SEO for e-commerce sites presents its own unique challenges and goals. By the very nature of an e-commerce site, it may have thousands of pages. Ideally, each landing page should be optimized with a unique meta description tag, URL, product description and customized image filenames, but in practical terms, with hundreds or thousands of products and product variations, this is not all that realistic.
Here are some SEO e-commerce tips to help you show your competitors who’s the boss when it comes to search engine rankings.
Keywords are the foundation of SEO for e-commerce campaigns. Put simply, there are two types of keywords; ‘broad keywords’ that people use to research products and ‘money keywords’ when they are ready to enquire about or buy your product. This can be quite a complicated process for e-commerce sites, as your prospective customers may search for your product in many ways. Here are some e-commerce keyword tips:
- optimize for both ‘broad’ and ‘money’ keywords – ‘money’ keywords may have a lower search volume but a higher conversion rate
- optimize for long tail product names with the full model number, for example – it may be lower in search volume but will show later in the buying cycle and will convert better.
- optimize for both singular and plural product types
- optimize for product name and location
- optimize for brand categories
- optimize for seasons
- optimize for color variations
- optimize for different price points
Search engine-friendly infrastructure
Although it’s very tempting for an e-commerce site like a design brand clothing label to use Flash, it’s not the best choice for business sites. Not only does it render slower, search engines find it very difficult to read Flash. If you have your heart set on a website built with Flash, most SEO companies would still recommend having an HTML-style navigation and content template, which allows you to have the best of both worlds.
By nature, e-commerce sites can involve thousands of products/pages. Optimizing each page by hand is often impractical, and there may be a need to automate some SEO tasks. If a search engine perceives that two pages on your e-commerce site are similar, it will choose the best page to serve up to consumers.
Each page on your site ideally should have relevant metadata based on the keywords you’re trying to rank for, including:
- a single URL for each product
- unique title pages and meta descriptions
- distinctive image file names
- unique heading tags
One of the main difficulties that SEO consultants can run into when optimizing e-commerce sites is duplicate content. This can occur when an e-commerce site has several branches and copy has been replicated across different sites, or an e-commerce site is selling products and has just copied information from the supplier’s website. Duplicate content can also occur when products are included in multiple categories.
Ways to create fresh content on e-commerce sites are:
- re-writing content that appears on manufacturer’s websites
- creating a company blog showcasing new product lines, giving hints/tips, and providing industry news (also good for link building – see below)
- adding an events page outlining functions your company is holding and other industry-related events
- creating a page outlining special promotions, seasonal offers and competitions
- uploading media releases to your website
- creating a page with user-generated reviews
- adding a partners and affiliates page
Search engines frown upon duplicate content and prefer fresh and unique content. Ask your web developer to create URL rewrites, so only a single URL exists for each product, apply the rel=”canonical” tag to duplicate pages, so search engines keep one for ranking purposes and drop others and create a robots.txt file in your root folder – in simple terms, this tells search engines what pages to index. This will prevent duplicate pages created by category listings from being indexed.
Link building activities
Link-building principles for e-commerce websites definitely still apply – a corporate website needs quality, trustworthy and relevant links to increase the site’s authority with Search Engines and boost rankings. Mix up your keyword-rich anchor text with variations of keywords, link to product pages that appear in category pages and deep link to your best-converting product pages.
Some e-commerce link-building ideas include:
- including a blog on your website showcasing new product lines, giving hints/tips, providing industry news etc to use as link bait and encourage other websites to link back to your product
- encouraging satisfied customers to write reviews about your products and services on industry-related sites
- asking business-to-business clients happy with your product offerings to put a recommendation and link on their website
- sending your product for review to authoritative sites in return for a link to your website
- asking vendors, suppliers, dealers, and manufacturers to put a link on their website
- writing guest articles giving tips/hints on industry-related blogs in return for a link back to your website
- distributing online media releases to industry-related sites with a link back to your website in return
- running competitions on your website to encourage people to post the competition link on their personal blogs or social media sites
- analyzing your competitor’s websites and see what quality websites are linking back to their website
Internal link building
Internal link-building strategies very much apply to SEO for e-commerce sites. Ideally, you want potential customers to only have to navigate within three levels of your website before they find what they are looking for. Internal links help Search Engine spiders crawl and index your e-commerce site. Linking smartly between products and categories can also help your SEO by giving certain pages more authority.
Image SEO is also a concern for large e-commerce sites that may have thousands of images of their products on their pages. Search engines cannot read images, so not only do all images require ALT text (alternative text), but there must be enough copy on the page to allow for sufficient on-page optimization to let search engines know what it is about and rank the page accordingly. Google Image Search has become an important referrer to drive traffic to your website.
Here are some tips on image SEO for e-commerce sites:
- adding ALT text (alternative text) to all images – the Alt text will render when the image is not available, plus tell search engines what this image is about
- creating an image folder on your web server that’s accessible to Search Engines
- avoiding duplicate content on your website by using a robots.txt to prevent the crawler from looking at the images you don’t want indexed
- uploading only web-friendly images, so the speed of your site isn’t slowed down, without compromising on image quality
- choosing a file name that reflects the dedicated keyword and content of the page
Page speed is an important factor in SEO for e-commerce sites, and it also helps to increase conversion rates. If your pages are taking a long time to load, visitors may decide to bounce off your site and go to a competitor’s site. For usability reasons, site speed is a signal in Google’s algorithm, so a slow-loading site may be given a lower ranking. There are several issues that affect site speed – speak to your web developer about optimizing your site.
HTML sitemaps for large sites can be difficult to implement, but it is vital to successful SEO for e-commerce sites. Use a main sitemap which links to categories but also has a sub-sitemap for that category. The sitemap serves several purposes; it makes it easier for search engine spiders to crawl your website, you can submit the XML version of the sitemap to search engines, and it’s also useful for visitors looking for information at a glance.
Chances are that you are eventually going to run out of certain items, or you will simply no longer carry them. If you simply remove the page, this could lead to an SEO hit. You can do the following instead:
- Leave the pages up – You do not need to replace, hide or delete the pages, just let people know that the item is currently unavailable. This is an acceptable option if you know that your item(s) will be in stock again later.
- Offer alternative items – Instead of just removing the link altogether, you can offer different, relevant alternatives. These may include products in the same quality and price category, identical products from different brands, newer models/versions of the same product, and the same product but with a different colour.
Optimizing an e-commerce site may seem overwhelming at first but start by identifying your important landing pages and then drill down to the least important pages. At SEO Works, we have proven experience in corporate website design and e-commerce SEO. Contact us to find out more about SEO e-commerce sites and the variety of SEO packages we have available, catering from sole traders to large multinational corporations.