15 SEO Commandments to Improve your Online Ecommerce Store

A few years back people were bemused when i told them what i actually do! But within a couple of years search engine optimization has emerged as a money-making industry and not a new thing anymore (thank God). It has been a significant part of digital landscape and many small to large businesses have enjoyed substantial part of it. Some of them are still new players and some even find it hard to understand what it is.

The fact is that SEO is a must-have thing at this point so I came up with these SEO friendly website ideas you might want to implement on your business website to gain maximum search engine visibility. Regardless of your business size, these SEO related ideas can help your ecommerce website grow.

1.       URL Structure and Site Architecture

The first thing a user is going to look at is the URL of your website. Make sure to add hyphen separated words and filenames rather than using special characters. This is also an ideal practice for search engine bots as they treat hyphens as word separators and can easily distinguish words where hyphens are used.

Pro Tip: Use http://www.example.com/nike-shoes rather than using http://www.example.com/nikeshoes.

Moreover, you should not run site wide dynamic URLs. URLs having special characters [#?&] are too hard to understand and confuse your visitors as well as search engine bots.

Ideal URL structure: http://www.example.com/category-keyword/subcategory-keyword/primary-keyword.html

2.       Site Speed

Page load time is more important than it was for user experience. Webmasters often overlook it when they pursue an aesthetic design or a bunch of functionalities. Website visitors care more about speed than any other aspect of a website. Would you like to sit idle for countless seconds waiting for a page to load? Of course NOT!

Use tools like http://www.webpagetest.org/ or http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/ to monitor your webpage speed. The less it is, the better it’ll be!

3.       Include Schema

Schema Markup has been on scene for almost 3 years now and no one can deny its growing importance. Schemas are basically HTML tags supported by all major search engines (Google, Bing & Yahoo) and they help search engines to clearly understand what type of content is on your web pages. Rich Snippets can enhance your search results with different features as shown in the screenshot:

schemas

As a store owner, you must use variety of schema codes available at http://schema.org/Product. For complete list of all supported schema tags, explore http://schema.org/.

4.       Product Descriptions from Manufacturers

Online stores using product descriptions from manufacturers is another common error i see every other day. These descriptions are usually distributed to multiple online stores and using them can guarantee a Google slap. Having informative and unique product descriptions can help improve conversions so always create unique content in a way that sells! Creating unique content for hundreds of product pages can be a very tedious task but you can save yourself some pages by putting a NO Index meta tag on duplicate product pages and write them gradually. Keeping them No Index won’t take it anywhere in ranking but in any case it’ll save your online store from Mighty G’s punishment.

You can use tools like www.siteliner.com to see which of your internal pages share similar content site wide and re-write them.

5.       Paginated Content

Pagination is a common practice used by E-commerce stores to segregate several product pages in different pages and linking them together. The products are usually split among different pages to improve overall usability of online store. However, paginated series is complicated to handle. It may get in the way of search spiders effective crawlability and may result in thin/duplicate content.

PaginationA couple of quick fixes:

  • If paginated content is of little to no importance then you can simply implement a <META NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”NOINDEX, FOLLOW”> tag within the <head> of each paginated page and prevent them from getting indexed. By doing so, you are allowing page authority to pass on to all the pages in paginated series but without getting them into search engine’s index.
  • Google’s preferred way of handling most of the paginated content is to create a “View-All” page along with the paginated series. Include all your products in View-All page and place a canonical tag in the head section of each paginated series page pointing back to View-All page. For more info on this please see this official story from search giant: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/view-all-in-search-results.html

Third and final option to manage pagination series is the most complicated but more versatile than all. Google has started recognizing rel=”prev” and “next” HTML attributes as a way out to indicate a series of pages within paginated content. See how it works:

Pagination6.       Use of Parameters

Alike other online stores if your product URL has parameters at the end then keep them away from a search spider. Parameters are set dynamically to filter out products on the basis of different features like sort by price, sort by colour etc. They are usually designed with the help of JavaScript and considered a decent practice from usability point of view but at the same time they can cause thin content.

parameters

http://www.yourstore.com/?color=blue–purple&price=4923-22500

 There are two possible ways to handle parameters:

You can block all the possible parameters based URLs in your website’s robots.txt by adding this line: Disallow: /?

This way search engine spiders won’t crawl all the URLs where a [?] is passed and it can also save your link value to dilute.

Another way to restrict crawler specifically Googlebot is to use Parameter feature in Google webmaster central. You can choose from several options to block, restrict Googlebot on how to treat a parameter series given on a specific page or set of pages. See complete configuration guide here: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/1235687?hl=en

No matter what way you choose to deal with it, don’t forget to add rel=canonical on original product page.

7.       Include Auto Form Filling

Several stores lose conversions (even potential customers) by integrating too many form fields. Form fields are often regarded boring for people like me who are too lazy to fill out extensive forms. There is nothing worse than asking to fill out the same form twice because of some minor errors submitted in first attempt. Make it faster and easier by using auto complete form fillers.

8.       Internal Site Search URLs

Almost every site offers built in site search functionality regardless of niche. Its an effective way to discover desired products straight away. Internal search usually use query parameters and often cause duplicate content issues.

http://www.yourstore.com/?q=nike+shoes

The above mentioned URL can represent the same result as shown at yourstore.com/nike-shoes so the best way to handle it is to block internal search parameters in GWT’s parameter settings. Otherwise you can simply use Disallow: /? to disallow all the internal search URLs created as a result of user’s search query.

9.       Product Pictures & Call to Actions?

As a store owner, you might get thousands of visitors landing on your website with the help of a marketer like me but if they don’t convert, it’s useless?

E-commerce marketers have to look into usability factors knowing the CTA (call to action) is the most important thing to get clicked on a website. Many sites pay less attention to designing a killer page and ultimately lose a chunk of customers.

People are still hesitant to buy online because they can never get to see the product so as a store owner you must use as many product pictures as you can. Showing product images in different angles & shapes can help people make up their mind either the product is a good fit or not before making a purchase.

Conclusion: Design your product page as simple and striking as possible. Use maximum of three columns and have a clear call to action button that looks catchy.

Call to Action10.       Customer Reviews and Product Ratings

Product reviews tend to be more effective than any other segment on a product page. Consumers often seek advice from different sources before deciding on whether to move forward to checkout process or not. Conduct survey’s, ask your existing customers to rate your products and display those ratings on a product’s page.

Product Reviews11.       The Purchase Process

Making the checkout process amazingly simple is often overlooked. It certainly makes sense to pay attention to keywords and landing page usability but studies reveal that consumers are often frustrated over long checkout processes. Use as less funnel steps (ideally 3-4) as possible for your consumers to achieve your store’s objectives let it be sales or leads. Less the funnels are, the more conversions you’ll get as a result.

12.       Out of Stock Items

Out of stock products is the fate every E-commerce store (let it be small or large) has to suffer. Google’s Spam Engineer Matt Cutts shared a variety of ways to handle out of stock product pages. Here are a couple of other solutions:

  • You can simply mark them No-index as long as you don’t have products to display. This way you can take it down from search results and keep it live at the same time. However, you should mention expected date when the product will be back in your inventory.
  • Another possible way to handle an out of stock product page is to do a 301 redirect to a relevant product. This can help you to retain almost all the link equity a page had plus it can also influence consumers to stay longer on your store’s website.

 13.       Permanently Sold out Items

It is pretty common that online stores stop manufacturing specific products but they don’t keep in mind the importance of the live product page. Of course, you’ve spent a considerable amount of time to power it up so it shouldn’t go in vain, Right? Here are a couple of quick fixes:

  • Find a related product page and 301 permanently sold out item to it. Known as the best practice that can help to utilize sold out product page’s power and to retain customers. People are more likely to buy a relevant product so make sure you redirect it to somehow a related product page.
  • Another way is to make it a 404 page but remember it won’t help much besides Googlebot will take it out of index in a few hours as told by Engineer Matt Cutts.

 14.       Mobile Strategy:

The increasing demand of smartphones and tablet devices in the world means businesses have no other option but to work out a Mobile Phone strategy.  According to Forrester, mobile commerce will reach to 31 Billion Dollars in next 5 years. So why to miss out such a great opportunity?

Creating two different versions of your site (desktop & mobile) is no longer helpful. Google highly recommends you to have Responsive Design. Make it simple to load and understand for your consumers. Each device has its own screen dimensions so getting a responsive design which can fit in by figuring out device name is the best solution.

Here are a couple of detailed informative reads on mobile strategy:

http://moz.com/ugc/5-mobile-seo-tips-from-the-google-adwords-team via Larry Kim

http://searchengineland.com/10-simple-tips-for-effective-mobile-seo-129100

15.       Google Analytics Tracking

Last but not least, if you are not tracking your efforts, strengths and weaknesses of your online store then you can never make it a source of sufficient revenue. Google Analytics is one of the most reliable website analytics tool in market and it lets you to monitor enormous aspects of your website for absolutely no cost.

Avinash Kaushik has written an easy to understand beginner’s guide for Google Analytics that helps you to understand core aspects of web data analytics. Other than that, here’s a list of Google analytics resources shared on blog.kissmetrics.com which you can bookmark to study later.

What other things can you think to improve an online E-commerce store? Please share your ideas or thoughts in comments section.

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Nabeel has over 6 years of web marketing experience & is the founder of Search Engine Lead, a blog covering search news and web marketing tips including SEO, PPC and conversion rate optimisation strategies.
  • smsulari

    One more thing if I may want to add from an eCommerce store aspect. VIDEOS! Now this mainly apply for the people who are starting the new stores, they have to build the brand and gain trust and present authenticity to the potential customer. To do that one of the major element to inculcate in the website / eCommerce store is VIDEOS. Having videos about products and or related is a must to quick gain of popularity and trust factor.

    But with that comes an issue. People usually start embedding the videos randomly like in posts. I must say that if your store is a hard-core-product oriented than videos must be the part of your each product page.

    Alright, so now you have videos on your page, it is must to have it optimized properly. There are few things Small businesses miss are that they just put the videos up, without watermarking, editing and adding some charm to it. Just say adding few title and credits with a good music will help it. But now you also have to optimized it, properly in the Sitemaps. So they rank as well.

    People from your target audience searches for the product usages. Like how to use the hoover for cleaning curtains. If your video of hoover comes up with 10 second clip in it of cleaning curtains. Wolaa!! Jackpot isn’t it.

    Now you are not gaining SERP’s but also getting tracked through analytics. One more bonus tip do add the Event actions on it. Play Pause Video Category. This way you can see which products are getting more popular by their video play and pause actions.

    Hope this adds up to the commandments. :) I have a friend of mine who has made the video sitemap submissions really awesome. Do intouch if you want to know more

  • http://www.kumailhemani.com/ Kumail Hemani

    Good post Nabeel! Keep it up! :)

    p.s. website shows error on IE, please check.