Ecommerce SEO has always been a huge challenge for retailers due to technical constraints with legacy IT systems and the sheer number of pages that businesses with a large inventory of products are likely to have on their websites.
One of the key challenges retailers face in 2013 is the loss of free traffic from the Google Shopping results that migrated onto the Adwords PPC platform recently. Plenty of retailers were driving significant revenue from this platform and are now looking at traditional SEO to make up for the loss.
Retail SEO has always been about technical optimisation, content and links although not necessarily in that order of priority. In the past, websites have been able to use links to overcome problems with technology or even a lack of content, but since the unnatural link penalties and the Penguin algorithm penalties of 2012, it’s much rarer that a site with poor content and structure can rank higher than it perhaps deserves, just by building lots of links.
Technical SEO for ecommerce sites is largely about limiting page bloat and ensuring that the pages you actually want to be indexed are spiderable and well optimised. It is rare that ecommerce sites need anything more than product and category pages, plus whatever editorial pages they feel are relevant in order to be a success. If you do a site:yoursite.com query on Google and are finding loads more pages than you have products and categories; then this is a warning sign that you have technical SEO issues. We tend to put each page type in a different Google Sitemap so that we can monitor indexation across product pages in isolation and spot any problems easily. Perhaps the most important consideration is creating a strong category structure.
Content strategy for ecommerce websites is a big undertaking, but is simply the most important part of SEO once the technical issues are resolved. Google launched its Panda algorithm in early 2011 and lots of ecommerce sites were affected simply because they were using duplicate content (e.g. manufacturer’s product descriptions) on their product pages. There are very few sites that can get away without writing unique content on product pages, and category level pages need even more care and attention with regard to content.
However, content strategy doesn’t end with product descriptions; we always recommend clients have a strong review strategy with a focus on incentivising all customers to leave a review after their purchase. Certain websites also achieve great success with Q&A content on product pages and the impact this can have on conversion rates is staggering. Other clients have done very well after adding an expert’s opinion next to each product, with a different writing style to the product description text.
The final hurdle that ecommerce website owners need to cross, is understanding how to implement a safe and future-proof link strategy across so many product and category pages on a website. Most ecommerce sites have too many pages to worry about link building on a page-by-page basis which means a strategy of building the overall site trust and authority is the only way to proceed. Amazon has adopted this approach with great success along with most other large ecommerce sites.
The key point to note with an ecommerce link campaign is to focus category by category, so if you are selling TVs and washing machines you might do some online PR or blogger outreach to technology blogs one month and eco blogs the next month. Making outreach based on real product and business news is a far more natural approach than just placing links with no strategic vision.
Ecommerce SEO certainly isn’t easy, and the fact that there are often dozens of websites selling the same products at the same price makes it a real challenge to rank consistently higher than your competitors. Conversion rates are usually key to unlocking the potential of SEO because sites that convert better can allocate more marketing budget and often dominate the sector.
In 2013, SEO for large sites is only going to get more challenging, but major brands and savvy SME’s who have built a business via good quality SEO are being rewarded week after week as other sites drop down the rankings due to poor quality SEO or lack of content. We’re predicting even bigger changes in Google this year and, as ever, it will be the best sites that will win.
Director of Search