OnPage SEO Factors to Consider When Building Your Online Store – Ecommerce SEO – Part 1

Ecommerce growth has been tremendous in this decade. As we are very near to the end of this decade, the steep growth and advancement in ecommerce field is eye dazzling. When we talk about retail business, the online ecommerce store has become inseparable part of any successful retail marketing strategy. The greatest example is America’s largest online retailer, Amazon.Com which started as online books and CD store, but soon diversified into different channels and now has almost three times more sales than its closest competitor.

Search engine optimization (SEO) for an ecommerce store can be a tough task. Heavy coding of backend and template driven approach makes it really difficult to make little changes in the ecommerce website. The main intention of the online shopping store is to increase sales and generate more revenue. The ecommerce stores are useful for users or rather I should say “Potential Buyers”, but doesn’t offer much value to the search engines as they have very little useful content, copy-pasted manufacturer product descriptions, almost no unique or user generated content with very poor linking structure.

I had hard time optimizing one of the client’s online store. He was using one of the open source shopping cart software (I don’t want to name which open source shopping cart) in PHP, which was pathetic if you look at it from SEO point of view. Although it had all the ingredients needed to make the best online shopping cart, it didn’t have the facility to insert different meta title and meta description tags for different pages. The URL structure contained numerous wild characters (&, +, = etc.) with category ids, rather than showing category name. There was no facility to insert image alt text. I hope this is enough of ranting!

So, when I sent all the onpage changes to PHP developer, it took him almost the same time as building a brand new shopping cart. The client was so obsessed with the store admin and backend administration that he didn’t wanted to change the shopping cart software even after making him understand that how unfriendly it was for search engines. So, it is my humble request to all the online retails to consider SEO when choosing their ecommerce shopping cart software.

In this ecommerce SEO series, I will be covering all the aspects related to search engine optimization for ecommerce site (Ofcourse my ranting will be there). This is the first article in the series which covers onpage SEO factors to consider when you are building your online store.

Keyword Research

As an SEO expert, you must be knowing the importance of keyword research in the SEO process. For keyword research of ecommerce sites, you need to target keywords which can convert visitors into customers. This kind of keywords is called transactional keywords. Even though transactional keywords may have less search volume, they are very likely to convert visitors. E.g. rather than targeting generic keyword like “Shoes”, you should target “Shoes Store Online”; which is more likely to attract visitors who are willing to buy.

There are many transactional keywords which can be used to determine the user’s intent, e.g. buy, for sale, cheap, new, discount, warehouse, store, online store, retail, price etc.

There are many keyword research tools available, but I only prefer few of them:

Google Adwords Keyword Tool
Wordtracker
SEMRush
SEO Book Keyword Tool

Content

Content plays very important role in search engine optimization. Content is king as they say, can help you in ranking better in the search engines. Ecommerce shopping sites always lacks the availability of fresh and unique content. The retailer is always tempted to copy – paste the product descriptions from the manufacturer’s website, but you should be having unique product descriptions. It should be atleast re-written in the proper format to make it unique from the manufacturer’s website. It is understandable that product features and other content can be changed as it is always similar on hundreds of sites, but proper and compelling description can really help in conversions. Also it is advisable to add generic keyword rich content on homepage and category pages. This will not only give proper information to your site visitors, but also help search engine crawlers.

It is also advisable to have blog on ecommerce site, to constantly provide fresh content. The blog can contain latest industry news and updates, and new product development information. This helps in building trust amongst the website users as they think that the company is aware of the new happenings and developments in the industry.

URL Structure

The most common problems with CMS (Content Management System) and ecommerce sites is their linking structure. The more easier you make it for search engine crawlers to crawl your site, the more beneficial it will be for you to rank better. Having product and category ids in the URL, won’t make any sense to your potential customers. Also if the navigation structure is not search engine friendly, it is hard for search engines to crawl actual product pages. It is very important for individual product pages to rank well as all the transactions are going to start from product pages. If the product pages have good content, they can rank for several long tail keywords, but for this to happen, they should be indexed properly in search engines.

Generally product pages are two (2) to three (3) levels deep down in the URL hierarchy. E.g. it can be like www.domain.com/category1/subcategory1/product.php, so it is hard for product pages to get the actual Google Pagerank they deserve, so if possible all the product pages should be at the root to get better exposure. E.g. it can be www.domain.com/product.php.

Now you will think that it might create duplicate content issue as the same product page will be on two different URLs. Both the URLs mentioned above will have the same content. In this case we can use newly introduced canonical tag. The following canonical tag should be placed on www.domain.com/category1/subcategory1/product.php URL:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”www.domain.com/product.php” />

This will notify Google which page to use in their index, and which page should have the Pagerank.

Also it will be useful if you use keywords in the product page urls, e.g. www.domain.com/keyword-search-phrase.php.

Other onpage SEO tips for Ecommerce sites

  • Make sure all the pages including homepage, category pages and product pages have proper meta tags. Page Title plays an important role in search engine optimization, so it is advisable to use important keywords in the title tag. Having generic keywords in the homepage’s title and relevant keywords on category and product pages will increase your chances of ranking for generic as well as long tail keywords.
  • All the product images must include image alt tags to identify what the image is all about. After all who doesn’t like little more traffic from image searches?
  • Keep the products pages two to three clicks away at the max, so visitors landing on your homepage doesn’t find it difficult to find what they are looking for.
  • Robust product search and advanced search should be always handy in the ecommerce layouts, so that people don’t waste time finding a particular product.
  • Putting product reviews by customers is a great way to have user generated content on the product pages. That way you gain confidence of potential customers and it will help in search engine rankings as well.
  • Try to use important keywords in heading tags (H1, H2 etc.) to give more importance to them.
  • Show your featured products on homepage, so that they can easily get crawled in search engines, and your visitors can know any special discounts or deals directly from the homepage.
  • Don’t stuff the keywords everywhere; use it wisely where appropriate, if search engines can’t find out about your keyword stuffing, users can.
  • Link to your internal pages with static links; don’t put links in JavaScript or flash.
  • Use nofollow tag for not so important pages, so that PageRank can be distributed amongst important pages.

I have tried to cover as many onpage aspects as possible. In the next article I will be discussing more on the off-page strategies and link building for ecommerce sites. If I am missing something, let me know in the comments below.