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Thinking of starting up an e-commerce store? Dreaming of becoming the internet’s next Amazon?
When it comes to selecting an e-commerce platform, there are tons of different things you’ll want to consider, from the costs of your chosen systems to the quality of the stock store designs that are made available within each option.
However, as you take all of these different elements into consideration, don’t forget about the relative merits of each platform’s built-in SEO features. Even though these offerings can vary significantly, your store’s ability to be crawled correctly and ranked well in the natural search results is vitally important to your overall success.
Here’s how each of the top e-commerce platforms stack up against each other from an SEO perspective:
If you search online for ecommerce platform recommendations, one of the first options you’ll see repeated over and over is the OpenCart system. OpenCart is, unsurprisingly, an open source solution which means that it’s free to both download and use. For most beginning internet retailers, the potential cost savings of this type of system compared to paid platforms can be incredibly appealing!
However, it’s also important to keep in mind that open source solutions have some serious weaknesses. Because they’re free, they rarely offer the same level of support and innovation (which is necessary to accommodate changes in the world of SEO) as paid ecommerce services.
So while OpenCart isn’t a bad option for beginning retailers, be aware that the only built-in SEO support is the ability to create custom product and category meta tags. While other necessary SEO tweaks (for example, the addition of canonical tags or the creation of search engine friendly URLs) can be accomplished using instructions found in the service’s user forum, these workarounds typically require the ability to edit code.
If you’re comfortable modifying the technical underpinnings of your ecommerce site, OpenCart may be a good option. On the other hand, if you’re a beginning merchant who’s concerned about a single wrong move bringing down your entire site, you may be more comfortable working with a paid platform.
Zen Cart is another popular open source ecommerce platform that many merchants consider when exploring internet retail service options. Like OpenCart, it doesn’t provide native support for many critical SEO features – meaning that shop owners must either modify their site code themselves or forego the SEO benefits these tweaks provide.
While there’s a wealth of information on tweaking the Zen Cart code for optimum SEO in the site’s user forum, it’s also important to be aware of weaknesses in the platforms coding that make it easier for hackers to break into your site (in fact, this is such a common occurrence that Zen Cart hosts its own wiki on “Recovering From Hacks”). For this reason alone, OpenCart is a much better option if you decide to go the open source route.
Yet another open source ecommerce solution that deserves a mention here is the OSCommerce platform. Although it’s fallen out of favor to some extent compared to Magento (which we’ll discuss next), it’s still a very viable option for new merchants to consider.
In general, OSCommerce falls victim to many of the same weaknesses as OpenCart and Zen Cart – that is, that there aren’t many built-in SEO solutions that enable you to customize key features of the service (including URL structure, <head> data and other tags).
However, one advantage that OSCommerce does have over both of these other services is the number of tools, plugins and documentation generated by its user community for the purposes of improving the platform’s SEO. For beginning retailers who are willing to dig in and learn the necessary code to optimize their stores for search engine performance, these resources can be a great way to get a jump on the ecommerce learning curve.
The Magento eCommerce platform is a strong option for SEO, although it comes with a few caveats. While the system does offer the ability to customize URLs to search engine friendly formats and modify <head> data extensively, it isn’t that user-friendly from a coding perspective. If you plan on making advanced SEO modifications beyond what can be accomplished with the platform’s built-in feature and range of available plugins, you’ll need to have either past experience in development or the budget to hire a professional coder.
In addition, the size of the Magento platform can lead to weaknesses from a load time perspective. As site speed is being increasingly rewarded as a search results ranking factor, it’s important to purchase Magento-optimized hosting to account for this flaw if you do decide to move forward with this ecommerce solution.
Next up, let’s take a look at the paid ecommerce options…
The Volusion ecommerce system is one of the most widely used internet retail platforms out there – and with good reason. Not only does the service offer a variety of different pricing levels to accommodate internet retailers at all stages of business growth, the latest version of the company’s program includes all of the following SEO features:
- SEO friendly site
- SEO friendly URLs
- Dynamically generated SEO friendly URLs
- Store-specific SEO settings
- Product-specific SEO settings
- Category-specific SEO settings
- Article-specific SEO settings
- Editable robots.txt
- Search engine sitemap generator
- Meta tag description definition
- Meta tag keyword definition
- Meta tag title definition
- Custom meta tag overrides
- Search term analysis
- 301 redirect management
- Custom 404 error page configuration
- Custom 500 error page configuration
While these features are relatively easy to implement, a Volusion membership does also include 24/7 professional support and access to an active support community – both of which can be hugely beneficial to new merchants who don’t want to bother learning more complex open source ecommerce solutions.
Another paid ecommerce platform that’s growing in popularity is Big Commerce, and it’s easy to see why. The company claims to offer “The Easiest Way to Sell Online,” and given its wealth of template options, intuitive dashboard and wide range of native SEO features, it’s hard to dispute this assertion.
From an SEO standpoint, the platform offers all of the same built-in options as Volusion, with a few key differentiators:
- H1 tags. One weakness on Volusion’s part is the way H1 tags are handled. Within Big Commerce, H1 tags are incorporated on the page level, allowing merchants to obtain an SEO benefit from incorporating product-related keywords into this important area.
- Built-in nofollow support. Another element that’s missing from Volusion’s service is built in support for nofollow tags, which allows merchants to control how PageRank flows between internal and external links on their pages. This tag is incredibly useful when it comes to SEO, which gives the Big Commerce platform another advantage over Volusion.
Unfortunately, though, Big Commerce can be quite a bit more expensive than Volusion, and these small advantages don’t necessarily justify the extra cost. If you’re a new ecommerce merchant who’s interested in a paid service, be sure to closely examine the full feature lists for both platforms to determine which option will best meet your needs.
One final paid platform to consider when it comes to ecommerce options is Shopify, a relatively new system that’s quickly building a dedicated following due to its superior Theme Store and easy-to-use design features.
Overall, though, Shopify isn’t quite as strong as Volusion or Big Commerce in terms of SEO, as it doesn’t offer built-in support for the editing of the robots.txt file or for the creation of public sitemaps.
However, one advantage it does have over both of these competitors is its integrated blogging service. Running a business blog is great from both an SEO and user experience standpoint, as it allows retailers to build relationships with their customers while at the same time opening themselves up to additional keyword exposure.
Are you using any of these platforms to run your ecommerce properties? Do you have a recommendation for another option that you’d like to share? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!