The SEO Challenges of an eCommerce Website
While the Internet today is filled with billions of pages with new websites coming into play every other day, research suggests that the e-commerce industry is touted to be growing at an average rate of 10% each year. Setting up an e-commerce website may seem fairly easy; however, the true challenge lies in getting customers to it and then converting their visit into a purchase. Marketers working on ecommerce sites certainly face challenges, especially with generating traffic and leads, hence, require specialized know-how.
While PPC may make sense for certain businesses, the costs of bidding on competitive terms is simply too high, especially for e-commerce properties that may be just starting out. SEO, on the other hand, is ideal for all businesses because organic traffic from search engines is practically free.
A common misconception among marketers is that SEO can be adapted similarly for any website; however, true success in driving results from search requires is by taking a highly customized approach for SEO, especially for e-commerce sites.
As SEO marketers today, we need to be familiar with everything. Knowing there are two major pillars of SEO: the technical side and the content side; here are some of the main challenges for e-commerce sites and solutions for the same.
1) Content Considerations
On e-commerce sites, “native” content is generally limited to category pages, product pages, buyers’ guides, reviews and blog content. At the end of the day, though, the inventory is the content. The more you leverage that, the better.
A few good examples of eCommerce sites to be considered could include Levi’s, which has a faceted navigation, which is useful and allows users to immediately drill down and even conduct Boolean searches within the navigation.
Amazon is another example that comes handy when it comes to product review data, which provide useful information and aids customers to make sensible purchase decisions.
(a) Weak product descriptions (or none at all)
One might believe that the saying “content is king,” only applies to traditional sites; however, that’s far from the reality these days.
Since the release of Google’s Panda algorithm, eCommerce website owners have also had to be cautious enough to ensure that they’re putting up quality content for their prospective audiences. Only because it is an eCommerce site, it wouldn’t be able to get away with product pages with just a photo and blurbs about the product; neither is it a great idea any more to simply copy-and-paste descriptions from the manufacturer which are almost certainly replicated on other sites, meaning that you are not providing anything unique for the search engines to index. This means the search engines have no reason to rank you above competitors.
Having short descriptions give the search engines very little content to work with, which again is a problem. Various studies suggest that longer content generally performs better with the average Google first page result being ~1,890 words long. Automated descriptions that swap a few words into a template can create duplicate content issues.
To tackle all the above said issues, what better than to have custom product descriptions on your website! While a product description may not necessarily have the ability to make or break a sale, it surely can be a probable pull through for your customers.
Product descriptions done! What next – Having a blog section on your website? Blogging is certainly an integral part of the online content marketing strategy. Having a blog section on your website is a complete win-win when it comes to search engines as well as users.
Search engines love fresh & regular content; and with regular blogs, you’re providing new content for Google to index, on a regular basis.
Additionally, a blog section can be one of the biggest reasons that can help businesses by creating relevant content for its customers and thus giving them a reason to visit your site even if they’re not looking to make an immediate purchase. For example, before making a purchase, be it something like a TV or computer or a high-end smartphone, you will most certainly do a bit of research. Including a buyer’s guide on the blog will allow you to build a relationship and trust with your customers and readers.
(c) Product Reviews
In addition to unique & customized product descriptions and a blog, if there still seems to be a dearth of content, that’s where user-generated content can be used to fill the void. Positive reviews about your product can in turn also help boost sales.
(d) Internal Linking
While a diversified backlink profile is great for a website including your e-commerce site, one can’t neglect the importance of internal links. You’ll want to leverage internal linking because your category and product pages are packed with a variety of valuable keywords. Without apt internal links, those pages will likely go to waste when it comes to the SEO performance of your website.
Hence, at all times, the website owner will need to ensure that their online store is simple to use for their customers. An essential part of simplifying your navigation is to leverage breadcrumbs throughout your site as they can help with the below:
- A trail for the user to follow back
- Contextualization to search engines
- Helps search engines establish how pages are related
- Strengthens internal linking structure
- Enhances user-experience
- Reduces bounce rates
- Link juice gets distributed among the pages
- Increases CTR through schemas in SERPS
On eCommerce sites particularly, including “Customers who bought this item also bought” and “Related Products to this item” can work wonders too!
2) Technical SEO
As unsexy and boring as technical SEO may sound and be, it’s very dependable. Technical SEO moves the needle on an eCommerce site and can be easily justified as an expense. When you get all your signals lined up (navigational and internal links, external backlinks, canonical tags, XML files all pointing to the same definitive URLs), it’s incredibly powerful.
Yes, agreed and well noted that ‘Content is King’, but that clearly wouldn’t and doesn’t mean that the technical side of things can be neglected. Even the greatest content will be rendered worthless if search engines aren’t able to index it properly. Some of the things to be taken into account from a technical standpoint:
(a) Slow Load Time: Every Second Counts!
Loading time is a major contributing factor when it comes to page abandonment. An average user has no patience and the time for a page that takes too long to load, and justly so.
In the past, during the days of dial-up Internet, it may have been the norm to wait for minutes for the page to load, but not anymore. Today, even a few seconds of lag can lead to users bouncing off sites, cart abandonment, loss of potential converting customers and so much more.
With a slow website, you’re certainly going to lose customers because they’re going to go back to Google to find a faster website, which is likely to be a competitor!
Test your website speed using our SEOTools and fix all the issues and carry out the required optimization to retain your customers and to make them repeat visitors.
(b) Internal Site Search Queries
While a robust internal site search feature can be a huge asset for an eCommerce site, allowing users to search through thousands of pages to find a particular product or category, this functionality can also create thousands of duplicate or thin pages if those queries are not blocked from Google’s index.
Usually, the best way to block all these site search query URLs from the search engine crawlers is to block them for good from the robots.txt file.
(c) Secure Digital Certification: SSL
SSL is essential for any website, and it becomes more critical when it comes to eCommerce. It protects the content that is shared between the user and the website. On top of that, visitors are more likely to trust an eCommerce website that has SSL as they can use their payment options without worrying about data theft.
Considering Google puts a significant emphasis on user experience, embracing security best practices becomes doubly important.
Over the past few years, Google has increasingly emphasized on SSL in regards to SEO. In fact, a significant number of page 1 search results on Google today are from SSL enabled sites, which is a reason good enough for you to ensure that you have your eCommerce site SSL enabled too, if that isn’t the case already.
(d) Out of Stock Products
You have three options for handling product pages for items that are out of stock:
- Continue serving the page with messaging and good recommendations
Continuing to serve the page with ‘Related Products’, good internal links, a great message for your users to keep them well engaged is a clear winner here!
While SEO was previously only about search engine optimization, it now also lays importance on user experience optimization – the crux of the story being Google now expects website owners to delight their customers. You are expected to write for users first, and crawlers second. Though SEO for eCommerce may seem daunting due to the amount of content, products and the massive number of pages on most such sites, the investment at the end of it all is well worth it to improve your ranking subsequent revenue growth and brand awareness.
So get on with your keywords – use them smartly, build great backlinks, use videos (if applicable), maintain good website speed and write amazing content including descriptive metadata, and check the results for yourself!
Written by Afsha Walele, Senior SEO Manager, Bruce Clay MENA.
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Afsha has worked in marketing for over 10 years, but switched to digital marketing six years ago. She started her digital career at SMG Convonix and most recently at IPG Mediabrands before joining us here at Bruce Clay.
She has worked with clients such as Johnson & Johnson (APAC), Edelweiss General Insurance, UAE Exchange, Nerolac, Mahindra and Croma to name a few. She is extremely passionate about all things digital and always keeps her finger on the pulse, learning new skills and keeping herself educated.
Afsha is extremely neat and is known in the office for her clean, paperless desk! If she’s not obsessively cleaning, you’ll find her on a plane, travelling to some exotic destination.