In order to increase the exposure of your ecommerce websites pages in the Search Engine Results Pages [SERPs] and to give them the best chance of ranking as high as possible; your website must meet Google’s Quality Guidelines in terms of technical, design and content.

 

This article isn’t to argue which is the best ecommerce platform for SEO but it will help you understand how to perform your own free technical ecommerce SEO audit of your own ecommerce website and shopping cart software.

Google Webmaster Tools is (GWT) the main tool that will identify such technical issues of your platform and will assist you in the process of fixing them. This article is by no means exhaustive but will point out key areas that can be addressed to help improve the overall performance of your ecommerce website.

If you’re not using GWT already; you should be – this is Google’s current evaluation of your sites adherence to their quality guidelines – that’s why the guidelines are there – to help you improve your site performance.  If this isn’t installed in your site already then you can follow the simple instructions here or kindly ask your web developers to help you out or provide you with access.

Once logged in to the dashboard – your will see a menu structure down the left hand side.  We’re not going to cover each heading but we’ll look at what we believe are the key sections to assess your ecommerce shopping cart to improve your sites performance.

1 – Technical: XML Sitemap

Have you submitted an XML Sitemap to Google?  A Sitemap is a list of all the pages on your site and will inform Google of any pages on your site that they may not otherwise discover.  From an ecommerce point of view it will show how many of your product pages are indexed in the SERPs or not as the case may be.

xml sitemap

(Source: Google Webmaster Tools)

Here’s an example of an ecommerce website that has submitted 12,320 pages to Google but only has 1,160 pages indexed in Google.  As the site only has about 2000 products – this is identifying two major issues:

  1. There are over 800 product pages not indexed in Google that should be.
  2. The shopping cart software is producing 1000’s of unnecessary URLs that are hindering the site’s performance.

This would need further investigation to determine the main cause of the issue which could be one of many things such as poor architectural design, link strength or content related.  Ultimately Google is not deeming over 800 pages not worthy to be indexed and indexing over 10,000 that it shouldn’t be.

2 – Technical: Structured Data

If Google understands the mark-up on your pages, it can use this information to add rich snippets and other features to your search result which will assist with Click Through Rate [CTR] to your site from the SERPs.

 structured data

(Source: Google Webmaster Tools)

Google will tell you if you do not have any structured data in your site which it Google uses to aggregate information about merchant and site reputation e.g. authorship mark-up, reviews, product reviews etc. If your site was built some time ago it’s unlikely that this code will have been installed as standard – even to this day we are still seeing new ecommerce sites being built without this happening which is crazy as most of these will signal to Google that you’re a better ‘merchant’.

3 – Technical: HTML Improvements

If your site has duplicate metadata (meta titles & meta descriptions) which is code that tells the search engines what your web page is about, then Google may ignore both pages and not rank either of them at all or much lower in the SERP’s.  The HTML Improvements tab will tell you how many errors that your site has.

The Best Ecommerce Platform For SEO: How To Perform Your Own Free Technical Ecommerce SEO Audit- html errors

(Source: Google Webmaster Tools)

Here is an example of a site that we audited recently that had 263 duplicate meta descriptions; 321 short meta descriptions and 162 duplicate title tags.  What you’ll find with many ‘off the shelf’ ecommerce platforms is that the shopping cart will produce multiple URLs for the same product or page by default.  This is a major flaw with many shopping cart platforms and leads to technical errors such as pagination and product duplication issues which often need to be resolved using ‘canonicalization’.  If your shopping cart doesn’t allow full access to the code base to deal with canonicalization or doesn’t allow you to access to the URLs that are duplicated to change; then you have major problems with your shopping cart.

4 – Technical: Manual Actions or Google Penalties

Does your site have any manual penalties given by Google that will be hindering your sites performance? These can be ‘site–wide’ or ‘keyword targeted’ penalties.  If you don’t have a penalty it will say ‘no manual actions’.  If you do – it will read something like this:

The Best Ecommerce Platform For SEO: How To Perform Your Own Free Technical Ecommerce SEO Audit-manual penalties

(Source: Google Webmaster Tools)

The most common form of penalty at the moment is an ‘unnatural links to your site’ penalty which is related to the Penguin algorithm update.  If you have one of these then you need to be looking at some kind of professional link penalty removal service otherwise your site will remain in the darkness.

If you don’t have a link penalty please don’t think you’re out of the woods just yet – you may still have toxic links pointing to your site that are seriously damaging your sites rankings. Our advice is download the latest version of your links through GWT and upload them to a link analysis and detox software such as Link Research Tools to analyse and clean up your link profile.  Remember – just one toxic link pointing to your site can harm your sites rankings.

download-latest-links

(Source: Google Webmaster Tools)

5 – Technical: Crawl Errors

The Crawl Errors page provides details about the URLs in your site that Google could not successfully crawl or that returned an HTTP error code which will prevent them from indexing in the SERPs or passing ‘link juice’ to your domain.  There are two types of errors;

Site errors: This section lists errors that prevent Googlebot from accessing your site at all.

URL errors: This section lists errors Googlebot encountered when trying to crawl specific URLs.

crawl errors

 (Source: Google Webmaster Tools)

Do you have pages that Google cannot access?  You need to make every relevant page on your site accessible and indexable in order to help improve the rankings and exposure of your website in the SERPs. Pages that cannot be crawled will have little no chance of appearing.  Old URLs also need dealing with accordingly so that Google is aware that these not linger exist.

 

6 – Design: Hierarchical Structure

In order to find, index and rank each page of a website, Google requires your site to follow a logical hierarchical structure.  A logical structure will also facilitate the passing of Page Rank (PA) from one to another which will help improve rankings.

A logical structure can follow basic rules:

http://www.domain.co.uk/

http://www.domain.co.uk/category-name/

 http://www.domain.co.uk/category-name/product-name/

As well as the passing of ‘link equity’ or ‘Page Authority (PA)’ from one page top another; this will also improve the logical on-site user navigation.  Incorrect structures will include directory levels which simply don’t exist such as:

http://www.domain.co.uk/shop/buy/category-name/product-name/

You can tell if these directory levels don’t exist by simply deleting parts of the URL and then clicking ‘enter’ like so:

http://www.domain.co.uk/shop/buy/ > then click ENTER

If this action renders a 404 page then the page doesn’t exist.  Imagine a champagne fountain at a wedding – this like how an ideal site structure & directory should be.  The homepage is the first glass; the next ring of glasses are the ‘categories’; the next ring are the ‘sub-categories’, the final ring of glasses are the ‘products’ and finally the champagne is the link equity or PA.  An incorrect hierarchical structure is like putting a layer of cardboard in between the layers of glasses which prevent certain glasses from receiving any kind of ‘link juice’ which will prevent them ranking as high as they can.

7 – Design: URL Structure

SEO Friendly URL’s are human readable text that replaces the numbers or IP Addresses that computers use to communicate with servers. In simplistic terms – your URLs should reflect and contain the top level search term you are targeting on a particular page such as: http://www.domain.co.uk/laminate-kitchen-worktops.

8 – Design: Responsive 

Is your website responsive? Will your site adapt its size, shape and layout according to whatever mobile, tablet or desktop device it is accessed from?  There’s an explosion of mobile commerce here in the UK at the moment and it’s only set to rise. A ‘multi-device’ ready responsive ecommerce web design can make huge improvements to your sites conversion rates. If you haven’t got one now it’s time to make the change – you’re site will be marked down by Google if isn’t providing the best possible user experience on all devices.

 

9 – Content: Content Duplication

Duplicate Content is a strict violation of Google’s quality guidelines.  Content on your site must be as unique as possible.  Two pages of the same content will conflict and harm each other’s ability to rank.

Copyscape

 

Using a site like Copyscape; your website can be tested for duplicate content across the internet.  Whilst you may believe your content is unique – that doesn’t stop other content writers or other websites copying and plagiarising your content.  It’s certainly worth checking and regular too.  A common pitfall of many ecommerce websites is that the product feed contains the same manufacturers ‘product description’ that every other website in the world selling that product has – make it unique and better than anyone else’s!

10 – Content: Poor Quality or Thin Content

One page of a website with poor, little or no content will harm your sites rankings and decrease your quality score.  You may be struggling with rankings but sometimes it’s not your ecommerce platform that causing the issues – it could just simply be poor content.  Make sure every appropriate page of your site has sufficient content describing what that category or product page is concerned with.  Indexable content is the single most important factor Google uses to determine what a web page is all about so the more content the better.

Summary

Google’s technical, design and content guidelines from are there for a reason.  The best ecommerce platform for SEO argument will continue for many years to come.  Many ‘off the shelf’ platforms are riddled with technical issues that people simply aren’t aware of but hopefully this article will help people understand a little more technical information in making their choice for the future. Fixing these issues (if possible) and others such as ‘content’ which seem so often to get overlooked can make a huge difference to your website’s in terms of rankings, traffic and conversions.

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