Ecommerce sites can present a number of challenges when optimising for search. While each ecommerce website will have its own set of difficulties, here's a run down of the more common issues facing ecommerce sites and how best to deal with them.
Managing end-of-line products
Failing to properly manage old products can have a significant impact on user experience: customers may land on a product page that they cannot actually purchase from, resulting in a negative user experience.
To prevent this from happening, end-of-line pages need to be redirected. Redirects should ideally lead to a similar product page or the category that the product was listed under. If neither option is possible, redirect to the homepage as a last resort.
Server-side 301 redirects, which state that a page has been permanently moved to a new location, are best used for this as they pass on the value of the page.
Duplication can be a massive issue for ecommerce sites. Duplicate content dilutes the effectiveness of your site as the domain value is spread across every URL of the site. Minimising duplicate or low value pages means that the remaining URLs will perform better within the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Duplication arises when the same content is available via different URLs. For example as a result of product filters (A-Z, Highest Price to Lowest Price) or if your site is using session IDs to keep track of visitors, there are many causes so it's worth more investigation.
How to do it
To determine whether or not your site is falling victim to duplication, you can run a site operator search as follows:
- Set your search preferences to 100 results per page then search site:example.com. When you go to the final page of results, Google may prompt you to display omitted results.
- Clicking through will show you a larger set of your indexed pages. This will include results from what Google call the 'supplemental index' including various types of duplication/low value pages.
- Chaining site operator queries together can help narrow down duplication so, for example, if you spot a session id in these results: jsessionid - search site:example.cominurl"jsessionid"
There are various solutions for dealing with duplicate and low value content, ranging from redirection to adding canonical tags to pages; it all depends on the type of content. Below are a few example cases for dealing with duplication:
- A valuable URL which has functionality and needs to exist – canonicalise
- A valuable URL which no longer needs to exist – 301 redirect
- A non valuable URL which exists within a CMS / file structure – meta robots tag
- A non valuable URL which does NOT exist within a CMS / file structure (tracking tags) –robots exclusion
- Paginated pages should be dealt with by using Rel="next" and Rel="prev" tags
Nail the basic SEO
If you have a large number of products that frequently change, ensuring that basic SEO rules such as targeted page titles and meta descriptions are well executed is often tricky, particularly for ecommerce sites. The page <title> is the most important on page element.
A scalable approach for page titles and meta descriptions for larger ecommerce websites is to develop a dynamic format.
How to do it
This involves using relevant fields from the database to optimise page titles, meta descriptions and <h1> headings so for example if you are selling phones you may follow a format for the page title:
[Brand] [Phone Model] [Storage] [Colour] | [Contract Type] | PhoneShop
This would translate to:
Apple iPhone 5 16GB White | Pay as you Go | PhoneShop
The benefit is that when you add new makes, models and brands, the titles and meta descriptions are optimised based on the data that you have stored in the database.
One of the fundamental rules of SEO is that you should treat every page on your website as a landing page focused around performing for a single SEO search term and converting the resulting traffic. By trying to target multiple/different keyphrases on a page, you not only dilute the focus of the page, you also make this page less likely to perform.
Words: Scott McBay
Scott McBay is Project Director at QueryClick