eCommerce Search Engine Optimization – 7 Tips for Success

If you rely on your website as a key part of your business, then i’m sure I don’t have to tell you how important it is that you have a strategy for maintaining good search engine optimization.  Having a well optimized site that ranks well for your main keywords is a crucial part of building any strong online business.  For most types of websites, the rules are the same.  Content, content, content!  But what about eCommerce search engine optimization?  Optimizing a blog post for a particular keyword is one thing, but what about product pages?  How do you manage category pages?

eCommerce sites definitely have their own unique challenges and pitfalls when it comes to search engine optimization.  In this article, we’ll touch on 7 tips to make sure your eCommerce site is well optimized and attracting valuable traffic!

Why is eCommerce search engine optimization more challenging?

SEO for eCommerce - 7 Tips for SuccessTo get to the root of this, you have to understand how the search engines crawl and index websites.  The search engines will typically land on your front page, and then follow every link they come across.  It will then follow every link on those pages until it has exhausted new links to crawl.  On a typical website, which might have anywhere from 10-20 total content pages, this is a pretty simple feat.

Now, think about your typical eCommerce site.  Not only do you have your regular company / content pages, but you have product pages, category pages, product comparison pages, reviews, shopping carts, search results, etc.  Many of these top-level pages have multiple views (filter by price, name, etc) and many pages are divided into even more sub pages!  A category with 35 products in it will likely result in 3-4 pages with previous and next buttons to make it easier to browse.  As a result of these common eCommerce site features, the search engine spider will often encounter thousands of links to follow and evaluate, many of which are circular, or all wind up at different versions of the same page.  If left unchecked – you may find yourself with a site that appears to be full of duplicate titles, content, and just an overall poor navigation path – which Google takes into account in determining your rankings.

Below, we cover 7 areas you need to pay attention to with any eCommerce site, to ensure your web store is easy to crawl and index, as appears to be well organized and of high quality.

1) Don’t forget the basics

Every page needs the core SEO elements taken care of.  By this we mean that every page should have a properly written Meta Title, Meta Description, and the content within the page should be properly organized with headings and paragraphs, all of which should be relevant to the most important keywords you are targeting.  This holds true for all of your pages, whether it is a content-heavy “about us” page, or a product page.  Good SEO will ALWAYS start with good, high quality content. Because eCommerce sites can have large catalogs – it is easy to gloss over these and forget.

Why this is a problem:  It’s easy to forgot your basic SEO best practices when you’re working on an eCommerce site.  Having a well formed title, well written meta elements, proper usage of heading tags, and 300-600 words of well-written content are still your basic target.  As shoppers – we don’t necessarily want to read 300-600 words about a product, but Google has a hard time indexing and sorting that product if there isn’t enough content to analyze.

How do I fix this?  Take the time to write plenty of content about your products, and also on category pages.  Keep in mind that even if a page is automatically generated from your catalog, it is still a page as far as google is concerned.  It needs to follow SEO best practices to ensure maximum performance in search.

2) Make proper use of rel=canonical.

If this seems like greek, then you should probably talk to your web developer or SEO provider and make sure.  Simply put though, rel=canonical is a tag that lets you tell the search engine which version of a URL is THE correct version.  For instance, http://itdint.wpengine.com and http://itdinteractive.com are of course the same URL – but the search engine doesn’t know that.  As far as the search engine is concerned, those are two very different URLs.  with eCommerce sites, the need for the rel=canonical tag is nothing short of critical.  For instance, you might have 2 URLs for the same category page:  http://www.mysite.com/widgets and http://www.mysite.com/widgets?page=2.  If these pages have the rel=canonical tag stating that the actual URL should be http://www.mysite.com/widgets – the search engine would simply assume that these are two completely separate pages.  This example only has two pages – you might have a category with so many products that your eCommerce site breaks it up into 10 sub pages.  Without the rel=canonical tag notifying the search engine of the canonical URL, the spider will log every single page as a unique page.

Why this is a problem:  10 unique pages of content is a great thing.  10 pages of mostly similar content, that share the exact same title and meta descriptions is absolutely NOT a good thing.  It looks like you have 10 pages that you didn’t bother to assign unique titles to.  This leave the search engine with a bad impression of your site’s organization.

How do I fix this?  Most standard eCommerce platforms either have configuration settings to enable the rel=canonical tag, or readily available plugins that do the same thing.  If you aren’t comfortable tackling this yourself, you should reach out to your web developer and get them to point you in the right direction.

3) Utilize rel=PREV and rel=NEXT.

If you have a category listing with multiple pages of products, the crawler will likely think that you have a bunch of pages with duplicate title and meta tags.

Why this is a problem:  If you have a large catalog of products, you will most likely have listings that are broken down into multiple pages.  While this makes it easier for your customer to browser through the catalog – it can cause confusion when Google comes around to index the page.  Let’s say you have a category called ‘iPhone Cases’.  If you had 8 pages of iphone cases to scroll through, then Google would think you have 8 pages with the identical main title and description – resulting in a ding against you for duplicate content.

How do I fix this?  By properly utilizing the rel=PREV and rel=NEXT, Google, or any of the indexers, will understand that each page is just a continuation of the original listing and take that into account in their index.  There are different ways to implement this, depending on what eCommerce platform you are using, so refer to the documentation or talk with your developer.  There are often plugins that will take care of this for you as well.

4) Avoid big chunks of boiler-plate content.

If you have a lot of products that are similar, avoid the temptation to boilerplate the product description and only change the color or style information.  Duplicate content is a big concern with SEO and if you have 20 products that share the same 2-3 paragraphs, you run the risk of those pages being buried in the index – google assuming they are of low quality.

Why this is a problem:  We all like to save time where we can – and duplicating similar products to add to your catalog is a common practice.  The problem arises when you duplicate a product several times, and essentially only change the title, picture and maybe a sentence or two in the description.  This can be challenging especially if you have accessory products that are basically the same, but that work with different systems – like phone accessories, computer accessories, etc.

How do I fix this?  There isn’t really a quick fix for this issue, unfortunately.  The key here is to take the time to either write original content for all or your products, or better organize products that share too many similarities.  For instance – if you have a battery charger that comes in 6 different varieties for 6 different devices, don’t create 6 individual products and try to write custom content for each.  Create it as ONE product with well written content, and allow the shopper to pick which device they are shopping for from an option list.

5) Avoid skimpy product and category pages.

Category and Product pages are fantastic opportunities to provide the user with valuable information about your products, their value and why they should be interested in them.

Why this is a problem: For sites with lots of products, however, it is all too common to only write a sentence or two for each. If your page has barely a paragraph of content, the search engines really can’t evaluate what it is about and you’ll never be able to rank very high for that page.  Take the time and craft great content around your products.  Category pages are an even greater opportunity to develop great content since they are more of an overview page.

How do I fix this?  Take the time to carefully organize your categories.  If you have too many categories – then you will also have too many category pages to edit!  Once you priorities your category breakdown, take time to flesh out each category page with unique content about the products contained in that category.  Typical SEO rules apply to the category page just as they would a blog post or other informational page.

6) Beware of built-in SEO title and meta values.

Many eCommerce platforms allow you to set a global title and description.  The idea here is that it is better than nothing, should you forget to set them individually in your product and category pages, but this is a terrible practice.

Why this is a problem:  If you set a global title and description, and fail to individually set these items on other pages, the search engine will register duplicate titles and descriptions for all of your pages.  Multiply this problem by however many products and categories you create!  This gets tricky because as a viewer, you see product titles and pictures.  To the indexer, however, they see an entire catalog full of items bearing the same title and description.  These duplicate titles and descriptions can, and will, also shop up in google listings which looks terrible.

How do I fix this?  Each product, category, and informational page in your eCommerce platform should have an area where you can specify the meta information.  Some may automatically grab the product title and an excerpt of the description, or short description. However, if you have the default meta title / description set, it could override this feature.  In this case – automatically grabbing the products title and excerpt is your ‘better than nothing’ option.  However, to gain the most benefit, you should really take the time to edit the meta information for each fo your products.

7) Don’t forget the ALT tags.

eCommerce sites tend to have a lot of photos.  Any decent eCommerce software will allow you to edit the alt text for any photo you insert.  Make sure you do not skip this step.  Aside from stronger overall optimization, alt text provides an opportunity to add relevant keywords in the context of your products and services.  Google’s image search is a powerful tool that relies on the alt text heavily to determine what a photo is all about.

Why this is a problem:  Many eCommerce platforms make it easy to jump loads of pictures onto your website.  Everyone wants to see multiple views of a product, or pics of the product in use.  This is great – but if you do not take the time to set the alt tag information for each picture, they will be indexed by their file name.  All too often – file names are just part numbers, or generic names that are abbreviated or chopped up to save typing.

How do I fix this?  By intentionally editing the meta information for each image – primarily the alt tag – you can take advantage of the entire image side of Google’s indexing services.  Often image search results will show up alongside text searches and that can be another opportunity to have links to your store show up in a potential customers search.  Each platform handles this slightly differently, but any major eCommerce platform should have an easy interface to edit this information.

Wrapping Up

eCommerce SEO can be a tricky subject, and often takes more on-going effort than SEO on an information or service oriented website.  Ignoring SEO best practices can have a huge detrimental effect on the performance site, however, so the effort for an eCommerce site can return a huge payoff.  It’s worth the time to do it right.  If you feel you do not have time to tackle this yourself, you should seek out an SEO service provider who can help you!  This is a service we provide to many of our clients, and we would be happy to talk with you as well.

If you would be interested in a free consultation – there is a link in the side bar.  We would be happy to look over your eCommerce site and offer insight into areas that might be holding you back – and there is no obligation. 

Experienced Custom Home Builder Gets New Site

J.S. Howell, Inc.ITD Interactive recently launched a new site J.S. Howell, Inc., a custom home builder in Tennessee and Virginia. The site includes a mobile-responsive design, an extensive portfolio and photo gallery, customer testimonials,  and contact & quote information.

The new website features dynamic full-screen images, an innovative before and after gallery, and a persistent top menu.

A native of Johnson City and graduate of East Tennessee State University, owner Jeff Howell has been a builder specializing in custom homes in the TriCities TN/VA since 2005.

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New Site For Artistic Fire Pit Builder

Creative Firepit, Inc.We recently launched a new site for Creative Firepit, Inc., a manufacturer of custom, hand-crafted globe-style fire pits. The site includes a mobile-responsive design, a photo gallery of pre-designed products, and contact information.

The fire pits are hand cut by a professional artist — a video of the process is included on the website, along with details and specifications about each design.

Custom designed fire pits are also available by request.

(more…)

New Home Health Website

AllCare Health ServicesWe recently launched a new site and blog for AllCare Health Services, a provider of home health services in Knoxville and those in need throughout Tennessee.   Their new website includes a mobile-responsive design, an informative blog, and contact forms to get a free, no obligation quote for services.

They cover the ninety-five county area with caregiver availability of Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), home health aides, sitters, live-ins, companions and experienced caregivers.

Established in 2002, AllCare is licensed by the State of Tennessee, bonded, and insured.

They are active in the home care industry as members of the Tennessee Association of Home Care, the United HealthCare TN Advisory Group and the BlueCross BlueShield TN Advisory Group. (more…)

Website Launch Plan: 9 Ways To Build Buzz

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See the post below the website launch plan graphic for more details and links to examples of each item.

Website Launch Plan
Are you working on a new website or a complete redesign of your current site?  Let’s talk about the plan and how to build buzz around the launch.

    1. Set A Firm Date.  The best thing you can do for yourself and your web design team is to make a hard deadline and publicize it.  (If you don’t set a real deadline, the project will drag on and on.  How long does it take to actually build a professional website for a small business?  One Week.  Contact us today for details on our One Week Website process.)  Setting a firm date gets people excited and gives them a reason to put something on the calendar.  Here’s what Pat Flynn has to say about setting dates to build buzz: “When people know what date something is going to happen, not only will people anticipate that specific date and get excited about it, but if you have a specific schedule you can follow leading up that launch date, you can better drop hints and generate excitement leading up to that date.”
    2. Post A 1-Page Landing Page.  Here are a few great one-page WordPress themes with countdown clocks.  Make sure and ask for email addresses, so you can contact them when the site goes live.  Then follow up with more email marketing in the future.  We can help with that through Inbound Marketing and The Gravity Strategy. Even if this is a redesign of your current site, you can do a one-page landing page that you can promote in the sidebar or home page of your current site.  That lets folks know something better is coming.  By now, you hate your current site and you want folks to know something better is right around the corner.
    3. Use A Test Group.  You can send your test site out to a few influentials in your industry or a few of your favorite customers.  Those folks will appreciate the trust you put in them and will help publicize the new site when it launches.  It’s kind of the idea of scarcity that many big brands use to build buzz around new stuff.
    4. Make A Preview Video.  If you have a big social media following or large email subscriber list or even a lot of general traffic on your current site, you can make a screencast video showing people around the new site before it launches.  This is probably a week or less before you launch.  “I’m going to go show you around the new site which we are launching on Tuesday.”  Then they can’t wait to actually get on there and start using it on Tuesday.  Here is a preview video I put together for a personal site I launched recently.
       
      I used Screencast-O-Matic, a free easy-to-use tool, for the recording.
    5. Giveaways.  We’re big on giveaways.  We give something away in our monthly newsletters and in pretty much all of our marketing.  Use the giveaway to entice email subscription opt-ins and give something away on launch day.  “Subscribe to our email updates right now for a chance to win _________ when we launch the new site.”
    6. Post The Launch On An Event Website.  I’m taking what Jay Baer said in his 7 Ways To Use Social Media To Create Buzz-Worthy Events and using it for a website launch in this instance.  Use EventBrite, Facebook Events, or LinkedIn and create your event page.  The incoming links from those sites won’t hurt your search rankings! (For a free link from us–a PageRank 4 site–see below.)
    7. Ask For Input.  Do you have an existing customer base you can contact via social media or email?  Ask them for input on some part of your new site.  If there’s a logo redesign, throw three choices out there and ask for feedback.  Tell them you are working on your new menu structure and ask what items they are most interested in.  Crowdsourcing of this type builds ownership in the new site for your most devoted fans.  We’d be glad to give you a little input as well.  Leave your test site link in the comments below and we’ll give you some feedback!
    8. Schedule A Chamber Event. Are you a member of your local chamber?  Many chambers have “Business After Hours” events you can host at your office.  Again, you might get a good ole incoming link from your local chamber which usually has high authority in Google.
    9. Throw A Party.  A few years back, I was about to launch a new website and business and used my own birthday as an excuse to throw a birthday/launch party.   You don’t have to have an external event to build your launch party around.  Folks will come for the free food no matter what.
    10. Write A Great First Post.  (This is a bonus!)  If your new site has a news or blog section, don’t leave it blank when you launch.  And don’t just say “Welcome to the new website.”  Do some screen captures of the cool new stuff and show folks around the new site.  Don’t know what to write?  We’ll do it for you!  Seriously, no fees, no catches.  Just contact us or leave a comment below and we’ll write your first blog post for you.

Sites That Have Used These Tips

Let us know if you put any of these tips into practice.  Leave a comment below with your website address and we’ll link to it here.  Yes, that’s a real link with real Google juice to boost your SEO!

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What are some other ways to generate buzz around a website launch or redesign?  Have you ever used one of these strategies?  Do you intend to?  Let us know in the comments.

Kingsport Web Design – Bays Mountain Park Case Study

“ITDi has gone above and beyond – and continues to do so – in making certain their product/our website is achieving the goals we collectively set for it. We love the ease of use, as well as the e-commerce options.” – Rob Cole, Operations Coordinator, Bays Mountain Park

Bays Mountain Park WebsiteBays Mountain Park came to us via referral to solve their Kingsport web design needs.  Most pressing among those needs were an updated design and a Content Management System (CMS) which made it easy for them to make updates.

Our design team put together a striking design including a new logo area which is based off of their angular entrance sign and exisiting logo.  The colors and graphics on the home page portrayed the earthy tones of this woodland park and the state-of-the-art planetarium which is a huge regional draw.  Bays Mountain is well-known for their wolf habitat, so we made prominent use of wolves in home page slider images as well as wolf footprints across the header.


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The site is set up on the WordPress CMS which allows multiple Bays Mountain Park staff to have separate back-end accounts and editing access.  Ken Childress, Park Manager, wanted to make sure that the site stayed up-to-date with fresh information, so it was imperative that the CMS was easy to use. (more…)

eCommerce, SEO, SEO Checklist, Websites