The eCommerce SEO strategy for a lot of online retailers is to simply list hundreds (or maybe thousands) of products in the hope that Google will rank the website highly for relevant terms. As it turns out, that’s not actually a very good strategy at all. This article points out the flaws in this way of thinking and highlights 7 places where a little extra effort and attention can go a long way.
The sheer size of most eCommerce websites—and the volume of ever-changing content that they contain—actually works against them in terms of SEO; not in their favour as you might expect. As the content changes, so does the number of times each keyword is used proportionately, along with the number of pages in the site, the structure of the site and even the URLs. In short, it makes Google’s job that bit harder.
Here’s how to give them a helping hand:
1. Do keyword research
Sounds obvious, right? But people forget to do it nonetheless.
It’s true that it won’t do you any good to force lots of keywords into a block of text or onto a page: It looks spammy to Google and isn’t very readable for the user. However, you’re not likely to see huge success by simply stabbing in the dark when it comes to choosing your vernacular and lexicon either (i.e. the precise words you use to describe things).
Find out which terms are being used the most by your target market and then use those terms in the H1 tag, page title, body copy, image alt tags and anywhere else on relevant pages where they fit naturally.
2. Create unique <title> tags
Page titles are the foundation of on-page SEO. They are the clickable links that searchers see in Google search results. Each page’s title should therefore be a description of the precise and unique value users can expect by visiting that page over any other.
Even if you sell various SKUs of the same product, just include the thing that makes each SKU different from the others i.e. colour, size etc. Google knows that you can’t always be 100% unique with every page title, but they will want to see that you are actively trying to help their searchers/your users understand the differences between your pages. Furthermore, they recognise most brand names as brand names; so duplicating them is fine so long as you qualify them with unique descriptive words to differentiate different pages.
And back to point 1 – remember to research different phrases for search volumes to ensure you structure your titles in the best possible way. An example might be making a choice between “web design” and “digital design”. They mean essentially the same thing in general discussion and are (to some extent) interchangeable, but they each deliver a very different type of searcher.
3. Add product descriptions
If you have an ounce of common sense and even the remotest desire to make your site user-friendly, your product pages will follow a basic template. They will all have some combination of navigation links, a sidebar. footer and header info, filters etc.
Technically, this is all considered duplicate content: A big no-no in Google’s eyes. However, it is forgivable if you have more unique content than duplicate content on each page. The trick is therefore to do a word-count on a standard product page without a description so you can make your product descriptions even longer.
4. Don’t be lazy, write your own descriptions!
Manufacturers and wholesalers often supply a description of each product you’ll be selling on your eCommerce site. By all means take some inspiration from them, but then delete them. Forget them. Throw them away. (Or better yet, recycle them if they’re printed)
Those product descriptions are supplied to every Tom, Dick and Harry who sell the same products as you. You should be trying to make your website better than everybody else’s, not a carbon copy where content is concerned… so add value by writing something unique! If you don’t do this, it is highly likely that Google will omit you entirely from search results; and any customers who do manage to find you will see nothing on your site above and beyond what they have seen on other sites.
OK, so it can be daunting to write thousands of unique descriptions, particularly where the only difference between certain product listings is a single attribute i.e. colour, size or multi-pack variations. Furthermore, you don’t want to confuse customers with wildly different descriptions for very similar products. In these cases, you can mark all of the pages with duplicate or near-duplicate descriptions as “NO INDEX” in the Robots.txt file so that Google pays no attention to them.
A neat little trick you can use to add value and uniqueness to your product descriptions is this: Say why YOU think that each particular product or SKU would be great for certain types of people within YOUR SPECIFIC customer-base. It adds depth to your brand’s personality, it shows that you care about and understand your customers, and it also allows you to mention the kinds of phrases that somebody with a relevant problem, desire or need may search for in Google; greatly increasing your chances of getting found and then converting visitors into sales.
5. Beware dynamic content duplication
Category pages, Tag pages, archives, search result pages and any other dynamically generated pages within eCommerce sites (there to help users find what they want) can and usually do serve up duplicate content. You can tell Google to ignore these pages by closing those areas off in the Robots.txt file.
The Rel=”Canonical” tag is also very useful for identifying the pages that you do want Google to take notice of; essentially saying, “This is the one to index and treat as the parent to all other instances of this content”. Also “NO FOLLOW” can be added to all URLs that should be ignored; although with dynamic pages it can be tricky to find them all.
6. Allow user-generated product reviews
Common sense check: People look for reviews of things before they buy them, plus Google likes fresh, relevant and user-generated content as they are all signals that users are interacting with your website. It is probably a little condescending then to say that product reviews are a good idea.
Still, it needs saying as many eCommerce websites don’t currently offer this functionality. If you have reviews on your site you can even add semantic meta-tags to the dates of creation, star-ratings and free-type areas so that Google can actually include them within search results. This is an example of what is known as a ‘rich snippet’.
7. Clean URLs
Some eCommerce site owners opt to use stock codes or other internal codes as URLs rather than words that will mean something to users. The former look to all and sundry (including Google) like they are just nonsense strings of digits.
Instead of this method, try using URLs that contain descriptions, with each word separated by a hyphen in the format:
For example, the Carphone Warehouse product page for iPhone 5 has the URL:
This tells the user lots more about the page, plus it shows Google that the keywords included in the URL are significant within that page’s content.
If model numbers may be important (i.e. people may search Google for them) then include them. If they won’t be searched, leave them off! And remember to avoid looking spammy by forcing too many keywords in or making URLs too long. For product pages in eCommerce, it can be wise to simply use the page Title… as long as you are following step 2 and creating unique Titles for each page!
If you have any eCommerce SEO tips you’d like to share, we’d love to hear them!