While many of the strategies and tactics in the world of SEO change very frequently, one of the areas of the discipline remains more stable and reliable than others: eCommerce SEO. By following the below guidelines, many of which have been proven successful for many years, an eCommerce website can increase its organic traffic, conversions, and revenue.
eCommerce URL Structure & Information Architecture
Every good website starts with a good foundation, and eCommerce websites are no exception to this. Utilizing a good URL structure can increase the number of pages that are crawled and indexed by search engines. Why is this important? Because greater indexation = more pages that can potentially be shown in search results pages (SERPs) which = increased organic traffic.
Additionally, search engines will both read keywords in the URL to understand what a page is relevant for, and bold the keywords in search results when they match a user’s query. Bolded keywords in search results tend to result in a greater click-through-rate, and therefore more organic traffic.
Example SEO-friendly URLs for eCommerce:
Site Navigation & Internal Linking
eCommerce SEO Best Practices for Primary Navigation
- Order navigation links from left to right by category importance/popularity/relevance – in other words,
your most important, best-selling, and popular products should be near the top left of the primary navigation menu –
years of heatmap data shows that people’s eye linger in this spot longer, and you want to take advantage of that by presenting your best products there
- Navigation categories should be based on search demand and utilize keyword-rich anchor text
Best Practices for Secondary Navigation:
- Utilize Breadcrumbs (and possibly the associated structured data for breadcrumbs). Breadcrumb navigation is a great way to orient users browsing your site, give them more options to find what they’re looking for, and to help search engines crawl and index your most important pages – in other words, breadcrumbs are simply mandatory for good eCommerce SEO
- If you can include category page navigation links in the site footer without sacrificing user experience,
then do so – like breadcrumbs, footer links are great for helping both users and search engines find your content
- Be sure to include an HTML sitemap somewhere on your site, and link to it where it’s easy to find (usually a footer link works well). This can help lost users navigate your site, and help search engine crawlers reach all of your pages
- However, your HTML sitemap links should be to categories, not individual products. Otherwise your sitemap could get very bloated and unusable, especially if you have more than a couple of hundred products
eCommerce SEO Best Practices for Internal Linking
Good internal linking practices are hugely important for eCommerce SEO. Internal linking directly effects how users find and reach your content, and also affects how search engines will crawl and index your website. There are lots of Best Practices to observe, and we’ve honed in on the most important here.
The Homepage: Links from the homepage are strong signals to search engines of how important content is. Therefore, the homepage should link directly to all of your category pages with keyword-focused anchor text, but not to all of your product pages, as most sites have many more products than can reasonably be featured on a homepage without sacrificing user experience.
Product & Category Pages: These pages should offer links to similar and related items. This kind of internal linking helps keeps users engaged on the site by showing them other items they may be interested in, and helps SEO with more keyword-rich internal links. In some cases, category pages should offer links to other, related categories. Category pages should also contain links to all of their relevant subcategories, for the above reasons.
eCommerce SEO & The Importance of Category Pages
Properly optimized category pages are vitally important to your eCommerce SEO efforts. They’re an important entry point for organic visitors, and should serve to orient visitors to your product offering. They should also make finding products easy by providing intuitive, sortable navigation. eCommerce Category pages can be important drivers of organic traffic, and therefore need to have their own content in addition to the products featured on them.
SEO Best Practices for eCommerce Category Pages:
- eCommerce Category Pages should contain unique, descriptive copy that both orients the user, and gives search engines something to help establish topical relevance for the page content. Aim for at least 100 words of copy, and be sure that the copy includes the targeted keyword(s) for category page
- On-Page SEO for category cages should target “head” search terms, such as “living room furniture”, “hockey sticks”, or “dvd players”, or whatever the broad category of items is that the contain
- These pages should include multiple sort options, such as by color or type or a “most popular” option –
however, ensure that the sorting functionality doesn’t create canonical issues with your category pages
- Consider adding links to Related Categories and Top Categories to retain searcher interest and increase cross-selling
- Break out categories by type of product (chairs, tables, etc.), but also by brand if possible, to target brand-related search interest
eCommerce Product Page SEO
Product pages provide an immense opportunity for brands, and are part of the core of eCommerce SEO. By optimizing your product pages effectively, quality leads can be directed to your site from search engines. By using product-specific terms mixed with long tail keywords and brand names, an end user will quickly find what they are seeking from their search, leading to more conversions and revenue:
- Product pages should target “long tail”, product-specific terms with their On-Page SEO
- Robust, unique, and compelling product descriptions – in other words, don’t just regurgitate the product description provided by the manufacturer
- Use brand names in your Title tags and H1 headings
- Semantic Markup for Product/Offer – should include markup for review rating/count as well
- Social Markup (Facebook Open Graph and Twitter Card) should be utilized to enhance and control social share snippets
- Product reviews and review count/rating should be present on the page
- Implement a section devoted to Related Products, but keep it below the fold and product content to avoid distracting visitors
- Offer product-specific FAQ content – feel free to source your customers for some of this content. Amazon’s Answered Questions is a great example of this feature
- Consider implementing “wishlist” or “save for later” capability, especially for products with a long purchase cycle
- Be sure to track “wishlist/save for later” usage as a micro-conversion in your analytics – having concrete data on how your customers engage with your products and ultimately either purchase or abandon them will be useful in crafting future digital strategy
Image & Video SEO for eCommerce Product Pages
It’s no secret that visual content works. Customers need to be able to see the products you’re selling as clearly as possible, and ideally from multiple angles. We could write an entire blog post on just this one aspect of eCommerce SEO (and we might in the future!), but for “pure” SEO purposes, we’re keeping this simple:
- Use multiple, high quality images and follow SEO Best Practices for image file names, titles, and alt tags
- Resize and compress images as appropriate to ensure that they don’t slow page load times down too much
- Use product video guides where necessary and possible
- Include images and videos in your site’s XML Sitemaps
- Utilize Semantic Markup for “VideoObject” on all videos and “ImageObject” on all images
Store Location Page Optimization
If your business also has brick & mortar locations, you can tie your eCommerce SEO and Local SEO efforts together to enhance both.
In addition to providing more consumption options for potential customers, utilizing store location pages allows you to optimize for your geographic locations separately in order to attract organic traffic from multiple sources.
Store Locations Pages Should Be Optimized for Geographic Location Searches:
- On Page SEO: page heading, page title and meta description should contain geo-specific search terms
- Include a Google Map embed on location pages
- Include location name, address, phone number, and hours
- Include a short, useful description of the location
- Include Semantic Markup for “Local Business” on location page content
Resolve Duplicate Content
Duplicate content is a consistent problem for many eCommerce platforms. For example, if you sell many variations of the same product, such as multiple colors or sizes of the same shirt, your eCommerce platform might create a separate page for each variation. While not a problem is and of itself (nor the most critical aspect of eCommece SEO), if additional steps aren’t taken to tell search engines that all of those variations represent the same product, then search engines might add all of the variant pages to their index. This can cause issues with getting the rest of your site fully indexed, and also with having your content shown in search results. This is to say nothing of potentially spreading thin any backlinks these pages might get.
Some eCommerce platforms include “out of the box” solutions to duplicate content, whereas others may require manual changes, such as these:
- Implement Canonical tags for duplicate products
- Canonical tags for paginated category pages
- Audit website redirects to check for 404 errors and 302 (temporary) redirects, and redirect chains
- Utilize noindex tags for pages that need to be viewed by a user, but not indexed by search engines, such as filtered search results
eCommerce SEO and Site Speed
Site speed has long been noted as one Google’s ranking factors. Also, a study by Amazon found that a one second improvement in site speed yielded a 2% increase in conversions and for every improvement of 100ms, Amazon experienced revenue growth of 1%.
Here are some common tips for improving site speed:
- Control image dimensions and overall use of images
- Use photo editing software to render and reduce images to smaller file sizes
- Optimize images for the web by limiting them to 72ppi (pixels per inch)
- Consider changing your .png and .jpg files to a faster, more compressed image file format such as WebP by Google
- Don’t flood a page with unnecessary images – a handful will do
- PNG is typically better for logos and graphics while JPEG are generally better for product photos
- Improve server response time
- Fix bottlenecks pertaining to slow database queries and slow routing.
- Handle site coding properly and avoid too many HTML errors
- Remove unnecessary text and delete unneeded characters, including commas, parentheses and so on
- Script that is necessary to render page content should be inlined concisely to reduce additional server requests
- Leverage browser caching to minimize server to client data interactions
Now, if you really want to geek out on site speed improvements, try testing your website with Google’s Page Speed Insights or Pingdom Tools to help uncover hindrances you need to fix. Honing in on site speed optimizations could be a great opportunity to build a closer relationship with your web developer… or drive them nuts. Roll those dice!
Properly Handle Out of Stock items
How many times have you searched in Google for a product, clicked a link to it, and found that the product was out of stock? Properly handling out of stock items is essential to eCommerce SEO, yet it so often overlooked or done incorrectly. Don’t lost customers when search engines send them to a product that is out of stock or back-ordered. Retain consumer interest by correctly optimizing pages for items that are out of stock:
- Keep customer interest by showing other products the consumer may like – i.e., if a consumer is searching for a specific brand or type of shoes, offer alternatives accordingly
- Avoid randomly populating a list of other products
- Offer to contact the consumer when the product is in stock
- If applicable, show the customer other ways to buy the product, such as brick and mortar store locations
Properly Handle Obsolete/Expired Products
Take care of obsolete and expired product pages correctly in order to retain website back-links, and avoid having potential customers land on 404 error pages:
- Redirect the old product page to a similar, newer product page
- Use a custom 404 page to place the user back on a keyword-rich page of links or a category page that is related to the product they were searching for
- Consider crating a 301 redirect with a dynamically generated message to inform the user that the product is no longer available, then show them options to shop similar items
Site Search Data & eCommerce SEO
Internal site search provides a direct insight into what users are looking for (and sometimes can’t find) when they land on your site. Every eCommerce SEO and content strategy effort should include leveraging internal site search data to develop actionable website changes to better suit visitor’s needs and drive conversions:
- Investigate internal site search traffic for keywords or topics that you may not have already optimized for
- Use the keywords that your site visitors search for in order to optimize pages and content to visitor needs
- Based on search use and search terms, consider changing landing page(s) to better optimize for the content and keywords that users search for
- If a large amount of searches exist on your landing page for a specific term, it signifies that visitors are looking for specific content and are not finding it right away – explore ways to make that more easily accessible to visitors
- Feature prominently on the homepage the products that have been getting the most site searches
And that should be enough info to get your online business started on a path toward having solid eCommerce SEO. Let us know what you think of the information we’ve provided, or get in touch with us if you need help with your online business by filling out the form below.