The 7 Pillars of Technical SEO for Ecommerce Sites
Ecommerce sites are often massive and complex domains containing hundreds and thousands of pages. It's thus important that someone on your SEO or Internet marketing team understands the intricacies of technical SEO for ecommerce sites.
Although technical SEO focuses on the nuts and bolts of a website (typically the elements that are invisible to users), these technical elements can significantly impact a site's performance in countless ways.
In essence, technical SEO addresses the fluidity of crawling and indexing, the quality of user experience (or usability), and the overall SEO-friendliness of the website.
If you're interested in learning more about various aspects of technical SEO, then read on, my friend. Below I educate you on how technical SEO influences ecommerce site performance and SEO potential.
Find & Fix HTML Errors
There are a couple places to pinpoint HTML coding errors on a website. The first is Google Webmaster Tools, where you can look at the "error reports" feature. The second is W3C Markup Validation Service, a free tool that scans and lists all of the HTML errors and warnings that are present on a site.
Google Webmaster Tools only shows errors that are picked-up by Google bots, so this data might pose some limitations. So in addition to the W3C tool, you can also check Yahoo and Bing webmaster tools to pinpoint all potential errors.
The most critical issues that can impact SEO performance are crawl errors, like DNS lookup errors and 404 pages. These can be common on ecommerce sites, so take the time to address any significant HTML errors that arise.
There are two main types of sitemaps: HTML sitemaps and XML sitemaps. And using each type of sitemap correctly is critical for SEO success.
The HTML sitemap is a visible "index" on the website that contains links to almost every page of the site. I say "almost" because in some cases of websites with thousands of pages, many pages are left out. A big mistake I see with large ecommerce sites of the like is that they fail to include key product pages on the HTML sitemap.
Because product pages are the bread and butter to ecommerce SEO, it's important to include these pages on the sitemap (or at least those that you're trying to rank in search.) For very robust sites that face this issue, often times segmented sitemaps are a sound solution.
Additionally, you'll want to link the sitemap on all pages, such as in a site-wide header or footer. The HTML sitemap is your search engine spider food for SEO. Google spiders eat up sitemaps, which aids more efficient crawling, indexing, and ranking of your pages.
The XML sitemap, which is submitted to Google Webmaster Tools, is a list of all the pages on a website that instructs search engine spiders precisely what to index. In short, the XML sitemap helps search engines find all of the pages of a site. XML sitemaps are also very important in monitoring a website's index-levels, or to ensure key pages are being crawled and indexed.
When new pages are added to an ecommerce site, they should also be added to both the HTML and XML sitemap. Additionally, the updated XML sitemap should be re-submitted in Google Webmaster Tools to notify search engines to crawl and index these pages.
Pinpoint Duplicate Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
The uniqueness of each page's title tag and meta description is very important for ecommerce SEO. You can detect duplicate title tags and meta descriptions using Google Webmaster Tools or other crawling tools, such as SEO Powersuite's Website Auditor Tool.
Aside from being unique, title tags and meta descriptions should:
- be compelling, relevant, and incentivizing
- contain primary keyword targets
- be no longer than 70 characters for titles and about 155 characters for meta descriptions (to ensure all appear in the search results without being cut-off)
Utilization of Canonical Tags
In some cases with large ecommerce sites, the same content is on more than one page (or even worse, the same content is duplicated across multiple pages.) SEO-unfriendly scenarios like these call for canonical tags.
A canonical tag tells search engines which page is the preferred URL (or "canonical URL.") This will ensure the correct page is indexed and ranked according to your ecommerce SEO strategy.
For example, if the "money page" (as we like to call it) is www.ClothingStoreBrand.com/outdoor/north-face-jackets, but the same content is present on other URLs (such as www.ClothingStoreBrand.com/mens/north-face-jackets and www.ClothingStoreBrand.com/north-face/coats-jackets), then the rel=canonical tag needs to be applied.
Google itself has stated that it cannot guarantee to follow the canonical URL, so it's wise to completely eliminate any duplicate content found on the website.
Optimize Page URLs
The URLs of your pages should be short. (Shoot for less than 115 characters if possible). URLs should also be static in that there should only be one static URL for each page of the website.
Ecommerce sites are often built on a CMS (content management system) which can adversely impact the best practices of URL naming. For instance, some CMS platforms automatically generate URLs with excessive parameters, such as:
These cumbersome URL parameters make it difficult for search engine spiders to crawl and index the URL's content and, in some cases, can result in problems with duplicate content.
Similar issues can stem from ecommerce sites that assign session IDs. When users visit a website they are assigned a unique session ID (which is then included in the URL.)
For ecommerce SEO best practices, URLs should be keyword relevant and readable. The goal is to include the primary keyword targets, while ensuring URLs are short and unique from one another. Here's an example of a SEO-friendly URL naming convention:
Or to offer a real world example:
Ensure Proper Indexing
Indexing simply refers to URLs or webpages that have been successfully recognized (crawled) and stored (indexed) by search engines. It's important that all optimized pages are indexed in order for them to appear in the search results.
To ensure key pages have been indexed, it's useful to refer to Google Webmaster Tools where you can view the URLs that have been crawled. Uploading an XML sitemap helps to carry out proper indexing of the ecommerce site.
Another option, although a bit less efficient for technical SEO purposes, is to perform a Google search as follows:
Be sure to have no space between "site:" and the domain. The number of pages that are shown in the results reflects the URLs that Google has crawled and indexed. If there's a big discrepancy between the number of indexed pages and what's included on the sitemap, then further investigation is needed.
Implement or Correct Mishandled Redirects
Particularly for online stores, it's important to check existing redirects as they may be using 302 redirects (which are temporary) instead of 301 redirects (which are permanent.) Unlike 301 permanent redirects, 302 redirects do not pass link value for SEO.
If the site has an abundance of redirects, the technical SEO team should address any mishandled redirects as soon as possible. It's important to avoid removing redirects, as there may be backlinks pointing to a page (which may be providing SEO value.)
There are a few special tools that you can use to determine the nature and type of redirects being used. Here at Click Centric SEO, we use Website Auditor, one of the four awesome programs in Link Assistant's SEO Powersuite.
About the Author:
Tyler Tafelsky is the lead SEO analyst at Click Centric SEO. Tyler is well-versed in multiple facets of organic SEO for ecommerce sites, as well as PPC advertising, content marketing, and social media marketing.