may never need to move again!