In this part we’ll look at different techniques to improve your on page SEO and other ideas for improving your e-commerce sites SEO.
On Page SEO
One cornerstone of e-commerce SEO is the actual on page SEO. Getting these details right can put your site head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to ranking in the search engines.
Page Title Tag
These titles are what you see in the browser tabs or top of browser windows and are also used in the search engine results page.
These need to be unique per page and also descriptive, as they are highly visible.
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Title tag tips:
- Keep the length to around 50-60 characters to ensure maximum visibility
- Use “buying” keywords in the title
- Put keywords as close to the front of the sentence as possible, so long as it makes sense
- Don’t keyword stuff!
The meta description goes hand in hand with the page title and is used to provide a synopsis of the page.
There may be a small SEO benefit from the description, but really the main use of it is the help improve click through rate from search results.
With roughly 155 characters at your disposal the description should be crafted to explain what the page is about and to entice the user into taking the action of clicking the link.
The best way to think about meta descriptions is to consider them as a long title from an advert.
Whether the article is a product page or a blog post the actual page heading needs to be solid. The heading should be enclosed in H1 tags to denote its importance and it should contain appropriate keywords.
Even if the heading is a product name, you can still use keywords, so instead of “girl’s summer dress” you could use “girl’s summer dress for parties” if that keyword is valid and worth chasing.
Heading and Title Tips
Another way to handle product headings and titles to keep them on focus and unique is to use the Brand – Model – Item system.
When someone in a buying mood searches for a product they tend to be quite specific, so by using these details in the heading your helping search engines find the right pages on your store that match the searchers query.
Any subtitles on the page, whether in the main copy or used elsewhere should not use the H1 tags! Ideally H2 – H4 is good enough for most situations.
One or two subtitles per page should also try to contain the keyword you’re targeting.
This helps to reinforce the keywords importance.
Most blog articles range from 500 to 3,000+ words and it’s common to see lengthy articles there.
In contrast, most product pages contain barely any text whatsoever! This is a bad thing.
If possible every product page should have 1,000+ words of copy on it. Now, this won’t always be possible so don’t beat yourself up about it, but it should be tried.
One way to beef up the word count is to use a format like this:
- Description of product
- List of product features
- Description of key features in more details
- Benefits of the product
- Product specifications
An important part of writing any product copy is to keep it as interesting as possible for the subject matter: dry text is just too dull to be read. Don’t go overboard though, just write in a casual and normal way and you should be fine.
Important: Don’t use the manufacturers description! By all means refer to it for features and benefits but don’t copy and paste it. If you do not only will you end up sounding like half of your competitors but you also run the risk of being penalised by Google for duplicate content!
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Image size and quality isn’t really a part of SEO, but you should be looking to make sure the images you supply are big enough to see detailed, numerous enough to cover all necessary angles and quality enough to look good. This will simply help your user experience, and the keeping people on your site longer will increase the chance of sales and reduce the bounce statistics that can cause lower rankings.
From an SEO perspective you need to do the following with images:
Search engines that index images can read file names, so having them optimized is essential, especially for an online store as images are often searched as much as a general search.
Rather than use uninformative filenames like image001.jpg, use names like boys_winter_jacket_blue.jpg
The title text is displayed when someone hovers over the image and can also be picked up by search bots. Again, this needs to be descriptive and can include keywords. I would recommend keeping it under 125 characters for accessibility reasons.
The alt tag is an interesting one. It shouldn’t be used for SEO purposes as such, as it is used for accessibility and it should describe the image.
E.g. if you have and image of a girl in a red summer dress your alt text could be “girl in red knee length cotton summer dress”. Worded correctly this can help by including keywords while still making sure it accurately describes the image.
Most e-commerce platforms allow you to craft custom URLs for your pages: if yours doesn’t you may want to consider an alternative.
Some URLs, like Amazon’s, are incredibly long and meaningless at first glance. This is a bad type of URL and you can only get away with it if, well, if you’re Amazon!
For the rest of us, we need to make sure the URL’s are as search engine and user firnedly as possible.
Bad URL: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01BTTUPPA/ref=s9_acss_bw_cg_EHD1201A_1b1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-2&pf_rd_r=9BSM871R3263X0ZQ90TS&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=bde7f422-1ffc-4b2a-8c26-8ef40b43185e&pf_rd_i=15450567011
Good URL: https://www.yoursite.com/watches/mens-watches/fossil-q-wander-leather-touchscreen-smartwatch
The difference here is incredible and makes it easy for bots and humans alike to understand where that URL goes.
Sometimes referred to as Schema, rich snippets allow search engines to see in detail what something is about as you tag the code in such as way as to be clear.
Here is an example of rich snippet code:
Looks complicated right? I’ll be honest, to do it manually it’s a nightmare, but luckily there are many different systems and programs out there that can help you make sure your products are marked up correctly, without having to delve into code.
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That image shows a product that has been marked up with rich snippet code in the search results. It makes the result stand out, and while Google makes the final decision if it shows up like that or not, it’s still worth the effort to make sure your products are properly set up.
If nothing else, it makes it simpler for bots to know what the product is and its relevance.
Avoid Duplicate Content
I’ve mentioned duplicate content a few times in terms of using similar blocks of text on multiple pages, but what if you have a product that is shown on multiple pages and the content is effectively the same? A product like a t-shirt in various colors or sizes.
Well, there’s a few ways to get around this.
#1 Don’t do it!
Don’t use multiple pages for the same product! Instead use filters to allow customers to change sizes, colors and patterns.
#2 Use Canonical links
Adding a canonical link to pages that you deem to be duplicates of the main page will stop Google from registering them as pages
<link href="http://www.yoursite.com/canonical-version" rel="canonical" />
Adding the above to a page will tell Google etc. To actually give all link juice and rankings to the http://www.yoursite.com/canonical-version page and not the current one.
#3 No Index
Add the following to any pages you don’t want Google to bother with:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex">
The next time Google checks the page it will either ignore it or remove it from the indexing.
While perhaps only supplying a minor SEO boost, having your e-commerce site secured with SSL adds a huge boost to building trust with your visitors.
SSL certificates should be used by e-commerce sites even if you don’t handle payments on site (e.g. if your customers are redirected to PayPal for payment), because it really does envoke a sense of trust.
Often seen as a means to an end rather than a potential SEO boost, categories are often ignored by e-commerce stores.
Instead, you should be making sure that the category name is as accurate as possible, the same with the “slug” (the part of the URL containing the category name).
Categories in systems like WordPress also have their own pages and you can and should make sure that the category page title is optimized with an appropriate keyword.
As well as this, category pages are often barely more than a list of sub categories. Take advantage of this from and SEO perspective and add a keyword rich description to the page.
Not only does it make it more interesting and informative for users, but it means less thin content on your site.
It’s often the case that a product will go out of stock or even be removed from inventory completely.
In these situations it’s tempting to remove the page completely – don’t!
Removing the page will result in a higher number of 404 errors and confused customers, especially if the page has been indexed in the search engines and linked to from other sites.
Instead you can:
- Redirect the page to another product
- State on the page that the product is out of stock
- Add a clear Call to Action on the page directing the visitor to another similar product
Retaining the existing page, even if you remove it from your listings, is better from an SEO perspective than simply removing the page.
The easier a site is to use the longer people stay on the site, the longer people stay on the site, the more weight search engines give you as they deem your site to be of value to people.
As such making your site easy to navigate and buy from adds an indirect boost to SEO.
You can achieve this by maintaining a streamlined site structure, keeping your navigation simple, using breadcrumbs, making your cart system as easy to use as possible, and making sure your fonts and writing is well structured and legible.
Ever since social networks became all the rage links have been given a back seat in most people’s SEO strategy, but this is a costly mistake.
Links, both internal and external, are still a big part of the ranking algorithm search engines use, it’s just that the way they use this information has changed.
It used to be that you could send thousands of poor quality links to a web page and get it to rank for a term very easily.
Nowadays that tactic is more likely to get your site de-indexed than rank!
Search engines are looking for high quality, genuine links and they know how to tell which links are good and which aren’t.
Having your pages, both product pages and blog posts interlink is a great strategy to use.
Interlinking them in a relevant way can help visitors find associated content, keeping them on site longer and adding value.
It also keeps search bots on the site for longer, indexing more.
Internal links added on purpose should still be used sparingly, with the user in mind at all times, but they should be done.
Great examples of this is blog posts about that discuss a problem a person might have linking out to related products that can help solve that problem.
E.g if a post is called “The Best Shoes for Nurses”, it could link out to several different types of shoes suitable for spending hours on your feet.
Sending people away from your product pages is usually frowned upon, because let’s face it you want them to buy not read, but you can add internal links from your home page and category pages to more information topics.
Getting people to link to your site from their own adds something called “link juice”. If the linking site has a lot of authority and rank to it, it sends you more link juice than a random blogger site that doesn’t get much traffic itself.
As such when looking to get links to your site, fewer high quality links is where you should be spending your energy.
Examine Your Competitors
Use tools such as SEMRush to spy on your competitors backlinks (links going to their site) to see who and what sort of sites are linking to them.
This can give you an idea for who you should be reaching out to gather links.
How exactly can you get links though? You can’t just ask random people for them, it just won’t work.
The best way is to start building a relationship with potential sources of links and to offer them something in return.
For example you could
- Offer to write a guest post related to their niche and yours
- Create a relevant infographic and see if they’d like to post it
- Create an e-book that they could offer to their visitors
Once you are able to add a link, if you have the ability to (which isn’t always the case) make sure that the links that point back to your site are varied in both the Anchor text (the text that the link is on) and the page being linked to.
If all your backlinks are to your home page with your website name as the anchor text it will raise flags with the search engines and potentially get you penalized!
Sometimes it’s fine to have the links go back to a product page but sometimes it doesn’t make sense to.
If need be, create some new articles and pages specifically to be linked to where you can offer the visitors value and link these to specific products.
Other SEO Techniques
As well as the above there are some more general things you can do with your site to make it more SEO friendly. Some of these are indirect while others are definitely in the long list of factors that determine your ranking.
While you will of course be trying to limit the number of 404 errors on your site, they will happen – all it takes is someone to link to your site and make a typo!
To counter this make sure that you have a solid 404 page that does more than just tell people there’s a problem.
Offer up a search field, maybe provide a list of popular categories. If your system has the technology, maybe offer links to similar pages related to what they tried to find.
Also, always make sure there’s a way to get back to the home page from the 404 page and make it clear.
If your site is slower than a slug with a hangover, then you have a problem! Slow loading sites will turn people away in droves. According to Kissmetrics there is a direct relationship between slower loading speeds and the likelihood of people leaving the site.
Discussing site speed in details is outside the scope of this article but some elements to look at are:
- Caching the site
- Optimizing images
- Using a Content Delivery Network
Mobile Friendly Site
E-commerce on mobile devices is increasing so you must make sure your site will work well on smaller displays.
Some people will opt for the app route but generally this is unnecessary so long as the site is mobile optimized
Even if you do create an app, the site working on small devices should not be overlooked!
A sitemap is an XML file (machine readable) that contain links to every page on your site. This is one of the first thing search engine bots will look for so it’s important to have one.
Depending on the size of your site one sitemap should be enough, but if your site is large you can separate the different parts of your site into individual sitemaps. Search engines will accept up to 50,000 sitemaps, but you really don’t need to go that far!
Audit Your Site
SEO is not a set it and forget it task, instead you should be performing an SEO audit of your site at least once or twice a year top make sure that everything is as good as it can be.
Luckily there are sites like Screaming Frog (weird name I know) that can crawl your site and provide a report detailing any issues it finds. It also has a free version that will work just fine for most small to medium sized e-commerce sites.
SEO for e-commerce sites is really no different to performing SEO on a regular business site or blog, it just needs a little more preparation.
By taking care to improve the SEO of your e-commerce site, you really will be ahead of a large number of your competitors who for unknown reasons either don’t bother with SEO or do it badly.
Spend time to get it right and it will reap you’re the rewards.