July 20, 2011
Ecommerce webmasters face unique problems when trying to optimize their sites for SEO. The standard logic behind listing products on the web is often in conflict with current SEO best practices. To make it even worse, it is generally much harder to change the structure of a site that has hundreds or thousands of categories and product pages even when it is clear a change could provide a great benefit. Due to this unique nature, ecommerce sites have different priorities as compared to other SEO campaigns.
Pay It Forward
A common situation in ecommerce is that a site owner learns that their site is in violation of some SEO logic and wants to solve the problem immediately. A few examples would be poorly written or generated title tags, long URLs and messy site structure.
Most ecommerce owners will likely have run into at least one of these issues and figuring out how to proceed from that point on is critical. If your URLs are too long you cannot simply shorten them, 301 redirect the old pages and hope for the best. That might result in a significant loss in link juice that outweighs the benefit you receive from shorter URLs. It is important to realize that you cannot transform your site overnight so create a plan of attack with an understanding that you do not want to undercut your current traffic.
The best plan in this example would be to have shorter URLs on newly created pages and test out redirecting a small sample of pages to see if there is a potential benefit. It is critical to remember that your competitors are in the same boat as they do not have perfectly optimized sites either. Think about how to use your discovery to create an advantage in the future. If you are already ranking and getting organic traffic this means you are in contention so executing a forward moving plan can result in sizable advantages.
Get It Indexed
It might seem obvious that indexing your content is important, but for large ecommerce sites this should be one of your primary concerns. Ecommerce sites often struggle to get links pointing at their product pages, so ranking these pages for less competitive longtail keywords is an essential source of highly targeted traffic. Take a look at your Google Webmaster Tools account under the sitemaps section (assuming you have submitted sitemaps!), and see the ratio of URLs you have submitted to the URLs showing up in Google’s web index. I highly recommend having separate sitemaps for different sections of your site as this will reveal more information than a single sitemap if one section is underperforming. In doing so you will have a basis to compare against which will aid in identifying the causes of the indexation problems.
Another critical aspect of getting pages indexed is to understand that not every page on your website is created equal. Google typically will index by crawling the pages with the most link juice and navigate outwards via links from that page. In most cases this is going to be the homepage so the pages you choose to link from there should be your most important. A common mistake for a large ecommerce site is to link to just the main categories or to be linking to too many pages. You want to use your homepage’s link juice to highlight the best pages on your site and this often may not be your main categories.
Furthermore, the closer a page is to a well linked page on your site the better the chance it gets indexed and ranks well. This means you will want to be linking those pages from your homepage and be cognizant of how your site structure prioritizes your pages in Google’s eyes.
Site Wide Improvements
As mentioned earlier the difficulty in managing SEO for an ecommerce site is often caused by the breadth of the categories and products already on the site. However, this can actually be a strength when you are able to make a small improvement that will have a site wide effect. Increasing your site’s overall rankings by 5% could increase your traffic exponentially higher than 5% because of the mechanics of how people click on search engine results pages (higher results get the majority of clicks). Things like improving your site’s loading time or getting some extra backlinks are massive opportunities for ecommerce sites to receive an across the board boost to their rankings. As Google moves towards supporting strong brands, the benefits of this kind of improvement cannot be understated. A trusted site will often rank competitive words simply on the strength of their domain and these branding benefits will likely be even greater in the future.
While ecommerce sites do present uncommon challenges when embarking on an SEO campaign, understanding the nuances is an area where large opportunities still exist. Because SEO for ecommerce has an added degree of complexity, it is a great barrier to help you differentiate from your competition making it all the more worthwhile.
Chris Warren is a web content specialist for www.batteriesinaflash.com an ecommerce store for batteries, chargers, solar panels and accessories. Follow him on twitter @BIAFgreen.