Ranking well in the search engines is absolutely vital for an online business and why optimising an e-commerce site is essential. If you are not at the top of the search engines for your keywords, you are missing out on vital sales. Ranking an e-commerce site though is easier said than done as often they have dynamic URLs, duplicate content issues and they are light on content.
Although the core principles of ranking any website are the same, certain websites lend themselves better to search marketing than others. A news site for example is rich in unique content, is updated daily with new stories and rarely has duplicate content issues as each story is different. Unfortunately though, the same cannot be said about ecommerce sites. Ecommerce sites by their very nature lack content as they are usually mostly image based and several products are often placed in more than one category leading to duplicate content issues.
What does this post cover?
In this post I will cover the 3 main points:
- How to organise your site to avoid duplicate content issues
- How to create landing pages
- How to encourage unique and user generated content that will encourage conversions
Most of the problems with ranking ecommerce sites, such as duplicate content, can be resolved with a good site structure. Duplicate content is exactly how it sounds – content that appears in more the one place, e.g. on two different web pages. It is a problem because when there are multiple pieces of the same information, search engines find it difficult to decide which is more relevant to a given search query but it needs to choose one because delivering multiple search results with the same content is not very helpful to the user. The key issues with duplicate content are that search engines don’t know whether to index the content and which page to rank for a given search query. They also don’t know where to direct the search metrics (authority, link juice etc.). Do they give it all to one page or divide it up? The important thing with the site structure is to maintain organisation but also to make it searchable. This is done in 3 simple steps:
- Categorise products
- Create category pages with content giving an overview of the products
- Makes search engine friendly URLS
It is no good building a good site structure if your URLs are not readable. A lot of ecommerce sites dynamically generate URLs causing unfriendly query strings like field1=value1&field1=value2&field1=value3… which cannot be read by the search engines. It is important to change these URLs to make them search friendly. Make sure you separate the words with a hyphen or an underscore to make them readable e.g. domainname.com/search-engine-friendly-url.
A good category URL would be domainname.com/category-url
The product URL very much depends on your site as to which approach to take. While it makes sense to have a URL like domainname.com/category-name/product-name, this is not always best as you are inviting duplicate content issues as products are often put into more than one category causing pages to have exactly the same content. While you can get around this with canonical tags (I will explain these later), this approach just invites duplicate content issues.
A better approach is to not include the category name in the product URL and instead have a URL like domainname.com/product-113944. Notice the number next to the product name. It is important to add a unique product number next to the product name to protect against similar product names.
If you end up with duplicate content on your site for whatever reason, you can notify the search engine of the orginal page and avoid any possible duplicate content issues by adding canonical tags to both pages. You do this simply by adding the following code before the closing head tag, referencing the original page:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.yourdomain.com/correct-page” />
Product descriptions are one of the few opportunities you have to add content to your site. Make sure that you take time to write your own, unique product descriptions. If you pinch product descriptions from the manufacturers, not only would the product descriptions be the same as the manufacturer, it will be the same as all of the other websites that pinch manufacturers’ product descriptions. By pinching product descriptions, you are missing an opportunity to add unique content.
Meta tags are an important element in onsite SEO and are a great opportunity to optimise your site.
Meta titles are one of the most important aspects when it comes to onsite SEO. It is important though that these are unique for every page. Doing this across thousands of pages is impossible if you have to do it manually. It is therefore a good idea to set up auto-generated meta titles that include the product name and a simple call to action.
Meta descriptions don’t actually have any bearing on rankings but they do have a big influence on click through rates. Like meta titles, it’s important to make sure your descriptions tag are unique for each page. Again, setup auto-generated meta description based on the product name and category.
It is best practise to use H tags in all websites. These are header tags and automatically make text larger, for example the page title is normally H1, headings H2 etc. For ease, it’s a good idea to configure your CMS system to automatically configure your product name as the H1 tag for that page. This helps with search marketing as your target keywords will be in the title and as the text stands out, it is deemed more important.
Customer reviews really are a must for ecommerce sites. One of the biggest difficulties when it comes to ranking an ecommerce site is the lack of unique content and customer reviews are a great way of producing unique content. Customer reviews are also a great way of getting feedback about your products which is vital information for your business.
Often getting reviews from customers is easier said than done. Some great tips to encourage reviews are:
- Setting up auto-generated emails to be sent out a couple of weeks after purchases asking for a review with a nice hyper-link leading them to the review section
- Offer incentives like discounts for those that write a review which again can easily be automated
You can also customise your review system so that it only displays when there are reviews to show avoiding ugly “there are no reviews on this product yet” messages
Reviews are also great at making your ad stand out in the search engine result page (SERPs) which will help with click through rates (CTR). To do this though you need to make sure you are marking up the reviews with rich snippet microdata.
As mentioned before, ecommerce sites are invariably light on unique content so any opportunity to generate content should be taken. Integrating a question and answer feature for products does just this and it will help to improve engagement and conversions. Product Q & As are also good for long tail searches as they are bound to cover additional terms that otherwise are not covered.
Breadcrumbs help to improve the user experience but they are also a great way of building internal links. A must for ecommerce sites!
Most people forget that there are multiple ways of searching. While contextual search is the most popular, image search is often used too. As ecommerce sites are predominantly image based, why not make use of this and optimise your images to encourage image search as well?
You optimise images by:
- Using descriptive file names like ecommerce-image.png
- Adding alternate text tags to the html code that describes the image and include your keywords (you can set this up to be the same as your product name)
- Submitting image sitemap to Google and Bing
Including company details such as the company address and contact telephone number not only improves your trust signals and encourages conversions, it helps to improve your local search ranking.
Optimising an e-Commerce Site Summary
Great onsite SEO, especially with e-commerce sites, is about careful planning and a good approach. Certain website platforms make it easier to optimise your site than others and some are straightforward to amends, others are and this should be discussed during the discovery and website scoping process. While you may expect e-commerce web development companies to incorporate these adjustments as standard, most web development companies focus on making sites user friendly and looking great. They tend not to be digital marketers.
If you have any questions about making your ecommerce site search engine friendly, write a comment below and i will answer it as quickly as I can. For those that are looking to adjust or renew their e-commerce site, talk to us today and see how we can help.
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