Most SEO’s and developers with have had the misfortune of having to work with an e-commerce platform at least once in their career. I know it can be daunting at first, what with the sheer number of different platforms and programming languages out there. Fear not, today I’m going to walk you through some of the basics and slightly more complex issues that you may encounter when optimising your site for both SEO and user experience.
1. Choosing an e-commerce platform that fits your business
If you’re lucky enough to be starting a new site from scratch then I’d recommend getting to grips with a few different platforms on a test server and picking one you’re comfortable with, that also suits your clients requirements.
For larger sites I’d recommend either a hosted solution like shopify or if you’re comfortable dealing with more intricate platforms and money isn’t an issue then Magento is a highly rated solution.
For those that don’t necessarily want to spend a lot of money and only intend on listing a limited number of products, then ZenCart, Opencart, Drupal Commerce, or any number of WordPress eCommerce plugins will do the trick!
Make sure you get an up-to-date version of whichever platform you decide on as older versions tend to lack basic SEO features.
2. Title Tags
Writing unique title tags for all your products may sound like a chore but it’s a necessary evil. By creating descriptive title tags that highlight any offers your site may provide, you’ll increase CTR and conversions.
Some e-commerce platforms won’t let you do this out of the box, but thanks to an active developer community the majority will have a plugin that lets you create custom titles.
3. Ensure you have an SEO friendly URL structure
Similarly to the title tags, an unfortunate necessary evil. Not only does having an SEO friendly URL structure help your organic visibility, but it makes for a better user experience.
From an SEO standpoint the 1st product is only 1 category down, whereas the 2nd product is 3 levels down.
Most platforms still don’t handle query strings or multiple versions of 1 product very well. You may be able to access the same product from http://www.shop.com/product/1.html as well as http://www.shop.com/product/green/size-8/1.html.
This duplication can impede your site from achieving its full potential. Where possible try to incorporate canonical tags or better yet try to keep your products visible on 1 url.
5. Internal Linking
Having an effective navigation bar and internal linking structure is crucial. Due to the number of categories and products your site may have, an internal linking structure helps users and search engines alike, crawl the site effectively.
Your website should have two separate sitemaps.
One for Users
This should contain an overview of your categories and sometimes your products depending on the size of your site. If you have over 100 products then this may not be such a great idea and limiting it to your top level categories may be necessary.
One for Search Engines
Sitemaps are particularly helpful in instances where your site has thousands of products or a complex category structure.
Most e-commerce platforms automatically generate a sitemap, however there are free tools like Xenu that will crawl your site and highlight any errors as well as output a sitemap.
7. Correct Implementation of Robots Meta & Robots.txt
It’s shocking how many times I’ve seen major corporations and businesses put a site live with a “nofollow,noindex” meta tag, wondering why they aren’t ranking for any of their terms. By using a crawler like Xenu or Screaming Frog you can make sure your site is crawlable to robots.
If you are unable to implement canonical tags across the site, then the noindex,follow tag can help you on duplicate pages.
SEO / User Experience (UX)
8. Make sure you’ve got a site cache plug-in enabled!
Larger e-commerce platforms can run slowly on cheaper hosts, or due to the sheer size of the site. Not only is this a ranking factor for Google, but slow side speeds will result in a drop in sales. Ask yourself is it worth spending an extra couple of bucks a month to increase your turnover as well as organic positions?
10. No Physical Location Visible
Not all e-commerce sites will have a physical location or may not wish to display it because they’re working from home. Once again, a lack of physical presence reduces trust with your potential buyer. Depending on the type of business, you may also be legally required to display your business address.
11. No SSL Certificate
If you’re asking your users to input personal details including home address and credit card information, then you need to make sure your site is secure! Although this may seem like a basic requirement, it’s still common-place to see sites without an SSL certificate in place. If your customer-base ends up being compromised you’ll risk losing your entire business all for the sake of a certificate that can cost as little as $4.99 a year.
12. Difficult Checkout Process
There’s nothing more frustrating as a user than having to register for your site, then proceed to input all their data a second time to find that the shopping cart has been emptied because you’ve now registered. You then proceed to add all your items to the basket for a second time, login, input all your personal and shipping details again, to find there’s a $20.00 shipping charge that wasn’t mentioned anywhere during the checkout process.
Clear calls to action are crucial to the checkout process. Don’t overload the user; don’t force them to register for your site.
Buyagift.co.uk is a perfect example of getting a user to register AFTER the checkout process has been completed. Once you’ve purchased your item, a simple box suggesting you register for discounts by inputting a password means they’ve managed to acquire a new registered user without the frustration of registering first!
13. No CTA’s
Have you ever added an item to your shopping cart, then tried to proceed to checkout, but were unable to find the checkout or shopping cart button? This simple frustration usually results in a user closer their browser and spending their hard earned money with your competitors. Another great tip is to promote heavy discounts or free shipping during the checkout process. This keeps customers happy and increases conversions.
14. Slow Confirmation E-mail
If you’re forcing your users to sign-up before they can purchase your product, you’d better make sure that confirmation e-mail gets to them in the next 5 seconds or they’ll quickly find somewhere else to purchase your product.
15. Lack of Payment Methods
Not everyone has a credit card, some users prefer to pay via paypal, and some may need to send cash. You can’t please everyone, but make sure you have multiple payment options available during checkout to increase conversions.
If your site sells exotic or interesting goods, then make sure you implement social buttons – Facebook and Pinterest are great for boutique shops and clothing shops.
If you’re looking at investing money into a PPC budget, then make sure your e-commerce platform has a feature to export a compatiable feed for Google Merchant Center. This will save you a lot of time when importing products.
For larger sites I tend to opt for magento, though it does require a server with beefier specs than something like WordPress, which is my second choice for affiliate or smaller shops.
Have you encountered any other issues with your e-commerce platforms? Please leave your comments and tips below.
About the Author
This blog post was contributed by Sebastian Cowie. He is the head SEO consultant at SC Digital LTD. They provide comprehensive link auditing and SEO services for clients of all sizes. If you’re interested in learning more, you can follow Sebastian on G+.