Search results which find their way to the first page of Google receive 91.5% of all the traffic, while the very first spot is entitled to 32.5% of the overall traffic share. This isn’t just a matter of prestige and popularity, as all these visitors can be translated into clicks, conversions, and profits, so it’s pretty self-explanatory that the revenue of any e-commerce store practically depends on its Google rankings. A carefully crafted and executed SEO strategy is a must if you want to be easily found by your potential customers, but, you need to play by the strict rules which comply with the search engine giant’s terms and conditions too.
Succumbing to the temptation to use black hat SEO is out of the question because it’s a surefire way to be severely penalized by Google and its Zoo algorithms. It’s true that regular methods take a bit more time, but their results are long-lasting. First and foremost, you need to have your content strategy figured out, but a sound technical SEO structure is equally important for keeping all your optimization efforts in place.
Are you visible?
After you’ve set up your e-commerce store, come up with a great design, and provided some useful content that might attract your target audience, it’s time to publish it and let the crowds pour in. However, sometimes a website doesn’t show up in search results, which means that it hasn’t been properly indexed. Google uses a powerful crawler, Googlebot, to automatically discover and scan websites, thus updating the Google index, but it usually takes somewhere between 4 days and 4 weeks to index a new website. Just to be on the safe side, and potentially speed up this process, it’s a good idea to submit your website’s URL directly to Google, and help crawlers to explore your site more efficiently by building and submitting a sitemap through Google Search Console.
If we bear in mind that an ordinary e-commerce website can have as many as 5,000 pages, it’s almost inevitable that some of these pages will have technical issues that will prevent them from being indexed. Resolving this is a task of gargantuan proportions, so it’s recommended to run a technical SEO audit to spot an fix the errors more easily.
Are there too many pages?
The easiest way to check out how many pages Google indexed for your website is to type “site:yourdomain.com” in Google search box. In many cases, as we have already mentioned, the search will return thousands of indexed pages which makes technical SEO pretty complicated. In addition to that, this brings about another issue – duplicate content. According to Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search spam, somewhere between 25-30% of all the content on the internet is duplicate, and another study says that 29% of websites are struggling with the same issue. This problem is typical for e-commerce websites because each and every item they sell has to have its own page, not to mention that even a slight variation of a product, such as a different size or color, gets its own unique URL, thus increasing the number of pages.
Needless to say, the pages featuring a different variation of the same product will have the same description, which practically means duplicate content, and that’s a colossal no-no relentlessly penalized by the Panda algorithm. As these two issues, together with closely related thin content, are intrinsically linked, you should work on sorting them out simultaneously.
Firstly, use your CMS in order to identify the products that have generated zero revenue, and simply delete or nonindex those pages as they have absolutely no value. A reliable tool for generating SEO reports can give you an insight into how many unique visitors your e-commerce store had over a certain period of time, how many of them actually converted, or which exact link prompted them to visit your store.
After you’ve got rid of those millstones around your neck, proceed to optimization of the remaining pages and the content on them. Again, nonindexing unique URLs within a single category is one of the options. Another method is to use canonical tags, which let Google know that certain pages on your website are exactly the same or only slightly different from one another, and indicate that such pages shouldn’t be treated as unique. Finally, no matter how difficult it is, producing absolutely fresh and unique content for every indexed page is a must.
Thin content is defined as lacking useful, SEO-friendly content, and is stuffed with lots of images and links. To avoid this, don’t write short and generic descriptions of products you sell. Instead of that, make sure to provide your customers with relevant information about each product, as well as their main features, benefits, and FAQs. Descriptions containing fewer than 250 words are considered thin, so bulk them up with valuable content. Last but not least, never use descriptions obtained from product manufacturers, because remember that every single e-commerce store which sells the products in question has the same pieces of text on their website.
How fast do your pages load?
Back in 2009, Forrester conducted a study concerning page-load expectations for Akamai Technologies, and according to it, website visitors became impatient if a page took more than 2 seconds to load. In the same vein, Greg Linden, a former manager at Amazon, stated that the e-commerce company performed A/B tests and concluded that even a 100-millisecond delay could cause revenue to plunge significantly. Some estimates say that a single second could cost the e-commerce behemoth a whopping $1.6 billion in sales each year.
Almost a decade later, internet users have become even more demanding and impatient, so your e-commerce store needs to be exceptionally quick and responsive if you want to get your potential customers to the checkout page. It’s worth noting that website speed is also one of approximately 200 ranking signals Google uses, so this factor can also affect your position in the SERPs. In order to improve user experience and boost your rankings, you should take the following steps:
Choose a reliable hosting provider. In this case being cheap can cost you more, so don’t be stingy as it can have a very bad effect on your e-commerce website speed, and subsequently on your bottom line.
Use a contact delivery network (CDN). The main purpose of this network of proxy servers and data centers based on geographical locations is to deliver pages and other web content to the end users in the most effective way.
Optimize images. Compressed and resized images significantly reduce page loading time, and this is especially important for e-commerce websites as they have a lot of product images. Additionally, you should specify image dimensions and help search engines to render them faster, thus speeding up your pages.
Is your e-commerce store mobile responsive?
Global mobile data traffic grew 63% in 2016, according to Cisco Visual Networking Index. At the same time, Google has been using mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor since 2015, and it has also introduced so-called mobile-first indexing, which basically means that users who search on mobile devices will be displayed mobile-friendly search results first. Dubbed Mobilegeddon, this algorithm update can give your rankings a boost if you’ve switched to mobile responsive, mobile optimized, or at least mobile-friendly design.
These three terms, although frequently used interchangeably, differ in the sense that mobile responsive and mobile-optimized websites have to be built from scratch, while a mobile-friendly version means that websites will display on mobile phones as they do on computers with the only difference being their smaller size which can be difficult for navigating and reading. An increasing number of shoppers use their smartphones to search for and purchase various products, which is why you need to adapt to this trend if you want to attract new customers and keep the existing ones.
Is your checkout page decluttered?
Baymard Institute has calculated that the global average online shopping cart abandonment rate is 69.23%, which means that more than two-thirds of your visitors don’t complete the checkout process. According to Baymard, there are several reasons for this, and one of them is a too long and complicated checkout process. Financially speaking, this means that every year the e-commerce industry loses $260 billion globally on the account of a poorly optimized checkout process. Luckily, you can recover your share of this sum if you declutter your checkout page, simplify the payment procedure, and remove all the distractions that could confuse your customers and make them lose their focus. In order to push your prospects down the sales funnel, you should:
Eliminate all these elements whose direct purpose isn’t related to finalizing the purchase;
Make sure that there aren’t any outbound links that would take shoppers to another page;
User experience is also one of the most important ranking signals, which is why your checkout page needs to be easily navigated and structured to support the touch function by placing the most important fields within the range of the thumb. A progress bar indicator would be a nice addition as it illustrates where in the checkout process your customers are and how long it will take them to complete the whole procedure. All these small changes will improve your UX index and put you in Google’s good books.
Do you have a custom 404 page?
A simple typo or a wrong extension at the end of your website address will take your visitors to a 404 error page which can be frustrating and make them bounce. However, you can make this experience a little less unpleasant and confusing by properly structuring your error page. Its primary objective is to retain visitors on your website and encourage them to explore the other pages and find what they’re looking for. A custom 404 error page should contain clear and intuitive navigation links that will take the visitors who accidentally strayed to the home page, or help them find the item they need more easily. Don’t put any ads on this page, make it as simple as possible, and ensure that it loads quickly. Forget about using complex scripts as they could cause additional complications, and stick to static HTML instead.
Take a page from Wikipedia’s book, as the online encyclopedia takes the concept of the 404 page to the next level by suggesting its visitors a page with similar extension name, and automatically redirecting them there. This approach is entertaining and compelling, as it engages visitors and offers them the content that they might be interested in.
Is your internal linking structure logical?
Having an optimized internal linking structure is particularly important for e-commerce stores because if your product content isn’t directly linked from the main page, it will both make it difficult for your visitors to find the item they need and affect your product pages ranking score. Avoid all this by following so-called breadcrumb structure which uses small pieces of text known as breadcrumbs placed at the top of the page. They show your visitors where exactly they are and since these breadcrumbs are clickable, they make the website easily navigable and help Google understand the structure of your website. In addition to that, make sure to fix any broken internal links and reduce the number of redirects.
Are your out-of-stock pages well managed?
Every once in a while your e-commerce store runs out of certain products. Deleting those product pages isn’t a good idea from the SEO point of view because they most certainly amassed the CEO power that you can continue benefiting from. More importantly, deleting out-of-stock pages could hurt your link equity. Until the products are back in stock, you can use these pages to promote similar products and engage visitors.
In case that such pages contain external links, which are one of the most powerful ranking factors and we all know how difficult it is to build links within product pages, you should redirect the page to the similar product or category and preserve your hard-earned external link value. If the product won’t be back in stock again, and the page doesn’t have any links or traffic, it’s a good option to use a 404 error page and submit a removal request to Google Search Console.
Technical SEO consists of complex, time-consuming, and long-term efforts but it’s definitely worthwhile and profitable.