The Technology Behind SEO for E-Commerce
Content is king when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and the webmaster guidelines from Google and Bing confirm this. Yet a lot of great content gets buried because the website’s technology can’t carry it. Which means there is a lot more to attracting customers to your e-commerce site than a pretty design with great content. Even B2B e-commerce sites often have competition as fierce as any direct-to-consumer site, which makes SEO strategy an important consideration.
Website structure is just as important as your content, and, in fact, makes up the other 2/3rds of what you have to do to have your webstore ever be seen by your customers on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). There’s Title Tags, Meta Tags, H1 and H2 Tags, Alt Tags, Canonical Tags, Crawlable Link Structures, Indexable Content, Searchable URL Structures, and much of this stuff has to be coded in. Wait, coded in? Is your head spinning yet?
With SEO-enabling technology, your content can be found, and you don’t need to be a developer to make it happen. There are e-commerce software platforms that can automate a lot of this, but before selecting a partner to help build your site, here are some top things you should know so you can choose wisely.
First, you should understand that you need to build your e-commerce site with the customer in mind, not the search engine. Google and Bing (which also powers Yahoo) have made it plain that tactics like keyword stuffing, either on the webpage or in the code, will cause their algorithms to penalize a website and rank it lower. Back in 2011 Google introduced the Panda Algorithm to filter out sites with poor quality content that were irrelevant to the customer’s query. Most at fault were “content farms” which would wind up near the top of almost any query. Remember those sites? Panda has only gotten smarter in the past 5 years, so make sure you have quality, relevant content, preferably something your marketing team or thought leaders created, and not something by a 3rd party churned out of their “content mill.”
Consider this to be a subhead of Content. As Google began to get better at identifying quality, usable content for every query, they invested in incorporating new metrics, like user experience and website engagement. This makes sense. Keep in mind that their concern is not to make sure you are found, but to direct their customer, the querier, to the site with the most useful content and best customer experience.
Mobile Ready Design
In the Spring of 2015, Google announced they would start giving higher ranking consideration to sites with Mobile-ready design, also known as Responsive Design (where the site responds and adjusts to the size of the screen viewing it). This was known in the E-Commerce world as Mobilegeddon. There were a lot of “fun” doom-and-gloom articles that came out, but bottom line, there was a significant impact to non-mobile ready sites. The reason cited for taking such drastic measures? They were responding to their customers. Over 50% of queries, the majority, are now done from smartphones and tablets, and it’s only going to increase. How quickly the times change!
You have 65-75 characters to concisely title your page in a way that will draw your customers in. After 75 characters, the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) shows an ellipsis – “…” – to show where your title tag has been cut off.
Okay, I’m going to walk you through a very light developer exercise to demonstrate a Title Tag. It’s pretty easy, and addictive, once you get the hang of it. In fact, you’ll probably want to go to every one of your competitor’s sites and check out what they’re doing here.
Go to any e-commerce site or website, left click it with your mouse, and select “View Source Code.” A page with code will pop up that will make anyone but a developer’s head spin. Then hit CTRL F to bring up a search bar. Search for “title,” and it will bring you to the title tag “code” that every SERP will display for your website.
If you have the right platform to support your e-commerce site, whenever you create a page, whether the landing page or a product display page, you should not need to code this in. When building the page, you should be able to easily plug in a title tag.
There are 2 types. “Description” and “Keyword.” Description is the important one. Keywords are less important than they once were. Search engines are now smart enough to rely on the content of your page. And webmasters would abuse this little string of characters by jamming everything they could into the keyword tag in an attempt to manipulate the search engines.
So let’s focus on description. This is not going to help your SEO rank like the title tag, but it’s the first bit of description your potential customer sees on the SERP right after your title. You have roughly 160 characters to describe your product, and the search engine will highlight the keywords of the customer’s query, so they can determine how relevant your page is to their search. So this Meta Tag becomes very important. If you don’t create one, the search engine will create one for you, and not always for the optimum results.
You can do the same exercise as above and look if a website has constructed their meta tag or not. If they have, it should look like this:
If the Title Tag and the Meta Tag have been constructed properly, when the customer makes the query you’re anticipating, the results should look like this:
H1 and H2 Tags
Here’s what Bing has to say about these tags: “… helps users understand the content of a page more clearly when properly used”
Not much to go on, but they are used by the search engine to help rank a page according to the relevance of the customer’s query, much like the Title Tag. Consider these headers to be the area where you can expand on the content of the Title Tag where you were limited to 65 to 75 characters. Again, focus on what your customer is looking for, not the search engine.
What about Images?
Search engines, right now, have difficulty reading images such as jpgs, videos, flash media, etc. One day they might be able to crack this, but until then, it’s important to give your image, perhaps a product image, a caption to identify it and make it a searchable item. This caption becomes an “alt tag” in the page code. And with videos, such as an interview or a customer testimonial, you should provide a transcript right underneath. Again, this is so the search engine can direct your customers to your video if it’s deemed usable to them based on their query.
If you have pages with different URLs that are duplicates, or almost identical in content, your site will confuse the search engine. The algorithm will not know which page to direct the querier. For website structure, this might have seemed like the right thing to do. For SEO strategy, this can penalize your site. This can be remedied by Canonical tags which do a “301 redirect” to a single, homogenized URL for the product page so the search engine, and your customer, can find it.
Dynamic URL Rewriter
If your customer lands on your e-commerce site, the first thing they do is conduct a search for the products they are looking for. This will produce a Dynamic URL, looking something like this: http://code.google.com/p/google-checkout-php-sample-code/issues/detail?id=31. (Click through to see a Google example. They describes it pretty well in their blog article: Dynamic URL vs. Static URL.)
Unfortunately, this dynamic URL can have the same content as other URLs, either static or dynamic – see section above – and we know this can cause a problem with the search engine determining what page is more important to the querier. Which is why it becomes important to have a way to automate the rewrite of those dynamic URLs to look just like a static URL, and technologically speaking, this becomes tricky. This is where a good e-commerce platform becomes very handy.
Crawlable Link Structures and Indexable Content
Let no page be left behind! No widows. Your e-commerce site should allow the “crawlers,” the mechanical robots of the search engines, reach every page on your site from another page on your site so it can be properly indexed and stored on their databases. Again, having an e-commerce platform that facilitates this strategy becomes very important. You don’t want important product pages, or worse, a whole product group, widowed from the rest of your site.
The Final Query
When selecting a platform for your company website, your blog, your dog’s blog, and most importantly, your e-commerce site, make sure you pick a platform and a partner that understands how to connect you with your customers, readers, or even dog lovers! And before you look, brush up on all this yourself. What’s outlined here is about an inch deep into the world of SEO; there was so much left on the editor’s floor here. Good Luck!
A good next step would be to attend our webinar on January 28th, registration is here:https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5740246015901071874.