How To Do SEO for E-commerce Websites A Complete Guide to E-commerce SEO for Better Rankings
We are living in a search marketing era where we divide our E-commerce Search Marketing strategies in two timelines i.e. “before Panda” & “after Panda”. Since we were told from the very beginning that content is the king therefore we still focuses a lot on content optimization when we talk about SEO of any website. But it’s not as simple as it sounds, specifically in case of the E-commerce websites SEO & Googles Panda.
Googles Panda algorithm basically filter out the websites with thin or duplicate content on its several pages. Unfortunately the penalty is site-wide, so if a considerable percentage of your pages are labelled as thin or duplicate content, your whole website will suffer the rankings loss in Google SERPS, especially on commercial keywords. This issue becomes critical for E-commerce websites as they have lots of products pages with very little content as description on these pages. The issue become more complex when CMS of a website create upto 6 different urls for a single product leaving us with 5 duplicate pages per product.
Now we may have several definitions of thin content due to subjective nature of usefulness of content. For a “technical” query, even 2 lines of content could be QUALITY content, if it answers the question. However some people argue that the quality of content can only be judged by the length of content or number of words. For a New York plumbing service website, it’s easy to adjust a couple of hundred words for its each page, however when it comes to E-commerce site, you can’t just slap a 400 word article on each product page. So the question is how to optimize the E-commerce website for Search Engines and how to make it Google-Panda-proof.
Following are some of the major areas of E-commerce website Search Engine Optimization. Focusing on the following areas will help you get better organic rankings in Google as well as other search engines for your E-commerce website.
Content Optimization for E-commerce Websites
An E-commerce site’s major portion consist of product pages. These product pages usually have a small description of about 4 to 5 lines. When it comes to electronics like mobile phones, you may put technical specification that will increase the word count on pages however you cannot do much when it comes to clothing or jewelry items. You can’t add 300 words on a page selling blue denim jeans. Even if you somehow do it, you cannot repeat the same stuff for red denim jeans product page. To overcome this issue consider the following major factors for E-commerce sites content optimization
1. Strategic Content Plan
Using a generic & duplicate product description supplied from the manufacturer can definitely hurt your rankings. To avoid this, you need to work smartly by creating detailed product reviews of popular products in each category. So for instance if you have 30 categories, you can select 1 or 2 most popular product of each category and add a product review on these product pages. This will help you in gradually increasing content on your website.
2. Manually Update Product Descriptions
Unless you are exporting feeds from affiliate sites like CJ, you should be able to write manual description of each product. For a website having 10,000 products, this sure seems to be a daunting task but it’s definitely worth the time as ignoring it may result in Panda penalty due to duplicate descriptions on your website. Rewriting all these descriptions will help you save your online brand from being hit by Google Panda and gone forever.
3. Avoid Content Duplication
Majority of E-commerce Carts, comes with TAG functionality where you enter a keyword and the CMS generates a page of all the products sharing same tag. This led to Content Duplication Issue because if you have a category page that list all the jeans and then you have a tag page for “jeans”, both pages will show the same data. To avoid this you must use Canonical tags on all the additional pages showing same data.
4. Encourage UGC (User Generated Content)
Make sure that your site structure supports & encourage user generated content in forms of reviews and comments. Make it as simple as possible for a buyer to add a product review or comment on a product page. This will help you generate content on each product pages efficiently & auto automatically.
5. Category Descriptions & Rich Interlinking
Categories descriptions are easy to generate and can be written manually for each category due to limited numbers of categories. Write a paragraph for each category and link to sub-category within that description. This will help Google understand content relationship as associating categories in an E-commerce site is always an issue due to simple navigational links.
6. Using Rich Snippets
Use Schema to let Google knows the nature and key attributes of a product. This will help Google algo better understand the product rather than just simply declaring it as a thin content page due to lack of content.
Optimizing Site Structure For E-commerce Websites
The most critical part of any E-commerce Site is its URL Structuring. I have personally seen cases where the shopping cart CMS was creating several urls for the same product and all were indexed by Google. This usually happens when you post the same product in several categories or attributes. Ideally, there should be only 1 url for each product and if there are other urls, they should have the canonical tag pointing to the main product url.
Let me show you an an example of this critical mistake.
Click Here to go to the actual Google search page
As you can see, there are 6 different urls indexed in Google, pointing to same product with same content. Companies usually don’t even realize such things due to lack of technical analysis of their websites and then wonder why their SEO efforts are unable to beat the competitor. They failed to identify these critical issues which led eventually to low search visibility or rankings in SERP’s.
Similarly your primary categories and attributes urls should be clearly defined and short. Technically speaking, a url should contain as few directories in it as possible. For example when you search for “Cyclone Black Leather Broader” you can see that Daraz.pk, a major online shopping site in Pakistan, is ranking on 1st whereas another website Dealnews.pk is on 2nd in google SERPS.
Now take a look at the url structure of both sites
You can see how Daraz.pk has no directory or folder structure in its product url. This is an optimal url for a product page. The url not only describe the product clearly but also mention its brand. To avoid duplication, like color difference, you can use a numeric ID at the end of the url.
Similarly when you look at the category urls of each site, Dealnews.pk has several folders in its url structure for category pages whereas Daraz.pk has clean and short urls. For example look at the urls for Mens Casual sandals category on both websites
This type of difference can do wonders for your site ranking as its easily accessible for the bots as well as humans. Reason behind this type of url structure is that, a webpage url will be more powerful when it’s close to its main domain. Take these two urls for example
Url1 = Xyzecommerce.com/file1/12.html
Url2 = Xyzecommerce.com/12.html
Url2 will outrank Url1 in SERPS if all other rankings factors remain same.
Other Important Areas For SEO Optimization Of E-commerce Websites
This is another very important part of an E-commerce website as it gives you an excellent opportunity for deep-internal linking. Make sure your breadcrumbs are active and pointing to right pages. I have seen on some website where breadcrumbs was linked to “query string urls” for the categories. Avoid these types of blunders as it will simply dilute your site internal linking power.
Title & Meta Description Tags
These are the basics for any websites Optimization. We usually automate this step or use dynamic title tags & meta description tags. For example your product page can follow the following Title tag template
(Product Name) By (Brand Name)
In the above template product name and brand name will be replaced by actual names. For example for the black leather shoes by Servis, your title will be
Black Leather Shoes by Servis
You can add model number or attribute variable in the template. Its upto you how you craft your title tag for better CTR. Similarly you create the meta description template with any information you want.
Many people neglect this part of their E-commerce site due to either lack of information or perceived low value of pagination in SEO strategy. However pagination can cause serious issues for large websites including but not limited to crawling, duplication and thin pages. Addressing pagination becomes more important when you realize that this will help you consolidate linking juice, thus better rankings for the preferred categories pages. Google has provided a couple of solutions including creating a View All Page or using special rel=next/previous tag for this purpose. If you have a large website with thousands of products in each category, creating a View all page is a bad bet for crawling and resources. Therefore using rel=next/previous is your best choice. Although this solution is a bit complicated however this is the safest way if you want all the paginated pages and their content indexed by Google correctly. With rel=next/previous, you have to mention the previous page url and next page url in head section of the pages. Consider that you have 4 pages in your category.
site.com/page1.html, site.com/page2.html, site.com/page3.html & site.com/page4.html
You have to add following code in <head> </head> section of site.com/page1.html
<link rel=next href=http://www.site.com/page2.html>
Now For second page (site.com/page2.html), you have to add two codes in head section
<link rel=prev href=http://www.site.com/page1.html>
<link rel=next href=http://www.site.com/page3.html>
For third page (site.com/page3.html), you have to add following two codes in head section
<link rel=prev href=http://www.site.com/page2.html>
<link rel=next href=http://www.site.com/page4.html>
For last page (site.com/page4.html), you have to add following code in head section
<link rel=prev href=http://www.site.com/page3.html>
Every E-commerce website has lots of images on its product pages but only some of them actually leverage their power and optimizes them to get better ranking benefits & even extra traffic from Google Images. Following are some general guidelines for Image optimization
- Instead of some random id, use the product name as image name.
- Use descriptive ALT tags for the images. You may also use the file name or product name with some id to make things simpler.
- Focus on size of Images. Too heavy images wont only increase the loading speed of your size but also become annoying for users experiencing slow internet speed. Always use optimized sized images. Its always better to use CDN for images.
On product pages, use H1 tags on your product name and H2 or H3 tags on your brand names. This will help your pages ranked on product name + brand name queries.
Size of Website
Most people will be amazed by the sheer ranking power of a website in Google simply due to size of the site. Although there is a video of MattCutts that is supposed to say that size of a website doesnt help you in ranking but if you saw that video, you can actually see Matt Cutts hinting that size of site may help you in ranking indirectly.
Now this “indirectly part” is an interesting phenomena. It’s not long since we discovered Long Tail Theory of keywords. Basically that theory states that, traffic from long tail keywords is usually greater than or equal to the traffic from primary keywords. The plus point with long tail keywords is they are low competition keywords on which any website can rank with comparatively less SEO efforts and in some cases just by proper On-page SEO.
If you have to access to Google Analytics data of some E-commerce websites, you can see that majority of the traffic on E-commerce websites comes from long tail keywords. Searchers are getting smart day by day and the average search query length is increasing. A person do not just search white shirt anymore. There are higher chances of him searching casual white (brand name) shirt. These queries are your long tail keywords. Good news is, you can rank automatically on these keywords if your size of the site is considerably large. Here by size of site, we means the number of pages indexed in Google.
If your E-commerce website has millions of pages indexed in Google, there is a high chance that due to On-page SEO & Internal Linking power, your website would start to rank on hundreds of long tail keywords automatically. What’s more interesting is that it seems, in case of E-commerce websites, size of site also help you in not getting hit by Googles Duplicate Penalty issue. Take example of this site Styleshop.com
This website is simply using products feeds from CJ, a major affiliate network. It is basically using same title tags, headings tags and description like hundreds of other affiliate websites. Technically this site should be hit by Panda, however if you search a product name that is available on this website, 8 out of 10 time this site will be in top 10 Google SERPS whereas the other affiliate websites with same information won’t be seen in SERPS.
Beside some authority links and being heavily linked by PopSugar, its parent company which is an online lifestyle & entertainment magazine blog, one major factor that makes it stand out is its indexed pages in Google. It has 1 million pages indexed in Google.
I replicated this model for one of my project and to my amazement, my site started fetching 400+ visitors per month without any SEO whatsoever. Only thing we did was continuously posting products on daily basis, taking the index pages from 100 to 10,000 within 3 months in Google.
A blog can be fruitful for your E-commerce website if you are ready to share some editor-level, interesting content on it. A simple 400 word article meant for SEO wont do any good in E-commerce SEO. Focus on readers with your blog and it might help you in getting traffic and indirect ranking increase however using it for the mere purpose of increasing SEO content will do more harm than good. Use seasonal queries or trends to post content which has possible high demand.
Off-Page Optimization For E-commerce Website
For E-commerce websites, we usually use Enterprise Link Building Model where we only get premium links or links from very relevant high authority websites. You generally build links to the homepage & category pages for an E-commerce websites. You may also build links to some special pages or products, it they have some searches. However, product pages usually ranks automatically based on the OnPage SEO + Link/Domain Authority of your website.
Again, everyone has their own methods & experiences when it comes to SEO Strategy and it may yield different results for different websites, however as a rule of thumb, you should focus strongly on OnPage SEO factors when it comes to E-commerce websites. Use Schema & Google suggested site structuring practices as much as possible. Invest in smart content and increase your inventory as much as possible. There are ways to double your existing pages with genuine and interesting content which is both useful for readers as well as Search Engines. You don’t have to be a genius to figure it out. All it takes is analytical skills and a creative mind to provide you with ideas that can help you increase your online visibility in SERPS efficiently.