4 Advanced eCommerce SEO tactics

The following is a guest post from James Agate, the SEO director at Skyrocket SEO, a leader in eCommerce SEO & Conversion Optimisation for small and medium sized online retailers.

eCommerce SEO is a unique beast. There are technical issues to consider, scalability challenges to think about and countless other opportunities and drawbacks that need to be taken into account. We work a great deal in the eCommerce space; here are some of the ways I know will take your or your client’s business to the next level.

Put an End to Ranking Cannibalism

The problem

eCommerce websites are notorious for having multiple versions of very similar pages which can cause serious SEO headaches. This is because there might be multiple URLs as a result of sort/search parameters or category labels.

In an ideal world, you will have one page that ‘champions’ each keyword so you can concentrate resources and measure progress.

I’m not talking heavy anchor text linkbuilding here e.g. all links pointing at your page for ‘picnic blankets’ need to be for ‘picnic blankets’. I mean a general awareness across your organisation that you are trying to get ‘yoursite.com/picnic-blankets’ to rank for ‘picnic blankets’.

There’s nothing wrong with getting multiple listings for a term –if you can. But if a client isn’t visible for a term because they have split links and social signals between 2 or even more pages, get a first listing ranking, then you can worry about a second listing.

The solution: How to eliminate page overlap in ecommerce SEO

1. Generate a crawl report using SEOmoz’s Crawl Test Tool (or comparable software).

2. Run a Google Analytics Top Content report.

3. Go through the sitemap (and the site itself) to identify content that overlaps and go through the crawl report to identify pages with duplicate content.

4. You should now have a list of pages that need some attention from you.

5. Using the data from both the crawl report and the top content report, you can now run through each page and analyse the best resolution – this might be redirecting or canonicalising one page to another, building out the content on a page to make it sufficiently different or useful, or perhaps consolidating content from multiple pages into one hub and redirecting all link juice into one place.

If you are unfamiliar with the term canonicalising, then I am simply referring to the use of the rel=canonical tag. This indicates to Google and other search engines which version of a page you want to rank.

The rel=canonical tag is easily implemented by adding the following tag to the of a page that is not your keyword champion, but has similar content.

< link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/example/product12345.html" >

Manual implementation of rel=canonical across a site could take a great deal of time but there are numerous plugins for a variety of platforms which can make the process a lot less painful. Also, many of the leading eCommerce software platforms have started to incorporate automatic rel=canonical tags into their system to make the process very straightforward indeed. Check with your eCommerce provider or web developer to see what the situation is for you.

Caveat: Social shares don’t appear to redirect in the same way link juice does so take this into account when deciding what to do with a page.

If you are an SEO practitioner then I think you will be amazed at the impact you can have on a client site just by doing this kind of housekeeping. As Warren Buffett would say “I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars: I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over.”

Optimise Detail Pages’ Content with Structured Markup

There’s more to on-page optimization in today’s richer web than titles and keyword use, and with stronger competition, the need to go that extra step is increasingly important to gain an edge.

On-page optimisation for eCommerce websites is an extremely diverse subject but one area I would concentrate on initially would be on-page markup since it is apparent that Google will be focusing more and more on this in future. In particular, I would be looking at adopting the Schema.org principles.

Schema.org is a set of html tags for structured data that is supported by all the leading search engines. It allows you to add rich context to your website’s pages, by telling search engines what parts of the content refer to commonly sought information such as price, average review score, number of reviews, colour etc.

In turn, the search engines use this to make your search listing that extra bit jazzy. They create rich snippets in the search results displaying things like price, rating, availability, brand, condition, model number and much more besides.

The main benefit is an increased clickthrough rate. Over time, it could also actually improve your rankings because Google is working user feedback metrics like clickthrough rate into its algorithm.

Schema-Creator.org is a fantastic free tool which allows you to easily add the required markup to your pages. You can enter all the details about a product for example and it generates the markup code which you can then copy and paste into the page on your site.

Afterwards, you can use Google’s Rich Snippet Testing Tool to make sure you have implemented everything properly.

Scale is currently an issue when it comes to implementing Schema.org but as this area advances, readily available tools to automate and scale this will almost certainly follow. There is already a WordPress plugin (I haven’t tested this yet though).

I would also suggest that many of the leading eCommerce software companies out there will create of add-ons or plugin because the future of SEO is all about a richer web.

If you have an able web developer then chances are they will be able to advise you as to the best way to implement structured markup in your particular situation. Planning a redesign or a restructure – now is the time to look at ways Schema.org can be incorporated into your code.

Finally, also in the context of richer markup, you might also consider implementing rel=author for any content, blog posts or guides you have on your site. Rel=author is an html attribute for the link tag (like the alt attribute for images) indicating who has created the content, and allows authors to carry their authority around the web with them, regardless of what site they write on.

This will ensure you or your client, any authors on the site and the website itself will all start to build a reputation within your chosen industry. At some point in the future when Google really starts to take into account the Google Authorship Markup (rel-author) you will be ahead of the curve and likely gain an edge over the competition.

Don’t Set and Forget Keywords

Very few organisations review their keywords’ performance regularly, if at all. That’s a big mistake.

To many, keyword research, is a set and forget exercise, believing it is possible to make your keyword selections and then just plug away building links and content for months or even years, regardless of whether that particular keyword is still performing well in a business context.

The first step we take with clients is to understand and analyse their keyword portfolio, in particular the performance of individual keywords and categories of keywords.

How you decide to structure your audit depends on the goals of your client, but we mainly analyse looking at metrics like current ranking, current traffic, current conversion rate, revenue contribution, future potential and time to conversion.

Time to conversion is a particularly interesting metric because it helps you to identify what stage in the consumer decision making process a keyword might fit into. This helps you tailor content that targets this keyword to be as relevant as possible to the user.

For example, a keyword might have an average time to conversion of 35 days, a relatively long period of time.

Such a keyword is likely at the problem recognition or information seeking stages of the consumer decision process. You would do well to encourage users who arrive via this keyword to download a product brochure perhaps, get a product tour or even a demo.

In contrast, if you identify a keyword with a short average time to conversion – say a few minutes to a few days – this would suggest the consumer is much further along in the decision making process. So you should be encouraging ‘add to basket’ type actions as visitors are clearly on the verge of handing over their money – offering up a product guide or a product tour is inappropriate this late in the process.

Point #6 in my recent SEOmoz post talked more about performing keyword audits.

Auditing keywords is no easy task. There is quite a bit of data to trawl through but it will be worth it because it can help you to shape an overall SEO strategy that delivers a far higher return on investment, over a strategy that relies upon throwing links at the wall to see what sticks.

• Look specifically for keywords that contribute a high-level of revenue or have a particularly high conversion rate – identify ways you could increase traffic on these keywords. Are you ranking as high as you could be?

• Look for keywords that have strong traffic but a poor conversion rate – this could be an indicator that something is going wrong and is a good place to start when it comes to fixing and optimising the performance of a site.

• Look for ways to branch out around high-conversion keywords. Identify common themes amongst your top performing keywords and see if there are associated terms that you could be targeting.

Essentially a keyword performance audit is about identifying opportunities and looking at ways to capitalise on them.

Build a Community

SEO and social are now inextricably linked – we are hurtling towards life after link trust so your website and your business need to be ready.

Building a community serves multiple purposes both now and later down the line:

• Build a loyal base of customers – brand loyalty, less churn, increased profitability.

• Helps with SEO – user generated content can help scale your SEO.

• Future-proofs your website – if Google switches to more of a social trust algorithm, you’re not going to end up out in the cold.

First and foremost, your community should be respected – don’t be ‘that company’ that fakes a community or sells them out to turn a fast buck. Building a community can be a long term strategy that is beneficial for both business and individual alike.

You can leverage the power of your community in the following ways:

• For content – encourage community members to add comments, submit reviews and generally contribute to your website. All of this is long-tail content that enriches your pages and helps improve visibility AND you haven’t had to write it yourself or pay someone else to.

• For linkbuilding – As Patrick Altoft from Branded3 points out: “Commercial sites struggle to attract natural links.” This is because the person you are requesting the link from knows that in some way you are going to (over time) benefit financially from the link, in the form of direct traffic and increased search engine visibility. Leveraging a community for links can mean running competitions and prize giveaways to generate social shares and actual links. Rewarding users for linking back to you, or even giving them an identity (and a widget/badge) to show their commitment to your community.

• Grow your revenue – encourage advocates/ambassadors by offering rewards and incentives for helping you as a business achieve your goals. Referral bonuses or community points that can be exchanged for goods or cold hard cash are great ways to kickstart a community growth explosion.

Use Punchtab – a great engagement app that helps you easily reward your community when they perform a particular action e.g. like you on Facebook, makes a comment, submits a review and so on.

For further reading, you should try Motivating a Community and Gamify your Community; both provide valuable insights and tactics for encouraging and building a community even in a commercial context.

More posts on ecommerce and ecommerce SEO:

Don’t Leave Shipping Rates To The Cart
5 Surprising Sources of Competitive Intelligence
Ecommerce Widgets and more – video
How Inhouse SEOs can Add Value Beyond Search
Google’s Conspiracy To Monopolize Shopping

Comments

  1. The first step we take with clients is to understand and analyse their keyword portfolio, in particular the performance of individual keywords and categories of keywords. thanks for this particular tip. I find it really helpful. It open up my mind that I shouldn't just try on any keyword just to profit from my clients. -Gen, blogger from San Jose Internet Marketing

    Comment by Gen - January 24, 2012 @ 10:13am

Leave a Reply