Practical Ecommerce

Shopping Cart FAQ: How to Evaluate SEO Effectiveness

Editor’s Note: We are excited to debut “Shopping Cart FAQ,” our monthly column aimed at merchants who are evaluating shopping carts. Merchants frequently have different priorities for their carts. Some may seek specialized merchandizing features, others may seek customized shipping integrations, and so forth. In “Shopping Cart FAQ,” we’ll attempt to address common shopping cart needs, and how merchants should evaluate carts for those purposes. In this first installment, below, we address how merchants can evaluate a cart for its search engine optimization qualities.

The author of “Shopping Cart FAQ” is a seasoned ecommerce entrepreneur and shopping cart expert. He’s Jon Hos, the owner of JonHos.com, an Australia-based consulting firm aimed a helping merchants evaluate and select the best carts for their businesses. We welcome Jon as our newest contributor.

The question this month is, “How to select a shopping cart for your business if search engine optimization (SEO) is a high priority?”

For the answer, you must understand what the Googlebot spider looks for, and then make its job easy.

Google is the search engine heavyweight. A typical website receives over 70 percent of its search traffic from Google alone. So, whenever I evaluate carts for SEO issues, I always start with “Google’s Webmaster Guidelines for SEO.” When choosing an ecommerce platform for your online store, ensuring the shopping cart will support most of Google’s requirements is crucial.

I have never ranked shopping carts. I simply don’t do it. I help businesses select the best one for their needs. Very rarely should SEO be the only reason you select one shopping cart over the other. But there are points to consider when evaluating a cart for its SEO effectiveness. I’ve discussed each point, below. For more information on why Google values these features, I suggest you familiarize yourself with the Google “Webmaster Guidelines for SEO.”

Assign a Score

For your shortlist of possible shopping carts, print out this article and score each of your possible carts against the Google SEO requirements for high rankings. For each cart, assign a score to each item the Googlebot values for high SEO results, as:

  • Ready. The cart already has this feature implemented. No work is required.
  • Some tweaking. The cart has the fundamentals, but may need additional work.
  • Needs work. The cart developers have not focused on this.

6 SEO Points to Evaluate

  1. The Googlebot SEO basics.

    a. Title tags. Does the cart allow you to create unique and accurate title tags? (Ready. / Some tweaking. / Needs work.)

    b. Meta tags. Does the cart allow you to make use of the “description” meta tag? (Ready. / Some tweaking. / Needs work.)

  2. Good Googlebot site structure.

    a. Custom URLs. Does the cart allow you to create custom and relevant URLs with your relevant product keywords? (Ready. / Some tweaking. / Needs work.)

    b. Navigation, breadcrumbs. Does the cart allow you to build an easy to follow navigation, including breadcrumbs? (Ready. / Some tweaking. / Needs work.)

    c. Sitemaps. Does the cart allow you to create HTML and XML sitemaps?
    (Ready. / Some tweaking. / Needs work.)

  3. High volume of quality content.

    a. Update content. Does the cart allow you to add content easily and quickly? (Ready. / Some tweaking. / Needs work.)

    b. Anchor text. Does the cart allow you to edit the anchor text? (Ready. / Some tweaking. / Needs work.)

    c. Alt attributes. Does the cart allow you to edit the “alt” image attribute?
    (Ready. / Some tweaking. / Needs work.)

    d. Header tags. Does the cart allow you to edit the heading tags, <h1> through to <h6>? (Ready. / Some tweaking. / Needs work.)

  4. Make sure site is “easy to crawl.”

    a. Control user generated content. Does the cart allow for flexibility in the “nofollow” attribute on your site product reviews, blogs and other user-generated content? (Ready. / Some tweaking. / Needs work.)

    b. Allow robots.txt file. Google likes it when you use the robots.txt file on your site for content that should not be indexed. (Ready. / Some tweaking. / Needs work.)

  5. Googlebot likes mobile users.

    In today’s world, users will visit your site through their mobile devices, whether you want them or not. The Googlebot-mobile will check to see if you make it easy for them.

    a. Allow mobile visitors. Does your cart allow for mobile users to visit your site? (Ready. / Some tweaking. / Needs work.)

    b. Mobile-friendly URLs. Does the cart create mobile friendly URLs of your site? (Ready. / Some tweaking. / Needs work.)

  6. Proper site promotion.

    a. RSS feeds. Does the cart have RSS feeds for your blog or other posts?
    (Ready. / Some tweaking. / Needs work.)

    b. Social media integration. Does the cart allow you to easily make use of social media sites? (Ready. / Some tweaking. / Needs work.)

Summary

Whether you are in the market for a new shopping cart solution, or want to improve your existing platform from an SEO perspective, make sure you are nice to the Googlebot. Use the checklist above to evaluate a cart for its SEO qualities. Understand Googlebot’s priorities, or suffer the consequences otherwise.

Jon Hos

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Comments ( 5 )

  1. Moonbeam October 14, 2010 Reply

    This is a great article, thanks for posting it. I am very new to carts and it is confusing sometimes. If you could give an opinion I would be grateful. If you had to choose between a ready made cart, like shopify, or something like Tradingeye which would be your choice and why?

  2. Alex Mulin October 15, 2010 Reply

    Nice set of features to compare shopping carts. Hope someone will create a chart like that.

  3. Jason October 15, 2010 Reply

    Good article. Having used many different shopping cart systems myself, I find that most have some SEO friendly features but the one that I would recommend if I had to would be the Newtek Cart. Not only does it meet all the SEO specs listed above, there are many other design and customizations aspects that are better then most in my opinion. For what it is worth, you can check out a demo here: http://www.crystaltech.com/newtekcart.aspx

    I do not work for the developers of the shopping cart. I merely make the suggestion based on my own experiences with other shopping carts such as zencart, oscommerce, prestashop, cart weaver etc.

  4. Steve @Erraticblog October 19, 2010 Reply

    Great article Jon, I look forward to more in your new monthly column.

  5. Daniel Kram October 19, 2010 Reply

    Thank you for the article.
    My only comment is, the need for social integration may be overrated when it comes to a shopping cart.
    Sure, integrate the site, but not so much so on the cart: IMHO.

    Daniel