13 SEO Improvement Ideas for E-Commerce Sites

For most e-commerce sites the online marketing mix is made up of paid and non-paid traffic channels. The biggest and most cost effective non-paid marketing channel is organic web search traffic. If you agree and are looking improve your search engine optimization potential (SEO) for 2010, here are a couple of tried and tested tips.

  1. Ensure unique page metadata – Each page on your site must have relevant metadata based on the keywords you’re trying to rank for. To optimize your site for Google, limit the page title to 70 characters and the page description to 140 characters.

    Site Title and Description in Google

    Site Title and Description in Google

  2. Improve your content – Search engines (Google especially) value good quality content which should be seen as a long-term SEO strategy. Consider adding editorial product reviews, how-to pages and guides to complement your products.
  3. Optimize product images – Optimizing images for users means ensuring all images are of high quality and (if possible) including more than one image per product. Optimizing images for search in order to gain organic traffic from Google image search means using the product title as the file name and using alt text.
  4. Unify homepage versions – Some e-commerce sites have multiple versions of their homepage which will result in poorer performance. The most common issue is having non www and www versions. To test how many versions of your page exist use a content duplication checker.
  5. Improve navigation – The idea behind improving navigation is to keep product pages and category pages close to the main root. This will help search engines find and index the page quicker. Think about keeping your product pages one level from the root, for example www.sitename.com/product-title.html instead of www.sitename.com/category/sub-category/product-title.html
  6. Enhance internal linking – Linking smartly between products and categories can help your SEO by giving certain pages more authority. For example, breadcrumbs are useful to link from product pages back to the category page, but also linking from your FAQ section to a product or even between products helps.
  7. Improve loading times – The time taken to load a page is important for SEO and for increasing conversion rates. To test how quickly (or not) your pages are loading and to view helpful suggestions use a page analyzer.
  8. Add site maps – an HTML site map and XML site maps will help both potential customers and search engines. The XML site map is useful in indicating to the engines which pages are available on the site and to ensure as many as possible get into the index. The HTML site map is used to allow customers to find product and category pages quickly.
  9. Improve on-page SEO – Turning the product title into an H1 tag and other sub titles into an H2 or H3 tag will increase the page’s SEO potential. Together with image optimization this is known as on-site optimization.
  10. Find and fix 404 pages – Error pages resulting from old product pages or badly configured files might have some SEO value and should therefore be fixed. If you’re using Google Analytics you can easily find these pages and fix or redirect them to a more appropriate page.
  11. Encourage customer reviews – Customer reviews for product pages can help persuade potential customers to make purchases and they can also be very useful for SEO. Because search engines will see fresh content every time they visit the page it will make the product page more important and increase its crawling rate (i.e. how often search engines visit the page).
  12. Add This

    Add This

    Encourage link sharing – One of the most important parts of SEO is building the number of links pointing to inner product pages. If you have many SKUs, a smart strategy is to use your customers to spread the word by encouraging sharing. Embedding a social sharing button such as AddThis or ShareThis will give customers sharing tools which are free and easy to use.

  13. Make small changes and test – You shouldn’t make huge changes to an established site. By making too many changes at once, you’ll find it hard to understand and analyze what has worked and what hasn’t. Consider making small changes and always test the outcome before continuing with further changes.

Good luck with your SEO efforts for 2010.

Guest article by Michelle Strassburg Head of Sales and Marketing at online wood worktops vendor Wood and Beyond. Michelle has over 10 years experience managing online marketing.

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Comments

31 Comments

  • err… talk about missing practical information… heres all the bits that are missing from this post.

    1. meta descriptions have naff all to do with your rankings, best to make sure they support your point of sale message as theyre not much use for anything else

    2. in the real world ecommerce sites have a hard time generating any useful content, most cant even be bothered to create a unique product description. what you can do here is perform some simple keyword research around your subject matter and add them to a blog (hosted on yoursite.com/blog) making sure that the terms targetted dont detract from your product categories i.e. dont have a blue widget category and then blog about blue widgets!

    3. theres more to optimising images than having alt text and a file name. when ever possible have your image surrounded by descriptive text i.e. have something written before and after the file, this will help you with google image search.

    4. dont you mean domain canonical issues? the simplest solution for this is telling google how you want to be indexed www. or non http://www., secondly dont link to index.php or whetever, just use the raw domain http://www.domain.com the same goes for folders.

    5. folder structure wont hurt your sites serps, in fact, it could add context i.e. widgets/flexible/red.html when it comes to navigation thing about common groups of products, this may be different to how you catalogue products. In addition if a product needs to be linked under multiple categories dont duplicate them, instead have both category listings link to a centralised product page.

    6. great advice but dont forget to link singluar and plural terms and remember that its the first links anchor text on a page thats going to carry the ‘weight’ so optimise for this, the rest can be anything.

    7. loading times is far too big a topic to add under a simple bullet, things like caching, compression, use of sprites, whitespace and carriage return removal can all help.

    8. if people need to use a sitemap page then your site is too hard to navigate so look there first, it is a great idea to get all of your products listed in some form of directory, just dont go mad as google doesnt like a single page with 1000′s of links on it, its just going to ignore most of them and stop after its got bored, if your navigation is 3 or 4 levels deep then consider categorising your site map and flattening the cats into a 2 tier system

    9. recent tests (check SEOMoz) show that H1 etc tags dont effect SEO, theyre great for semantics and do help if it contains a link, so use them for this and not for any seo reason as they dont give extra weight.

    10. google webmaster tools is better at finding 404 links as it also shows internal and external links that are faulty. also consider that your product inventory isnt going to remain static, so make sure your ecommerce solution 301′s removed products to the parent category.

    11. yes encourage review, but for seo purposes try and get them on 3rd party websites, if you use froogle you can quickly see which sites google rates for product reviews so this would probably work best if incentivised through after sales email marketing or a competition or something. you can always post the results on your product pages with a healthy ‘independent’ review validated by the 3rd party website.

    12. great tip and one i use all of the time… think about your order complete page and add some widgets, banners and cut and paste code for use in facebook, blogs and twitter and dont forget to PROMPT them to use it!

    13. sounds like good advice but you just have to jump in sometimes as it can take a week or so for a change to be picked up by google and even longer for you to be able to get any metrics from it. my advice is to progressively work forwards with an eye on what youve been doing which can quickly be reversed via SVN and worked forwards methodically should something bad happen.

  • Good article, I like the fact that it is written from the point of usability also.

    Regarding point one, I am still sold on the fact that meta descriptions have nothing to do with ranking. While I am sure that may not work in your favour they might harm your ranking if over filled. Is it confirmed that Google do not read them?

    Interesting point from Mark on H1 tags. Something that I will have to take on board.

    Cheers

    Patrick

  • @partick yes its confirmed descriptions dont benefit your serps good or bad

  • used tires says:

    Speaking of finding 404 link errors, in regards to just internal… and besides using the Google Webmasters Tool, I use this software program called “Xenu’s Link Sleuth” which basically allows you to type your websites URL Address and it will crawl it completely and will give you a report of what it finds wrong with it, I used it once when I moved my website, I was able to find some errors where the urls were still pointing to my old domain name thus leading to 404s etc.

    Till then,

    Jean

  • Susan Petracco says:

    @mark those are great expansions, thanks for adding so much to the topic. I think it’s important to note that SEO is more than just improving rankings though…another part is improving click throughs, such as what you suggest when you say that one should support one’s sales message within meta descriptions, which are often used as the “blurbs” in the SERPs.

    @Patrick and @mark both, I also had not heard about the newer H1 theory; I’d love a link to the SEOmoz discussion if you have one. Thanks for the tip!

    @Jean, Xenu is a wonderful, and free, app. It’s one of my favorite tools too.

  • @susan, just search seomoz for the h1 thingie, by all accounts a panel agreed that this is so in one of the recent big seo conferences.

  • Susan Petracco says:

    @mark Awesome, thanks for posting that link for me and all other readers. That’s a huge change, much more widely applicable than the change regarding page rank sculpting (which is also mentioned).

  • Sam Langdon says:

    I rather like the SEOmoz title tag best practice formatting tip in Mark’s first link above, saying it should be either: Primary Keyword – Secondary Keywords | Brand or Brand Name | Primary Keyword and Secondary Keywords, depending on how important your brand is. My personal twist on this is to use the title to represent the hierarchical structure of the page within the site, so: Primary Keywords (article name) < Secondary Keywords (section name) < Brand Name or Brand Name | Primary Keywords (article name) < Secondary Keywords (section name).

  • digital slr camera says:

    how about the content ?
    it to difficult to write content about lmited number of product than writing blog.

  • I think the biggest area that ecommerce sites struggle with is unique meta tags. While there is plenty of debate above about whether meta tags even help rankings, duplicate meta tags can hurt your rankings.

    By the way it is quite amusing reading how mark tried to hijack this post correcting every little point he could. He should realize that seo is rarely about pure facts that can’t be disputed. The whole industry is an educated guessing game verified through testing.

  • Blooming says:

    I have an e-commerce website but i am unable to increase their internal links, specially their product pages. Can you suggest me something?

  • I use this software program called “Xenu’s Link Sleuth” which basically allows you to type your websites URL Address and it will crawl it completely and will give you a report of what it finds wrong with it,

  • Some useful and easy to follow points mentioned. It is recommended to use e-commerce systems which would generate stable web pages, accessible easily by both search engines and people.

    The titles and description tags of the web pages too could be very important.

  • PeterMark says:

    hi,
    thanks for sharing amazing ideas.I also doing SEO but I never know some of the idea that you mentioned.In your Tips I like 7 number tips because i don’t know about Page Analyzer.so thanks again for the ideas.

  • mark rushworth says:

    Spam alert, amir arif has spammed the comments in this post with some junk about water ionizers!

  • Susan Petracco says:

    Thanks Mark! I deleted it and banned him. Bad Amir! LOL

  • Good tips for e-commerce sites. Most common issue is duplicate content in ecommerce site. Thanks for helpful tips.

  • Harvey @ PS3 says:

    @Mark Rushworth

    Surely the whole point of a meta description is to optimize how your site looks in google?
    These days meta tags don’t make much difference when it comes to SEO.

  • Stephen Tracey says:

    I am still a SEO newbie.. I have read alot of articles and ebooks about seo and there appears to be alot of mixed or confusing infomation about seo out there on the internet.
    This article was very helpful, as I didn’t know about 404 page and how it relates to seo… i still have alot to learn :(

    Regards
    Steve

  • Meta Description text should be engaging to the users and gives them a hint of what info they can expect when they click on a link to a website.

    This text should not be overstuffed with keywords that readability and thought is affected.

  • thanks for sharing amazing ideas.I also doing SEO but I never know some of the idea that you mentioned.In your Tips I like 7 number tips because i don’t know about Page Analyzer.so thanks again for the ideas.

  • Jason Boom says:

    I think the author and Mark present good quality tips for any ecommerce store. Of course, this was all on-site suggestions. What about off-site?

  • Great suggestions. All these points are well taken. It should be a must have list. For big e-commerce project LOADING time is especially essential, as sometimes it jsut loads forever.

  • Muddasir@PIXAR Solutions says:

    1- Inbound and Outbound Links
    2- Meta Tags
    3- Google Analytic s
    4- Site Maps
    5- Robots
    6- Better and Content
    7- Maximum Article or Blogging
    8- Registration on different top rnak search engines etc.

  • Two of the things that made my site jump up the rankings was a) writing unique, well written content and b)making sure the HTML is formatted correctly with CSS and js code in external files.

    There is an excellent video in webmaster tools that discusses Seo – well worth a view.

  • Just jumped into e-commerce scene and this post was surprisingly helpful thanks.

  • Jim@Professional SEO tools says:

    What a lot of people forget is that by having 404 error pages and poor internal linking they are effectively crippling their SEO efforts.

    I remember back when I started I would obsess over things like the meta tags and content but my site just wouldnt rank because of some simple (to fix) errors.

    As someone said above the key to ranking in SEs is not based on facts as things change so often. If you have your site in order though you are more likely to rank well.

  • Jermaine, there’s a 4-year-old post on this from Matt Cutts saying that they are equal, which you can read at http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/subdomains-and-subdirectories/ However, I’ve read other more recent recommendations to use a subdirectory (your first example) over a subdomain (your second example). Unfortunately I don’t have them bookmarked. But I guess I would probably go with http://www.example.com/blog based on what I have seen before.

    I haven’t done any of my own testing along these lines so I’m repeating what I’ve read other experts say.

  • Mark’s 4th point I think is very critical as it impacts both crawling and indexing. I think you may need to reverify ownership of your site, though when you do so.