This is my experience of what it was like know a lot about web design and CMSs like WordPress and not knowing anything about Magento (an e-commerce platform) and what it took to down right own developing beast. I also give insights on what it takes to succeed with a e-commerce platform migration.
Up till' this point I've been working in-house at Honeyville over the past two years and over the past year I've been developing an answer for their out dated eCommerce website and platform. When I say outdated I mean on a platform that was not up to industry standards: little community support, old web development practices, limited marketing solutions, and poor development practices making it difficult to progress to the next level.
We decided to switch from our old platform to Magento, as it is one of the most widely supported e-Commerce platforms for marketing integration and allows for extreme flexibility when it comes to design and layout. The scope of the project also consisted of migrating to a new domain from store.honeyvillegrain.com to shop.honeyville.com. After many hours of research I found it would be a very risky procedure to switch domains, launch a redesign, switch platforms, and change hosting providers all at once. There are also many gains the Honeyville e-Commerce division could benefit from by making these switches all at once, it just had to be done. Knowing the risk, I also knew that if done properly we could mitigate most of the hardship that could result from an improper implementation. Determined to accomplish the task at hand, I knew what I was up against and set out to achieve my goal.
Beyond that scope, with a new website in mind, we had noticed an increase in mobile visits on our e-commerce site and knew that we needed a site that could give users a great shopping experience while on mobile devices. The clear option, which you may be familiar with, is responsive web design. One website that can support all device screen widths with the best user experience to reach a desired end goal. With this project, the end goal being an increase in completed transactions and satisfying customer experiences to promote return visits.
With this being my first Magento project I knew I had tons of learning ahead of me. Theme and template development alone would consist of many man hours. I have previous experience with theming for WordPress, a blog platform which is what Legendary Fish is built on. This previous experience, working with content management systems had given me a good understanding of what I was getting into. One great thing about Magento and the community is the learning and support that has come to be what it is now. I was quickly brought up to speed in two weeks with a designing for Magento course through Magento-U and along my development phase I was able to find answers to many of my challenges throughout the community resources, whether it be the forum or Magento Connect an extension management platform a type of plugin download center allowing me to extend features of Magento.
One awesome ability with Magento is it's templating flexibility. I was able to develop a solution that allowed us to integrate Rich Snippets using Shcema Markup. This was one big SEO must have that we were not able to achieve in our old platform. I was really excited about scratching that one off the list.
While drawing up sketches for the new site design I quickly realized that I was going to need to re-shoot all of the product photography in order to give customers a better sense of what they where shopping for. I could quickly see how each phase of this project was growing with tasks at each step.
Once our custom theme was developed for Magento, the next phase was testing, product data import and product photography. While I was working up product import solutions, which were a hurdle, I brought on a photographer and directed them to capture our products in unique ways that revel the quality and textures. Once the data import was finished, I was able to find a solution that allowed me to import multiple product photos for each product into Magento from PRATTSKI.
I had finally hit a point where developing on a local machine was no longer feasible. We needed it to be hosted so I could share my work with members of the team and allow for contribution. I found a hosting partner that would make for a great fit with Honeyville and the demanding resources that Magento needs to run smoothly. We set up a hosting account with Nexcess to allow us to proceed with the task. These guys are pros when it comes to hosting and Magento and I highly recommend them.
Once the photo import was successfully completed we started the testing phase. My team quickly started to find some small changes that needed to be corrected before going live. Luckily most of the corrections where minor template mods that would make the site more user friendly. Some other adjustments we found that needed to be complete before launch were some tedious tasks like setting up related products, fine tuning the meta info, adding alt tags to images, and building an import for product ratings from our old site. Product management is a huge component to running an online store and having a solid team to handle it really helps.
We started testing orders in test mode to get the team familiar with the new back-end and starting simulating potential customer situations so that we could be prepared on the day we go live. Youtube comes in real handy for learning how to accomplish tasks like refunding returns, adding discounts to orders, and modifying customer information.
Since we were changing domains, I had to create an SEO strategy to insure we didn't loose any rankings with the popular search engines. Creating a 301 redirect plan was crucial in a achieving this. Setting up accounts in web master tools and analytics for the new domain to be able to see the switch taking place successfully. I also prepared updates for all of our marketing outlets like PPC campaigns, notifying affiliates and high traffic sources, Going over every link on our own sites and blog, and print material would all need to be updated with the domain switch.
When it came down to go live date, I was running over my checklists the whole day before launch. With everything in place and my team ready to go, I had just one step left to switch the site over. Simply drop in the redirects on the old site and watch the traffic start pouring in. Then notify the search engines of the site migration and let the internet run its course. Our new site seemed to be welcomed with open arms with Google and Bing as most of our rankings had transitioned pretty well. Knowing that the first couple months would be rough, we seemed to recoup our rankings in the SERPs relatively quickly. We saw a drop in rankings in the first two weeks, started seeing a lift after that and now 3 months after the launch our rankings are even better than before.
One thing you will learn quickly is their is no stopping, there is always room for improvement and optimization. You will always be able to find something to make better on your site whether it be a product description, split testing, landing page optimization or what ever road you are on. So, the story doesn't stop here, it really just begins.
Lucky for me I'm a quick learner and have a great team to back me up. I just took each step one at a time, learning what I needed to get me through each task and ultimately getting the job done in a timely manner. I look forward to continue expand the development and marketing strategies for the Honeyville site as it has been one of the best learning experiences I could ask for.
What types of transitions are you looking to make with your e-Commerce site? Have you ever gone through a site redesign and domain change? If so how did it result for your business?