Learn the best practices and avoid the common pitfalls when it comes to eCommerce SEO.
eCommerce websites can be some of the most difficult to optimise – they’re usually incredibly competitive, incredibly complicated and incredibly big.
In this section we have outlined the best practices for some of the most common content, technical and on-page based issues faced by webmasters and SEOs when it comes to online stores.
Lack of Content-Heavy Category Pages
When it comes to content for eCommerce websites, less is usually more. When browsing a category or collection page, users don’t want to be bombarded with blocks of text that offer little value to their experience.
However, adding a couple of sentences to describe what kinds of products are listed in the category page is beneficial from an SEO perspective as it gives Google some insight into what the page is about. By now, we know that the more information we can provide to Google, the better chance the page has to rank.
Adding content to your category pages has the added benefit of creating opportunities to link to other core landing pages that are relevant.
In order to combat this issue:
- Create unique, high-quality content that addresses the user’s search intent for the keywords that you want to rank for.
- Ensure that the content is descriptive, but short – analyse your competitors to see how much content they provide in their category pages. For example, the Next Men’s Joggers page contains a few sentences at the top of the page.
- Wherever possible use internal linking to link to core landing pages that are relevant.
Weak Product & Category Descriptions
Product and category descriptions are commonly short, automated or copied directly from the one that is provided by the manufacturer. Although this is quick and easy to do, we’ve seen how such descriptions can be problematic for SEO.
Apart from writing unique descriptions, you also need to ensure that the text used to describe the products and category pages are optimised for both users and search engines.
- Short descriptions offer very little context to search engines, making it difficult for Google to understand what your page is about.
- Short descriptions may prevent users from placing an order because they weren’t confident enough that the product would meet their needs.
- Product descriptions provided by the manufactures will cause external duplication issues because other eCommerce sites will use the same content.
Although manually editing every single product description with unique and informative content is not feasible for large online stores, there are several ways to help solve this issue:
- Focus on writing detailed descriptions for the top product and category pages that are of most value (i.e. that bring in the most traffic and revenue) with conversion-based copy.
For less important pages, ensure that the descriptions are concise, well-written and that they include:
- The target keyword(s) that you want to rank for
- Compound keywords that are related to the core search terms
- Add conversion-based modifiers such as “buy”, “best”, “deals”, “value” etc.
- Use click magnet terms such as “X% off (“30% Off”)”, “guarantee”, “lowest price”, “free/overnight/one day shipping” etc to boost your call to actions.
- Text that is written with the customer in mind.
- Add internal links to other relevant products and category pages.
Include User Reviews
Most customers are less likely to purchase a product if there are no reviews from previous customers. This is because pages with no user reviews do not offer trust signals to the user to convince them to place an order.
Adding user reviews not only increases conversion rate, but it also serves as another source of unique, informative content that helps search engines better understand your web page.
There are two elements to a user review:
1. The Star Rating – This allows prospective customers to quickly gauge customer satisfaction.
2. The Customer Review Itself – This is the textual review that customers leave about the product.
Both examples are taken from book retailer Waterstones.
When enabling user reviews, it’s important to:
A common issue with many websites is keyword cannibalisation, which is where multiple pages compete for the same keyword.
For eCommerce websites, the most common case is where the same keyword ranks for multiple product pages or when category pages compete with product pages.
Below, we can see that there are several product (and category) pages from this website that are ranking for the keyword “green lantern compression shirt”.
The cannibalisation has prevented this website from ranking in the first page.
For more information on how to discover and fix keyword cannibalisation click here.
Too Many Pages
eCommerce websites can grow incredibly fast. Naturally, this happens when you add more products that require their own page to your online store and if you have a business that sells lots of products to begin with, this simply can’t be avoided.
Accumulating lots of pages is problematic as it requires creating unique content for each one. In some cases, you may also need to generate URL variants of the same product, for example, if you sell shoes, you may need a unique URL for each shoe size.
This can be an issue because:
- They eat into your crawl budget.
- They are difficult to manually optimise.
- It is difficult and time consuming to write unique content for each page.
- Dilutes the link authority of your website.
In order to combat this issue, you should identify the product pages that do not bring in revenue (or traffic) to the website by looking at Google Analytics and either:
- Remove the pages completely from your website – if you do this, remember to ensure that the URL is not indexable and that you implement correct 301 redirects so that users who land on the URL are directed to a relevant web page.
- Noindex the pages so that Google does not index them.
- Combine them into a master page.
This allows you to focus on optimising the pages that are of importance to you and your business.
Duplicate (and Thin) Content
eCommerce websites commonly suffer from duplicate (and thin) content issues, both of which can be detrimental to your website’s search presence as a result of Google’s Panda algorithm. In most cases, duplicate content issues will result in the devaluation of the page itself, but in severe cases, the entire website may be penalised.
The reason for this is because Google sees pages with duplicate (and thin) content as unimportant and irrelevant as they offer little to no value to users and you are not providing anything new to the search engine to index.
This can have several serious implications, for example if Google determines that your website has too many duplicated or thin content pages, it will crawl your website less frequently.
Duplicate (and thin) content issues usually surface as a result of:
1. Unique URLs that are created for each version of a product or category page
For example, the only difference between the following two products is that one food jar comes with a spoon and is slightly smaller in size than the other.
2. Boilerplate content that appears on multiple pages
3. Boilerplate product descriptions that appear on multiple product pages both internally and on external websites.
For example, we can see below that there are multiple results from different websites that use the exact same boilerplate text to describe this product.
To fix duplicate content issues:
- Re-write content that is similar or duplicate so that each page contains unique text.
- Ensure product descriptions are unique.
- Use canonical tags to inform Google about duplicate pages.
- Use noindex tags to block Google from indexing pages that are not bringing in organic traffic / revenue.
- Merge pages with similar or duplicate content into a single master page is possible.
Lack of Schema Markup and Structured Data
Structured data is crucial to ensuring a successful eCommerce campaign as it not only provides Google with a better understanding of your products and site as a whole, it also increases your chances of appearing as a rich result in the SERPs.
By not marking up your product pages, you miss out on Google displaying important information such as user ratings, price, availability etc.
Rich results like this improve the click-through-rate and trust levels of potential customers.
Use the following structured data markups on your product and category pages:
- Product – markup properties such as the name, image, description, aggregateRating, price, offers > price, offers > priceCurrency for your products.
- BreadcrumbList – markup your category pages by using this schema to make it easier for Google to understand your URL structure. Google says that it uses the breadcrumb markup “in the body of a web page to categorize the information from the page in search results.”
- Organization – markup important details about your brand/company with the organization schema such as your business name, address, telephone number, operating hours etc.
Deep & Orphaned Pages
Your most important product and category pages should be as easily-accessible to your prospective customers as possible.
Websites that follow a poor structure as outlined above make it much more difficult for users and search engine crawlers to find the most important product and category pages.
This creates issues with crawling as search engines may end up crawling irrelevant pages as opposed to the ones that offer the most value.
Likewise, this has a direct impact on conversion rates and revenue as users have to perform too many clicks in order to find what they’re looking for.
Orphaned pages are pages that have 0 internal links pointing towards them, this makes them near impossible to be found.
You can quickly identify orphan pages via Ahrefs: Site Audit > Data Explorer > Inlinks = 0 > Is valid (200) internal HTML page = Yes
Once you have identified the most important orphaned pages, add internal links on relevant pages to point towards them. This way, Google will be able to crawl and index them.
Pages that return a 404 Not Found error should be avoided on any website.
For eCommerce websites however, these kinds of pages can drastically impede the user’s experience and prevent them from converting.
It’s the equivalent of going to your favourite restaurant and learning that they no longer serve your favourite dish.
Sometimes 404 pages cannot be avoided, in this case, it’s best to create a personalised page which turns this negative experience into a positive one, by first apologising and then offering an alternative to the user. Sleeknote has a fantastic article on how you can do this.
Optimise Page Titles, Meta Descriptions & H1 Headings
Although the general best practices for page titles, meta descriptions and H1 headings apply to eCommerce websites, there are a few differences in how you should approach optimising them for your online store.
If you have a large eCommerce website with hundreds of category pages and thousands of product pages, a templated approach is advised to optimise your meta tags.
Here is an example of a template that may be used: [brand] [product name] for [audience] | [company name]
- Nike Sweatshirts for Men | BestSweatshirts
- Nike Sweatshirts for Women | BestSweatshirts
- Nike Sweatshirts for Kids | BestSweatshirts
It is good practice to create templates for categories, subcategories and product pages.
Whilst a templated approach is efficient, it may not always be the most SEO-friendly.
For your most important product and category pages, write well-optimised, unique page titles, headings and meta descriptions.
Remember to include:
- Your primary keyword
- Compound keywords
- Conversion-based modifiers such as “buy”, “best”, “deals”, “value” etc.
- Click magnet terms such as “X% off (“30% Off”)”, “guarantee”, “lowest price”, “free/overnight/one day shipping” etc to boost your call to actions.
Optimise URL Structure
Creating a logical and keyword-rich URL structure is beneficial as it improves user experience and allows search engines to better understand your website’s architecture.
In many cases, eCommerce URLs can get quite lengthy and messy, as they are generally automatically generated.
Here’s an example of a product URL from Topman:
Follow this simple, but effective URL structure:
- Category Page: yourwebsite.com/category-name/
- Subcategory Page: yourwebsite.com/category-name/subcategory-name/
- Sub-SubcategoryPage: yourwebsite.com/category-name/subcategory-name/subcategory-name/
- Product Page: yourwebsite.com/category-name/subcategory-name/subcategory-name/product-name/
If we recreated the Topman URL from above using this template, we may have something like this which is much more user and search bot friendly.
- Keep your URLs as short and sweet as possible
- Include your core keyword.
- Define a clear hierarchy of pages.
- Avoid URL parameters wherever possible.
Optimise For More Than One Search Intent
A common pitfall of eCommerce websites is to only optimise for transactional keywords. Although these may be the primary focus for web stores, focusing solely on keywords with transactional intent can have implications on your conversions and engagement metrics.
The idea is to approach each page with active and passive search intent – this allows you to cover all bases of the user’s journey.
A product page is normally optimised with content that serves the user’s transactional (active) intent.
However, when making a purchase, prospective customers also want to see some details about what they are buying. This requires addressing the informational (passive) needs of the user.
Active search intent should be addressed immediately i.e. the name, price, availability of a product.
Passive search intent adds value to the page i.e. production description, instructions on how to use the product, images, reviews etc.
By shifting your focus to informational (passive) intent search terms and away from transactional (active) intent keywords, you are providing the user with a much better search experience and improving your topical relevance for search engines.
In order to address both search intents:
- Evaluate your target keywords for intent.
- Browse through the top results of your core keywords and identify the core search intent that Google is addressing in the search results.
- Identify the type of content that the top ranking pages have included i.e. images, videos and analyse which questions are answered about the product(s).
- Map your pages and keywords so that they reflect the buyer’s journey (i.e. you may have blog articles that purely contain informational user intent content, but may be improved upon with some optimisation for active search intent too.
- Optimise product and category pages with active intent first, then, focus on expanding the page with passive Intent, to provide more value and increase conversions.