Setting Up Magento Correctly for SEO

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The Magento e-commerce platform has received quite a bit of media attention recently – and for good reason!  Available in both free open source and paid enterprise-level versions, the system is full-featured and provides a great customer experience for the companies that use it to set up shop.

However, the Magento system out-of-the-box does have a few weaknesses from an SEO perspective.  So if you do decide to make use of this platform, you’ll want to address all of the following issues before launching your site:

1 – URL Configuration

Once you’ve installed the Magento platform, one of the first things you’ll want to do is to adjust the default URL configuration to a more SEO-friendly format.  Specifically, you’ll want to:

  • Set up server URL rewrites – To set up Magento to automatically create search engine friendly (SEF) URL rewrites, click on the “System” section, select the “Configuration” panel and then choose the “Web” option.  Here, you’ll have the opportunity to set this feature to “Yes” (in order to have Magento automatically set your URL rewrites) or “No” (if you’d rather create your own custom URL rewrites using the “Catalog -> URL Rewrite Management” option).  For most users, it’s easiest to simply set this to “Yes.”
  • Turn off store code additions – In the web configuration section, you’ll also have the opportunity to specify whether your Store ID codes should be included in your URLs.  Since this can interfere with appropriate indexing, we recommend setting this to “No” (although you should be careful to select this option first if you plan to set up custom URL rewrites).
  • Specify and redirect “www versus non-www” URLs – Finally, in the “Unsecure / Secure” section, you’ll be able to set your base domain as either utilizing the “www” prefix or not.  Be aware, though, that setting this option on its own doesn’t create the necessary 301 redirects that ensure both sets of URLs are treated the same by the search engines.  For this reason, it’s important to use your site’s .htaccess file to set up mod_rewrites that tell the search engines how your URLs should be indexed.

Once you’ve set up these site-wide SEO tweaks, you’ll want to move on to adjusting the way Magento handles both category and page optimization…

2 – Page Optimization

Within the Magento backend, you’ll have the opportunity to customize several different features for the pages created by its content management system (CMS).  Pay attention to all of the following areas when setting up your Magento site for maximum SEO benefit:

  • Category optimization – Within the “Catalog -> Manage Categories” section of your site’s backend, you’ll be able to set up a meta description, page title and URL key (or “slug”) for each category in your store.  Set each of these variables with care, as they represent the values that will be displayed in the SERPs snippets whenever your category pages are displayed by the search engines.  Make your content as enticing as possible in order to improve your click through rates.
  • Product optimization – In addition to setting the same meta variables for each of your products as you defined for your category pages, pay special attention to the way your image files are handled.  By default, images are renamed to your product titles, but by navigating to the “Images” tab under each “Product Information” section, you’ll be able to set unique, optimized ALT tags and title tags.
  • Heading usage – If you make use of one of Magento’s default skins, be aware that the way these templates handle their heading usage isn’t ideal from an SEO standpoint.  According to the platform’s standard settings, your site’s logo is given <h1> treatment across all pages.  Because these tags should be reserved for your product names and category titles on internal pages, you’ll want to modify your Magento template so that the logo is an <h1> heading on the home page and an <h3> heading on all other pages to reserve the <h1> tag for more important phrases.  (Note – If you don’t feel confident making template changes on your own, outsource the process to a qualified web developer.)

3 – Site Speed

One of the biggest SEO issues found on the Magento platform is site speed – a variable that’s been increasing in importance within the Google ranking algorithms recently.  Google has made no secret of the fact that it likes fast sites and wants to give them priority in the natural search results pages.

Unfortunately, the Magento platform on its own is quite resource-intensive.  If you want to use this system for your own online retail environment, you’ll want to be sure to take a few key steps to speed up your store and prevent your site from suffering both in terms of a slow user experience and the resulting search engine penalties.

  • Enable caching.  Turning on Magento’s caching features can speed up site performance by allowing users to store copies of your site on their computers to minimize load times.  To do this, navigate to the “Cache Management” area of your site’s backend and enable all of the different caching options listed in this area.
  • Upgrade to better hosting.  Unfortunately, the Magento platform may not be able to run effectively on that “bargain basement” hosting account you picked up years ago.  If you’re experiencing slow load times with your Magento store, you may find it worthwhile to move your site to a host that’s either optimized specifically for Magento or one that offers substantially more resources for your account.
  • Limit external files.  As you might expect, the more external files a user must download in order to view your site, the longer that site will take to load.  But unfortunately, while the Magento system does automatically combine most Javascript files into a single download, it doesn’t do so for CSS files.  In order to improve site speed, consider combining all of your CSS files (with the exception of print.css) into a single page.

Finally, while all of these Magento SEO concerns can be accommodated with a little in-site tweaking, you may find it easier to correct known issues with any of the following add-on modules:

  • Yoast Canonical URLs for Magento Module – This module, offered by the Yoast SEO team, allows you to quickly and easily add the appropriate canonical tags to the <head> sections of your Magento pages.  This allows you to remedy potential duplicate content concerns by specifying how specific URLs should be treated by the search engines.
  • Yoast MetaRobots Module – Another great offering from the Yoast team, the MetaRobots module makes it easy to set up the appropriate meta robots tags on your Magento pages.  Although this functionality isn’t easily accomplished using the Magento platform as-is, it’s an important part of showing the search engines which pages on your site should be indexed.
  • MageWorx SEO Suite Pro – Alternatively, if you’re looking for an “all in one” solution to correcting Magento’s SEO weaknesses, check out the SEO Suite Pro module by MageWorx.  At $149 for a single site license, it’s a little pricy, but you’ll more than make up for the cost in terms of time saved on critical SEO tasks.

Have you used the Magento platform for your ecommerce needs before?  If so, share your recommendations for making this system as optimized as possible in the comments below!

Image: alles-schlumpf

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