Let’s talk about SEO for e-commerce and see how it differs from traditional SEO. As you may have heard many times, SEO is a broad subject, and it covers more than one area. Some of the basic concepts surrounding SEO are technical SEO, content optimisation, speed optimisation, structured data, and link building.
In this article, I would like to specifically focus on five aspects that I believe are crucial for e-commerce websites. Since SEO is a vast subject, I thought it would be better to discuss a few SEO points in detail rather than provide vague descriptions of SEO best practices overall.
Table of contents:
- URL optimisation (Salesforce Commerce Cloud issues)
- Structured data (recommended schema types for e-commerce websites)
- Content optimisation (building blogs/content hubs)
- Google Voice Search (how to get ahead of the competition)
- Google Merchant Centre (using Google Shopping to your advantage)
1. URL structure recommendations for e-commerce
1.1 Website architecture
The first thing that I should mention is that URL structure reflects your website silo architecture. Every e-commerce website is different and, therefore, requires special care and attention when it comes to building a proper hierarchy between pages. In addition, there should be a clear separation of the homepage from product pages. Ultimately, for any e-commerce store, the most SEO focus goes to product pages since they drive your conversion rates.
1.2 Keyword research basics
Assuming you have done your homework on keyword research, you should have a list of phrases that you want to rank for in Google. Naturally, this list needs to be relevant to your offer, and it should contain both short-tail and long-tail keywords. Depending on your niche, ranking for short-tail phrases such as “sportswear”, “makeup brushes”, or “smoothie recipes” may be difficult due to high competition for these queries. The competition is high because short-tail keywords are more generic and usually have a higher search volume and more businesses jump at the opportunity of capitalising on potential traffic. You ideally want to pick some long-tail phrases that are still relevant to your brand but slightly less popular. That way, you can work on establishing some visibility in SERPs and build further from there. A few good examples of long-tail keywords could be “womens blue running leggings”, “cosmetic makeup brush set”, or “energy-boosting raspberry smoothie recipe”.
1.3 How to structure URLs
If you ask me what type of websites struggle with clean URLs the most, I would say e-commerce sites every time. One good example is Demandware (also known as Salesforce Commerce Cloud) which is a leading e-commerce platform used by some of the biggest brands, such as Puma, Adidas, and Lacoste. Demandware generates a few common SEO issues since it relies on customised development (as many other platforms do). The main problems that e-commerce websites struggle with are filtered pages generated by faceted navigation, multiple product pages, and pages with the following folder structure: /on/demandware.store/.
Check out the three below scenarios that showcase the three most popular SEO issues for e-commerce and see the solution!
Scenario no 1:
Let’s use the Puma website to demonstrate this scenario. One of the main sections that they have is women. When hovering over the women section, categories appear for the user to choose from; some of these are “shoes”, clothing”, and “accessories”. There are subcategories below each category to make the navigation more user-friendly. For shoes, these include /running/, /training/, and /golf/. Picking any of those subcategories introduces users to even more refinement options. Here they get to choose their preferred shoe type based on size, colour, collection, and more. While this is perfect for customers, it creates duplicate content issues for Google if not handled properly. Also, there is a likelihood of Google wasting the crawl budget for crawling pages generated by those refinement options (faceted navigation). What can we do here to prevent duplicate content and ensure crawl efficiency?
Faceted navigation on Puma website (price, size, color, collection)
Original (primary) URL for SPEED 600 2 Women’s Running Shoes: https://eu.puma.com/uk/en/pd/speed-600-2-womens-running-shoes/193103.html
Below are URL variations of the primary URL based on the filtering choices I made:
- https://eu.puma.com/uk/en/pd/speed-600-2-womens-running-shoes/193103.html?dwvar_193103_color=03 – filtered by colour
- https://eu.puma.com/uk/en/pd/speed-600-2-womens-running-shoes/193103.html?dwvar_193103_color=03&dwvar_193103_size=0140 – filtered by size 3
- https://eu.puma.com/uk/en/pd/speed-600-2-womens-running-shoes/193103.html?dwvar_193103_color=03&dwvar_193103_size=0160 – filtered by size 4
As you can see, there are minor differences in the URL structures. Because they are different URLs, Google thinks that they are all different pages when, in fact, they display the same content. That makes them duplicates in the eyes of Google!
Solution 1: Eliminate the risk of duplicate content issues: Implement a canonical tag on the primary URL. The canonical tag is an HTML element that specifies the “preferred” version of a web page. This way Google understands that there is only one primary page that should be given the importance and all the rest are only variations of that primary page.
Puma example: Canonical tag placed on the primary page
Puma example: Canonical tags placed on product variations of the primary page
Solution 2: Optimise the crawl budget: Perform a crawl to get the list of all URLs. Check which pages return search query parameters. Next, write appropriate exclusion rules for your robots.txt file. Be careful here not to block any valid content.
Puma example: Exclusion rules for filtered pages added to the robots.txt file (e.g. srule, prefn, prefv)
Scenario no 2:
The primary URL for an original product page was created. However, that same product was also added to the “View All” section of the website. Consequently, this product page can now be found under two different URLs, which leads to duplicate content complications. What is the solution here?
Solution: As you can see, we run into duplicate content issues again. The ‘View all’ option is just another filter added to a page. As in the above example, we have to set a canonical tag on the primary page to avoid duplication problems.
Scenario no 3:
While crawling an e-commerce website you came across many pages that sit under /on/demandware.store/. After looking closer at those pages, you discover that they are staging domains, login pages, and product variations. Unfortunately, they hold little to no SEO value and significantly diminish crawl efficiency. What can you do?
Solution: Disallow pages with low SEO value from crawling by adding the appropriate exclusion rules to robots.txt file.
I recommend you check Salesforce Commerce Cloud SEO issues & solutions by Nick Eubanks if you want to learn more about SEO challenges caused by Commerce Cloud owned by Salesforce, formerly Demandware.
On top of the above, please always remember to add hierarchy breadcrumbs to your product pages. This way users will always easily find their way back to the homepage.
2. The most popular types of structured data for e-commerce
Structured data are a way of informing Google of what your pages are about. Google cannot always make sense of the words used on the web in a way that humans do. Thanks to schema markup, Google understands. For example, with structured data Google understands that “Mary Stone” is a person, and that cooking time, temperature and ingredients make up the whole recipe page. Below are the most useful structured data schema types for an e-commerce website that I have briefly described.
2.1 Product schema
Since e-commerce focuses on optimising product pages, it makes sense to mention product schema in the first instance. Product schema is a great way of enriching Google rich results with additional information about the product, such as a price, availability, and review ratings. Having product schema markup on your product pages can significantly boost your organic rankings and increase your click-through rates.
2.2 Breadcrumbs schema
Users tend to get lost in the navigation depth at times. But, with a breadcrumb trail, they easily find their way out of that labyrinth. This is where breadcrumbs schema structured data comes in handy! It creates a better user experience.
2.3 How-to schema
How-to schema is perfect for when you create how-to content around your product pages. Another great thing about that schema is that you can add a video or a clip to it. Of course, only if your how-to content contains one!
2.4 Speakable schema (This schema is in beta and subject to change)
The last on my list but not the least important is speakable schema. You probably have heard many times people talking about the future of mobile and voice search. And they are not wrong since Google does what it can to improve user experience on the internet. Google Assistant uses speakable structured data to answer news queries on smart speaker devices. This is one of the reasons why you want to have this type of schema added to your pages!
3. The best types of content for e-commerce
Content marketing for e-commerce works. But it needs to be the right type of content with an appropriate strategy behind it. The main goal of content creation for e-commerce is to educate and attract customers that are earlier in the buying process. This helps to create a positive brand appeal and builds a deeper relationship with users.
According to BuzzSumo, content for e-commerce does not need to be long. It should ideally range from 1,000 to 2,000 words. What is more, multimedia counts! On average, articles that include videos, photos, or graphics get more shares on social media. Content that tends to perform best is also usually connected to a cause such as social issues (education, welfare, etc.) or specific interest-based communities.
My top favourite picks for e-commerce content marketing are interactive content, how-to content, and stories and interviews. I chose interactive content because people love apps and so do I. It is always fun if we can do something with on-page content. Great examples here are virtual try-on tools for makeup accessories or interactive maps. Another way to connect with customers is by creating how-to content. Whenever I purchase a new product, I like to see how I can use it to my best advantage. This can also work the other way around when I try to decide whether I should get a certain product at all. This type of content has an educational purpose! Finally, I also love reading interviews or real-life stories. It helps me to connect with an author and develop the emotional attachment to what is happening. This may result in me liking or sharing the link as a consequence. This proves that stories or interviews can help you get more exposure on social sites.
If you want more examples of content for e-commerce, I recommend you check Adam Thompson’s article on “How to develop an e-commerce content marketing strategy: share analysis”.
4. How to optimize your e-commerce website for Google Voice search
Voice search is somewhat new, but it will continue to grow in the coming years. Why not build a solid SEO foundation for the future now? With voice search, you don’t get to see the results. Instead, they are being read to you. This is why you want to make sure that you can secure the number one position for voice search-related queries before anyone else does. And the best time to do it is now while the competition is still inactive in that sphere. Below are a couple of points that you may want to consider doing:
- Do non-traditional keyword research where you try to guess the intent behind your customer’s queries. One example of such a keyword would be “Where can I find the best discounts for standup paddle boards”?
- Create videos that answer those queries, upload them on YouTube, and embed them on your website
- Build content pages on your e-commerce website for all those potential questions that you already brainstormed (see the above section for the best types of content for e-commerce)
- Use Google AMP for all the content pages that you built to accelerate the speed performance
- Add structured data, especially Q&A schema as well as speakable schema to your pages
- Optimise your website for mobile devices
5. Leverage Google Merchant Centre for your products
Free Google shopping ads have now been launched in the UK as well as Europe, Asia, and Latin America. This means that more retailers can add their products to free listings on Google. Please see the below steps on how to set up Free Google Shopping Ads.
- Sign into Google Merchant Centre (a tool that allows you to upload your products so that they can be shown in Google shopping tab).
- Create a feed to upload your products in an automated way (if you have many products) or add them manually (if you have a few products only). Alternatively, use an e-commerce platform to seamlessly connect your products with Google Merchant Centre.
- Once you have it all set up, monitor your performance using “Performance dashboard” in your Merchant Centre.
You can find more information on Google Merchant Centre in Google documentation. One thing worth mentioning is that currently only tangible/physical products will show up in the Google Shopping tab. This may, however, change in the future and perhaps other items like flights or real estate will also be eligible for display. It is best to stay up to date with the Merchant Centre guidelines.
SEO for e-commerce does not differ too much from traditional SEO in a general sense, however it focuses on different aspects of the website and tackles slightly different SEO issues. As I mentioned many times in this article, product pages are the driving force to the e-commerce website; therefore optimisation should be wrapped around those. This applies to keyword research, new content ideas for blog, content hub or other as well as structured data implementation, and more. In a slightly broader SEO context, take care of your website’s speed performance and optimise for voice search. Oh! And don’t forget about adding your products to Google Merchant Centre. To summarise, SEO always takes the form of a strategy rather than a one-time task and is individually tailored towards a particular website, whether e-commerce or other.