When setting up a site in order to sell your products online, you will probably spend lots of time researching the best e-commerce platforms available. Whilst there are many factors that you need to take into account when choosing your platform, it’s vital to consider how it can support your search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy.
Unfortunately, some e-commerce platforms may limit your ability to control the way that you optimise your website and this could lead to a fall in rankings and ultimately a drop in sales. It can also be frustrating as a business owner if you’re not able to take advantage of the latest SEO updates and strategies because your online shop doesn’t support them.
Luckily, there are some great e-commerce platforms out there that can help to meet all of your business needs. Wagada has identified four key SEO features which your e-commerce platform needs to have to enable you to optimise your site fully. If you ensure that these are supported, you’ll be able to provide a great retail environment for your online customers and also help your website to move up the search engine rankings.
Notoriously, e-commerce sites are lacking in content because their main focus is displaying and selling the product, with content only really being introduced on the actual product listing. With content playing a starring role within SEO, this can sometimes cause some issues.
This is why we love blogging. Not only is it a great way to share information and communicate with your customers, but it’s also vital for your SEO too and can help bridge that gap between limited content to a healthy amount.
Blogs are the best way to ensure that your content stays fresh and relevant and they’re the perfect place to include up-to-date keywords and long-tail keyword phrases.
Tip: Use your blog content to link to other areas on your website to help Google better understand your site and build a better site structure. Internal linking (linking to and from pages on your site)helps to build a hierarchy of content.
Blogs can also help you build a strong backlink profile, can be shared on social media and show Google that you can add real value to your customers’ lives.
Ideally, your CMS would offer the option to set up an integrated blog section. However, this can be tricky on some e-commerce platforms. Installing a WordPress blog into the directory of your site is an option but it means you may need to continually switch between WordPress and your online store, which is far from ideal. For example, Visualsoft allows you to access a WordPress blog via the dashboard, but it does just open this in a new tab.
Luckily there are platforms available, including Shopify, which actually include a blog in its e-commerce platform. This is well worth considering if you’re keen to blog and to take advantage of the SEO improvements that regular blogging can offer.
That being said, if your e-commerce platform and blog content management system (CMS) differ, you must ensure that they’re available on the same domain (i.e. example.com and example.com/blog).
If you want to increase your chances of ranking for your chosen keywords and phrases, you need to have the ability to include optimised page titles, meta–descriptions and URLs for each page.
Tip: Always take a look at the existing search results of the term you want to target and review the intent behind the terms – are most of the results blog posts (informational)? Or are they product pages (transactional)? This will help you understand whether or not the term is worth targeting or not.
If you have generic page titles it can damage your page ranking and can also lead to issues with duplicate content. If you decide on an e-commerce platform that doesn’t let you control this data, there’s a risk that you’ll be left with generic titles for all of your pages. This results in being unable to take full advantage of any keyword strategies you may have.
As with many e-commerce websites, you will often find that URLs are ugly, non-optimised and non-optimisable (they may become excessively long, feature upper and lowercase lettering or include punctuation). If you’re building an e-commerce website, try to take control of your URL structure initially.
Tip: Use breadcrumbs across your pages so that users can easily get back to the page they were before, or help then navigate back to the category or homepage.
We definitely recommend that you choose a platform that lets you retain the ability to individually choose each page title, meta description and URL. There are a number of platforms that let you do this including Magento, so make this feature a priority when deciding on your platform for your online store.
Redirect vs Canonical?
A redirect is an instruction that automatically directs you to another page. You usually use redirects when you delete a page from your website and you want Google to recognise it as another. Some common redirects are 301 and 302.
Canonicals are a hint to search engines. Canonicals are used when you want one page to be “preferred” against another. For example, if you had two pages with very similar content, you can canonicalise page 2 to page 1 as page 1 performs better from an SEO perspective.
Redirects are listed in your site’s HTML, whereas canonicals are a search engine signal that can sometimes be ignored by search engines.
Some online stores will use multiple domain names. However, when you do this there’s a risk that customers may follow links that could take them to the wrong place or simply become broken over time. Of course, this can affect your search engine ranking as it means usability is poor and customers could get frustrated and ultimately decide not to buy from your website. The way around this is to set up canonical URLs or 301 redirects but this can be time-consuming.
Tip: Only use 301 redirects where completely necessary, using too many redirects can sometime lead to creating a redirect chain that can ultimately lead to deindexation of your site because search engines can’t crawl your site.
If you think this could be an issue for your site, then it can be a good idea to choose a platform that automatically redirects your users and the search engines to your primary domain. Platforms such as Squarespace can do this for you and save you time and effort, whilst improving the online shopping experience for your customers.
If you have multiple domains or URLs, you may also want to consider a platform that enables you to implement canonicals. These let you hold content in a number of different places online, whilst making sure that Google is aware that it should only take note of the one page/URL you want to rank for. This is also important if you want to use a number of URLs for products within the same category.
If this is important to your business, then WooCommerce is a platform that has support for canonical URLs built into it – and even better still, there’s a basic version that’s available for free!
This sounds quite technical but what it actually means is that you have the ability to tell Google’s bot that there are certain pages that they should ignore when they’re crawling your website to index it for their search engines.
When you run an online store, there will often be pages that you don’t want to be searchable online or that you don’t want Google to index. For example, you might have a special offers page that is only available to customers on your mailing list. Alternatively, your blog could be creating hundreds of author archive URLs, such as example.com/2017/09. Such pages won’t rank, so you would want to block them in your robots.txt file in order to improve your website’s crawl budget and/or any indexing issues.
On big e-commerce websites, faceted navigation can also create major issues in relation to crawl and indexation. Every permutation of refine/sort creates another page (of near-identical content), which can quickly lead to hundreds of thousands of pages. If this is the case, Google’s crawl budget ends up being spread too thin. The best solution for faceted navigation URLs is to block these in your robots.txt file. You’ll also want to noindex, nofollow and canonicalise these pages – so again, ensure that your e-commerce platform enables you to do this.
BigCommerce is a platform that allows you to directly access your robot.txt files and so is definitely one to consider.
At Wagada, we think it’s worth taking the time to consider your SEO needs when choosing your e-commerce platform. You should make sure that you choose one that will offer you the best option for a great consumer experience and will help your site rank well in the search engines. We know that there are a lot of choices out there, so if you’re feeling slightly confused by it all, get in touch with our team. We are SEO experts and can help you find the e-commerce platform that works best for you, your SEO and your business.