The battle for organic search performance can be won or lost before a site launches. Choices made in the design and implementation stages impact the ability of an ecommerce business to change critical elements for search engine optimization, handcuffing what is typically one of the largest drivers of traffic and revenue.
Ecommerce platforms require a special breed of SEO. It must capitalize on the benefits of scalable architecture, send consistent signals for search engine algorithms, and be easy to optimize.
The following tips will help an ecommerce site start off strong, or help prepare it for the next redesign or migration.
Ecommerce SEO relies on the strength of the catalog for a hierarchical taxonomy of categories and facets. Each of those represents a page that must fight for organic search rankings. The collective success of those pages determines how much revenue your ecommerce site will drive through organic search.
Organic traffic hinges on the existence of relevant pages to optimize. Ensure that your taxonomy allows for a unique landing page for each critical keyword theme for which you need to rank.
Ensure that your taxonomy allows for a unique landing page for each critical keyword theme for which you need to rank.
For example, if you sell shoes and your taxonomy is organized by gender at the highest category level, create an actual page for “women’s shoes” instead of having the click in the navigation open a menu to display subtypes of women’s shoes. Without that page, you cannot target a valuable keyword.
Also, make sure that any product category with traffic-generating keyword themes has its own page instead of being joined with another category. For example, if you need to drive revenue for both shorts and pants, don’t lump them into the same category of “shorts and pants” — or worse, “bottoms.”
Just as damaging, though, can be multiple exposures of subcategories and facets, as it creates duplicate content. If you’re planning to place the same subcategory under multiple subcategories, be certain that they all link to the same URL. For example, if “bike helmets” can be found under the categories of “cycling” and “safety gear,” make sure that both link to the same page.
The same applies to representing the same label as both a category and a facet. This is a common pitfall with gender, such as separate pages for a “women’s shoes” category and a “women’s” facet within the “shoes” category.
Every page that needs to drive organic search revenue needs its own URL. If it has keyword value and is a priority for your business, it needs a unique URL.
Facets should also generate crawlable pages, up to a combination of three facets. Without this step, you won’t be able to rank for product attribute combinations such as “black strappy sandals” or “18-inch bicycle wheels.” Keyword research will tell you how many and which attributes are valuable for organic search.
Likewise, the pages that need to drive organic search revenue must have indexable textual elements on them — not just images. Without text fields, there’s nothing to optimize to target page relevance that the search engines need to rank a page. The content should start as plain HTML text and then be progressively enhanced for modern browsers and devices.
Other important tips for ecommerce SEO include:
- Optimize the system default title tags and meta descriptions to improve the amount and type of information displayed, and to best represent your site’s brand at the end of the title tag.
- Focus on Google’s mobile-first index. Sites with responsive experiences will fare the best in Google’s new index, but optimally implemented mobile sites can still rank well.
- Use structured product data like price, ratings, and availability to enable rich snippets in search results.
- Ensure that the site doesn’t generate soft 404 errors. Use a true 404 error if a file cannot be found.
- Always implement 301 redirects when changing URL structure, removing content, and making any other major change to a site.
Content Management Systems
The ability to optimize content requires an optimal content management system. Otherwise, SEO professionals have to rely on developer teams.
At a minimum, the CMS should enable manual overwrites of defaults for the basic SEO elements: title tags and meta descriptions. (Meta keywords should be removed.) Also, the CMS should allow the editing of every textual content field on every page — headings, promotions, body copy, descriptions. If it’s text, it should be easily changed, without developer intervention. Pages should not inherit textual elements from their hierarchical parents.
At a minimum, the CMS should enable manual overwrites of defaults for the basic SEO elements: title tags and meta descriptions.
The CMS should also enable the ability to modify key page-level technical attributes, such as keyword URLs and canonical tags, and for 301 redirects as you sunset individual pages.
These same CMS requirements hold true for product information management systems, where descriptions and other product information are stored.
Access to CMSs and PIMs is sometimes gated by internal processes. An SEO team in large organizations rarely has access to accomplish all of these optimizations. However, enabling the business overall to make the changes relieves some of the pressure on the development staff and enables them to focus on more technically related updates.
Lastly, don’t forget to implement tracking. Without it, you won’t be able to respond to questions or make data-driven decisions, such as which areas to optimize first.
Make sure that there’s a web analytics program in place. You don’t necessarily need to implement SEO tags, as traffic from search engine domains is considered to be organic by default if it doesn’t trigger a paid search tag. However, it’s critical that other channels have tags place so that organic search isn’t overstated.
If the site is on a new domain, new subdomain, or new HTTPS protocol, create and verify a new site in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools immediately after launch. This is very important. These tools are the only way to receive communication and critical technical and performance data from these major search engines.