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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. Technical SEO Ecommerce

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.

Integrate Sitemaps

There are two main types of sitemaps: HTML sitemaps and XML sitemaps. And using each type of sitemap correctly is critical for SEO success.

HTML Sitemaps

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.

XML Sitemaps

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:

www.website.com/prod=cat=72&type=5&order=c

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:

www.website.com/category/product

Or to offer a real world example:

www.ClothingStoreBrand.com/kids-clothes/girls-pink-t-shirt

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:

site:ecommercewebsite.com

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.

A couple others worth checking out, and perhaps not quite as expensive, are Screaming Frog and the redirect checker from Ayima (a Google Chrome app.)

 

Tyler Tafelsky PPC EcommerceAbout 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.

3 Essentials of Search Engine Optimization for Ecommerce Sites

Ecommerce sites are conceptually similar in that they all have product categories, subcategories, product pages, shopping carts, and checkout processes. This makes the fundamentals of ecommerce search engine optimization, (SEO) relatively universal for most online stores; however, there are still a number of intricacies that contribute to better rankings.

In this article, we outline some of the most important concepts of SEO for ecommerce sites. Acknowledging these three components of search engine optimization will help you create a more prominent presence in the organic search results.

1. Optimize Product-Level Pages

Product pages are some of the most important page for ecommerce SEO. These are the pages that contain unique, value-driven content that is often optimized for specific (often times long-tail) keyword targets. When optimizing product-level pages for ecommerce SEO:

  • always do keyword research to know the exact keyword target/search query per product.
  • ensure all page text is crawl-able by search engine spiders.
  • make strategic use of headers, strong tags, and other content elements while optimizing product pages.
  • mention key product features, specifications, unique selling propositions in the content.
  • implement rich media like videos and image galleries.
  • infuse user-generated customer reviews on each product page.
  • display related products or additional selling pushes, such as 'products that might go good with this product' or ‘customers who bought this, also bought that.’

2. Proper Page Classification

Classifying pages on your ecommerce site is highly important to bolster category pages that have been optimized for ‘short tail’ keyword queries and generic searches. Proper page classification also ensures a more intuitive navigation and browsing experience for users (which also translates to better conversion rates). For effective classification of pages:

  • assign and organize product-level pages under tiers for product categories and subcategories.
  • organize the each product category into a hierarchy.
  • focus on more short-tail keyword optimization when doing category level SEO (such as brands or broad-based categories.)
  • List and link all relevant product level pages on each category page.

3. Avoid Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is common problem for ecommerce sites and can negatively impact your SEO efforts. In many cases, particularly with content management system (CMS) software, pages may be generated without acknowledging issues with duplicate content. Whether this be duplicate page titles and meta data, page copy, or complete pages, you'll want to be mindful of many considerations, including:

  • avoid duplicate content both on-page and off-page.
  • ensure that your have unique category pages (that show no signs of overlapping with other related pages and more importantly, have unique product pages.
  • assign source attribution to products by adding parameters to URLs.
  • when doing affiliate marketing, have alternate versions of your product information in different feeds. Create different sets of descriptions, titles, and other elements.
  • consider having select fields in the different feeds, reserving the full product data set for your website.
  • use Google Webmaster Tools, check search engine indexes and do analysis to identify and to eliminate duplicate content. These are three core components of SEO for ecommerce sites that must not go overlooked.

Although there are many other factors that go into the optimization of an ecommerce store, these three are the most essential can make or break your search engine optimization campaign.

In addition to these essentials mentioned above, cohesive ecommerce SEO campaigns will almost always include social media marketing as well as a number of off-page SEO strategies, such as link building, content marketing, and ongoing public relations management.

The idea is build a strong ecommerce brand through a number of channels, with SEO being the base for increased exposure in the search results.

 

This article written by Tyler Tafelsky, one of our Ecommerce SEO Specialists here at ClickCentric SEO.

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