A complete guide to SEO for ecommerce sites; improve the rankings of your online shop with white hat SEO and increase sales.
SEO for ecommerce sites can be challenging. Competition (particularly for the ‘money’ keywords) is fierce – after all everyone wants to be number 1 and by definition only 1 site can get there!
The good news is, with a combination of knowledge, determination and hard work you can ensure your site reaches those coveted top positions in google and that your sales graph keeps moving upwards.
Need some help getting there? Well, here is my guide to SEO for ecommerce sites.
Do your research
Before you start SEO work on your (or your client’s) ecommerce site you will need to do your homework. Specifically, this should involve: –
- Keyword research – high priority keywords and long tail
- Competitor analysis
- Current rankings audit
- Audit of existing content/site structure
Make sure the basics are in place
Make sure your ecommerce system is set up for the SEO fundamentals, i.e.
- Unique title tags for each page (just the name of the product/category will do)
- Compelling meta description for each product
- Proper use of h1 tag
- Make sure product images have alt text
- Make sure there is a good link hierarchy, i.e. important pages linked from the home page etc
Avoid duplicate content/canonical url issues
One of the biggest issues for ecommerce sites is duplicate content. For example a category page might (should!) give a facility to sort products by price, popularity etc.
If the site has not been set up correctly this can end up in lots of duplicate, clutter pages and potentially cause a site wide penalty. You should use the rel=canonical tag and also the meta noindex, follow tag on all but the default category listing. This tells google not to index any of the sort pages and where to look for the main page.
rel="canonical"link to the
<head>section of the non-canonical version of each HTML page.To specify a canonical link to the page http://www.example.com/product.php?item=swedish-fish, create a
<link>element as follows:<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/product.php?item=swedish-fish"/>
Copy this link into the
<head>section of all non-canonical versions of the page, such as http://www.example.com/product.php?item=swedish-fish&sort=price.
If you publish content on both http://www.example.com/product.php?item=swedish-fish and https://www.example.com/product.php?item=swedish-fish, you can specify the canonical version of the page. Create the
<link>element:<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/product.php?item=swedish-fish"/>
Add this link to the
<head>section of https://www.example.com/product.php?item=swedish-fish.
The noindex tag looks like this
<meta name="ROBOTS" content="NOINDEX, FOLLOW" />
and tells google not to index the page, but to follow any links.
Other things to look out for are things like ‘add review’ links. For example, these might go to a separate page with something like http://thesite.com/product/addreview – you would want to add the noindex tag to any pages like this too as they don’t belong in google’s index and are adding unnecessary clutter. If a site has 1,000 products, these add review links could add a further 1,000 worthless pages, which is not going to be good for your site’s seo.
Basically, go through the site and anything that shouldn’t be there – get rid of it!
Use friendly urls
Make sure your system is set up to use search engine friendly urls, i.e. nameofsite.com/product instead of nameofsite.com/?init=product&id=123
There is a potential SEO benefit and it also looks better in search results, bookmarks and shares.
Take the time to write product descriptions
For your product pages to rank well, they will need unique content, so you should take the time to write a unique 300 word or so product description for every product in your shop. Copying and pasting suppliers descriptions simply won’t do!
I’ve written extensively on this and why it is so important here.
Write a description for each of your category pages
Again, each of your category pages should have at least 300 words of unique content on it and this is a good opportunity to use relevant keywords. You can put your descriptions below your products if you like, but make sure the content is on there and that it is written for humans not for search engines!
Interlink your products
Most good ecommerce systems have an option for related products, but going beyond that, it’s a good idea to put contextual links to other products within product descriptions (where relevant).
Note: Don’t go crazy with this… just link when there is a genuine reason for doing so and try and vary anchor text.
Add social sharing functionality to your product pages
Social signals are a key ranking factor these days, so make it easy for people to share, tweet, like your product pages. Pinterest can also work well for product listings, particularly if your images are high quality.
Add a blog to the site
If your ecommerce site doesn’t have a blog, then add one as a priority!
There are a number of benefits of having a blog as part of your store; here are a few of them…
- You will be creating more content/pages, which will give you greater search engine visibility, particularly for long tail searches
- When it comes to link building it will be much easier to pitch a content page to a potential linker than a product page.
- Blog pages are more likely to attract social shares/buzz
In terms of content, things like ‘how to guides’ and tutorials related to your products are great for both bringing in traffic and generating sales.
For example a site selling hair products might have guides on creating different celebrity looks, with each article then recommending products from within the store.
Consider how you will deal with old/expired products
Products change, so the chances are that over time you will have old products, which are no longer available. These product pages may have attracted links while they were active, so the last thing you want is just to delete the products and have the url go to a 404 error page.
There are two things you can do.
- Keep url active, show product out of stock/unavailable and list alternative products
- Select the product that has replaced the old product (or the most similar product) and put a 301 redirect in from the old product to the new one.
Personally I prefer option 2 as if the old product did have inbound links then you will be giving the new product an SEO boost, but either option works well if implemented correctly.
Optimise your site’s loading time
There is some debate about whether loading time is a ranking factor, but certainly a page which is slow to load will drive away visitors and give a poor experience, so make sure your system is optimised for load time.
Some systems (such as magento) support caching, which can speed things up and hopefully it goes without saying that you should make sure images are well compressed (without compromising quality).
Build good quality links
Focus on high quality links from related, trusted sites in your niche. Check out my guide to white hat link building for full details of the type of link you should be targeting, but here are a few ideas for the type of links that work well for ecommerce: –
- Reviews on popular blog sites in your niche
- Press mentions
- Guest posts on selected sites in your sector
A good content/social media strategy for your site’s blog should also attract organic links.
Which ecommerce system is best for SEO?
Most systems will require a little tweaking from their ‘out the box’ format.
Personally I am a big fan of magento as it has a lot of good functionality already built in and is very easy to customise to how I want it. There is also a good, active community and a lot of plugins already available for things like canonical url issues.
So, that’s my guide to SEO for ecommerce sites. Like all things on the web there are no shortcuts and it will take time to get where you want to be, but implementing the on site factors above and developing a high quality link building/content strategy will get you on the right road to success!
Do you agree with my tips? Have anything else you would like to share? As always, feel free to leave a comment below![bigsignup]
If you would like more help with SEO for your ecommerce site, then I also offer a range of SEO consultancy services.
Update: If you’re looking for more tips, Matthew Woodward just published a pretty in-depth Ecommerce SEO guide. Check it out here.