10 Steps to Proper SEO for Ecommerce Merchants

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Proper SEO for Ecommerce

On the Single Grain blog, we spend a lot of time talking about the general SEO principles that all websites should adopt in order to increase their odds of securing free traffic from the search engines.

However, while these best practices certainly apply to ecommerce merchants, there are a few additional guidelines these retailers need to adhere to on their sites in order to optimize this unique type of web property.

So while this list isn’t intended to be a comprehensive look at SEO for ecommerce website, our hope is that it highlights a few of the issues internet retailers will want to be aware of when it comes to site optimization.

Hope you find it helpful!

1 – SEF URLs

As an ecommerce retailer, one of your first priorities should be putting search engine friendly (SEF) URLs into place.  Depending on the way you’ve structured your website, this might be easy to accomplish or it might require a small amount of coding on your part.

Essentially, what you want to avoid are lengthy URLs that use session IDs and other parameters to result in long, unintelligible strings of characters.  Not only do these diminish user confidence in the security of your web pages, they’re also a major negative from an SEO perspective.

If you’ve built your site in HTML, this likely won’t be a problem as you’ll simply name your individual files according to the keywords that you’d like used in your URLs.  On the other hand, if you’re using a CMS or ecommerce platform which automatically generates URLs, you’ll need to either find a plugin that will allow you to create SEF URL permalinks on the fly or code the necessary rewrites into your .htaccess file.

2 – Unique product content

Another key concern for ecommerce SEO is the creation of unique product content.  If you create your own products for sale online (rather than purchasing existing products from a manufacturer or drop shipper), put some effort into your product descriptions!  This will result in product pages that are appealing for both your visitors and the content-loving search engine spiders.

And if you do happen to purchase your products from other sources, make sure to rewrite each page for both uniqueness and customer value.  Doing so will prevent your page from being filtered out of the SERPs by duplicate content filters and make the visitors who land on your site more likely to buy.

3 – Proper redirection

Once you’ve set up your SEF URLs according to the instructions above, you’ll want to take a few additional steps to ensure that the search engines are crediting each of your pages properly.  Often, this involves creating proper redirections to improve the flow of SEO authority throughout your site.

The following are a few of the different types of redirections you’ll want to have in place:

  • WWW versus non-WWW – Select one or the other for consistency in your backlinking efforts, but then also set up 301 redirects that inform the search engine spiders that both versions of your URLs should be treated the same.
  • Homepage redirection – Although it’s commonly seen in the internet retailing world, don’t automatically redirect your root URL to another page on your site (for example, pointing www.yoursite.com to www.yoursite.com/specials/viewfirst.html).  Doing so will prevent the link equity you receive to your homepage URL from being distributed correctly, resulting in less effective SEO.
  • Past model years – If you sell product lines that are updated each year, create new pages for your latest models but then redirect all pages from past years to the newest version using 301 redirect codes.

Proper redirection might seem complicated to implement, but it’s worth the extra effort in terms of ensuring that your site’s accumulated SEO authority is distributed correctly.

4 – Noindex and nofollow

Another SEO for ecommerce best practice you’ll want to pay attention to is the use of noindex tags to indicate to the search engines that certain pages should be left out of the search results and nofollow link tags that prevent PageRank from being distributed to unimportant pages.

For most ecommerce sites, you’ll want to implement noindex and nofollow tags on the following site pages:

  • Contact page
  • Order and shopping cart pages
  • User account pages
  • Archive pages

Noindexing these and any other unimportant pages on your robots.txt file and adding nofollow tags to any internal links pointing to these pages will help the search engine spiders determine how to focus both their indexing and ranking activities most effectively.

5 – Proper canonicalization

If you use any type of CMS or ecommerce platform to manage your website, there’s a good chance your system is automatically creating multiple URLs that all point to the same page.  If you allow all of these pages to be indexed individually, you risk having your site subjected to duplicate content filters.

The best solution for this issue is the “rel=canonical” tag.  When added to the <head> section of each of your pages, the canonical tag allows you to specify whether or not the search engine spiders should index each given page or treat it the same as another URL.

And while you can add these tags by hand, a much better alternative is to search for an external plug-in or add-on program that’ll allow you to create canonical tags automatically.

6 – Heading tags

As a rule, each page on your website should have only one <h1> tag, which should contain your target keyword.  While you may choose to add multiple lower-level heading tags, including more than one <h1> tag is a bad idea from an SEO standpoint.

7 – Microdata

Microdata are a new language of markup tags that allows you to add extra dimension to your HTML code.  Not only do these tags help the search engines to index your website more effectively, they’re also used in the creation of “rich snippets” (aka – enhanced SERPs listings that have been shown to increase click-through rates from natural search traffic).

For more information on how to add these tags to your website, check out the article we put together for Entrepreneur.com, titled “How Using Microdata Can Improve Your Website SEO.”

8 – Site speed

We’ve discussed the importance of site speed for proper website optimization here on the Single Grain blog before, but this topic deserves special mention when it comes to SEO for ecommerce sites.

If you’re running your website off an ecommerce platform like Magento, Big Commerce or Volusion, be aware that the size of these systems can result in decreased site speeds.  To compensate, you’ll need to purchase web hosting that can support your chosen program, as well as take on-site actions (like combining scripts to minimize necessary launch resources or host images and other files on off-site CDNs) in order to improve site speed as much as possible.

9 – Proper link building

There’s no arguing with the fact that it can be difficult to get your ecommerce website ranked in the natural search results, given the amount of competition from other internet retailers.  However, despite these challenges, it’s important not to allow your desire to rank highly to overrule your commitment to proper link building!

If you need a reason to see why proper link building is so important for ecommerce websites, just take a look at the cautionary tale of what happened to retail giant JCPenney, after it was discovered that the site had been paying for links that passed PageRank improperly.  Not only did the site’s SERPs rankings plummet as a result of the penalties imposed, it was out all the money it spent on paid links.

The moral of the story?  Stick to the straight and narrow when it comes to SEO link building for ecommerce websites!

10 – Fresh content

If there’s one thing that all website owners – not just ecommerce retailers – should take from the recent Penguin update, it’s that content quality matters when it comes to SEO.  And if your website is still populated with the same stagnant content you put up when you first launched a few years ago, you simply can’t compete with newer, more active sites when it comes to overall quality.

As an internet retailer, one of the best things you can do for your website is to include a blog or other feature that allows you to post regular, fresh content updates.  Not only will this allow you to improve the relationships you have with your readers, it’ll also increase your potential keyword exposure and improve your odds of being featured in the SERPs included in Google’s recent freshness update.

Bonus Tip – Stay up-to-date

An unfortunate reality in the world of SEO is that things can – and do – change regularly.  So if you don’t take the time to stay up-to-date on the latest SEO news, you’re probably going to miss out on the changes that could seriously impact your site’s performance in the natural search results.

To ensure that you’re using the most up-to-date SEO techniques possible, we highly recommend putting a reminder on your calendar to check your favorite SEO blogs at least once a week.  Obviously, we’re partial to the Single Grain blog, but Alltop’s SEO page is another great place to go to get an overview of what’s happening in the SEO world.

If you have any further questions about how to implement SEO best practices on your ecommerce website, feel free to post your query in the comments section below!

Image: litherland

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