5 essential SEO elements of a successful eCommerce website

Mastering the organic visibility of your eCommerce website will be a key driver for increasing revenue and achieving real business results. For many eCommerce websites, organic search is the primary traffic and revenue acquisition channel and as such demands a high degree of attention. Whilst there are many factors which need to align in order to achieve eCommerce SEO greatness, there are a few key areas which can have a big impact on your bottom line.

A Picture Product Summary tells a thousand words

A key challenge enterprise eCommerce brands face is providing unique content on category and product pages. Sites with a single image and limited specifications on each product page makes it difficult for search engines to understand the context of the page. This hinders organic potential, and results in missed revenue.

Adding high quality, targeted content to product and category pages will increase the context and relevancy of the page for target keywords, while providing users with additional information highly relevant to their intent. The key is to please search engines and people for maximum business impact.

Quality content means unique content. Avoid the temptation to copy and paste content from the manufacturer’s product description. Manufacturers often send out identical product descriptions to multiple retailers, so chances are, your content has been published on numerous other sites already. This duplicate content will have detrimental impact on your website’s organic performance.

Product page content is your big opportunity to convince a user to become a customer. How would you (as the product expert) sell the product to a potential customer in store? Think about why they should be buying the product, what their pain points are and how you can further influence their decision.

If your site has thousands of products and it’s not possible to add unique content to every page, focus on strengthening product category pages and adding content to your best selling products as a first step.

After Google’s Panda 4.0 algorithmic update in May, engineered to target websites with pages containing “thin content” with little value to users, many large eCommerce sites took a huge hit with their organic visibility. eBay was one victim of this update.

This is a clear warning to all eCommerce webmasters – Google has a laser focus on quality. You MUST ensure your pages are unique and content rich. Satisfy the user as well as the search engine.

Mark Up! Mark Up!

Major search engines supplement search results with information provided by structured data. This enables search engines to correctly identify and group content according to the provided mark-up, and use this information to present richer results:

The schema.org vocabulary contains a collection of schemas which can be used to mark up relevant eCommerce data such as user reviews, price information, product descriptions, product offers and many more. Implementing product related schema is a great way to increase visibility in search engines and click through rates. However, be sure to only markup properties which are relevant to your product attributes that will benefit the user.

You can markup videos, breadcrumbs and your organisation’s corporate information to showcase additional content and navigation features within search engine results. This will to help your listings stand out from competitors and capture additional traffic without having to rank higher.

Maximise Social Exposure

Implementing social media meta data tags such as Facebook Open Graph tags, Twitter Cards, Pinterest Rich Pins & Google+ Snippets allows you to optimise content for social media sharing. These tags integrate the page into the social graphs and tells social platforms which title/URL/image or description to use when your product page is shared or liked.

This gives you more control from a branding/inbound marketing perspective and allows you to specify the information presented to your social audience. It’s a powerful way to increase brand awareness and referral traffic from social channels.

Example of HMV shared content with open graph tags implemented
Example of HMV shared content with open graph tags implemented

 

Additionally, optimising your content with relevant social meta tags will lead to greater engagement, links and mentions, increasing the overall value of your content and SEO results.

Managing Out of Stock & Discontinued Products

Larger sites can quickly accrue thousands of expired pages from permanently discontinued products, temporarily out of stock products and products only available at certain times.

It’s vital to have a clear strategy to manage these pages to ensure expired content doesn’t impact your site’s performance.

Temporarily Out Of Stock Products

Temporarily out of stock pages should remain live and should not be hidden, redirected or replaced. It’s important to provide customers with the best possible experience despite the fact that their product of choice is temporarily unavailable. Consider the following options:

  • Inform customers of an expected re-stock date
  • Offer alternative or similar items
  • Offer backorder solutions
  • Offer discounts for when the product is back in stock.

Permanently Discontinued Products

Google’s head of webspam, Matt Cuts, revealed in a recent video that the manner in which eCommerce websites should handle expired pages depends on the size of the website:

  • Small eCommerce sites with a small number of products and pages should redirect users to related products or a parent category
  • Medium eCommerce sites should return a 404 error page so users are not continually frustrated by finding expired products in search engines which they cannot buy
  • Large eCommerce sites should manage expired pages through implementing the “unavailable_after” tag which tells Google not to show a page in search engine results after a specified date.

Matt Cuts does not recommend redirecting permanently expired pages for medium and large eCommerce sites, however if you have a page of high value in terms of traffic or link acquisition, then you may wish to 301 redirect the page to a relevant parent category. This allows you to continue to benefit from the page’s ongoing performance and accrued linking signals whilst maintaining a quality experience for users.

Dealing with Duplication

With many faceting options commonly available on eCommerce platforms, duplicate content can quickly rear its ugly head and have a negative impact on your organic visibility.

Model, brand, size, type, function, price. These examples of product filtering options (or facets) help customers find the product they want to purchase, but there might be no need for each combination of a set of facets to be indexed by Google and displayed in search engine results.

Additionally, print versions of pages and internal tagging taxonomies can also contribute to duplicate pages which should be managed to prevent indexation.

Here are two common ways you can manage duplicate content on your eCommerce site:

  • Use canonical tags to indicate to search engines which pages are the most important and should be appearing in search engines
  • Use the robots.txt file to exclude certain pages or subfolders from being crawled. This makes your site more efficient for robots to crawl and will prevent unwanted pages from being indexed.

Analysing site search data can help understand customer intent and the navigation efficiency of your eCommerce site.

Consistently searched Keywords can indicate products or categories visitors are struggling to find. This can help you identify opportunities to stock additional brands or products based on user demand. A great way to increase your revenue.

Analysing the ‘Start Pages’ report in Google Analytics will allow you to see which pages most commonly prompt a site search. If users are frequently searching from a landing page, then you may consider adding more content or a stronger call to action to that page to present the user with a clear path to purchase.

Enterprise eCommerce sites have a very specific set of challenges which can be addressed with the right SEO strategy in place. Small improvements and tweaks to your website and SEO implementation can have a substantial impact on your search results, and in turn your revenue.

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