SEO

Taking Front End SEO to the Next Level

I can’t recall how many times a prospective client has come along where my initial thought was “wow – this one’s going to take 250 hours of SEO to get them to even compete with all the sites that have been there for years”. Sometimes that turns out to be the case, while at other times, the majority of sites are so poorly optimized that the biggest hurdle is their longevity in the SERPs and maybe inbound link depth.

While the inbound link depth is one that can be the most challenging, ensuring your client’s site is highly optimized and deep enough in non-duplicate content usually overcomes some, or even all of that depending on how you go about it.

Where this can get complicated is often in dealing with a site that’s built either on an off-the-shelf content management system (CMS) or one that was built by a single web development company in a proprietary framework. In these situations, you’re going to need to get what might turn out to be some serious customization in place both in that CMS and on the front end. Just as often you’re going to need the underlying database modified.

Warning! This is another one of my more extensively detailed articles.  So grab that latte’ or cup of chai before reading further…

This past August, I wrote an article entitled Six Rules for Custom ECommerce SEO that gives a solid foundation of the “how-to” for customizing and automating search optimization.  That article covers issues including URL structure at the category/sub-category/product detail page level, and a few other ways to automate your work.

I also encourage you to check out Ann Smarty‘s recent article on Strategies for URL file names to get even more ideas about that aspect of taking your SEO to the next level.

In this article, I want to carry that to the front end of the site. Not just for eCommerce sites though. Both that article and this one include methods that can be applied to any site that involves drill-down navigation.

Going Beyond WordPress-Like Functionality

If you’ve spent any serious amount of time in the blogosphere, a lot of what I’m about to show you will already make sense just from how well WordPress offers much of this functionality, though here I’m going to turn it up a notch even beyond what you can get from blog software, because I don’t want to get a bunch of #Fail comments. I’m paranoid like that, ya know?

For the purpose of this article, I’m going to use the field of Stock Photography as the product offering, but the fact is that you really can apply this to just about any type of products or services.

Now don’t go running to Google and seeing if what I’m showing you has gotten me results in the stock photography field.  Because you won’t find any site I’ve optimized in this niche.  Instead, I’m taking what has worked for me in other markets and applying it to the first market that came to mind as I, myself was looking for stock photos this past month.

From The Top

All too often I see sites that have top level landing pages semi-optimized or not optimized at all. Now, I understand that this is often because graphic designers think from a minimalist perspective, or clients demand an “uncluttered” look. That’s all good and fine if your client doesn’t care about being found through organic results, or if the niche they’re in is so thin that all you need are quality page titles, or if you have the time to build 45,000 quality inbound links.

Since we’re talking about taking this to the next level, let’s talk about the anatomy of your top level landing page.

StockPhotosLandingPage Taking Front End SEO to the Next Level

1. Naming The Entire Group Properly

I can’t tell you how often I go to a site at this level and see the Title, URL and heading all say “Gallery” or “Catalog”. This is one of the saddest things going. There must be fifty million pages on the web that use one of those words as the ONLY name for such pages. Or how about “Our Gallery” or “Online Gallery”?

Please people – let’s drive home the importance of proper phrase implementation at the highest level.

So if you’re dealing with a stock photo site, insist on having each of these critical elements properly seeded.

2. Optimized Content

Here’s the next big flaw in most sites – there’s no content on these pages. None. Just a bunch of pretty pictures and maybe one word captions. One of the best ways you can beat the competition is to insist on getting actual content onto these pages. It may be as simple as the example above, or it may require more content. You may not be allowed to have it appear above the photos, but if it’s not, then you’ll probably need more than you would if it were higher in the page.

3. Avoid Ugly Repetition When Possible

Sometimes you can’t avoid it – you just need to have every link or every caption include the primary phrase – so instead of seeing captions “sports”, “landscapes”, “people”, you end up with “sports stock photos”, “landscapes stock photos”, etc. Well, there’s a couple flaws in this. First, it can look butt-ugly. And since we’re probably already alienating the site’s designer, we want to avoid that if possible. Second, look at the example “landscapes stock photos” – how many people search with that kind of phrase? A lot less than people searching for “landscape stock photos”. This gets even more difficult if you’re stuck with having to use the category names your client insists on.

Worse, even if you spend time training the site owner or their 16 year old kid (you know – the one they get to do site maintenance so they don’t have to pay a professional) you can’t control what they’re going to type in for category names right?

So how do we compensate for this?

Image Alternate Attributes.

Don’t assume this is one you don’t need to have customized. Sure, most of us know this is a fundamental thing – getting the Alt attributes seeded. Except in most eCommerce systems I’ve seen, the Alt attribute is either automatically set to repeat another field (like the category name) or it’s not even built into the system. Just because the caption is one word doesn’t mean the alternate attribute has to be.

So insist that there be an Alternate Attribute field filled in for every category photo, and that it has to be DIFFERENT than the category name.

Automate Image Naming

One way to help compensate is to actually name your image files based on keyword seeding. So DISC203944.jpg becomes Landscape-Stock-Photos.jpg for example. You may not be able to control this completely, but you can have the CMS automatically rename the photo on upload – to take the content from that Alt Attribute field.

Category Link Titles

How many of you make use of link titles? How many of you even knew these are valid HTML elements that can be used in your link structure? Here again, you might take the alt attribute field content and automatically add it in as the title for the link. OR, better still, have a NEW, required field added to the CMS called “Optimized Category Name”. So whoever is doing the admin will be forced to not only enter a category name (of their preference), but also come up with a 2nd name for the category based on SEO principles.

BINGO!

In that last suggestion, I’ve just given you a double bonus. If there’s an “Optimized” Category name in ADDITION to the regular category name that your client might prefer, and if the “optimized” version is based on search phrase popularity, you can automate all sorts of other things based on that new field.  Just one of them is the link “title” element.  Then there’s Category Page Titles, and then there’s the opportunity for better URL seeding! Stretch your mind and you can find two or three other ways to use this. But remember – it means having to customize most off-the-shelf CMS solutions.

4. Category Level Pages

Let’s take a look now at Category level pages. Some of the same methods described above can be used at this level as well, but now it’s time to turn it up another notch!

AnimalStockPhotos Taking Front End SEO to the Next Level

 

BreadCrumbs

By now we all know about breadcrumbs – that extra, on-page navigation element, and how Google’s making use of them right?  Well if you implement breadcrumbs, be sure to Factor in the opportunity to use link titles here as well.

On Page Headers

CAUTION – Many designers get a little education on SEO and when that happens, you can end up with the page Header “appearing” to be optimized.  So you’ll often see “Stock Photos – Animals”  as the actual on-page header.  Which isn’t terrible, since it would have previously just been “Animals”.  But look at my example above.

The Breadcrumb is “stock photos – Animals”, but the Header is “Animal Stock Photos”.  This then can only be achieved when you insist on that extra required “Optimized Category Name” field. Unless you actually TRUST your client to properly optimize the category names.  Which they WILL NOT DO.  They’ll say -I understand.  Then, they’ll forget.

Or they’ll TELL you they understand, but when they’re adding their products, they’ll get lazy.  Or think “this really long phrase isn’t very pretty to site visitors when it’s shown in the caption area”.

So Give them their regular category name field.  And REQUIRE they ALSO provide the optimized version.  Believe me – if you do this, and then review the first couple or few entries they make, you’ll quickly educate them enough to make a huge difference.

And by doing it this way, you ensure the header more accurately matches the now properly optimized page Title AND the now properly optimized URL since your automated system distributes it to all of them.

Developer Warning – when you go to the site’s developer and tell them of this requirement, you can not assume they realize that their code will have to strip out special characters.  And believe me, the first time that happens, and you end up with quote marks and apostrophe’s in the URL, the ensuing headache will come back to bite you.  So help out here and gently remind them to strip out all but letters and numbers, and for goodness sake, to use hyphens where blank spaces would be.

 

Switching Up Syntax

Now let’s look at that little bit of content I have added to the category page.  Note again that most sites do NOT have any text at all on their category page, or text that’s totally irrelevant to SEO.  In my example, I not only have content, but it switches up the variations on phrase use and partial phrase use.  This goes a long way with the long-tail opportunity every properly optimized site should be going after.

Tags

The illustration above doesn’t show how I use Tags on these pages, due to width restrictions in this column, but you can bet your sweet Sadie salad that when I can get buy-in from designers and clients, I like to include Tag links on category pages.  – So every tag that’s been assigned to every item within that category will be listed as a link on that category page.  personally, I don’t like the whole “tag cloud” widget method, simply because I think it’s butt-ugly.

Since I need to offer compromise choices to designers and clients, I WILL use them as a leverage tactic.  Something like “Look – we have to list tags on these pages – it’s vital.”  But instead of insisting we use the butt-ugly “everybody’s doing it” Tag Cloud method, here’s how we’ll do it instead… Isn’t this more visually appealing and polished?”

That way, I get my way, and they think I’m being more than accommodating to their aesthetic sensibilities.  And at the same time, because I go this route, NOT having tags doesn’t even get considered – they opt for my chosen method, out of fear that they’d end up with the ugly tag cloud otherwise.  :-)

NoFollow Considerations for Tags

Here’s where more people in our industry split in regard to value and tactics.  Do you allow the search engines to index individual “tag” pages, or do you embed the “nofollow” attribute on those links and exclude them in the robots.txt file?  I’ll leave that up to you to decide, because I think every situation is unique enough that each case warrants it’s own method one way or another.  But personally, in most cases, I don’t use the nofollow, because I make sure the tag pages themselves are unique enough when I can.

5.  Sub-Categories

This is one of the most important lessons I can offer in this article.  One of the single biggest causes of duplicate content I’ve seen on sites of this type comes from the lack of advanced SEO implementation at the sub-category level.  Yet that means it’s one of the best opportunities  we have to get a jump on the competitive landscape since so many existing sites fail to consider this.

So don’t forget to apply to sub-category pages the same principles that you’ve used on category pages.  Unique content becomes even more vital here – to eliminate the duplicate content problem.  And for every additional sub-category page you can get indexed, you’ve got that much more depth and supporting relationship pages that point back to the main category page, which in turn boosts that pages SEO weight.

6.  Product Detail Pages

Now we get into the meat of competitive opportunity.  More than ever before, site designers and developers are using AJAX and other methods to display individual product pages.  This causes all sorts of problems on so many levels, I could write an entire article about this topic alone.  But for now, let’s just pretend that having individual, unique URL accessible pages for each product is what I recommend.

And pretending that’s the case is easy.  Since it IS what I recommend. Every time.  Always.  No matter how hip,slick and cool little AJAX magically appearing windows show up and hover over a higher level page.

 

SleepingCatStockPhoto Taking Front End SEO to the Next Level

Okay – so by now, you know to just replicate the same further SEO functionality on product admin pages in the CMS, and carried those onto the front end product detail pages as you’ve used on your higher level pages right?

Like having a the standard “Product Name” field. AND having the new “Optimized Product Name” field.

Now – let’s go even further.  Look – a shiny object.

DUPLICATE CONTENT

An even bigger cause of duplicate content conflicts on sites like this is the utter and total lack of importance given to opportunities that exist on product detail pages.

Too many sites allow a product to be added to the CMS without a photo and then FAIL to include a default “image not available” image.  Or just as bad, implement an “image not available” feature where the Alt attribute is either blank, or actually says “image not available”.

Which means you miss out on the opportunity to seed that image’s code with an optimized Alt attribute.  Even if it’s the same “image not available”, there is NO reason you can’t seed it uniquely on every product page with that product’s optimized product name.  NONE.

And you allow clients to get away with NO description or a three word description.  And the “buy” button isn’t optimized.  Or there’s no tags. Or there’s no Header because there’s a caption. Or there’s no caption because there’s a header. And all of THAT leads to….

A very high chance that your product pages are so much alike that they’ll be flagged as duplicate content!

So please – if you don’t implement 80% of the things I’ve pointed out in this article, at the very least, put more energy into the product detail pages.  You’ll thank me.  Profusely.

7.  Super Extra Special Bonus SEO Technique #739

If you paid attention to the illustrations in this article, you may have picked up on one of my favorite SEO automation techniques.  If not, go back and look at them and see if you can figure out what it is.  If you think you know the answer, say what you think it is in the comment section.  The first person to get it right will get a special linked mention in my next article.  :-)

Going Even Further

As far as what I’ve shown you here, it really is only a foundation – a very strong foundation, but still, just a foundation. So take what you can from here, and let your own research and thinking help you go even further. Because I guarantee you, there are many more ways you can take this. I sure do – if for no other reason, than the fact that hey, I’m giving away all of these methods here. And bet your bum I’m not going to sit around while you all match the methods I’ve shared with you here. ;-)

Alan Bleiweiss has been an Internet professional since 1995, managing client projects valued at upwards of $2,000,000.00.  Just a few of his most notable clients through the years have included PCH.com, WeightWatchers.com, and Starkist.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AlanBleiweiss , read his blog at Search Marketing Wisdom, and be sure to read his column here at SearchEngineJournal.com the 2nd and 4th Tuesday each month.

 Taking Front End SEO to the Next Level
Alan Bleiweiss is a Forensic SEO audit consultant with audit client sites consisting of upwards of 50 million pages and tens of millions of visitors a month. A noted industry speaker, author and blogger, his posts are quite often as much controversial as they are thought provoking.
 Taking Front End SEO to the Next Level

You Might Also Like

Comments are closed.

47 thoughts on “Taking Front End SEO to the Next Level

  1. An absolute fantastic article! e-commerce sites are always a pain in the butt to work with if you don’t get to start from the beginning. Your tactics are a great way to recover the site’s indexable pages.

    as for your technique… is it the use of both plural and singular terms within your content. This way the search engines rank your site for both terms? If not it’s surprising how many people automatically assume that if you rank well for “cat” that you will rank well for “cats”. :)

  2. This article is fantastic (seriously) but there is one point I disagree 100%:
    link title attribute does not help to rank, a complete waste of time for SEO, it is about usability and nice to have for this purpose.
    That was confirmed by Google engineers at Pubcom 2005 and Vanessa Fox said so few weeks ago at her webmasterradio.fm ‘office-hours’ show
    http://www2.webmasterradio.fm/office-hours/2009/google_labs-webmaster_tools/ (minute 23)

    Super Extra Special Bonus SEO Technique #739 contest
    Category Level Page : Breadcrumb : last level no auto-link
    Product Detail Page : Breadcrumb : last level yes auto-link but using variation (plural)

  3. Great post!

    I’m gonna guess the tactic is automating the order in which the different categories and sub-categories are listed based on something other than alphabetically. Perhaps something like popularity.

    They aren’t listed alphabetically in your examples, like most CMS’s would automatically do, and if you have a large list of categories, putting the most popular links at the top help ensure some “importance” information is passed along internally.

    Or I could be totally off my rocker…

    thanks!

    1. Ken

      Not sure how your comment ended up not showing til today – in any case, good guess, but that’s not bonus technique #739 – and the reason the categories don’t display in alpha-order is because it was a quick set of Photoshop wireframes I thew together. :-)

  4. Nick,

    Whenever I can, I go for both singular and plural. Sometimes one or the other is surprisingly less competitive as well, so it gets even more value.

    Thanks Michael – I could have kept going, but figured that would just make another meaty article or six. :-)

  5. That was a great read. If I had realized how long it was before I started reading it I probably would of bookmarked it and read it “next week”. Anyway, I’m glad you captured my attention

  6. I’ve been asked to do SEO in the past, and done some of the things suggested, but the extra things pointed out here are fantastic. Many thanks for taking the time to write it all down!

  7. Thanks for the very in-depth content and image review. I wish I could take a stab and guess what #739 is, but I have no idea. Hope you share if no one can guess it.

  8. Interesting points.
    Note that the plural of apostrophe is not apostrophe’s, but rather apostrophes. (See “Developer Warning”)

  9. I guessed the plural/singular issue. However it was Just the wrong guess :) :) :)

    After looking at the images again I don’t have another guess yet. I would assume im over analyzing it… ill stop back and see if someone else get’s the technique.

  10. Great information. Thanks for the read.

    My guess for the hidden tactic is that the image names mirror the content of nearest header (if what was displayed in the image was actual HTML). For example:

    Header: Sleeping Cat Stock Photo
    Image Name: sleepingcatsotckphoto.gif

    Basically, the image name is describing the important content of the image.

  11. Since it’s now been a couple days and nobody’s nailed exactly what “Super Extra Special Bonus SEO Technique #739″ is, I guess I’ll have to write a new article on it…

  12. ok, i’ll take a stab.

    You get to use the optimized description on detail pages as a URL?

    The more you get people to input the more they start thinking in terms of keywords/SEO and actually adjust their behavior to search demand?

    The more content users give you it enables you to auto-link keywords in their content (excellent contextual links) to other category or detail pages (zappos kills on this)?

  13. This should be bookmarked by every web designer creating a proprietary CMS for their clients or creating sites with one of the popular CMS options. Most of the things you mention in this article are things that designers (and some SEO’s) typically overlook when creating and optimizing a site. If you can build the proper framework from the beginning and structure things properly it is going to make your life so much easier over the course of a project.

  14. Thanks Jason.

    Of course, I totally agree that it starts with proper framework and structure, and believe me, I know full well the grief of having to come in after a site’s built, and oh, say, hundreds or thousands of pages have already been indexed, only to have to then deal with not only re-engineering the system, but then to have to deal with page level 301 issues…

    It happens all the time with clients and sadly, even many of those with whom I’ve worked in the past.

  15. Hi Alan,

    I just found this article on fast flip. I guess it got popular. Congrats..good post btw.

    So the little game…looks like you hijacked the alt tag for these images in your post to help your own cause. You’re pulling them from your own domain using alt tags unrelated to the image file name but instead optimized for your domain’s topic…like the self-serving plug at the top wasn’t enough bad Alan…bad Alan…;-)

    Assuming you’re not recommending getting sneaky with non-suspicious merchants, I guess you like to cross link multi-domain owner’s domains based on domain’s target relevance. Seems fine to me as long as you don’t try to maintain appearance of competition in the market place, otherwise soon or later the story will get out…

    By the way, in the event that I guessed right (and even if I did not), you should check http://www.seotoaster.com … I think you’ll enjoy it.

    1. Michel

      Very good guess. but. uh. wrong. Actually the images come from my own blog because I was only recently given admin access here at SEJ, and for the moment, my admin rights do not allow me to post images directly to the SEJ blog server.

      As a result, I’ve temporarily used my own blog’s server, however you can be assured that as soon as this functionality has been addressed, I’ll be changing things over.

      Again though, very good guess – it shows you pay attention and have the same level of investigative passion for our industry that I do.

      1. I take another stab at it, you’re going to laugh but I did not completely realized they were screen shot mock ups at first. Im filtering in-copy ads I guess or I was just abstracting visuals alright just reading your text….

        Yes, i guess variations of the last sentence qualifying size, resolution is not simply a coincidence, each/all/this depending on nav level.

  16. A couple people (here and at Sphinn) have challenged the value of applying keywords within the link Title element, essentially saying the search engines don’t count it, even though it’s good for accessibility.

    This also brought up concern about keyword stuffing and going overboard.

    From what I can find, the only articles that discuss use of the link Title element at any length are at least two years old, other than Vanessa Fox apparently recently confirming that Google doesn’t use this for ranking.

    Until someone can show otherwise, I’m going to stick by my recommmendation. Here’s why.

    First, I sincerely hope everyone already understands we always have to be careful in not abusing ANY opportunity to use keywords on a site. Of course, that hope is ridiculously optimistic, because some people will completely disregard readability, usability and common sense. But seriously – everything I recommend always comes with the notion that moderation, and mixing things up are crucial.

    Even if the search engines do not directly factor link Titles in the initial SEO ranking of a given page or site, the fact remains that the link title field is still a valid HTML element for usability, and if these can be used without going overboard / stuffing, but actually help usability, the potential (slight as it might be) to help ensure stickiness on a site means that there would be an indirect SEO value, since time on a site is a secondary factor.

    Of course we’re now talking about stretching SEO to the nth degree, and melding SEO and site usability, which we should all be doing anyhow. But to me, that’s what full-blown industry best practices are all about.

    1. Hi Alan, I’ll try to explain my approach, twitter is not the best place for it.

      I agree with you that in SEO nothing, or few things, are 100% right or wrong and if there is any indirect benefit of a technique, ok, go ahead but in a list of tasks to improve the SEO of a site title attributes in links won’t be in top of stack.

      You know how much takes to IT guys to implement recommendations so I try to go first for the more important ones and leave the ones with so few benefits to when some time available.

      1. How I could forget to mention? I did test adding and removing links tittle attributes in a site changing nothing else to isolate effect an nothing changed that’s why besides what Google and Vanessa says I think they are useless from SEO point of view.

      2. Ani,

        I agree that we need to prioritize tasking and sometimes we can only do what we think is most important.

        Given how many other ways automated seeding can be used where those other methods are clearly higher value, that’s what I encourage everyone to think about when it comes to this article. No need for us to get hung up any longer in the link title issue. Personally, I’ll continue to use link titles from time to time as a very low priority addition, and only in moderation.

  17. Congratulations Michel – you’ve discovered Super Extra Special Bonus SEO Technique #739! Yes – whenever possible, I like to embed automatically seeded content directly in the main page content.

    This at least mitigates the reality that site administrators / clients are usually terrible at remembering to include keywords when they write.

    Of course, the biggest challenge is in coming up with content that can be replicated without going overboard on duplicate content issues, and that in turn means that you may just have to force word count minimal requirements on data input forms.

  18. So you owe me a link, eh? How about doing it with a worthwhile inforational purpose for your readers? a product review about a new product that gives the same fire power to small businesses than the largest of the largest companies out there? I’m talking way better than WordPress and its myriad of plug-ins or Yahoo Merchant.

    Can you feel the pitch coming?..take a deep breath…

    Ann did a post recently on a commercial SEO CMS, and I was courting her to do a follow up comparative post by reviewing our open source and free alternative. It is very easy-to-use, and build websites with. There’s no back-end admin area, all content edition happens on the page itself.

    As you might have guessed I love automation, and I believe that with http://www.seotoaster.com our team has built the most advanced SEO CMS out of the box.
    It features automated Java Script based link sculpting and point and click link silo building. It also does automated deep-links, automated image tagging, automated 301′s…and what’s quite unique is that you can remote SEO control and market all your websites with an optional subscription to http://www.seosamba.com (our business model). You can private label it too if you’re an agency.

    Bas at seachcowboys has done an early review for the European crowd but somehow, no U.S SEO website has stepped up to the plate. Maybe the SEJ readers readers would like to read what an automation professional has to say about it?

    After all we built it with all the SEO’s and their small business clients in mind…
    And btw, if SEJ has not granted you the correct access level by then, I authorize you to pull images, with the proper alt, from our site ;-).

  19. Michel,

    I’d say that your comment is a LOT more in -depth than I was intending to go as far as a mention in an upcoming article. AND you got two links in there. So uh, I’d say we’re more than even. :-)

  20. Thats not fair, the deal was that the right guesser gets mentioned in an article (and taking your experience in that thought it is more than: “hey look that btw.”).
    Its like these guys who are willing to bet, not willing to pay after they lost.
    And btw. a link in the comments is not the reputation you own!

    ahh… forgot: Nice Article!

    1. Hanz,

      you make a valid point, so Michel, I’ll honor the original commitment and mention you in my next article, including a link. I won’t, however, be a full blown endorsement. No offense, it’s just that I don’t endorse products I don’t use, nor do I wish to turn one of my SEO articles into an ad.

  21. Hehe nice move Alan.
    Think i will follow you now- you have done a great work here and it seems you are worth following… see you in the next comments section

    @Michel Leconte
    for supplying you with a link maybe i earn a little reward?
    what about linking back to my site? btw. considering using your advertised product for the next website to try it out

  22. Thanks indeed Hanz. Once you have your website toasted, shoot me an email michel at seosamba.com and we’ll get you on our website of the week list with a qualitative optimized inbound link as you can see here: http://www.seotoaster.com/yahoo-merchant-alternative.html .

    Thanks Alan for reconsidering your position. I’d be delighted with whatever you do, but as you can see from Hanz comments, keep in mind there’s increasing interest for a fair and detailed review of http://www.seotoaster.com …I saw it coming up in related searches actually.

    Ken, you might not have answered the super tricky question, but you’re certainly the funniest guy in the room, and in this trade it does speak volume. I know now where to send clients to when looking for a SEO expert in Chicago.

  23. Alan- Great, focused article. The time and determination it took to layout your thought process- much respect. We always have a difficult time working with already established e-commerce sites that are development/structure challenged. Now I’m trying to find a reason why I just spend $24.95 on a SEO book…it’s all right here. Thank you Alan. I just started following you and I’m glad I did.