Australia is going through a major ecommerce boom at the moment.  More and more retailers are jumping on the bandwagon, pumping lots of $$$ in to the online retail sector. According Roy Morgan’s “The Digital Universe“:

Roy Morgon Digital Universe

The online retail sector is worth $22bil

It’s stats like these that encourage businesses to have an online presence and sell their products/services online. Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with some ecommerce websites, helping them with SEO.  This post will outline some SEO best practices to consider when launching a new ecommerce website.

1. Choose the right ecommerce platform

This is extremely important to make that you choose an ecommerce platform that is scalable for the future. The platform of choice should not only help you sell products online, it also has to be SEO friendly. You will want to choose a platform that will give you the flexibility to make changes on both the frontend and backend. Make sure that the vendor is up to speed with how search engines index and crawl websites. Here are some ecommerce platforms that are worth checking out:

2. Get the site architecture right

Because you are just getting started, it is the best opportunity to get the information architecture of the website right from day one. When planning the architecture of the website, make sure you work towards a flat structure and don’t go crazy on the product categories, sub-categories and sub-sub-categories. This is important because it will not only affect the crawlability and indexability of pages but also affect the PageRank (or link juice) distribution between pages.

To illustrate the difference, I am stealing a couple of pretty pictures from Richard Baxter, @richardbaxter of SEO Gadget:

Multiple Layered Site Architecture:

Bad Site Architecture

  • PageRank (or link juice) get diluted at every level
  • Product pages which are normally at the very bottom of the architecture, receives little to no link juice

Flat Site Architecture:

Flat site architecture

  • By having a flat architecture, PageRank will not get diluted as much at every level
  • Information and pages can be organised and silo(ed) in a more intuitive manner

If you are interested in finding out more, check out these resources:

3. Avoid duplicate content issues

Every ecommerce website will have duplicate content issues with pagination, product variations and multi-facet navigation. It is highly recommended to make sure you address these potential issues before you launch the website. This will hopefully help explain it:

Most Common Duplicate Content Issues

The above, can potentially generate hundreds or thousands of pages of duplicate content that bloats the index and chews up your website’s crawl budget. Here are some suggested solutions to solve these potential issues:

Pagination:

  • Implement Google’s recommended solution by using the rel=”next” and rel=”previous” link elements. According to the big G, these tags act very similar to the canonical tag. Read up on this solution here.
  • An alternative is to use the rel=”canonical” tag  to canonical the paginated series back to the first page. For example:
    /shoes
    /shoes?page=2 (<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.website.com/shoes” />)
    /shoes?page=3 (<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.website.com/shoes” />)Read up on this solution here.

Product Variations:

  • Personally, I don’t think there is the need to have separate URLs (product pages for every product variation. Unless you have unique content for every variation, search engines aren’t going to be too happy.  Include a drop-down selector for users to choose on the product page. Here is a good example from a US retailer, REI.
  • If you are a rebel and still think that having separate URLs for each product variation is a good idea, implement the canonical tag. For example:
    /nike-dunk
    /nike-dunk?color=white (<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.website.com/nike-dunk” />)
    /nike-dunk?color=blue (<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.website.com/nike-dunk” />)

Multi-Faceted Navigation:

  • Once again the canonical tag will be your best friend here. For example:
    /shoes
    /shoes?size=8 (<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.website.com/shoes” />)
    /shoes?price=50&size=8 (<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.website.com/shoes” />)
  • Another good solution is to use the <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, follow”> tag. This will tell the search engines not to index the page but to the flow of PageRank is preserved.

4. Proper keyword targeting

This goes without saying that keyword research is an absolute must. Explaining the keyword research process deserves its own post for another time. By using tools such as Google Keyword Tool or Wordtracker, you can uncover the best keywords to target and map them to the relevant pages of the website and users’ need states. Here’s a general approach that works in most situations:

Keyword Mapping

Once keywords have been mapped to the relevant category, sub-category and product pages, you can then apply the usual on-site optimisation techniques to optimise the title, description, heading, image alt text, etc.

5. Content, content & more content

I’m sure by now you are sick of hearing about how “Content is King”. With Google launching different iterations of Panda, having great and engaging content on a website is extremely important. Especially, if you are launching a new website and competing with competitors whose websites have accumulated tonnes of historical SEO value. Be creative with your content, besides having text content consider investing in videos, PDF buying guides or eBooks.

There is no hard and fast rule as to how much content is sufficient. You have take in to consideration the real estate you have on a page and ensure that you are not disrupting the usability and conversion funnel of the website. Once again, here’s a general guideline that has worked for me in the past:

Type of Page No. of Words Comments
Category 150 – 200 Introductory paragraph
Sub-Category 150 – 200 Introductory paragraph
Product 300 – 500 Product description, product, specs, video review

Pro Tip: Do not use the default product descriptions provided by the manufacturer – duplicate content boo-boo.

Another excellent tactic to get fresh and relevant content on the website moving forward is UGC (user generated content). Encourage your users to review the product post-purchase. Retailers such as Amazon and Zappos are great examples, check out the amount of UGC here and here.

That is all

I hope you find this blog post useful. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to leave a comment, connect with me on Twitter or Google+.