Ecommerce SEO Guide

The organic search typically makes up around 50% of the traffic for successful eCommerce business. This is why it is important to ensure your eCommerce site is SEO optimized. In all the retail brands I have worked for, SEO is one of the best performing digital marketing channels followed by PPC and email. Despite SEO being the channel with the highest ROI, only a handful of brands focus on SEO best practices. Check out my SEO best practices for eCommerce websites aimed at improving the SEO visibility of your brand.

So, what’s the objective of this eCommerce SEO guide;

Stats suggest that 39% of global e-commerce traffic comes from search. So, SEO is critical to the success of your eCommerce website. The objective of this guide is to;

  • Make your products get discovered online versus the fierce eCommerce competition in your industry.
  • Improve page rankings of your eCommerce transactional pages (product & category pages).
  • To drive consistent, scalable traffic and revenue from major search engines.

Ecommerce SEO Tips to Boost Traffic In 2020

I’ll be covering the following areas to optimise your eCommerce site;

eCommerce Keyword Research

Keyword research should be one of your initial steps and a core part of your eCommerce SEO strategy. It enables you to attract buyers at every step of the customer’s purchase process. You have to know what buyers are searching and how many times it’s being searched to inform how to structure your site and position your products better. It is an always-on part of your SEO process where you never stop researching new and existing products, manufacturers and competitors. Never stuff your content with keywords. Use them naturally within all the content you create.

Keyword Research Tools

To help you create your seed list of keywords to use within your categories, products or blog content, I have put together a list of keyword research tools to help you do this fast, easy and efficient. You can use one or more of the following to generate thousands of keyword ideas with ordered by search volume, keyword difficulty and other advance metrics such as CTR, CPC’s, competition data etc. These tools also expose your competitor’s most profitable keywords that you could go after.

When creating a seed list of keywords, you could group them based on the following criteria – keyword search volumes, relevance, low difficulty, long-tail keywords, transactional, misspelled, seasonal or semantically related keywords.

Review Current Performance against your Target keyword list

For the keywords where you are already appearing on the first page of the Google SERP, there could be opportunities to further fine-tune the performance by improving your page titles/meta descriptions to improve your CTR. Close monitoring and continued SEO activity is needed for these pages to safeguard them from declining from their strong positions.

For the keywords where you rank on page 2 and page 3 of Google SERP, these present the biggest opportunity for quick wins. Review and optimise the technical and on-page elements of these pages.

Anything beyond page 3 would need deeper analysis. You need to ask yourself whether the page is really required and targeting the right keywords. There could be keyword cannibalisation issues impacting the page rankings. There could be several other reasons.

Before you deep dive into keyword research, It’s important to fully understand your client. As an SEO consultant, when I take on a new eCommerce client, I always start by asking the client – who they are, what they offer or sell, who their target audience is, who their competition is, etc. Not doing keyword research would end up an eCommerce website targeting very broad keywords that are difficult to rank and not relevant to your target audience.

Getting your site structure right from the start is critical for eCommerce-based websites because it is very easy for pages to cannibalise each other due to the crossover of products in multiple categories and facet pages. As a general rule, your upper funnel keywords such as dresses, coats & jackets, football boots etc should be captured by your category pages. Your products should be targeting long-tail keywords.

  • Use a hierarchical site architecture for eCommerce websites. Try to minimise click-depth. Keep the overall structure no more than 3 clicks deep i.e. a click depth of 3 at max.
Hierarchical Site Architecture
  • Your main site navigation should be accessible without JavaScript (at least for the Googlebot).
  • Limit the number of choices on your menu to the most important links.
  • Use breadcrumb navigation
    • The breadcrumb anchors should work for users and bots.
    • Use breadcrumb markup (schema.org).
  • Don’t forget internal or cross-linking. This provides for additional context, crawl paths and shopping ideas.

URL Structure

SEO friendly URLs help search engines understand the site architecture and the structure of the content. It also helps users understand the topic of the page. Let’s look into some of the best practices for URL structure below;

Best Practices for SEO friendly URL Structure

  • Avoid meaningless URLs. User-friendly URLs help the consumer know where they are as well as engines know what they’re reading. Make sure you optimize this with your focus keywords.
    • Do this: https://www.houseoffraser.co.uk/women/dresses (clean URL)
    • Not this: https://www.brooksbrothers.com/womens/dresses/0489,en_GB,sc.html (URL has special characters like commas and underscores).
  • URLs should be human-readable. The directories represent a hierarchical site architecture from broad to narrow – https://www.domain.com/category/subcategory/product
  • Stick to lowercase characters and use a hyphen to separate your individual keywords within URLs.
  • The URL max length should be no longer than 512 pixels. Avoid extremely long URLs with multiple layers.
  • Avoid using dates within eCommerce URLs. There could be times when you need to set up evergreen pages that you may want to re-use every year. On such pages especially, it’s best to avoid dates. For example, the Christmas landing page on House of Fraser is https://www.houseoffraser.co.uk/christmas and not https://www.houseoffraser.co.uk/christmas-2020  because the same URL is re-used each year which helps retain link equity over time and increases the authority of a page.
  • Avoid using hashes within URLs to change content if you want that page to be indexed. Google does not index anything past the hash.
  • Avoid potential duplication issues common in eCommerce platforms which are caused by URL inconsistencies as they are treated as different URLs with the exact copy. Example of inconsistencies is – www. versus non-www URLs, lower case versus upper-case versions of the same URL, trailing versus non-trailing slashes within the URL. These can be fixed by implementing 301 redirects from the non-preferred to the preferred URL or canonicalising the duplicate URLs. Also, ensure your HTTP redirects are in place to the HTTPS sitewide.
  • If you alter a URL due to category modifications, ensure you implement a permanent redirect from the old URL to the modified URL.

Your eCommerce platforms are not shipped with out of the box SEO-friendly URLs. They need to be made human-readable by using Apache .htaccess URL rewrites. This is out of scope for this article. Your developer should have the knowledge to rewrite parameter URLs into human-readable URLs. Example: https://www.houseoffraser.co.uk/women.php/category=dresses&style=maxi-dresses is rewritten as https://www.houseoffraser.co.uk/women/dresses/maxi-dresses.

Breadcrumbs improve usability and help with SEO. You need to implement breadcrumbs on your eCommerce product and category pages. These breadcrumbs show the hierarchy of the visited page and reduce bounce rates. Ensure your breadcrumbs are displayed on desktop and mobile devices so customers can easily navigate your online store.

Breadcrumbs SEO

Header Content Optimisation

Ensure the page titles and meta descriptions are optimised for target keywords. Do this at scale by automation and then manually start optimising prioritising the most important pages either based on trade, stock levels, Google average search volume etc. Create unique, keyword-rich meta for your category and product pages. Add-in offers to your meta descriptions to increase CTRs and set you apart from the rest of the competition.

Category & Product Pages On-Page SEO Optimisation

Your website product and category pages are vital and need to be optimised to rank high on SERPs for your target terms. Ensure your pages have enough content to give customers appropriate information about the products to help them with their buying decision. Create unique, keyword-rich SEO content for eCommerce category and product pages which usually receive a lot of visits.

For a category page, elements such as the Page Title, meta description, category page heading and page copy are areas that need to be optimised from an on-page SEO perspective.

perfectly optimisation category page seoA good example of a perfectly optimised category page from Boohoo. Notice the optimised title tag, meta description, heading, body content and the internal links on the page pointing to specific dresses.

For a product page, elements such as the Page Title, meta description, product title, alt text for images are areas that need to be optimised from an on-page SEO perspective. When it comes to product descriptions add every small relevant detail about the product such as fabric, manufacturer part numbers, fit etc. Optimizing for these data points will not only improve your rankings for these specific searches on Google but also helps customers understand the product better.

perfectly optimised product page seoA good example of a perfectly optimised product page from Next. Notice the optimised product name, in-depth product description, customer reviews section and internal links to related products you want to pair the dress with.

Avoid using standard manufacturer product descriptions. Also, when incorporating keywords in your product and category descriptions, avoid keyword stuffing your content.

Internal linking is key in spreading link value. Link from your key pages to deeper categories & products. When linking, you should use optimised anchor texts and always link to the canonical and indexable URL. Use internal linking to support top SEO focused content.

Internal Link Optimisation

Duplicate Content – Index Control

Duplicate content can be really annoying. It’s important to ensure only the right pages get indexed in Google. Let’s look at some of the common ways to handle duplication;

  • Create unique product & category descriptions and header optimisations.
  • Noindex when appropriate: Add this within the <head> section of your page if you want the page to be non-indexable – <meta name="robots" content="noindex">.
    • Another alternative is to use the X-Robots-Tag HTTP header in your Apache .htaccess file to noindex pages. Very common in handling PDF indexation.
      <FilesMatch ".pdf$">
      Header set X-Robots-Tag "noindex, nofollow"
      </FilesMatch>
  • Have a canonical strategy in place to consolidate pages. Your duplicate pages must canonicalise to the primary preferred URL. Add this within the <head> section of your duplicate page – <link rel=“canonical” href=“primary_url”>.
  • Use proper pagination (link this to the pagination section of the tutorial).
  • Near-identical products (which just differ by size or colour) can cause duplication issues. Canonicalise the duplicate products to the primary product if the product descriptions are identical.
  • www versus non-www, trailing slash resolution: If you have a preferred version (either URL with www or non-www), 301 redirect the duplicate to the preferred version. Similarly, if you have a preferred URL version between non-trailing slash versus trailing slash version of the URL, 301 redirect the duplicate to the preferred version.

Invest in unique content to protect yourself from the Panda. Indexing thin content pages can also result in a Google Panda penalty.

Page Speed Optimisation

Page speed is one of the top-ranking signals for Google. It essential to optimise page speed from both an SEO and user perspective as people expect fast load times.

Customers should be able to navigate your eCommerce site easily, without having to wait too long for the pages to load. A study showed, 40% of site visitors abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. And a 1-second delay in page response time can reduce your conversions by 7%. In actual numerical figures, if an eCommerce site is making £50,000 per day, a 1-second page delay could potentially cost you £1.3 million in lost sales every year.

Not only the revenue loss, optimising load speed has now become even more crucial as Google now considers site speed as one of the ranking factors for competitive queries. A fast website improves crawl budget and thus more pages are crawled in the same amount of time. A few important things to consider to optimise your eCommerce website site speed;

  • Keep your source code clean and light. Avoid using JavaScript as much as possible as it adds to load time.
  • Avoid using heavy images. Compress images when possible.
  • Focus on reducing the Time to First Byte.
  • Using caching and compression techniques.
  • If you are targeting multiple locations, using a CDN helps;
    • Improves the user’s experience by faster loading times.
    • Reduces server load.
    • Reduces latency
    • Quickly scalable during times of heavy surge in traffic.
  • Purchase high-quality hosting.

I have listed some helpful tools to analyse website page’s speed performance to run free website speed tests. These tools also provide detailed site speed optimization recommendations;

Image Optimisation

Ecommerce websites have this habit of creating flashy landing pages for some of their categories filled with many images, videos and lots of scripts to make it fun & interactive. Although images are certainly needed to spruce up designs and draw attention to the content on your page, too many of these images could negatively impact page load which in turn would impact rankings of the page. Some other considerations when it comes to handling images are;

  • Add alt text on all your images. Optimizing the alt image text of your images can take a bit more work but it’s an easy way to optimise images to rank for target keywords. Example: <img src="/red-maxi-dress.jpg" alt="Red Maxi Dress" />
  • Avoid representing key content as a part of the image.
  • Always ensure images are uploaded in the correct size and file format.
  • Use SEO friendly file names. Example: Use red-maxi-dress.jpg instead of dressphoto1.jpg.
  • Create image sitemaps to help Google find images otherwise not find via traditional links. Sometimes images could be hidden behind JavaScript. Image sitemaps help in these cases. Similar to image sitemaps, if you can create video sitemaps for your self-hosted videos to help Google find and index videos of your site.

Site Pagination

Typically seen on eCommerce websites, pagination is used to divide a large number of products belonging to a specific category into a series of pages. Forums, blogs, news publishers are other types of sites that typically use pagination to divide their articles into multiple pages.

When implementing pagination, there are a few things that need to be taken into account for SEO. A lot can go wrong (especially massive crawl waste) if pagination is not handled properly on eCommerce product lister pages.

Best Practices for SEO friendly Pagination

  • Increasing the number of products per page can avoid paginated links altogether.
  • Crawlable anchor links must be used for pagination series to enable crawlers to find and crawl new content.
  • Ensure each page within the paginated series uses a self-referencing canonical as each page of a pagination series will have unique content. A common mistake seen on most eCommerce websites is all the paginated pages canonicalise to the first page. This will be ignored by Google.
  • Paginated series must not be included within sitemaps.
implementing pagination seo

Here is an example of how to implement pagination. On page 1 of the series, we have a crawlable anchor link that points to page 2 containing a self-referencing canonical tag. We follow the same setup on the second page. On page 2 however, we need to point back to page 1 using a crawlable anchor link. We also specify a crawlable anchor link that points to page 3. Again, we use a self-referencing canonical tag for page 2. Page 3 follows the same approach with linking to the previous and the next steps.

Previously, rel=”next” & “prev” was being used as a best practice for pagination to indicate page relationships within a series. In March 2019, Google announced that rel=”next” & “prev” were no longer going to be used. There is no need to remove it if they are set up that way as other search engines such as Bing could still be using it to discover the pages.

Some don’ts you should be aware of with handling pagination;

  • Do no noindex pagination series pages in an attempt to decrease the indexation bloat. This is not recommended as Google will stop crawling pages after a page has been noIndexed for some time.
  • Do no use canonicals on paginated series to minimise indexation bloat. Paginated series must have self-referencing canonicals only.
  • Do not block paginated series on your robots.txt. Neither should you nofollow all your internal paginated links.

As an alternative to traditional pagination, some sites implement an infinite scroll. If not properly handled, infinite scroll can cause issues for Googlebot. With infinite scroll, users can view more page content by simply scrolling down without having to click providing for great user experience.

Infinite scroll can pose problems with crawling. There are a few steps we need to follow when implementing infinite scroll to make the setup SEO friendly;

  1. Divide the divide infinite scroll page content into component pages that can be accessed within the HTML, ensuring there is no overlap of content within component pages.
  2. We need to ensure that each component page contains a full URL that the content can be accessed.
  3. We need to use the HTML History API to implement ‘pushState’ on the infinite scroll page for any user action that resembles a click or turning of the page. As a user crawls, the URL should update to reference the correct version of the page.

Here is an example from Google’s documentation around Infinite scroll.

Faceted Navigation

Handling faceted navigation is one of the most complex parts of eCommerce SEO. Filter options (or refinements) such as brand, style, colour, size, and price are most common on eCommerce websites. There are several benefits of faceted navigation. Firstly, it improves the user experience. Secondly, it improves the conversion rate because it improves the user’s findability of a product by creating a clear and easy to navigate internal linking. Thirdly, it helps with targetting additional product-related keywords for SEO.

Faceted Navigation could have a significant negative impact on SEO performance if not handled correctly. Some of the potential pitfalls could be duplication of content, crawl budget wastage, indexation of all filter combinations leading to low-quality pages getting indexed in SERPs, creation and indexation of thin content pages and link equity being diluted across a large number of internal pages.

There are some key SEO considerations to be taken when deciding your faceted navigation strategy. Let’s look at some of the way’s eCommerce sites handle faceted navigation.

  • Some sites implement a noindex tag on some or all their filters to prevent them from indexation. The problem with this is faceted URLs will still be crawled but less frequently. It does not completely eliminate crawl budget usage. “Noindex” will also lead to potential loss of link equity passed from these pages.
  • Some sites canonicalise their faceted pages back to the main category (product lister) page. In most cases, this will prevent indexation of these filter pages on the SERPs. But in some cases, when Google does not deem filter page content similar to the main category, the canonical tags may be ignored.
  • Some sites block access to some of their faceted navigation URLs (or facet URL parameters) using the robots.txt disallow. Crawlers are blocked from crawling these filtered pages but they may still be crawled if linked to from anywhere else internally or externally.
  • s. The only downside from this approach is, the potential flow of link equity from some of the important pages would be trapped on these pages as they are blocked from being crawled.
  • Some sites use the Nofollow attribute on their faceted navigation internal links. Same as the previous approach, this would trap the potential flow of link equity from these pages. Again, crawlers are blocked from crawling these internal links, but they may still be crawled if linked to from anywhere else internally or externally.

In the approaches mentioned above, this could be seen as excessive blocking of filters for some sites leading to the absence of dedicated pages for long-tail keywords. This reduces the sites ranking potential for specific search terms (long tails) that could potentially have a high search volume.

One thing to note is, it is important to establish a consistent URL ordering when handling filter types. Not doing this could create duplicate content issues.  Choosing the same combination of filters in a different order should not generate unique URLs. Whatever be the order of selecting a combination of filters, the URLs generated must be the same because the content does not change.

For example, let’s say, on Dresses page, selecting style filter “maxi dresses” first and then selecting colour “blue” generates the following URL – /women/dresses/maxi-dresses/blue. Now if I reverse the selection by selecting colour “blue” first and then the style “maxi dresses”, it should generate the same URL – /women/dresses/maxi-dresses/blue as the content of the pages are the same.

So, with so many risks involved, what is the best way to manage faceted navigation on your eCommerce websites? There is no one size fits all. It should be informed by data. Your faceted navigation strategy should be based on;

  • Keyword research using keyword research tools, your search console data, PPC data, trade priorities etc.
  • Competitor research

Ensure all valuable filter pages are crawlable and indexable (self-referencing canonical tag) and have sufficient inventory (at least 2 or more products, noIndex otherwise.). Prioritise valuable filters in your internal linking strategy.

Crawl Budget Optimisation

Crawl Budget is the maximum amount of time a search engine spider (such as Googlebot) will spend crawling your site before it gives up. For any site, optimising crawl budget is very important as it affects how quickly site changes are updated by indexers. Large sites such as e-commerce sites may need to consider minimising wastage of crawl budget. The more often Google visits your site, the faster new pages or page updates get included in the index.

2 main factors that can negatively impact the crawl budget of a website are Duplicate content and low-quality content. To check when a page is last crawled, we can use the URL inspection tool within the search console. Last crawl data can provide insights into crawl budget issues. Generally speaking, if new content is crawled on the same day or a day later, there are no issues with your crawl budget.

crawl budget crawl issue search console

How do we optimise Crawl Budget?

There are a few steps that can be taken to optimise a site’s crawl budget;

  • Identify low-quality content pages and remove or merge them into existing pages with content. You should be left with only valuable content that you want to be indexed in Google.
  • robots.txt Disallow of low-value pages: Low-value filter groups within your faceted navigation is a good example of a structure that can be excluded from bot crawl by including a disallow rule within your robots.txt. You can also block sorting parameters within your robots.txt.
  • You sitemap.xml files must only contain 200 status code, self-referencing indexable URLs.
  • Page speed improvements can also result in an increase in crawl rate. If a server response time is fast, the bots can crawl more pages. Site-wide events such as migrations and new or updates to the website content can increase the crawl demand of your website.
  • Review your search console regularly to resolve all the index coverage issues.
  • Lastly, you can add a rel=“nofollow” on your internal links that you want to prevent Googlebot from crawling. It’s important to review your internal links regularly and fix any broken links, internal redirects and chaining redirects. Note that each redirect hop is crawled which eats into your crawl budget. Internal links should all be valid 200 OK status code.

Robots.txt Optimisation to Save Crawl Budget Wastage

Optimising your robots.txt to decide which sections of the site the user agents can and cannot crawl of your eCommerce site can save wasted crawl budget using the Disallow attribute. One example would be to block all the search result pages or check out pages getting crawled by the robots.txt. Another example is to block the low-value URLs created by faceted navigation. Within your robots.txt, you can also submit the XML sitemap declaration linking to your Sitemap XML to inform Google which pages should be crawled. If you have a site consisting of

If you have a site with multiple sub-domains, you can have one robots.txt per sub-domain as they are each treated as individual sites. Especially useful in International scenarios.

Improper use of the robots.txt can do more harm to your site’s SEO performance. Once you make any changes, please use Google’s robots.txt tester tool to test your changes – whether your URL is blocked or allowed for Googlebot to crawl.

Handling of Internal Search URLs

On eCommerce sites especially, to protect yourself from searches resulting in no results or searches resulting in search results pages for which we already have a category page, it is recommended to noIndex the search results pages and block the search results URL structure on your robots.txt.

Set up internal site search tracking on your eCommerce site, in order to identify top searches and searches resulting in users not being able to find relevant landing pages.

XML Sitemap Optimisation

Ecommerce sites would benefit from sitemaps because they typically have a large number of URLs than standard static sites. A sitemap (more importantly the XML version of the sitemap) helps Google understand which pages are valuable to the site. With XML sitemaps, you can add additional optional information such as the last updated date, frequency of page updates. For International SEO, you also have the option of adding the alternate country or language versions of the site pages on your XML sitemap. You can set up dedicated sitemaps for standard URLs, your site images, videos and news. XML sitemaps for images and videos help with indexation of your media content.

Some considerations for Sitemaps;

  • Set XML map to automatically update.
  • XML sitemap version is preferred over RSS/Atom feeds or text versions.
  • Multiple Sitemaps: Your large sitemaps should be broken into smaller sitemaps if the sitemap XML file size exceeds 50 MB or greater than 50,000 URLs and linked from a sitemap index file. With eCommerce sites, it’s common to have dedicated sitemaps for different sections of the site such as a dedicated XML sitemap each for;
    • Products
    • Stores
    • Categories
    • Brands
    • Help Center pages
    • Image sitemap
  • The sitemaps should list the absolute URL.
  • Sitemaps must only contain 200 status code, indexable URLs. All URLs in your XML sitemap should be final canonical URLs only.
  • Include a link to your sitemap (or sitemap index file) on your robots.txt.
  • Submit your XML sitemaps (or sitemap index file) within the sitemaps section of your Google search console.
  • When new pages are added to the site and you want them indexed, they should be automatically added to your XML sitemap. Similarly deleting a page or updating a page to noIndex, or if a page is broken, it should get automatically removed from the XML sitemap. Most eCommerce platforms dynamically update the sitemap.
  • Monitor the index coverage report to understand how the pages are being indexed on Google. This is a handy tool to spot sitemap specific issues.

Product Structured Data

Product structured data helps Google understand the contents of the page better which can be used to display rich snippets in SERPs. On a product page, you typically mark up the product details such as the product name, price, product image, currency, availability and review ratings. Structured data for products can be marked up using JSON-LD (Google’s recommended way), RDFa and Microdata. The benefit of JSON-LD markup is, it is easier to implement and present in the <head section> (separate from the <body> code).

There are benefits of adding product schema data on your product pages. Product reviews are an easy way to inject free user-generated content on your pages. By displaying your products star rating and the number of reviews in SERPs, it helps you out in the SERPs and increases CTR by an estimated 20-30%.

Product Structured Data Google SERPA product description page SERP result displaying the rating and review stars.

The product structured data also helps products to be featured within Google image search.

product structured data Google image serp

To generate the product schema markup, I recommend you check out Google’s developer resource for more information on the required markup attributes and coding instructions. To generate the schema.org product markup, you can also use Google structured data markup helper, which allows you to tag a page depending on the type of structured data that is required. Or use Merkle’s JSON-LD Schema Markup Generator.

To test the implementation of your product structured data, use the Google structured data testing tool by pasting the product URL or the code.

Crawling your site and identifying Issues – Useful SEO Tools

I have listed a few popular SEO tools that you could use to perform site crawls to pull out useful insights to improve your site from a technical point of view. We can use the knowledge from the crawled data to inform the SEO strategy for eCommerce websites and find the biggest opportunities available.

Let’s look at some of the most common issues in large eCommerce sites that can be detected using these technical SEO tools;

  • Non 200 status response code errors – 3xx status codes, 4xx error pages or server other errors.
  • Internal linking issues such as broken internal links, orphan links or links with a high crawl depth. Broken links are harmful to any website but the possibility of broken links in an eCommerce site is generally higher.
  • Issues with the content on the site such as under-optimised or missing meta title, meta descriptions, page headings (H1’s, H2’s etc) or page copy issues.
  • Severe content issues such as duplication of pages or thin content issues.
  • Problematic redirects/redirect chains issues.
  • International site URL issues such as hreflang issues.
  • Canonical issues such as missing canonicals, chaining canonicals, non-indexable canonicals or issues related to canonicals implemented on paginated pages.
  • Issues with breadcrumbs?
  • JavaScript issues – view source versus rendered source code discrepancies.
  • Issues with the XML sitemap such as the inclusion of non-indexable/non-200 status code URLs or if any valuable URLs missing from the sitemap.
  • Mobile & desktop site differences if any.
  • Legacy URL issues.
  • Schema or structured data-related issues as pages with incorrect or missing structured data implementations.
  • Pagination related issues such as unlinked or non-indexable pages within the pagination.
  • Blocked URLs by robots.txt.
  • Image optimisation related issues such as images with missing alt text or large-sized images.
  • Some enterprise tools have an integrated backlink checker. It’s quite common to find a large number of broken backlinks on eCommerce websites especially links to out of stock products generating a broken link.
  • Logfile analysis of your server logs can help you identify crawl waste.
  • and the list is exhaustive depending on the chosen crawler…

When it comes to link building, you should aim to earn quality inbound links to rank higher. Because inbound linking demonstrates authority and relevance, Google considers it as a ranking factor.

For most eCommerce sites, it’s the homepage that earns the most links. Product pages get a lot of links because of newness and seasonality and bloggers or media coverage. Category pages rarely get links. Try and build links to your category and product pages to distribute link juice effectively around the site. Link value needs to be spread out – pass link equity to other profitable pages by linking internally to them. Avoid building all your backlinks to the homepage

A few ways eCommerce websites earn links are via product reviews, competitions & giveaways, press mentions, broken link building, creating good content that is link-worthy (link bait) gets automatically linked to etc. Also, take inspiration from competitor backlinks to develop your own SEO backlink campaigns & link building strategies. Not only can you take inspiration from authoritative competitor backlinks, but you can also reach out to the source if you find a broken page linking to you your competitor site.

Link building is one of the hardest areas of SEO because of the amount of time you need to dedicate for a campaign. That’s the reason why many eCommerce brands prefer to outsource link building to a specialist agency. But you must always double-check the links that have been built if outsourced both from a site quality and relevancy point of view.

I have listed some of my favourite tools to check your backlinks and also explore competitor backlinks. You can also use these tools to research & analyse your backlinks to see if they are relevant & authoritative.

I have listed some examples of content that Brands to well.

Size Finder by Summersalt.com

DIY How To’s by HomeDepot.com

Mobile SEO

In the current times, Mobile commerce makes up over 50% of the total eCommerce. Despite this, it is common to see e-commerce sites still lacking a mobile site. Other common problems I have encountered personally when auditing eCommerce websites are;

  • Unexpected redirects to desktop site for some pages.
  • Content is hidden on mobile.
  • Use of large images which impact performance.
  • The checkout process is not optimised.

Be excellent to your mobile users. My recommendations are;

Handling of Out of Stock Products

A missing or wrongly implemented product retirement strategy will have a negative impact on eCommerce SEO performance. Discontinued or temporarily unavailable products can result in large quantities of 404s,
broken links and empty category pages (thin content). Displaying a 404 or empty page to your customers will not only result in poor user experience and loss of sales but will also result in loss of link equity. Some eCommerce websites highlight that the product is not in stock with a message on the product detail page and return a 200-status code.

asos out of stock product seo

Out of stocks can impact both user experience as well as SEO in the following ways;

Google crawl budget wastage: Google ends up continuing crawling these low-value products or category pages with no products ending up wasting crawl budget instead of crawling other useful parts of the site.

The user landing on the out of stock page creates frustration and bounces off the site, back to the SERPs in search of a competitor to purchase the same product.

Handling out of stock products requires some careful SEO considerations:

If a product is permanently out of stock, you can implement a permanent redirect (301) to a related product or the product category if the product had generated backlinks or driven traffic. The 301 permanent redirects will ensure that the link equity accrued is transferred to the new page. Or you could simply 404 the page if the product page has zero value in terms of not receiving organic traffic or zero backlinks to naturally drop out of the index without impacting SEO performance. The page should also be unlinked from the site, sitemaps etc to ensure users and crawlers do not run into errors.

If a product is temporarily out of stock, you can keep the product page up and use a sign-posting to make it clear to the customer that the product is currently unavailable and will return to stock. This would retain rankings within SERPs for your target queries. At the bottom of the product page, you could show a section of related products. Some eCommerce sites use an email sign-up to be notified box to get notified when the product is back in stock. Others offer a discount voucher code for customers who are willing to wait for the product to be restocked to prevent them from buying off a competitor site.

Monitor stock levels by tracking the stock status in the data layer of your analytics platform.

If your products are seasonal, there are best practices that be used on category or landing pages containing seasonal products. Sometimes products are stocked only during specific times of the year such as Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, valentine’s day, black Friday exclusives etc. Lots of site owners make the mistake of removing these pages each year and re-create pages the following year.

From an SEO standpoint, this is not best practice as this would mean you starting the optimisation efforts all over again. By keeping seasonal pages live throughout the year, you can build up link equity over time and maintain your rankings. When not in season and your category page or landing page is empty, make slight changes to the page copy to let the users know that they can come back again the following year to shop when the products are back in season.

black Friday SEOAn example of a Black Friday landing page from Flannels thanking customers who shopped last year and offers a sign-up box to get notified when the products are back in season for Black Friday 2020.

Get your updates out early and be prepared. Give holiday campaign pages time to index & rank and start building links ahead of time.

International SEO for eCommerce Sites

eCommerce International SEO success depends on having the right strategy from the start. To target your eCommerce site to rank in major search engines in your target markets, there are a few things you need to consider for International SEO.

  1. Choose the right website structure: eCommerce sites with a global presence targeting multiple countries or languages typically use either of the following website structures;
    • Country-specific top-level domains (ccTLD): This is the recommended structure for SEO as the domain country-level extension provided the strongest signal to Google of the country the site is targeting.  Users will also trust a country level domain extension as its clear what location is the site is targetting from the URL. However, it’s expensive to maintain.
      domain.fr
      domain.co.uk
      and so on…
    • Subdomains: Some eCommerce sites prefer to use a sub-domain to keep the international sites separate from the main target country site each hosted on a different server location (different IP)
      gb.domain.com
      us.domain.com
      and so on…
      international seo sub-domain hreflang
    • Sub-Directories: This is the most common implementation because of the ease of implementation and it’s less expensive to maintain. The root domain can capitalise more on all inbound links built on the various country sites. Use the official ISO country & language codes for your sub-directories to make it easy to understand what locations (and languages) your URLs are targeting.
      domain.com/gb (to target UK)
      domain.com/de (to target Germany)
      domain.com/fr-de (to target French-speaking customers in Germany)
      domain.com/en-de (to target English speaking customers in Germany)
      and so on…
      international seo sub directory hreflang
  2. Automate hreflang tags creation: hrefllangs meta tags can be implemented via the following ways – within the <head> section, via HTTP headers or within your XML sitemap. The hreflangs are automatically generated on eCommerce websites to save time.
  3. HTML Language Tag: Use the ‘lang’ attribute.
  4. Localise your website content for the target market. Optimize (localise) the following fields to improve SEO ranking. Simple page translation is not enough in some cases. The same language can have different words for a product type. It is important to understand these differences to optimise for the local market. Examples are Trainers vs Sneakers, Nappy vs Diaper, Soother vs Pacifier etc.
    • Page title & meta descriptions
    • Headings (H1, H2 etc).
    • Page copy.
    • URL
    • Image alt text.
  5. Google search console international targeting: Use Search Console to set your international targeting. Country-code domains (such as domain.fr) will be assumed to target that country. So, no specific targeting setting required for ccTLDs. But international websites that use a sub-domain or a sub-directory setup can benefit from geo-targeted setting within Google Search Console. Verify individual domains in Google Search Console to apply international targeting.
    Google Search Console International Targeting
  6. Gain backlinks from local sites: Outreach should be executed on a local level. Need to approach sites in local language for better results.

Develop a localised content strategy: Create blog content on a global level that can be localised by target markets. Also, create content at a local level that is specific and a popular local topic for the relevant market. A tip to stay organised to set up a global content calendar and keep it up to date.

FURTHER READING OR VIDEOS WITH BEST E-COMMERCE SEO TIPS

If you own a Jewellery business or work for a Jewellery brand, check the SEO eCommerce strategy for the jewellery industry post.

If you own a beauty business or work for a Beauty brand, check the SEO eCommerce strategy for the beauty industry post.

This is a deck published in 2017 by International SEO Consultant Aleyda Solís. Although it’s a few years old, it’s got some really good actionable tips that be used to date to make the most out of your eCommerce site and maximize conversions?

No time to deal with eCommerce SEO? I provide eCommerce SEO services. Contact me today to discuss how I could help.

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