With some restrictions being lifted on what platform a dealership can represent itself on, many car dealers are in the process of switching website providers. Many dealers opting for change may have been locked into a contract with CDK Global, now known as Sincro Digital by Ansira, but the following steps will help any dealer successfully navigate their move.
When transferring, moving, or migrating your site from one automotive website platform provider to another, thoroughly planning your move is a crucial first step in this process. At first glance this can be a scary and confusing process for all parties involved, even for us sometimes – and we’re experienced vets!
In order to help dealers better plan for switching website providers, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of things to consider before, during, and after your move.
STEP 1: PLAN YOUR MOVE IN ADVANCE
Moving website platforms should NOT be a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation. You’ll want to consider the following things long before your move date arrives.
Double-Check These 3 Elements with Your New Platform Provider
While you may have already decided where you’re moving to, there are just a few key things you want to keep in consideration so that you can feel confident that your new website meets current search visibility standards.
Make sure that your new site is:
- Secure – Have you ever tried to visit a website and you were suddenly warned by your browser that the site you’re trying to visit is “Not Secure” and you couldn’t even view the page? Don’t be that site. Put simply, the protocol at the beginning of your domain name should be HTTPS not HTTP. This means that your website has taken the appropriate steps to lock down the security of data being shared between you and your site visitors.
- Mobile-friendly – Make sure your new site offers a mobile-friendly approach so that searchers can easily navigate to your site from smartphones and tablets, which is where the majority of your traffic could be coming from!
- Responsive and FAST – Lengthy page load times can have an unforgiving impact on your website traffic. Make sure that your new landing pages are loading quickly so that searchers don’t bounce away from your site.
When’s the Best Time to Move my Website?
If at all possible try to plan your move during times when you expect to have the lowest amount of traffic coming to your site like late at night or first thing in the morning.
In some cases, this might not be possible but if you don’t ask, then you’ll never know! Transferring a site at 3 AM is a little impractical for developers and tech support teams working a relatively normal nine to five, but it’s worth it to review your traffic patterns on Google Analytics in order to discern the best, most realistic time to make that move.
Know Where Your Traffic is Going & Seize the Opportunity to Clean House
At this point in your planning process, it’s pertinent that you prioritize content that works well on your site to be moved first, and have a plan to refresh or replace content that could use a pick-me-up. You can pretty much ditch anything else that has been cluttering up your site such as outdated or irrelevant content, but save it offline just in case it can be spun into fresh new content (we’ll discuss this more later in the After section).
Here’s a couple of tips to get you through:
- Once you know what content you’re keeping, take the time to thoroughly organize the content including how you plan on structuring it on the site with proper parent or hub pages
- Make sure you are moving over landing pages that have a high volume of traffic, by checking Google Analytics to see which pages your users are landing on
- Most importantly, don’t just simply move over only what’s in the navigation. This can leave gaping holes for content that your users need and are used to having access to and can have a negative impact on your overall website traffic and search ranking
Conversely, Know Where Your Traffic is Coming From
Your new vendor will likely want to know the top 5-10 geo targets you’d like to feature throughout your dealership’s website.
Check out your audiences in Google Analytics to better respond to this request, but don’t just scrape the first 10 cities off the top of the list! Sometimes mismanaged campaigns can garner traffic from strange and far off places that you DON’T want to be targeted in your organic SEO efforts.
Refine this search by looking at a breakdown of your Organic traffic by city, and double-check that list so that random outliers like Boardman, OR (thanks Google) don’t accidentally make the cut.
In order to find this list, pop open your Google Analytics and click into Audience > Geo > Location.
From there select your Country > then your State (aka Region), which will then sort your list by City. This offers you a bird’s eye view of where most of your local visitors are coming from.
If your dealership is located in an area that closely borders more than one state you can stay at the Country (United States) level and set your primary dimension to City instead so that you can see where visitors outside of your home state are coming from.
Be sure to set a date range that will give you an accurate overview, I recommend checking into the last full three months or quarter’s worth of data to get the best picture.
Set up 301 Redirects!
We can’t stress this enough.
This probably goes without saying, but it will take a while for search engines to crawl your new site and update listings, meaning that there will be a number of active links to your inactive old web pages taking your consumers to embarrassing 404 missing page errors.
In order to combat that, you can set up 301 redirects for pages that didn’t get prioritized so that your shoppers land in the general location of what they would have been searching for in the first place.
It’s crucial to your website’s success to have a replacement plan in place so that if you choose to rebuild prioritized content with the exact URL slug as on the previous platform you’ll remember to take down the 301 redirects. If you forget to remove it, the fresh new content cannot be accessed.
The overall beauty of 301 and 302 redirects is that they usually have no effect on page rankings, so this measure will actually help you maintain the coveted spots you’ve worked so hard to earn on search engines.
Not sure how to set these up? Have no fear the developers of your new platform provider will know exactly how to execute these for you! All you need to do is let them know where you want your old pages to go.
Build and Send a 301 Redirect List to your Tech Support Team
Creating a 301 Redirect list to send to your website provider’s tech support team is easy. Create a list of the old URLs in one column of a spreadsheet and in the next column list the URL page where you would for that traffic to be directed.
Let’s take an imaginary dealership, Daydream Toyota, as an example.
To start with, we know when moving to the new website that we won’t have all of our geo-targeted content built out immediately, but we will have our inventory pages up and running.
To ensure that our content ranking on page 1 of search engines doesn’t send visitors to a broken link, we’re going to send this list to Daydream Toyota’s tech support team so that the links to our older content is forwarded to an existing page on the new site.
A page like “daydreamtoyota.com/toyota-4runner-asheville-nc” would need to point to “daydreamtoyota.com/new-vehicles/4runner/“ for the time being. Once you’re able to get that page rebuilt with the exact same URL slug structure you can have the redirect taken down.
If you’re unable to completely match the slug structure of your new page to the old one, you can point it at the newly-recreated page instead. Or you could let it live on in its original 301 redirect state forever. The choice is yours.
Don’t Forget to Tell Your Digital Marketing Team About Your Site Move!
It happens all too often… The strategists on the front line of your digital marketing end up being the last to know about your site migration.
Whether you’re running budget for Paid Search or Social Media, the main takeaway is that you want to guarantee that the money you’re funneling into your advertising efforts is continuing to be spent wisely. And you definitely don’t want to be spending money to drive traffic to broken landing pages.
The first impression we make can sometimes be the last one. Don’t let that happen with your digital marketing by planning ahead!
Whether your team is in-house or working for you remotely, let your team of SEMs, SEOs, and SMMs know ahead of time about the move and even help with your site migration planning.
STEP 2: WHAT TO FOCUS ON DURING YOUR SITE MIGRATION
Replace and Reinstall All of the Things: Codes, Pixels, Tags, Etc.
There are a number of tracking codes that live in the head section of your website that is integral to the success of your ongoing social media and PPC campaigns as well as for monitoring your website’s performance. In my experience, this one gets overlooked a lot, so you need to be prepared to reinstall or install new pixels, tags, and other tracking codes on the same day your new site plans to launch.
Note that if you forget this step, it could cause some serious issues for any digital marketing campaigns you may be running and skew your performance numbers in tracking tools like Google Analytics.
Pause and Update Your Digital Marketing Campaigns
As I noted above, without proper planning and re-installation of pixels, tags, and tracking codes, marketing campaign numbers can be dramatically skewed.
For social media marketing, your team needs to be prepared to pause ads, retargeting or otherwise, amidst the change if the site as a whole is going to be down during the day or if the specific pages they are linking back to will be missing for an extended period of time.
If your goal is to have a seamless transition without pausing your campaigns at all, you’ll need to ensure that the content you’re linking back to is prioritized to be moved over first, ideally with the exact same URL structure. However, if it can’t be moved over with the same exact URL, just be sure your team is ready to update those links the moment the new site goes live.
If this is something you need help monitoring for your social media marketing, our expert team of social strategists are here to help, just ask!
Check On Your Paid Search Campaigns
A site migration can affect ongoing Pay Per Click advertising campaigns as well. Your PPC provider should plan on running down the following checklist to make sure your efforts remain uncompromised amidst this change:
- Double-check that all deep linked PPC ads and landing pages
to make sure the URL structure still works
- Make sure the Google Ads Conversion Code and Retargeting code
is installed on the new website platform.
- Make sure the phone number hasn’t changed.
- Make sure the lead form (Contact Us) form still works
Take Ownership of Performance-Monitoring Accounts
Depending on which automotive vendor from which you’re jumping ship, you may need to acquire ownership of your Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and other accounts that track the performance of your website.
If your website provider also owns or controls the Google My Business account you will want to take ownership of that as well and establish who will be in charge of managing it.
If you can’t gain control over the existing accounts with historical data you will want to create a new one and get those codes installed on your new site as soon as possible. Your new platform provider or digital marketing rep should be able to help you with this, but if not Dealer Authority is here to be your muscle should you need a helping hand.
STEP 3: BOXES TO CHECK AFTER YOUR SITE IS MOVED
Verify the Quality of Your Content Migration
While it is always helpful for the new platform provider to migrate custom content from your old site to your new one, it’s paramount that you double-check their work. Here are the main things you’ll want to check in on:
- Make sure all internal links on the new landing pages are accurate and pointing correctly to the new pages on your site
- Ensure that all images hosted on the old site have new hosting and have been updated correctly so that you don’t have broken image links bogging down your SEO audit score
- Double-check the accuracy of all physical store addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and other points of contact
- If you had contact forms on migrated pages, ensure that they have been updated to the form being used by your new platform and that form-fills are being sent to your CMS
- And while you’re checking things, make sure your inventory listings are populating correctly as well!
While this is a good checklist for content being moved over by your new provider, it’s a great checklist for anyone manually moving content over on your behalf as well!
This is also the best time to run through Steps 1 and 2 to make sure you didn’t miss anything crucial there either.
Expect Your Keyword Rankings to Fluctuate
Because moving websites is a major content migration, your organic rankings on search engines are bound to fluctuate. Whether positively or negatively remains to be seen.
These increases or decreases in organic rankings can and will have a direct impact on your organic traffic, but this is to be expected in the midst of such a massive change. Over time search engines will begin to index your new and (hopefully) improved site and start taking inventory of what pages are still in stock in order to adjust your listings.
As you continue to optimize by building new landing pages and adjusting the current pages on your new site, this fluctuation will eventually even itself out.
Is it Possible to Diminish Ranking Fluctuations While Moving Sites?
While it’s likely impossible to completely avoid experiencing ranking fluctuations mid site migration, there is a simple trick you might be able to deploy to calm the waves a bit as you weather the storm.
If you can somehow manage to move over your landing pages with the exact same URL structure, chances are your rankings won’t fluctuate much at all, but for some site migrations, this may be an impossible task.
If your current website structure has landing pages ending in .html (ex: DealerOn) or .htm (ex: Dealer.com) or some other doc format, the new platform might not support this structure. Conversely, if you’re moving from a platform that did not require these elements at the end of your URL slug, but the new one does, transferring pages with the EXACT same URL formatting will be impossible as well.
The best thing to do in these instances is to try to keep your SEO-friendly URL slugs as similar as possible and let the search engines work their indexing magic. And, of course, if the URL slug and page title combo weren’t SEO-friendly, to begin with, then it’s worth it to update it to something more searchable!
One Last Tip: Spin Old Content into Fresh New Pages
Now that your new site is up and running you’ll want to continue adding new landing pages to expand your SEO efforts and continue improving the overall integrity of your site.
Remember when I said to save your old, outdated pages offline? Well, some of those older pages can be pulled together and organized onto new pages; spinning outdated posts and articles into fresh new content!
Here, I’ll give you an example: Say for instance you have a bunch of old community event pages that no longer need to be active on your new site. You can easily upcycle this content by creating a new page labeled “Community Outreach” (or something similar), that would summarize the high notes from each event.
This combined page will highlight all the good your dealership has done within the community over the past several years, and because you were able to recycle the old content you’ll barely have to do any work to craft this rich and informative new landing page. How great is that?
On That Note, Happy Moving Day!
Congrats on your new digital home! If you’re looking for assistance with your site migration or implementing SEO Best Practices for your new website, don’t hesitate to reach out to the pros here at Dealer Authority.
While we don’t take stock in moving boxes, we do live and breathe automotive digital marketing and take pride in providing our clients with the best results possible. Contact us today to learn more about what we can do for you!