Search Engine Optimization is one of the most important parts of eCommerce, but also presents significant challenges. In this series of posts, we'll hear from some successful eCommerce merchants about the specific challenges they've faced in the realm of SEO, and how to overcome them.
1. Positive User Engagement from Searchers
More and more, Google's algorithm is integrating positive user signals into its rankings and we now believe they may be as important as backlinks. To capitalize on that, you need to get clicks from your search listings and then keep site visitors engaged when they land on your site.
Two things help with getting clicks:
- Creating a title tag (headline) that catches people's attention. Use words like "sale", "huge selection", "discount" and "free shipping" in your title tags to draw attention.
- Creating a compelling meta description that makes people want to click. Because AdWords ads are split test so much, we typically look at the words people are using in their AdWords ads for any search term we are targeting and we incorporate those words into our meta descriptions.
Now that you have them on your site, you need to get them to stay there longer and hopefully visit at least one more page. Putting videos on a page certainly helps keep people on a page longer. Placing prominent links to super helpful, comprehensive buyer's guides gets you not only a multiple page visit, but also a longer time on site. Buyer's guides have the additional benefit of helping with conversions because a customer who is confident in the choice they are making, clicks the Add to Cart button more often.
When your listing gets clicked AND people stay on your site and don't immediately bounce back to the search results after viewing just one page, it is a very positive user engagement signal. When your click through rate and user engagement signals are better than the sites above yours in the search results, it is quite likely you will rise past them in the rankings.
2. Unique Product Page Content
One of the biggest challenges I faced with SEO in eCommerce was optimizing unique product page content for every single item. It was nightmare filling in meta data, product URLs, and unique content and product descriptions for every single page of my eCommerce site. I had to come up with hundreds of titles and content and manually enter them in. I was trying to combat duplicate content as that may trigger a serious SEO ranking penalty.
The startup days of my online business were strenuous, but as I started to learn more about eCommerce, I found ways to enhance and improve my SEO. The first thing I figured out was a workaround for my duplicate content issue. By using a tag code (a rel=canonical tag) I was able to tell the search engines to avoid these pages and not treat them as unique. I also started using apps and templates to automate the process when creating new product detail pages. My SEO productivity improved leaps and bounds which gave me more time to focus on other aspects of my business.
— Lisa Chu, Black N Bianco – Los Angeles, California
3. Functional XML Sitemaps
One of the biggest challenges and biggest opportunities, especially for large eCommerce sites, is improving indexation. Sites with over 200K URLs will quite often struggle with getting their product and category page URLs indexed.
To improve this, make sure your XML sitemaps are as clean as possible and that they’re not being generated too often (once a week is fine). Make sure the URLs in the sitemaps are serving 200 responses (no redirects), and that you’re using the best version of the URL. Large sites will often have multiple versions of a product page URL (keyword-friendly and not keyword-friendly), so you should only include one in the sitemap, as you want Google to focus on the better of the two. The non-keyword friendly URL should redirect or at least canonical to the keyword friendly version, so you don’t want to include it in the XML sitemaps.
— Vladimir Fefer, SEO Manager at Zoro.com – Chicago, Illinois
4. SEO-Friendly, Reliable URLs
One of the biggest SEO challenges we have recently faced, and learned the hard way, are personalized URLs. In the early stages of our development, we experimented with alternative URL names to boost our SEO and Google page ranks. After weeks of updating and tweaking, we began to notice a large uptick in broken URL links indexed on Google. We learned quickly to settle on our URL names early, track our changes diligently, and establish 301 redirects immediately. A 301 redirect will pass your old page's SEO rankings to the new redirected page and, more importantly, will prevent your valuable customers from hitting the show-stopping 404 error.
— Joshua Trunk, Owner at Build Your Beard – Tamaqua, PA
5. A Knowledgeable SEO Team
I believe one of the biggest mistakes any eCommerce company will make is not bringing someone that truly knows SEO on board. The mistakes that can happen without oversight will be costly and time-consuming to fix, let alone the problems they can cause to the site's rankings. SEO can take months to build, but days to destroy. To be truly competitive, knowing the basics isn't enough.
Issues I’ve seen on a lot of e-commerce sites:
- Poor site design (bad user experience)
- Not mobile-ready
- Poor product descriptions & boilerplate
- "Get to rank one" schemes (buying backlinks)
- Not actively marketing the site through brand development and outreach
- Not optimizing site for speed
— Vu Tong, Content Marketing Manager at Cocoweb – Irvine, California
Overcoming these SEO Challenges
These are just five of many possible SEO roadblocks an eCommerce merchant can encounter, but thankfully, the trail has been blazed by successful entrepreneurs like the ones contributing above. Knowledge of what to do, and what not to do, provides a significant advantage— especially in a field like SEO, in which mistakes can cause so much damage.
Knowledge isn't all there is to it, though. You need a way of applying that knowledge, and using your acquired SEO skills to best effect. Your ability to do this will be heavily dependent on the eCommerce software you use. Some platforms are very restrictive, preventing you from making changes to implement strategies like optimizing your meta tags, or forcing you to set up much of your SEO manually.
An SEO-friendly eCommerce platform is built with all current SEO strategies in mind, and provides you simple ways to implement them. This is an important consideration, as your online store's search rankings will have a profound effect on the success of your business. When choosing eCommerce software, always keep SEO in the front of your mind.