How retailers can come out on top in the changing world of search.
Search engine optimization (SEO) has become ever more complicated. And the complexity is much greater for e-commerce sites, with their multitudes of automatically generated pages, loads of images and intense competition for clicks.
Modern SEO requires at least 16 different tactics, according to specialists from SEO PowerSuite; we’ll list them at the end of this article. For now, let’s focus on four that are among the most beneficial and often overlooked by retailers of all sizes, with examples of sites that excel:
1. Mobile friendly
In April, Google began dinging websites if they were not mobile-friendly. That means less mobile traffic to e-commerce sites; and, with mobile traffic continuing to climb, no serious retailer can afford to provide a bad mobile experience. There are three strategies for delivery to mobile devices: responsive design, which is Google’s preferred method; dynamic serving of pages; and dedicated mobile URLs.
Many e-commerce platforms offer responsive-design templates, and the Ultimate Mobile-Friendly Checklistprovides a list of common mistakes. Then, use Google’s free Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool to check each page and get a list of things to fix.
2. Canonical URLs
Especially on large e-commerce sites, there may be multiple ways someone could get to a particular product page, for example, via a holiday promotion or spotlight, onsite search for a brand or product name, or from one or more product categories. Each of these paths automatically generates a unique URL, and each URL will compete with the others, thereby lowering search rank for each of them.
Instead, specify a canonical URL, that is, tell search engines which is your preferred URL. The URL structure is
< link rel="canonical" href="http://domain.com/canonical.html">
Let’s use a recent Macy’s Mother’s Day promotion for a coffee maker as an example. Here’s the URL for the product page itself:
It was also promoted in a Mother’s Day sale:
Meanwhile, shoppers could follow breadcrumbs: Home essentials – kitchen – coffee, tea and espresso, resulting in this URL:
Or, they could use Macy’s site search and arrive via this URL:
Of course, Macy’s knows its stuff, so its programmers specified a canonical URL using the rel=canonical tag for each of these URLs:
< link rel="canonical" href="http://www1.macys.com/shop/product/cuisinart-dgb-1-grind-brew-coffee-maker?ID=1741454&CategoryID=24732">
As a result, all SEO value is funneled to this single, canonical URL. Macy’s gets extra value from this because the canonical URL contains both keywords and the product ID.
3. Enticing meta descriptions
It’s surprising how many retailers don’t pay attention to their meta-descriptions, instead allowing them to be auto-generated by the search engine. Once a company has gotten onto the first page of SERPs, the meta-description is often the first step in conversion, selling the searcher on one result.
With its completely automated page generation, Amazon delivers a clearly machine-made result. The online giant, of course, has such a strong brand that it doesn’t need to woo shoppers. Almost everyone else does.
Home Depot does a better job, managing to wedge in a value proposition – find top brands – with copy that shows the breadth of its offerings that include not just vacuums but steam mops, cordless vacuums and carpet cleaners.
4. Fresh, robust content
Keyword-rich content – and a lot of it – has always been good for SEO. Thanks to Google’s Hummingbird Update, that content also needs to be original and useful. A solid content strategy must go beyond blogs and reviews to include video, photos and social media.
With a network of retail stores and huge e-commerce presence, REI doesn’t sell gear, it sells the outdoor lifestyle. In addition to the expected product reviews, its blog covers topics like getting a reluctant friend to go camping and ideas for dates in nature. And, while the top of the homepage features gear, it provides links to a wealth of other content, including expert advice, how-to videos, infographics and photo spreads.
All this content helps REI.com rank for long-tail searches while improving its overall ranking thanks to the quality of its content.
And 12 more
Here are the other 12 techniques that every retailer should use to achieve outstanding SEO for e-commerce:
- Optimized for local (even for big guys)
- Proper site structure
- Applying structured data
- Ensuring fast loading times
- Incorporating user-generated content to maintain freshness
- Applying detailed, keyword-rich product descriptions
- Using alt text for images
- Providing social sharing tools on product pages
- Applying HTTPs security protocol
- Error-free pages
- Diverse anchors
- Robust backlinks
Yes, this is a long list. Start with making sure your e-commerce site is mobile-friendly, for an immediate SEO boost, and then work your way down until you’ve achieved stellar search engine optimization. It’s worth it.