Enterprise eCommerce SEO fundamentals: How to ensure you get the foundations right for maximum business impact

Due to their size and complexity, enterprise eCommerce websites face many challenges which can impact organic performance and revenue if not addressed.

In my recent post I discussed a few ways that eCommerce websites can optimise their existing content to improve visibility. Today I am diving in a bit deeper to discuss a few elements at the core of eCommerce success.

Site Structure

One of the most important components of any eCommerce website is site structure. The manner in which you organise the information on your site has a direct impact on your organic visibility and user experience, which will significantly influence your business results.

If you’re planning to redesign your site structure, ensure you involve your SEO consultant early in the web development process to ensure that recommendations are implemented at the right time to avoid too many adjustments and re-coding after site launch.

Identify the goals of your site and how you anticipate your user’s conversion path and then organise your content into top level content groupings under which you can add relevant sub-categories and products.

Perform keyword research prior to finalising your structural design as this will align structural recommendations with search volume for maximum performance.

You should also aim to create a flat site structure which reduces the amount of clicks from the homepage to the deeper pages on your site.

Product discoverability is critical for eCommerce sites with hundreds of thousands of products.

Whilst generally less than 10% of visitors will use the site search function to find products, the majority will head straight for the main navigation menu, so a winning navigation helps customers quickly and easily find your products.

Here are a few tips to help you plan your global navigation;

  • Use a card sort to help categorise products
  • Use keyword research to influence category naming and taxonomy
  • Always include highest level pages
  • Include important category pages which receive high volumes of traffic
  • Only include links which need to be in a global navigation.

Also remember that your main navigation is not a sitemap. For enterprise eCommerce sites there is often the temptation to cram a link to every category within a main navigation.

Whilst showcasing range is important, placing too many links within a global navigation will reduce the value of the navigation from both an SEO and user experience perspective.

If you’re using a fly-out menu, conduct thorough usability testing.  Having a menu disappear as your mouse moves from a category to sub-category can be frustrating for users – and not mobile friendly.

Additionally, search engine crawlers can have a tough time interpreting content within AJAX and Flash based menus so ensure links in your menu are coded with HTML for maximum ranking benefit.

Faceted Navigation

Another type of navigation which is popular amongst large eCommerce sites are Facets.

Facets are a form of secondary navigation which allow users to refine large product lists based on product specifications. Facet widgets are often found in the sidebar of a category or list page (see example below from ASOS) and contain both Facets (which are indexed categories) and filters (generally non-indexed).

Whilst this type of navigation can add value to the user experience, the large number of possible combinations can cause significant duplicate content issues for search engines if not managed correctly.


Crawling Efficiency & Indexation

Until pages have been crawled and indexed, they are unable to appear in search engine results pages (SERPs), so ensuring your content is highly accessible to search engines should be a key focus.

When search engine crawlers visit your site they will limit the number of pages and/or time spent discovering content. We refer to this as a ‘crawl budget’.

It is not unusual for an enterprise eCommerce site to have millions of pages due to the large number of variations in categories, sub-categories, products and blog content so it’s easy to see how budget can be used very quickly.

Whilst having a great site structure can go a long way to ensuring your budget is spent on the areas that provide the highest ROI, there are also a few steps you can take to maximise your crawl budget.

You can promote a more efficient crawl of your site by configuring the robots.txt file to flag areas which do not require crawling and indexation. Performing a site:yourdomain.com.au search in Google will allow you to see all of your indexed pages. Review these to find additional areas you could exclude which are currently indexed.

IndexYou can also submit an XML sitemap to help search engines gain a greater understanding of your site structure and prioritise indexation accordingly. The location of your sitemap should be included in the robots.txt file.

It’s important to note that a robots.txt file won’t prevent pages from being included in SERPs.

If you wish for a page to be crawled but not indexed then you can add a Meta NoIndex tag in the <head> of a page. These tags are useful when you have pages that serve a commercial purpose but shouldn’t be accessible via organic search results, for example promotional landing pages through paid campaigns.

In Summary

Whilst there are many onsite elements you can perfect, getting the structure, navigation and indexation right is critical in creating a site that search engines can understand and users thoroughly enjoy. Mastering these is key to increasing online sales and achieving business goals.

What do you think are the most important elements for enterprise eCommerce SEO? Please share your thoughts, comments and suggestions below.

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