SEO and E-commerce

Remember the “Content is King” statement? Well, many e-commerce sites forget that, but those that thrive realize that e-commerce products are just another form of content and they apply the same core SEO principles to their e-commerce product content as you would to any site.

As an example of a typical e-commerce site let’s use an Amazon.com affiliate site that specializes in digital cameras and intelligently uses Amazon’s RSS (RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and is a way of automatically exchanging feed content in a predefined manner online) capabilities to create a mini storefront featuring Amazon digital camera products. This is a very common e-commerce type site. Now, remember, content is King and these e-commerce products represent content, so you need to use them intelligently. Likewise, Google and the other search engines like to see unique content – and this is just a product feed – so how do you do that? The trick is to design your site in a manner that adds to what is already there. Yes you can pull in the manufacturer specifications and product descriptions, etc… but you use that as a “baseline” and expand with additional content, such as reviews or customer feedback and comments. If you design this correctly you can get your users to generate the content you need to make these pages unique and they will do it for free.

Look around at some of the large and successful online e-commerce sites and you will see this approach implemented widely. Each product should have its own SEO optimized page which would include title, description, url and keyword SEO optimization techniques as well as image SEO optimization techniques. With e-commerce sites the site structure and URL hierarchy is something that you need to give very careful consideration in the design state. Make sure to consult with an SEO expert who has extensive experience in e-commerce SEO (yes, it is different) when you layout the site design and architecture (url naming standards, site map, etc…). In general, the same good ole’ SEO core approaches still apply. You want to have keyword based URL’s that are easily read by Google and if your product can be identified by a part number as well as a description, you may want to include that in the URL (if you can do so without having a paragraph long URL) – it just provides one more way that people can find you and one more way that you can optimize for Google.

When it comes to creating search engine friendly URLs, e-commerce sites can be an utter mess. It is not uncommon to see a URL that looks something like this:

http://somedomain.com/products/media/digital/prodlist.asp?sku=173&cat_id...

As opposed to a much more search engine URL like:

http://somedomain.com/sanyo-digital-card-reader-173.html

The second version is obviously much more search engine friendly and will get far better SEO results. This is why setting up an e-commerce website ideally for SEO can be a challenge – there are many such nuances that you must not only consider but resolve in the design and planning phase before you start spending coding time and money trying to go back and “redesign”. You may be tempted to rush the design and get the site up quickly so that you can begin to start making money, but you have to resist that temptation. Remember that this is a long-term goal and you are far better off investing time and effort upfront in the design and site wide system architecture before you start spending development money. In general, anything you have to “redo” will take at least four times more time and money than if you had just paused, taken a breathe and done it right from the beginning.

Beyond standard URL and basic SEO optimizations, you will also have very special issues to content with when doing SEO for e-commerce sites. One of the big ones is the session ID tracking codes that shopping carts tend to shove into the URLs which can cause SEO havoc. There are some elegant solutions to this problem but they are technical in nature and beyond the general and broad scope of this article. Suffice it to say, however, that they are a perfect illustration of why you want to work with an SEO expert that specializes in e-commerce sites – they will be aware of these very niche specific issues.

A more generic SEO problem is that is readily and easily solvable is dealing with loss of PR through all of the outbound links that an e-commerce site typically has (links to manufactures pages, links to shopping cars, etc…). All of these outbound links will siphon page rank away from your site – something you cannot afford to allow to occur. Fortunately there are a couple of easy solutions for controlling this. For one, on any outbound link that is not to one of your own sites, simply use the NOFOLLOW attribute on the link itself so that you are not passing your page rank to that site. Google will still follow the link and people will still be able to click on it and go to the desired location, but the NOFOLLOW attribute essentially tells Google that this is a non-relevant link of low authority. The next approach deals with pages that are on your site that you simply want to depreciate in the eyes of Google. For example, your “Add to Cart” page and “My Account” page and “Shopping Cart” pages – there is no reason Google needs to see or index them, so simply add them into the robots.txt file and exclude them from Google’s eyes. If you’re not familiar with this file, do some quick online searches and you’ll get a ton of information on it. In essence, the robots.txt file is a set of instructions to the Google search robot that crawls your site looking for content. It controls, or at least “suggests”, what Google should and should not pay attention to.

SEO and e-commerce can be a brutal combination for those who don’t have extensive background with both, so it is highly advised you seek the assistance of an SEO expert who specializes in e-commerce design. Do yourself a favor and pay not, rather than paying four times more later.

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