SEO Best Practices for E-Commerce
Search engine optimization is the process of improving a website to increase its visibility on search engines. While there are ways to accomplish this through paid ads, SEO is about improving a site's organic, or natural, ranking. When performed effectively, SEO can drive increased relevant traffic to any kind of website. With that said, special considerations are in order when it comes to performing SEO on an e-commerce site.
When performing SEO for a basic website, the primary goal is to simply increase its visibility to attract a wider audience of people who are interested in the topic at hand. When performing SEO for an e-commerce site, however, the primary goal is to increase sales. With that in mind, SEO must be used to promote products, product categories and other aspects of the site that will direct visitors to the correct pages.
Best practices for e-commerce SEO
SEO is an excellent investment for any e-commerce website. When performed correctly, it results in a website that more effectively engages users. In turn, more relevant traffic is generated, conversion rates are boosted and revenues increase. SEO is one of the most effective ways to direct users along the sales funnel. Even if you're already familiar with the basics of SEO, it's crucial to understand the special considerations that are required when applying these techniques to an e-commerce website.
Merely sprinkling relevant keywords within the content on your site is far from enough. Exceptional care should be used when crafting product categories, product descriptions and internal link architecture. Keep the following points in mind to make the most of the SEO techniques that you apply to your e-commerce site:
1. Design your e-commerce site with SEO in mind. If your e-commerce site is yet to be created, you're in the unique position of being able to design it with SEO in mind. Of course, chances are that you're not going to personally design your site. Choose a website designer or developer who has extensive SEO experience. Web designers who are familiar with SEO best practices can incorporate them into the actual design of an e-commerce site, which gets it off to a very positive start and lays the foundation for exceptional search engine visibility down the road.
2. Treat product category pages like mini homepages. A lot of care and attention should go into the homepage of your e-commerce site, and the same outlook should be used when creating product category pages. Treat them as mini homepages; make them as informative, interesting and optimized as possible. When consumers search for broad categories of products on search engines, your category pages will attract traffic to your site.
3. Use search engine-friendly URLs. Never use generic URLs for your website. The search engines look at the URL to figure out what a site is all about. Category page URLs should look like this: www.yoursite.com/category. Subcategory page URLs should look like this: www.yoursite.com/category/subcategory. Finally, product page URLs should look like this: www.yoursite.com/category-subcategory/productname.
4. Develop highly effective product pages and descriptions. Duplicate content is like kryptonite when it comes to ranking well on the major search engines, so it's crucial to develop unique product descriptions and pages for your site. This isn't such a tall order if you only have a handful of products, but it can be tricky when you have hundreds or even thousands of products. Start by focusing on your most popular products, but try to develop unique content and descriptions for all of your products.
Best practices for developing search engine-friendly product pages and descriptions include the following:
- Manufacturers’ descriptions: Avoid using generic manufacturers’ descriptions whenever possible. If you must use them, make sure to add unique content to each page to avoid being penalized by Google.
- Product variations: When you have products that vary by color, size and other small details, it's easy to inadvertently end up with duplicate content on your site. Another problem is that products may rank for the wrong keywords, which leads to confusion and can alienate consumers.
- Relevant products: A great way to teach the search engines what your site is about is by including links to relevant products on product description pages. This also enhances the user friendliness of your site by helping visitors find other products they may be interested in.
- Out-of-stock products: When a product is out of stock but will be back in stock at some point, don't just eliminate the page or direct people away from it. Instead, try offering alternative products. Let visitors know when the product will be back in stock. You might even want to offer a discount for customers who choose to backorder out-of-stock products.
- Obsolete products: Deleting pages for obsolete items may actually do more harm than good. People may still need information about those products, so it's generally best to leave them up. Furthermore, those URLs have gained a lot of traction over time and continue to help your site rank well. Alternatively, you could have the page redirect visitors to parent categories, where they can find related items.
- New products: Help new products rank well right away by promoting them on your homepage. Use good link architecture, site structure and internal links to quickly show the search engines what the new products are about and how they relate to your brand.
- User-generated content: Fresh content is extremely beneficial when it comes to SEO, but constantly rewriting product descriptions isn't practical. A great workaround is to encourage user-generated content by posting reviews, comments and social media activity on product and category pages.
5. Develop exceptional internal link structure and site architecture. Internal link building helps dramatically with SEO and search rankings. It helps search engine spiders make sense of your site, but it also ensures that visitors can find their way around effectively. Take advantage of every opportunity to link to relevant products, product category pages, subcategory pages and other pages within your e-commerce site.
6. Make your e-commerce site mobile friendly. More people are shopping online via mobile devices than ever. A great way to enhance your SEO strategy is by ensuring that your e-commerce site is mobile friendly. The best way to do that is by using responsive web design, which means that a single set of code is used to render a site correctly across all devices. It's a much simpler and more effective solution than creating an entirely separate mobile site.
SEO for e-commerce is an ongoing process
As with SEO for any kind of site, SEO for e-commerce is never finished. Ongoing testing and constant improvements are critical. However, once the main work is done, upkeep is generally quite minimal. Even if it's more involved, the results make it more than worth it.
Unlike in a brick-and-mortar store, consumers can quickly head for greener pastures when they can't find what they want on your e-commerce site. If they can't find it in the first place, you're really going to be in trouble. For these and many other reasons, it's critical to keep SEO best practices in mind when designing and maintaining an e-commerce site. Extra work is required, but the return on your investments of time, money and effort will be considerable.
Thom Robbins is the chief evangelist at Kentico, an integrated marketing solutions provider.