7 Essential Steps to Proper Magento SEO

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If you’re looking to build a ecommerce store in order to sell online, you can’t go wrong with the Magento platform.  Not only is it a free piece of open source software, it offers an incredible number of features and a rabid user base that provides support through the Magento forums.

However, the Magento system itself isn’t that SEO-friendly out of the box.  For this reason, you’ll want to take the following steps in order to maximize your site’s optimization within the search engines:

1 – Set up SEF URLs

One of the first things you’ll want to do in order to optimize your Magento website is to adjust your page permalinks to create search engine friendly (SEF) URLs.  There are a few specific ways to do this:

  • To auto-create keyword-rich page URLs, log in to the “System” section of your Magento dashboard, and then select the “Web” option from the “Configuration” menu.  Here, select “Yes” to have your Magento site automatically determine the best SEF URL for each page on your site.  (Only select “No” if you plan on setting up your own custom URLs by hand.)
  • In addition, in this same section, turn off the option that lets you determine whether or not Store IDs will be included in your URLs.  This will prevent your URLs from being populated with excess characters that hinder both the user experience and your site’s SEO.
  • Finally, check out the “Unsecure / Secure” section of the configuration panel and determine whether you want your base URL to be the www version or the non-www version of your domain name.  While either option is acceptable when it comes to SEO, you’ll need to set up the proper 301 redirects outside of this section so that the search engine spiders know to treat both versions of your page the same.

2 – Optimize categories

As with any other website, you’ll want to add meta information to each of your category pages in order to improve their appearance within the natural SERPs.  Within Magento, this can be done within the “Manage Categories” section of the “Catalog” panel.

Once you’ve reached this area, take the time to create a meta description, page title and URL key for each category page.  While your meta data itself isn’t that strongly weighted in the ranking algorithms, creating compelling copy for each of these elements can increase the likelihood that search visitors will click through your SERPs snippet in order to reach your pages.

3 – Optimize products

Obviously, if optimizing your category pages has the potential to drive extra traffic by increasing your click-through rate from the SERPs, creating enticing meta data for your product pages should provide the same benefits.

One thing to pay attention to…  In addition to setting up a meta description, page title and URL slug for each product page, double check your image tags.  By default, Magento renames images to your product titles, though you can set your own optimized title tags and ALT tags by visiting the “Images” tab within the “Product Information” section of each product page.

4 – Set appropriate headline usage

By default, within Magento, your store’s logo is tagged as an <h1> headline across all of your website’s pages.  This isn’t optimal from an SEO standpoint, so you’ll want to adjust the way your logo is coded so that it’s an <h1> headline on your home page and an <h3> headline on all of your internal pages.  Doing so will allow you to reserve your important <h1> headlines (of which there should only be one per page) for the keyword-rich product names found on your internal product pages.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to do this within the Magento platform backend, so you’ll need to make this adjustment within the code of your site itself.  If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, hire a qualified programmer to handle the task, as mistakes made to your site’s code could inadvertently shut down your entire store.

5 – Install canonicalization plugin

Like most content management systems, Magento suffers from a weakness that often results in multiple URLs being created to point at the same page (ie, a category-specific page, archive page and so forth).

There are two ways to remedy this situation – setting up 301 redirects that point all non-important URLs at the page you want the search engines to display in the SERPs or adding “rel=canonical” tags to the <head> section of any page you don’t want indexed.

Now, although the search engines aren’t obligated to pay attention to canonical tags, Google, Bing and Yahoo have all indicated their support for this feature.  And because it’s a heck of a lot easier to install a canonical tag plugin like Yoast’s “Canonical URLs for Magento” to manage redirections than to hand code each individual 301 redirect, we recommend using this alternative for controlling potential duplicate content.

6 – Add noindex and nofollow tags

Setting up canonical tags is an important part of controlling the way the search engines index your website, but there’s one additional technique you’ll want to implement to maximize the flow of authority throughout your site – noindex and nofollow tags.

Noindex tags can be added to the Robots.txt file on your site using Yoast’s “MetaRobots” plugin in order to tell the search engines not to include specific pages on your site within the SERPs.  At a minimum, be sure to add your user account pages, archive pages, order/checkout pages and any other pages that exist behind a login process to your collection of noindex tags to ensure that the search engines are exhausting their crawl budgets on your most important pages.

In addition, while noindex tags should be added to your site on a page-by-page basis, nofollow tags should be added to any internal links that point to your noindexed pages.  Adding this tag prevents PageRank from flowing across these links, allowing your site’s authority to concentrate on the pages that should be ranked highly in the SERPs.  Unlike noindex tags, nofollow tags must be coded by hand into your site, as there’s currently no plugin available to handle this need.

7 – Manage site speed

Finally, when it comes to optimizing your Magento website for search engine discovery and rankings, one of the last things you’ll want to address is your site speed.

Because Magento is a fairly resource-intensive system, it’s common for store hosts to experience slow load times if the proper precautions aren’t taken.  And since these slow-downs can result in a negative mark against your site’s SEO score, it’s a good idea to manage site speed by enabling caching (which can be done within the “Cache Management” section of your site’s backend, combining script files wherever possible and serving some content from an external CDN.

If these tweaks alone don’t bring your site speed measurements into the parameters deemed “acceptable” by Google, take a look at your hosting account.  Some hosting providers offer accounts that are specifically “Magento-optimized,” and you may find it necessary to transition to one of these services in order to provide the best possible experience for your users and to meet the site speed guidelines set forth by the search engines.


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