In the comments of my last column about how I doubled e-commerce revenue for clients by focusing on user intent, readers asked for some more specific e-commerce SEO tips that they could apply in their own client work.

Today’s article shares some valuable lessons gathered over a decade of SEO work for e-commerce clients. These 8 e-commerce SEO tips have the power to transform any online business and boost profits.

1. Understand The SEO Impact Of Information Architecture & URL Structure

E-Commerce SEO Tip #1

Like most SEO consultants, I am often contacted late in the Web development process, well after information architecture and URL structure have been determined. Generally, the site is almost ready for launch at this point — or, in some cases, already launched!

If so, it is an SEO nightmare. Content has been created. Product catalogs have been imported. Search engines have crawled and indexed the site. Prospective buyers are arriving. And, the internal structure — from an SEO standpoint — is a mess.

Without a proper URL structure, internal pages are competing against each other rather than strengthening the overall site. Duplicate content issues run rampant, thanks to URL parameters, session IDs and printer-friendly versions. Advanced filtering and search functions, intended to enhance user experience, actually end up compounding this problem.

Usually, the store owner hires a company to flesh out a design, implement and code special functions, and upload the finished site — all before the project itself has been finalized. Things then go in many different directions; and at some stage in the process, they decide to call in a consultant to slap on “SEO magic.” They’ve heard that SEO is very effective at driving more traffic and want to try “every little bit that may help.”

This is the most frustrating part of being an SEO consultant. We’re called in too late. A lot of adjustment and re-coding is required. Even then, some online stores won’t be able to meet the market’s needs without a complete make-over of the website. This is time consuming and expensive.

E-commerce SEO Tip #1: Get your Web designer, information architect and SEO consultant working together right from the beginning. The result will be a more effective, better-optimized website that is easy for prospective buyers to use.

My fellow columnist Tom Schmitz offers some great advice about Web structure and internal linking in his recent post. I delved deep into this in one of my previous columns, with practical suggestions on how to structure content for e-commerce sites.

2. Recognize Causes For Duplicate Content & Find Solutions

When I analyze sites for new SEO clients, they often have serious duplicate content issues. Fixing this can be complicated without modifying the entire design and code.

Duplicate content issues are usually the result of poor planning, careless information architecture and non-intuitive website structure.

The use of URL parameters, session IDs and printer-friendly content versions are common culprits in e-commerce store websites. The situation gets muddied even further when identical content is published under multiple categories such as [campaign] or [offers] in addition to their regular place in the content hierarchy. These unique scenarios must be recognized and prevented proactively in the planning phase itself.

E-commerce SEO Tip #2: Before they start coding, make sure that developers are aware of the potential for duplicate content and how to resolve these issues.

Both designers and developers must be familiar with the pitfalls of related issues such as advanced search and filtering, the robots.txt file, and the relative merits and risks of meta directives or robot exclusion (including when not to use them!). Pagination is another potential quagmire; and, it is especially important to ensure correct implementation of pagination attributes for Google.

3. Don’t Waste Link Authority On Ineffective Link Structure

Effective link structure for an e-commerce SEO project depends upon information architecture, URL structure, and the manner in which products are categorized and organized in your e-commerce store. If your structure is poor, with products arranged in a haphazard manner instead of being in logical categories or sub-topics, your link architecture will be ineffective from an SEO standpoint.

E-commerce SEO Tip #3: Organize products in an e-commerce store by category and sub-category, based on topics and sub-topics, in a way that is reflected in your URL hierarchy.

Doing this enhances your e-commerce website’s optimization and improves usability for human visitors. Whenever new products are added to a sub-category, your breadcrumb navigation trail ensures new links to each level in the URL hierarchy, all the way back up to the category page and home page. By employing sub-navigation menus within specific categories, you can link to other relevant categories higher up in the structure.

With good keyword analysis and by planning exact match anchor texts, you will practically set your internal link building on auto-pilot. Each time you add a new product page (e.g., for a new pair of running shoes) to your site, you’ll not only boost the [shoes/running-shoes] level of the URL, but simultaneously pass along link juice upward in the hierarchy to the [shoes] category, as well.

Section/category level menus that link to relevant categories ensure that Google’s crawlers can find their way to all sections of the site and see pages in context with other content to easily decide how to rank them.

It is best to avoid mega-menus and drop-down menus which cause a flat URL structure and sometimes link to less relevant parts of the site, thereby leaking authority, power and Page Rank.

4. SEO Automation Can Be A Good Thing (Sometimes)

The word “automation,” when associated with SEO, produces negative connotations. Typically, I would shun anything to do with “automation” of SEO; but, there are some exceptions where it is important to facilitate automation. One such exception is a situation in which you have programmers who can automate on-site elements (such as title tags) based on a format determined by the SEO consultant.

In e-commerce stores with thousands of products, this practice will come in handy. Elements like title tags can be automated to present extremely user-friendly information while including the right target keywords.

E-commerce SEO Tip #4: While working with large e-commerce sites, provide developers with information about how to automate the creation of SEO-friendly title tags and meta descriptions for new pages.

This will save everyone time in the long run — so getting it right is important, even if it takes longer than you would typically spend on title tags. Remember, this deployment will be site-wide. Your instructions must clearly tell the developer how the title tags and meta descriptions should be worded, based on the content displayed on a product page of the e-commerce site.

Using the individual product name or title in H1 tags, as well as in the title tag, is one simple way to achieve this, and your developer can program it quickly and easily. You can also dynamically create meta descriptions for each product page by gathering text from the page’s content itself.

This is a good beginning, but there’s more to do. Rich snippets help increase CTR on search results pages, and with your help, a developer can provide excellent titles and meta descriptions even without any SEO knowledge.

5. Smaller Iterative Processes Are Super Effective

Fail to plan, and you plan to fail. Your SEO strategy is all-important. But, when working on tactics and implementation, one factor matters more than anything else — and that is “starting small.”

Too often, e-commerce site owners want to change everything at once. Transform the site. Make all pages rank high on Google. That involves doing too much, and taking too big a risk without knowing if it will work at all.

E-commerce SEO Tip #5: It is infinitely more effective to run smaller processes that focus on a limited portion of the site.

Test the change. See if it works. When you know what to do and how to do it, roll out the change across the site. Start with the most important things first. Most developers and designers have limited time. If the work is outsourced to a third party, they most likely use scrum or similar systems and timing is important. Handing them one task at a time usually results in quicker progress.

6. Implement E-Commerce Tracking

Many website owners look at traffic growth as a good sign that they are moving in the right direction and that they are doing something smart and effective. But, what if the traffic doesn’t convert into sales?

E-commerce SEO Tip #6: Turn on e-commerce tracking with Google Analytics to show exactly how much money you are helping clients make.

Most of my clients are already using Google Analytics. As one of my first actions as a consultant, I ensure e-commerce tracking is configured and implemented. This will reveal the profit boosts generated with my SEO improvements. Showing results in dollars is much more effective than increasing pageviews, rankings or clicks. Cash is king.

Dealing with clients is much easier when you don’t have to keep on selling them on the value of your services — after all, your client is better served when your energy and attention are focused on higher priority activities. E-commerce tracking is also a great way to quickly identify areas where the client’s online (or offline) marketing is not effective or adding enough value to the business.

Armed with data, I can position myself as being more valuable to the e-commerce business’ bottom line, instead of being perceived as just a “Google-fixer.” I get more billable hours, and the client stops worrying about how many hours I spend — because each of them brings in a high ROI. It’s a win-win situation.

When you outline a plan to increase revenue by 100% over the next 12 months, and then implement it while sharing your progress in Google Analytics, you will get the support and buy-in necessary to execute your proposed plan and carry it through to completion. Your budget will be sanctioned without protest, because who doesn’t like the idea of earning $10 million for an investment of a mere $100,000.

7. Traditional SEO Is Still Relevant To E-Commerce SEO

Yes, old is gold. E-commerce sites often under-perform on product pages. This might be traced to problems with coding, text, and other content. There may be too little product information, or a lack of unique content, or duplicates of material found elsewhere on the site.

E-commerce SEO Tip #7: Without product text, it is almost impossible to rank and drive organic search traffic to e-commerce websites.

You need content. Without images, video and proper keyword targeting, it is next to impossible for your client to compete in a tough niche. There are many guides to help you and checklists to follow to ensure you’ll get it right.

For starters, avoid re-publishing content from elsewhere on your site or from other online resources (including competitor and vendor websites). Google frowns on duplicate content, and your e-commerce site will not rank well.

8. Create Dashboards — And Report In Cash

It is hard to convince clients with just flashy pictures and showy graphs or charts. You can talk about visits, clicks and views till you’re blue in the face and not make an impact on hard-nosed business owners. Many of them won’t even understand what you’re saying, and this means you’ll have to work hard to win credibility — and retain your budget.

E-commerce SEO Tip #8: Make a dashboard in Google Analytics, and show them how much money you have helped them earn through your SEO efforts.

Compare it against earnings from other elements of their marketing mix. Proving that your SEO efforts are bringing in the dollars is key to winning repeat business. Construct your dashboard to report the most important numbers.

Focus on cash. That will strengthen your position in the client’s eyes. They will see you as someone higher up on the food chain, one who deserves higher priority. No longer will they see you as “just that SEO guy (or gal).”

Good SEO consultants are decent Web analysts, as well. But, clients don’t know it. Using dashboards, I can reduce (or even eliminate) time wasted on creating slides or spreadsheet presentations to convince clients of my value. This frees up time to spend on more valuable activities that further increase the profit I can generate for clients.

More Big Lessons & Takeaways

  • SEO is not icing on the cake to be slapped on at the very end. It must be baked into the makings, because it’s an essential ingredient.
  • There are no out-of-the-box, ready-made SEO optimized e-commerce platforms. The “SEO-friendly” ones just allow tweaking and optimization by SEO experts after they are installed and configured.
  • SEO is not a quick fix. Clinging to this belief can cost you many lost sales.

Now that I’ve shared some e-commerce SEO tips gathered over my experience working with many large clients, I’d love to hear from you on this issue, as well.

  • What do you think about these tips?
  • What are your most effective e-commerce SEO tips?
  • What are your biggest challenges in working as an SEO consultant with e-commerce clients?
  • And finally, are there any other questions you’d like to have answered?

Please share your thoughts, suggestions and comments below, and let’s have a spirited discussion about effective e-commerce SEO.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: Retail | Search Marketing: Shopping Search Marketing | SEO - Search Engine Optimization

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About The Author: is Head Of SEO at MediaCom Norway. He has over 10 years of experience specializing in digital strategy, e-commerce and SEO. Trond is the author of the books "Importance of SEO for Your Online Business" and "Power Social Media Marketing". He can be found on Twitter @TrondLyngbo.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • Ronnie’s Mustache

    Excellent- Trond! I agree with everything you’ve written.

    All of my work is referral-based. Over the last two years I’ve made it clear that we (SEO) need to be involved in every step of the redesign process. From discovery to launch and post-launch.

    Not only does this help avoid potential problems, but it also gets everyone involved inline with what we’re trying to do. And it shifts SEO from a “mystical process” to something that is taken into consideration with every decision throughout the project.

    When clients do call us in “too late,” we let them know that. And we are clear about what WE will require from THEM if they want to be successful.

    One lesson I’ve learned is that something unexpected WILL GO WRONG, no matter how solid your plan is. Anticipating problems and knowing where to look to uncover them is as important as everything we do leading up to launch.

    Tip- Really get to know the ecomm. platforms well. Align yourself w/ great developers because they’re hard to come by and can be a great resource for companies w/ small dev teams.

  • http://www.douglife.com Doug Montgomery

    Hey Trond! First, thanks for this post. I’m in the e-commerce niche currently, and could use in-depth information like this more than you know!

    My question, since you so kindly asked is: You mention “While working with large e-commerce sites, provide developers with information about how to automate the creation of SEO-friendly title tags and meta descriptions for new pages.”

    I’m using Magento at the moment, and I’ve really not found an “automatic” solution for title / description / keyword / image alts. Do you have something in your bag of spices for this?

  • Derek Abbring

    Do you find that most SEO’s are not developers nor designers? I find that I’m wearing multiple hats for nearly every client I handle and I wanted to get some feedback if that is the norm. Nice article, I agree with everything you wrote.

  • scott graham

    really great advice. thank you for sharing.

  • http://www.vaimo.com/ Simen Thorsrud

    Summary: There is only so much automation you can do; you still need to have good data in your product catalog in your website’s back end.

    I work as a tech director for a company that develops Magento sites and I regularly work with Trond. I think I know what he means.

    First of all: by “automatic” I don’t think he means automatically extrapolate good title tags from the product description or other elements. You need to have good information attached to the products from the start. This is important. This means in particular: Product name, short description, description, meta description, image title.

    Usually the process is this:

    Write a good, descriptive product name. What constitues a good product name actually varies from industry to industry. But in general: don’t put meta information like EAN or manufacturer in the product name. If you do it right, you should fetch meta information from their respective back end fields if you want to use them in the title tag or elsewhere. This can be automated.

    Write a short, descriptive “short description” text. Usually I keep within Google’s maximum allowed characters for the meta description tag. This is because I copy this text and paste it directly into the meta description field. Try to imagine what the search results on Google would look like and what you would like users to see there – just below the product name on the search results page. No HTML.

    Write the long description. Again, be as descriptive as possible and keep semantically correct. (list-tags, H-tags etc). Try to be verbose.

    Copy-paste “short description” into the “meta description” field. Don’t bother with the “meta keyword” field.

    We usually just copy-paste the product name into the image descriptions. It would be even better if you described the image exactly. Example: “Closeup of the underside of an old 1930′s era typewriter. It is black and rusty in some places.” But again, we hardly ever do it that thoroughly.

    Now, here is where the “automation” happen:

    Let’s say your SEO department gives you the following advise:

    1) All category pages should be titled like this: “[Category name] – [Website name]”

    Then your developers will do the following (pseudo code) on the category page.

    IF no $category->getShortDescription()
    THEN set title tag to: “[Category name] – [Website name]”

    2) All product pages should have this title tag: “[Product name] ([EAN]) – [Manufacturer] – [Website name]”

    Then your developers use this pseudo code:
    Title tag = “$product->getName() ($product->getEan()) – $product->getManufacturer() – $sitename”

    Hope this clarifies some – and good luck.

  • Ronnie’s Mustache

    Wearing multiple hats is something all good SEO’s have to do. I often find myself playing PM, QA and Analyst roles.

    I’m often tempted…almost compelled, but as a consultant, I’m not actually doing any development or design work. I’ve got preferred partners for those services and I TRY not to bundle them with my own.

  • http://www.aomservices.com/ Derek Abbring

    Thank you for the feedback Ronnie!

  • http://bibianowenceslao.com/ Bibiano Wenceslao

    “Don’t Waste Link Authority On Ineffective Link Structure” – THIS! I’ve met a number of clients who wants to build links but doesn’t want to revise their awful website’s page hierarchy.

    Bookmarked and shared. Thanks for writing this Trond. This piece would be beneficial not only for SEOs, but for devs and designers as well.

  • Rajesh_magar

    Nice article…and Google adword latest Image extension for product listing is great for eCommerce optimization.

  • http://www.click-finders.com/ Mike Glover

    Trond – This is one of the most informative and well written articles I have ever read on eCommerce SEO. You basically covered every aspect in a way that I am sure even the most seasoned eCommerce SEO still learned somehting new!

  • http://www.douglife.com Doug Montgomery

    Simen, I don’t know how to thank you. That last bit was exactly what I needed to relay to my developers, and it has already saved us a ton of time! I owe you a beer good sir!

  • http://www.vaimo.com/ Simen Thorsrud

    Happy to help. :)

  • Angela M. Davis

    Great post! I’ve written a lot about ecommerce SEO in the past, and one area of opportunity a lot of people tend to leave out is the internal site search. If you’ve successfully driven shoppers to your site, but they can’t quickly and easily find the products they want through your navigation, they turn to the search bar.

    I’ve seen lots of ecommerce sites that don’t have an optimized internal search and products don’t show for related queries, so users don’t think you have what they want and they leave your site. I know most people say to disregard the meta keywords, but sometimes site searches actually pull from a product page’s meta keywords, so the keywords are still actually worth optimizing in that case.

  • Muhammad Dadu

    I have been using all these techniques on a website selling beds via http://ukbedspecialist.com. However they have not been effective… any suggestions

  • http://www.aomservices.com/ Derek Abbring

    That is smart to build it into the contract, thanks for the feedback Matthew

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    Angela, nice point, thank you. You’re correct about the need to optimize large sites with extensive catalogs for internal search, ensuring that meta data (keywords and description) is inserted in an intuitive and useful manner. This can be easily done when SEO experts are involved at the planning phase… but becomes infinitely harder to slap on later.

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    Thanks, Mike. I appreciate your kind words. The idea for this column came about when I noticed a lack of detailed SEO information related to huge ecommerce stores and tried to fill a gap in existing information. Glad to hear that you found it helpful.

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    Nick, thank you for chiming in. Yes, writers are critical to the success of the process, for sure. Without content, SEO cannot be effective – I’ll dedicate an entire column to this issue shortly. It’s effective writing that made possible the kind of results I detailed in last month’s article on how I doubled revenue with SEO (see http://searchengineland.com/how-to-double-your-revenue-with-seo-157799 )

    In this post, I focused on establishing a foundation, doing the groundwork, and putting in place the technological platform upon which to construct large e-commerce online stores/websites, with typically thousands of pages. It’s like laying a strong, secure foundation upon which to build the house… and at that stage, writing has a really important role. In my view, it’s easier to start optimizing and achieving better results when the technical SEO fundamentals are in place, working FOR us and not against us. Then it’s easier to be effective more quickly with content and on-page SEO.

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    Thank you very much for this concise explanation, Simen :-)

  • http://SEOnomics.com/ Trond Lyngbø

    Great to hear your approach to handling this tricky issue. You’re absolutely right about the need to align with crack developers, and treat every expert on the team with respect and dignity that befits their importance to the overall success of our collective efforts. They’ll also help quickly resolve the inevitable problem that’s bound to creep into bigger projects.

  • http://www.20milesnorth.com Spokane Web Designer

    I find I spend most of my time writing description copy. When you first get to a project, they often have 1-2 sentences for a product along with a title. I try to stretch it to 2-3 paragraphs at a minimum.

  • http://www.20milesnorth.com/ Rob Jenkins

    I took a look at at one product just to see, the White Ottoman bed. I know there will be varying opinions on this, but I would recommend you did not muddle your product title tags with a duplication of your home page title tag at the end. I would also put the product name first and then nix the pricing in the title tag. For instance:

    ON SALE! – White Ottoman Bed – £240.00 – Buy Beds Online | Huge Sale Beds at UK Bed Specialist

    would become something more like this:

    White Ottoman Bed – Lift up bed with storage – UK Bed Specialist

    In Firefox I also see a number ’1′ to the left of your bed frames drop down.

    I also see a copy error (guessing if I see one on the only product I look at there are more)
    The sentence below is missing the ‘d’ in bed
    The Ottoman Be is our best seller and is also available in Brown, Black and White.

  • http://www.20milesnorth.com/ Rob Jenkins

    One more thing, link your bottom social buttons to actual social profiles, not the profile websites.

  • Ronnie’s Mustache

    I’ve always found it tough to convince companies to write their own descriptions, and not just use the manufacturers’.

    For sites w/ 10,000+ SKU’s it can be a difficult task. That’s why it’s important to get people working on the descriptions, images, videos and all product related data early on in the project.

    I’ve found that having them work on small groups of items works best. Start w/ the top 50-100 products or so. Doing this will give you a good idea of how long it will take to get everything done. And it allows a system to be put in place or improved upon.

    When the copywriters ask, “What’s the best way to write for SEO?” I give them a few brief guidelines and tell them, “…to write without thinking about SEO. Focus on great copy that sells.”

  • http://www.20milesnorth.com/ Rob Jenkins

    I agree completely, the large sites typically have more employees at their disposal, but I often end up either getting approval to bill for me writing them, or giving specific instructions to the product guy/gal and 3 other people who have been deemed having free time.

  • stracy

    We just had a RV this morning at our agency in Paris with an e-merchant who owns an e-commerce site since 2006 a little bit frustrated and fed up with web agencies.

    You bet, they’ve changed agencies 6 times in 7 years and still don’t have an SEO optimized e-commerce site !!!

    The problem is that they’ve been in contact with web developper agencies and web design agencies so they have a site that’s ok goodlookingwise, but everything needs to be optimized as far as SEO is concerned. And I mean EVERYTHING.

    Url structure

    duplicate content product discriptions

    call to action buttons

    alt image texte

    meta tags

    Everything

    I told them that the problem is that they have a nice well designed car with a great motor, but it’s sitting o the parkinglot of the factory. Nobody has brought it to the store to be sold.

    They got the picture all right, but competition has taken marketshares from their business the last 2 years and they just manage to level off. So they only have a limitted budget left to try to fix things up.

    They wasted time and money for 7 years.

    That’s the cost of not taking SEO into account right from the very beginning.

    And that’s what we all face. People calling for help becaus they built an e-commerce site that just isn’t visible in the search engines.

    Great post, that high lights ounce again the biggest and most common mistake’s e-merchants do when designing an e-commerce site.

  • http://webemergence.com/blog/ WebEmergence

    All great SEO tips, thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.techofweb.com/ Atul Bansal

    A complete article on SEO I wud say.. But it gives me a thought that a Web Developer should be Web Designer and SEO too….

  • http://www.it-sales-leads.com/ Barbara Mckinney

    Avoiding duplication of content can be achieve by adequate preliminary planning. Inform your web developer of the potential for and causes of content duplication before coding begins.Thanks for sharing this info!

 

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