Practical eCommerce will soon publish our “Shopping Cart Roundup” PDF guide. This guide will offer suggestions for choosing the shopping cart that best fits a merchant’s needs. It will also list every shopping cart company that we know of.
One question that most all merchants have in evaluating a shopping cart is whether it has strong search engine optimization qualities. In fact, carts offer different approaches for maximizing SEO. SearchFit is a cart that bills itself as “search engine friendly,” and we asked its director of ecommerce, Tim Scott, what, exactly, makes a cart better or worse for search engine optimization.
PeC: Are all shopping carts equally good or bad for SEO?
Scott: “No, all shopping cart platforms are not equal with regards to their search engine optimization flexibility and functionality. Currently, there are several hundred shopping cart platforms, many of which are missing important features like complete control over page names, titles, meta tags, headings and highly configurable automatic site maps. Many have inherent architecture structural problems that make the sites they produce under-perform in search engine rankings.”
“For example, several popular shopping carts that run on ASP have an internal problem where every page is duplicated. Anyone who keeps up with SEO best practices knows duplicate content should be avoided wherever possible, and these carts haven’t figured out how to stop this particular problem.”
PeC: How can a merchant know if a cart is good or bad for SEO?
Scott: “Without a firm grasp on SEO, it would be hard for anyone to evaluate the SEO credentials of a prospective shopping cart. My advice to merchants who are not confident in their SEO knowledge is to read a basic guide on the topic before beginning to research shopping carts. This way, they will be better equipped to ask pertinent questions and find a cart that can really deliver on its SEO promises. Google published an SEO starter guide earlier this year – that might a good start for real beginners.”
“Additionally, merchants can check out the results other sites have had with the particular cart they are looking at. Do a Google search for the “big” keywords of their existing clients, and also for individual product names and more specific terms to see if they are really getting thorough indexing and ranking results.”
PeC: What are some major factors that can determine the SEO effectiveness of a shopping cart?
Scott: “The first thing a merchant should look for is flexibility. You need to have complete control over your website’s SEO. This starts with having the ability to customize individual web page names, titles, meta tags, headings and so forth. If you don’t have control over these items it is going to be difficult to properly optimize your website.”
“The second thing you should be looking for are SEO-related features that make initial site optimization and future changes easier and more efficient. For example, if you want to tweak your keyword strategy slightly, you need features that allow you to do that on every page of your site quickly, but still maintain the ability to control each individual page if you want or need to. Also make sure that your cart generates HTML and XML site automatically and that it updates them constantly.”
PeC: Are licensed carts or hosted carts better for SEO?
Scott: “Technically speaking, licensed versus hosted should not make any difference with regard to SEO. However, when you consider that having a licensed cart means that you are trusting someone within your company or within your hosting company with the configuration and maintenance of your server – someone who is unlikely to know the ins and outs of your particular cart – going with a hosted cart can sometimes save you from problems that can cause your site to have extended down time, which of course affects its rankings. It’s kind of a roundabout SEO problem, but I’ve seen many merchants have their sites crash in the search engines because a server administrator made an error or was unaware of a particular configuration setting that was important to their licensed shopping cart software.”
PeC: How can a merchant evaluate his or her present cart for SEO effectiveness?
Scott: “They can begin by answering the following questions. If you answer “no” to one or more of these questions, you should re-evaluate the platform you are currently using. Also remember that if you are dealing with a cart that is focused on SEO, you are much more likely to get helpful support and advice from a staff that more knowledgeable on the topic.”
- Does the shopping cart software allow me to set up rules for how to configure my page names, titles, meta tags, and headings, but still allow me to edit each one individually if I want to?
- Does the shopping cart software automatically generate HTML and XML site maps and update them when I make changes and additions to my site?
- Does the software automatically establish a redirect if a page name is changed?
- Does the software support and promote a site architecture that is SEO friendly? Does it allow navigation and linking strategies that will help me compete for the most competitive keywords?