In “SEO 201, Part 5: Evaluating Ecommerce Platforms,” I listed basic SEO needs to assist in the selection of an ecommerce platform. This article will go further, listing technical requirements that can make or break long-term SEO success. Some ecommerce companies lose the search-engine-optimization battle before their sites go live — at the procurement, planning, and implementation stages.
Ensure your ecommerce site has the strongest chance to drive organic search performance by including SEO technical requirements in the search for your platform, development, and implementation vendors.
This article will explain the technical requirements for SEO, not how to implement SEO well across the board. Meeting these requirements should enable the platform, content management system, and development of the site to support the actions needed to optimize it with a minimum of developer involvement going forward.
I have not listed the requirements that every platform includes by default. For example, all platforms allow you to edit title tags.
Instead, this list of requirements focuses on those that many ecommerce platforms fail to meet. For example, most ecommerce platforms do not allow you to edit title tags on filtered category pages, simply because they fail to recognize filtered category pages as unique pages.
Platform Requirements for SEO
The platform dictates how your site can be architected, which in turn has a massive impact on SEO performance out of the box. Choosing a platform immediately limits the SEO options you have to work with to the set that the platform supports.
With unlimited budget any platform can be modified to perform more strongly for SEO, but add-ons and custom code are costly and come with their own risks. Aftermarket modifications may negatively impact other areas of the site’s performance and must be maintained and repaired as the platform evolves.
The following requirements will help you choose the strongest platform for your ecommerce site.
- Every unique page of content has one unique URL. A page is defined as a unique display of content that a visitor would recognize as such. For example, a page containing a category of products is different than a page containing a smaller segment of those products. However, a category of products that the visitor chooses to sort in a different order — such as “A-Z” or “lowest price first” — is still the same page of content. The content of the page, not the order in which the content is displayed, determines whether that page is a unique page or not.
- Each unique page’s URL is the same every time you visit that page, regardless of visitor’s path to the page.
- Category filters must be treated as unique pages with unique URLs and accessible navigation — by default
- Every unique page contains a canonical tag identifying the one canonical URL for that page to neutralize possible duplicate URLs.
International SEO Requirements
In addition to the platform requirements listed above, international ecommerce companies have additional technical requirements.
- If geolocation is planned, (a) country selector choice must “override” any geolocation delivery based on IP delivery, (b) “override” must be URL-based, not cookie-based, (c) only geolocate on the first entry page, not every click thereafter, (d) only geolocate on .com and other generic TLDs, not on ccTLDs.
- In every page for every country and language, use hreflang tags and language metadata to specify country and language designation.
Content Management Requirements for SEO
Content requirements start with the content management system. If the CMS doesn’t enable editing of an element on a page, optimization will require developer intervention.
- Every individual page must be uniquely editable and optimizable in the content management system.
- Child pages must not inherit parent page optimization.
- Enable optimizable display page name versus default page name, to improve SEO for categories and products that do not have recognizable default names in your backend database.
- Every element that impacts SEO performance must be editable in the CMS without requiring developer intervention, including (a) display page name, (b) title tag, (c) meta description, (d) H1 heading, (e) body copy and description.
- Ensure that hardcoded links in body copy and descriptions automatically update if the URL for the page being linked to changes.
- Enable bulk content upload from CSV file.
Implementation Requirements for SEO
Once the platform is chosen, implementation of the site on that platform is critical to SEO success. Design and architecture are important, but development and implementation choices can negate any SEO benefit good architecture would otherwise provide.
Keep these requirements in mind when developing and implementing an ecommerce site on your new platform.
- The content’s design — i.e., carousel, fly-out navigation, country selectors, store locators, related product modules, reviews — must degrade to plain HTML text and links on the page.
- Use formulas to override default, system-generated URLs, title tags, and meta descriptions with more optimal versions.
- Implement structured data like price, video, and aggregate ratings to enable rich snippets in search results.
- Always allocate time for a 301 redirect strategy and implementation.
Yes, the first three of those requirements were basically the same, but worded in three different ways. That’s because it’s important to think of content as more than a text field on an article page. Content is any communicable or navigational element on a page.
All content can be presented in ways that can help SEO. It can also be made invisible to search engines. Review each element of the site in each template and make a conscious decision whether to implement it in ways that benefit SEO.