The Complete Guide to Ecommerce On Page SEO

Doing on page SEO for ecommerce sites has never been an easy task. Complex website structure and availability of so many ecommerce CMS made it even more difficult and confusing for an average guy to improve his on page score.
So, if you are one of them, in this article I have tried to simplify the steps and discussed some of the less talked but highly important on page SEO techniques for eCommerce sites.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

1.Avoiding Duplicate URL Issues
2.Improving Your Site Structure
3.How to Optimize Category and Product Pages
4.How to Establish Interlinking between Product Pages
5.Mobile Friendliness of Your eCommerce Site
6.How to Optimize Images on Your Product Pages
7.Dealing with Manufactures Content

Avoiding Duplicate URL Issues

You’ll notice that many times a large string of weird and long combination of characters append at the end of main URL.

For example, take a look at the screenshots below:

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and here’s another version:

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As you can see that same content can be found on both URLs.

What happens in this case is, Google bot considers it as two different URLs and therefore shows as duplicate pages.

Here’s one example of duplicate URL issues taken directly from Google webmaster tool:

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There are other reasons for creating such appended URLs. Some of the common issues are caused by:

  • Shopping cart or product ordering page.
  • Duplicate url caused by search pages.
  • Because of internationalization
  • Pagination pages
  • Session ID etc.

So, we need to keep only one version of the URLs and get rid of others.

There are two ways to do so:

Using robot.txt function inside Google webmaster.

To do so, head over to Crawl>robots.txt tester. There you need to enter the parameter that is common in all.

In the above example, the common part is “custom_ref”. So we are going to enter the commands as follows:
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What will happen next is, Google will not count any URL that has this word string. In other words it will only count the main URL that ends with .html.

Applying Canonical URL:

Another way to do is applying rel canonical tag to your main URLs. What it does is it tells Google which version of your URLs should be indexed by Google.

The URL structure looks like this:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://example.com/product-page.html”/>

Work with your developer and ask him to add this tag to every single product and category pages.

Here’s one in action from zappos.com:

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Improving Your Site Structure

Improving Your Site Structure

A couple of year old survey revealed that 74% of businesses believe that improving user experience is the key to improve sales and conversion.

Especially for ecommerce sites, it’s even more important. If your site maintains the proper SILO structure and your pages are laid out correctly, it will help to flow the SEO juice throughout the site and rank better for more and more keywords.

There is no exact tool to identify whether your architecture is correct or not. So, it’s better if you map out your website architecture even before you start creating the actual website.

I call it “site plan”. What it should contain is the strategic organization of your menu pages, category pages, product pages etc and target keywords, title, meta description etc.

When you do so, you’ll now have a better understanding of your website architecture.

For example, take a look at the information architecture of one of the categories from Amazon:

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So, if you were doing it in an excel file, it would look like something like this:

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Next you want to add unique titles and meta descriptions for every page. Remember, each page should target a particular keyword set.

There are several ways to present this raw architecture on your website. Check out this 5 example home page layouts  and here for more ten layouts.

How to Optimize Category and Product Pages

Category pages are the most important pages on your website. Because most of the traffic will land on these pages from search engines.

You should treat category pages as individual home pages on your site. Apart from writing unique title and meta, you should add some unique content on those pages.

Many ecommerce platforms such as volusion , have the ability to add category descriptions. Here’s how to do it in volusion. Here’s one real life example in action:

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How to Establish Interlinking between Product Pages

Establishing internal linking between your website pages can improve your SEO score. But how can you do it for an ecommerce site?

You can follow several techniques to do so.

Interlink from Blog Posts:

If you start a blog with your ecommerce store, you can link back to your product and category pages from the blog posts.

For example, This blog post from Etsy is linking back to other product pages:

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Adding Similar Product Widget:

You may have noticed that many ecommerce sites display other related products at the end of an individual product page. This is not only a great way of establishing internal linking but can improve user experience as well.

Modcloth has done a great job here with this strategy. Here’s how they have added “similar items” widget to link to other similar products.

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Internal linking from Category Pages:

Category pages work as a hub for all other individual product pages. When you are showing snippets of product pages on a category page, it’s actually creating a link between the product page and category page.

What is important here is to make sure your internal architecture is Ok and there is no broken link within the pages.

How to Fix 301 and 404 Links

First step would be to identify the 301 and 404 links. Run the site in Screaming frog and wait till the crawl finishes.

Now from “Internal tab”, filter by “HTML” and sort the urls according to status code.

7Alternatively, you can go to Response code tab as well and filter by “4xx or 3xx” status code.

Point out those with 301 and 404 status code. Now to identify on which page this error URL resides, select any of the URL and look at the bottom of the software.

Select “in links” tab and look at the from column.

This is the page where you should find that error URL:

8Now export the list from bulk export>response codes>Redirection (3xx) Inlinks or Client error (4xx) Inlinks and fix those urls.

The biggest benefit of implementing schema mark up across your ecommerce store is that it will show an enhanced SERP view in search result which can lead to higher click through rate and conversion.

There are some common schema mark up codes that are typically used in ecommerce site. One of them is Review schema mark up.

You can use any schema mark up generator or use Google’s structured data mark up helper.

When you are on that page, select the type of mark up you want to implement. For this example, I have selected “Products”.

Then enter the product page url where you want to add this mark up:

9Click “Start Tagging”.

In the next page, your product page will appear at the left hand side and data items will appear at the right side.

Highlight the portion of the page which you want to add in the mark up and then a drop down box will appear.

Select the option which is more relevant to your selected item and it will be added at the right side. Check this illustration below for better understanding:

sample
Once you are done with tagging, click “create HTML” at the top right corner. A HTML file will appear with all microdata added.

Now copy the complete code and paste it in your website source code. Take help of your developer if you are not a coder:

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When done, go to structured data testing tool , enter the URL and click “Fetch and Validate”.

When the result is returned, click on “all data” and check the Product rich snippet status. If everything is right, you’ll see “All Good” status.

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Mobile Friendliness of Your eCommerce Site

As you know Google is giving more and more importance on mobile friendliness. So, if you didn’t pay attention to it earlier, now you should. In fact, after seeing results like Neill Clothing  with 591.42% revenue increase and skinny ties with 377.6% revenue increase, you can’t ignore mobile anymore!

Identifying mobile traffic:

If you have an existing site, first check how much traffic your site is getting from mobile devices. To do so, head over to Google analytics.

Under audience, go to mobile >Overview. There you’ll see the amount of traffic your site is receiving from mobile devices.
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Next, if you go under mobile>Devices from the left menu, you’ll be able to see from which devices you are getting the most traffic.

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Once you are aware of the traffic you are receiving, it’s time to check mobile friendliness.

Mobile Friendliness check:

Google has provided a mobile friendliness checker tool for you. Go to the link and simply enter your URL there.
In the returned result, it will tell you whether your site is mobile friendly or not.

Here’s one example test I ran:

14If you get a negative result from the test, you should work on the fixes.

Log in to your webmaster account 1st. Then go to search traffic>Mobile usability.

There you’ll see the mobile usability issues associated with your website:

15Click on each of these issues and you’ll see the list of URLs in the next page which has this error.

Give this list to your developer and he’ll know how to fix the issue.

Now, if you are building the site or redesigning it, Google usually recognizes three different configurations:

-Responsive Web design

-Dynamic Serving

-Separate URLs.

Here’s comparative chart among these 3 options:

16The choice will depend on your current situation and complexity of the website.

For example, if your site has too many variables and complex structure then making it responsive would be difficult.

In that case, you can choose the “separate URL” option and build your mobile site on a different URL e.g m.exampledomain.com

Using responsive ecommerce templates:

In responsive design, the set up is as such that it always sends the same html code to all devices. It is the easiest solution to make your site mobile friendly. Check out these examples of ecommerce sites to get an idea.

To make sure that your site is loading fine and adapting to all devices, you can add the following meta tag to the head section of your website:

<meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0″>

What it does is, signals the browsers to adjust the dimensions and scaling of the page to the width of that device.
Also, check out this guide to avoid common mobile seo mistakes.

Mobile sub domains:

This option is less attractive to many of you. But it’s helpful when implementing responsive design is too complicated.

In this process, typically you’ll create the same pages on a different URL. In other words, each desktop URL will have an equivalent mobile URL serving the mobile optimized content.

So, if the desktop URL is http://example.com then mobile url would be http://m.example.com

So, now you may wonder, if I am serving the same content on two different URLs, am I not creating duplicate contents?

The answer is “Yes”.  But don’t worry, there’s a solution as well.

What you need to do is, take help of “html annotations” to help Google crawler to understand separate mobile URLs.

The purpose of using these annotations is to tell Google:

-Which one is the corresponding mobile URL to your desktop URL

-Only to index one version of the URLs.

So, if you have a desktop URL such as http://example.com/inner-page.com , then add the following html annotation to the page:

<link rel=”alternate” media=”only screen and (max-width: 640px)”

href=”http://m.example.com/inner-page.com”>

Next on the mobile page http://m.example.com/inner-page.com, add the following annotation:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.example.com/inner-page.com”>

So, the “canonical” tag here tells Google only to index the desktop URLs.

How to Optimize Images on Your Product Pages

Many a time, I have seen ecommerce sites using under optimized images for their product pages. While optimizing the images you should check the following things:

  • Add proper ALT tag to your image.
  • Reduce the file size of the image.
  • Image is mobile optimized.
  • Dealing with multiple images of same product.

Adding ALT tag is pretty basic and straightforward. In every CMS, you’ll find a way to add Alt tags, so let’s move on to other issues.

Reducing the file size:

Loading images faster is one of the crucial aspects of ecommerce on page SEO. This infographic from kissmetrics showed, on average desktop users wait 3 seconds while mobile users wait 5 seconds for a website to load.

Company like Amazon reported $1.6 billion yearly loss just because of 1 second delay in website loading!

To resize your images, you can use any online image compression tool. Check out this article to find some of the best image compression tools out there.

You can also use Photoshop to reduce the image size. In the Photoshop save your images by using “Save for web” command.

There’s no rule of thumb for ideal image size. But typically try to keep your images under 100KB. It may not be possible always in case of larger or featured images.

Optimizing images for mobile:

Designing responsive website doesn’t always mean that your images will become responsive as well. Because, text elements are generally “fluid” in nature, means they can adjust with the size of different browser screen.

But this is not the case for images. They remain at the same size and orientation regardless of all configuration of viewport.

So this creates a conundrum when displaying images on mobile devices.

Some sites may adopt the technique to hide the unnecessary images on browser but it doesn’t reduce the page load speed and may hamper user experience.

There are couple of solutions to this with problem with some merit and demerit. Let’s have a look at some of those-

Using <picture> Element:

This is a feature of HTML 5 which offers the most efficient and effective solution over other CSS techniques to make responsive images.

With this feature, you’d be able to-

  • Render multiple versions/size of an image depending on the device type e.g you can show high resolution images to high res screens and vice versa.
  • Squish and stretch the images with the dimensions of the screen.
  • Load file sized images. Thus improve the loading speed and make best use of available bandwidth.

You need to do a little bit of coding to implement this. Here’s one of the simplest code structures looks like:

<picture>
<source srcset=”smaller-size.jpg, retina-image.jpg” media=(max-width: 768px)”>
<source srcset=”bigger-size.jpg”>
<img srcset=”bigger-size.jpg” alt=Image name>
</picture>

What the above code structure means is:

It will look for the viewport size. If it’s below 768px, it will display the smaller-size.jpg image. Otherwise it will show the default bigger-size.jpg image.

Retina-image.jpg 2x is a different resolution version of your image which will load in case of high density displays.

You can check out this article to learn about other coding structures for responsive web design.

Dealing with Manufactures Content

Ecommerce sites often tend to copy the product descriptions and others from the manufacturers website. This situation is unavoidable in many cases. Especially when you have hundreds of thousands of products, it becomes a daunting task to rewrite everything.

So couple of solutions to this problem can be:

Adding Unique Content around manufacturer’s contents

You can create unique contents such as adding user reviews, comparison charts, FAQs, Videos etc. The sole purpose would be to improve the user experience.

Since you’re aggregating other information to make the page more resourceful, it’s more likely that Google would prefer to take it positively.

For example, shop.com added a benefits and FAQ section under their individual product pages 17
And amazon added a lot of user reviews for each product page:

18Adding an iFRAME around the duplicate contents and making it noindex:

iframe is a HTML element used to insert and display content from one source to another web page.

The code structure is:

<iframe src=”demo_iframe.html” width=”200″ height=”200″></iframe>

What it does is fetch and display the content from original source so that Google don’t see this portion as duplicate.

So, these are pretty much all. Hope you’ll find this guide useful. Let me know what other techniques you might use to solve the on page problems. Your thoughts would be highly appreciated.