Never in the field of Search Engine Optimization has so little been done by so few, for so long, for so little reward, that…
…or something like that?
Totally butchering Winston Churchill there, but the point is that such a (seemingly) simple thing as on-page SEO optimization can yield exponential returns in search engine rankings, increasing conversion rates, and improving user experience.
Without excellent on-page elements, you won’t see the rankings you need to drive the right kind of traffic, and making the sales (conversions) a business needs (whether it’s for your own project or for a client).
Your competitors are spending time and money on getting this right.
You should too.
How To Win With Excellent On-Page SEO
E-commerce websites are, for the most part, bloated with a plethora of product pages and categories. It’s a virtual smorgasbord of links, content, and pages that can cause food poisoning for humans, spiders, pandas, and penguins.
If the goal is to channel visitors with open wallets to your site, you need to do what you can to build the trust and authority of the website — in the eyes of gods (Google, Bing, Yahoo) and men (visitors).
Much of the work needed falls under off-site activities, such as link building, and other on-site elements, like link structure.
But today we’re going to go through 23 critical on-page SEO elements that can make or break it for your site in the SERPs.
If you’re using some kind of CMS, you can probably automate and apply a lot of these tips across several pages and categories.
Do it all manually, on every single, individual page? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Using templates and universal settings will free up your time and energy to spend on the manual labor that is needed — like unique product descriptions and content.
Also, SEO for an e-commerce website will be a bit more involved and technical than for, say a blog. There are lots and lots of product pages that are added and taken off a site, changes in site structure, duplicate listings across categories and tags, and other problems that makes it a bit trickier to get the on-site SEO taken care of.
Anyway, let’s get on with this list. It should help you make an assessment of where your site is right now and what you need to do with it.
The On-Page Elements You Should Have A Handle On
We’re going to start with one of the most common elements of an e-commerce website: product images.
1. Image Alt Attribute
Surely, you have plenty of product images on your e-commerce site, right? Probably several photos per product. Have you made sure that every single one of them have image alt attributes that are descriptive and keyword rich?
2. Image Optimization
It’s seems fundamental, but I see this all the time: the image files themselves lack use of keywords within them. For example, you’ll often see product images with file names that are just random numbers or words. You should use keywords, especially long-tails for this.
Next up would be to reduce the image file size — to decrease the page load time. Visitors and Google loves a fast site. As a general rule (if there is such a thing), a size of 70kb or below is a good start.
Also, try to use .jpg for file type — .png tends to not show up on smartphones and tablets, can be bloated, and .gif just doesn’t cut it with quality for larger images.
Make sure you submit an image sitemap to your Webmaster Tools.
3. Heading Tags
In general, don’t use more than one H1 tag on a page, and only for headings. You should make use of your primary keyword here, as well as making it descriptive of the product displayed (avoid using generic brand names, it could create duplicate H1 across several pages).
I know, some would debate that H1 tags don’t matter much anymore and don’t impact rankings. The thing is, optimizing this is so quick and easy — and it won’t negatively affect your rankings when done right, and could, in fact, help you to some degree. It does also make for a clean code markup with a logical page structure.
4. Title Tags
This is the Gospel of E-commerce SEO: Thy title tags shalt contain primary keyword and be descriptive. Thou shalt fill it with long-tail keywords and make it unique.
When creating these, think in terms of improving click-through rates. Potential visitors will scan through the SERPs and read what closely describes what they’re looking for.
5. Description Tags
These will probably have the most impact on click-through rates, as they fill the function of being akin to advertising copy in the SERPs. If you’re auto-generating these, watch out for duplicate content. A better idea is to add keywords manually and make them descriptive, as opposed to just pulling content from your general product description.
6. Anchor Text
The words and phrases you use for your anchor texts should be varied. You want a good blend between branded (“Blue Buffalo Wilderness Salmon Dog Food”), generic with a keyword (“read more about Blue Buffalo Wilderness Dog Food”) and plain generic (“read more”).
Keeping a mix when linking internally, to your site, or elsewhere will maintain a “natural” link profile and keep unnatural link warnings out of your life.
7. Clean URL
This would be URLs that are, somewhat, easy to read for the naked human eyes. If your CMS auto-generates these URLs, chances are they’re filled with parameters and query strings that makes it hard for not just humans to understand (where they are and looking at) but also for search engines to properly index your pages.
Your website URLs should be easy to read, clean, and contain keywords. An example of an idea link structure would be:
8. Page Load Time
This is a silent killer of rankings, especially for large websites that are constantly changing and growing. Yes, that would be an e-commerce site. You’ve got uncompressed images, code bloat, product descriptions, content, and more that increases page load time.
As you know, page speed and load is important to Google. It’s in your best interest to reduce it. You can read more about optimizing page load time over at WooRank.
With an overload of information it becomes difficult to optimize your e-commerce website’s loading speed. Check your page load time on WooRank and improve this by compressing images or reducing code bloat.
The most common problem with an e-commerce site is the existence, and potential, of duplicate content. This can happen when you have session ids and other URL parameters in the mix.
If you’re using a CMS (which you should), make use of the rel=”canonical” tags. This will let search engines know which version of a page that needs to be crawled, indexed, and displayed in the SERPs. It’s preferential treatment, basically, but of the good kind.
10. Rel=”next” and Rel=”prev”
An in relation to the duplicate content issue, you will most likely have a multitude of product pages within the same category — across multiple pages.
You can help Google and search engine robots understand how to treat these pages, crawl them in an efficient manner, and index them in a way that doesn’t give paginated pages too much link equity or ranking.
This is done through something called pagination. That is, you use rel=”next and rel=”prev” markup to help Google pass “link equity” to the pages that are important.
11. Add User Generated Content
This would be content from your visitors, like Q&A, comments, or if you have something akin to a forum for your products.
For SEO purposes, it adds some fresh content and keeps your website brimming with activity (this is good).
For visitor purposes, you get direct feedback and questions from buyers or potential buyers, and you can answer their concerns or questions right on, say, a product page (this is also good).
Sure, you may have to deal with spam to some extent, but the benefits outweigh this.
12. Social Media Integration
Pretty obvious, right? Make it easy for people to both follow you around the social networks and share your products.
Having search engines notice social media signals for your site may not be an overnight rank booster but it surely is a positive, good thing — it sends you traffic, keeps your website busy, and shared.
It’s such an easy integration to your e-commerce site and it will only help you rank.
13. XML Sitemap
An obvious component of good on-site SEO, but when was the last time you checked up on it? You do want search engines to index your inner pages correctly and efficiently, right? Make sure you exclude those pesky duplicate pages, list all your product pages, and make it easy for robots to flow through your site, telling them where to go.
You’ll most likely have two formats of this: XML and HTML. In general, robots check out the XML version and your website should have a page (HTML) that’s visitor friendly and shows all the pages available (that you want to show, that is).
It’s also a good idea to add the sitemap to your robots.txt.
For most e-commerce websites, you’ll probably have a bunch of different URL parameters generated, resulting in duplicate links.
The good thing is that you can exclude those parameters from being indexed in your robots.txt file.
Also, if you have a search feature, you don’t want bots to index the “No Results” pages, right? Include your search URL and shopping cart URL in this file.
Here’s a helpful post on how to handle this.
15. 301 Redirects
This is probably a favorite tactic of SEOers. By using 301 redirects for issues like duplicate content generated via URL parameters and query strings, you make it easier for Google, Yahoo, and Bing to find the original content and for your “link juice” to be channeled to the preferred pages.
16. Broken Links
Those dreaded 404’s, that no one likes to get — neither your visitors or search engines. Keeping track of, and correcting, indexing and crawl errors on your site will go a long way with visitors and Google, Yahoo, and Bing. You can find out how your site is doing under the Crawl tab in Google Webmaster Tools. You should be checking for broken links on a regular basis.
17. Unique Product Descriptions
Do not, under any circumstance, use product descriptions from manufacturers. Just about everyone is, or has been, doing that for years. This is also a great way to get kicked to the curb by Google.
Aside from the technical benefits of not reusing content that every other Joe Schmoe Ecommerce Dude is publishing is that you can now differentiate yourself and build your brand.
Product descriptions that are unique to your brand and website can help your customers make a purchasing decision and can also be used to test descriptions and word counts that increases purchase conversions.
18. Product Videos
Sure, Zappos have about 50,000 product videos, but you don’t need as many. If you only have a few to begin with, you will still reap the benefits of having media rich and link worthy content, as well as potentially increasing conversion rates.
This, combined with hosting your videos on youtube (add links and information in the description) and using Rich Snippet markup will help your rankings and set you apart in the SERPs.
There are two ways breadcrumbs can boost your site: help visitors navigate easily and help you internal linking.
For e-commerce websites, it may be a bit tricky and complicated to implement these, as there are probably multiple ways of arriving at the same product page. The trail of crumbs would look different based on which categories you went through.
You should at least have one breadcrumb trail, as if your site is too big or complex, the time and effort it takes to properly integrate this may not be worth it.
20. Trust Signals
Remember, you’re asking people to give your their credit card information. They’ve probably never met you or the company you’re doing SEO work for. Trust probably does not come easily to them.
Aside from having phone numbers and contact information (see below), you should somehow indicate that you’re a genuine, real company and that their information is secure.
An easy way of doing this is to add trust signals and emblems on product pages and throughout the checkout process.
Use images like these:
These, along with secure certificates for verification that you are who you say you are.
21. Company Details & Phone Number
Details like location, address, and phone number can go a long way in establishing trust between you (your website) and potential customers.
Also, if you want to target a local market, then information like address and phone number will go a long way in ranking your for relevant keywords in those geographical locations that matters to you.
For customer support reasons, getting on the phone with customers if they abandon the shopping cart in the middle of checkout (or elsewhere) can help you quickly figure out if you have a problem somewhere in the process.
22. Customer Reviews
Please tell me you’re collecting customer reviews on your website, yes? It’s a good source of unique content and helps with feedback.
To collect these reviews, build a process that emails customers a few days or weeks after a purchase and ask for a review. You could offer incentives, like discounts, in exchange for a review.
You should also make sure these customer reviews are marked up with microdata tags (also referred to as Rich Snippets). This will help your products stand out in the SERPs and it also gives Google some context for your products and content, which will help in serving up your site for the right keywords and search phrases.
23. Rich Snippets
This is information such as reviews, ratings, availability, information, and price. It will give searchers a quick glance to see if you have what they’re looking for, but you will also stand out from your competitors (so far, although more and more websites are incorporating this)
We covered this in a previous blog post, check it out!
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
How do you like them apples?
This should give you a good start for improving and optimizing your on-site SEO for e-commerce websites.
Google cares very much (or so they say) about the visitor experience of your website. A convenient, easy to use site with content and media will help you with your purchase conversion rate — and in turn, because you’ve optimized it for robots, Google will love you, too
Sometimes this Stuff is Hard
Who said winning would be easy?
In our experience, using the proper rel=”canonical/prev/next” tags can be tricky. Dealing with potential duplicate content is difficult. Producing unique product descriptions can sometimes be a hassle.
What difficulties have you had with optimizing an e-commerce website?