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How to Do Technical SEO for Ecommerce Websites

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How to Do Technical SEO for Ecommerce Websites

Ecommerce is one of the fastest-growing sectors and is often perceived to be dominated by the likes of Amazon and Walmart.

However, with appropriate marketing strategies, small ecommerce websites can also get their fair share of customers.

That’s where technical SEO comes in. It is crucial for improving your online store’s searchability.

Here are 20 technical SEO tips that will help increase your web traffic and generate more sales.

1. Site Structure

The site structure should make the content easily accessible to visitors. Keep important pages no more than three clicks away from the home page.

The ideal site structure should be:

Homepage > Categories > Subcategories > Products

You can avoid adding subcategories in smaller sites. Make sure each product belongs to only one category or subcategory.

Similarly, your URL structure should also be clear and consistent.

  • Good URL: www.example.com/brand/category/product_name
  • Bad URL: www.example.com/brand/nsalkjdhsfha

For example, if you are selling a Samsung Galaxy M30 smartphone, the URL should be:

www.example.com/samsung/smartphone/Galaxy-M30 ‎

or

www.example.com/Smartphone/SamsungGalaxy-M30 ‎

However, try to keep the URL length under 160 characters.

2. URL Structure

The structure of ecommerce URLs can get pretty messy. There are all sorts of tags and weird-looking codes that come into play.

Here is an example of an ecommerce URL that could use some work:

poor ecommerce URL

Ideally, you want the URL structure to be extremely easy to read and give the user a crystal clear idea of what the page is all about.

Now, this is certainly easier said than done. I would recommend following these formulas:

  • Category pages: yourwebsite.com/category-name (category page)
  • Subcategory pages: yourwebsite.com/category-name/subcategory-name
  • Sub-subcategory pages: yourwebsite.com/category-name/subcategory-name/subcategory-name
  • Product pages: yourwebsite.com/category-name/subcategory-name/subcategory-name/product

Say you sell groceries online.

Here is what your ecommerce URLs might look like:

  • Category page: yourwebsite.com/snacks
  • Subcategory page: yourwebsite.com/snacks/cookies
  • Sub-subcategory page: yourwebsite.com/snacks/cookies/oreos
  • Product page: yourwebsite.com/snacks/cookies/oreos/double-stuff

As general guidelines for ecommerce URL structures:

  • Keep it as short as possible
  • Use your focus keyword
  • Clarify the hierarchy
  • ALWAYS use hyphens to separate words (not underscores)

3. Sitemap (XML/HTML)

There are two types of sitemaps: XML and HTML.

In the way of ecommerce SEO, each has their own roles, strengths, and weaknesses.

HTML sitemaps are generally created to help shoppers navigate the platform. XML sitemaps, on the other hand, are there to ensure that the search engine robots can properly index the URLs throughout the website.

XML sitemaps are generally more straightforward and used to make the site’s information more readable for machines.

These sitemaps are a list marked up with XML so the search engines can quickly decipher what a page is all about. Here is how most XML sitemaps look like:

XML sitemap

For SEO, XML sitemaps serve as an invitation to crawl a URL.

Now, having an XML sitemap is NOT a guarantee that a page will be indexed – it’s more of a recommendation of the pages you want the search engine bots to crawl.

Additionally, XML sitemaps do not showcase the authority of a page. In contrast to HTML sitemaps, the URLs listed do not pass on link equity and are not a catalyst to improve search rankings.

These sitemaps are typically produced by developers. In an ideal situation, they are generated automatically on a weekly basis to (hopefully) improve the index-ability of your pages.

HTML sitemaps are much easier to understand at first glance. These are meant to enable more options for users to navigate the platform and dive deeper into the site.

As a result, the pages are put in a better position to see SEO benefits. Here is how an HTML sitemap looks like:

HTML sitemap

HTML sitemaps can be valuable for several key reasons:

  • If the current navigation on your website is limited in the pages to which it can link.
  • If the current navigation or an aspect of the website is inaccessible to search engines.
  • The pages linked to the HTML sitemap are important and need a link that is more visible higher up on the website – support pages, FAQs, etc.

Essentially, HTML sitemaps are another form of internal linking. While the benefits won’t be huge, having one on your ecommerce site will help a bit.

4. Log File Analysis

The process of log file analysis involves downloading files from your server and importing it to a log filing tool.

This ideally provides you with information about every interaction with your website – bot or human.

From here, it can be analyzed to better inform SEO-related decisions as well as pinpoint unknown issues.

Perhaps the biggest SEO benefit of log file analysis is to show you how your website’s crawl budget is being used.

Typically, the higher the authority of the domain, the higher the crawl budget will be.

Even though it can’t directly impact the crawl budget your site gets from the search engines, log file analysis can do a lot to optimize the way this budget is utilized. This is done in several ways, including:

  • Identify the URLs that are crawled most frequently, and optimize accordingly.
  • Find client errors and remedy.
  • Pinpoint orphaned pages that are not visible during site crawls.
  • Highlight slow-loading pages to be sped up.

5. Crawl Budget

The number of pages on your site which Google search bots will crawl on any given day is your crawl budget.

Low crawl budget can lead to indexing issues affecting your search rankings. Owing to their large size, most ecommerce websites have to optimize their crawl budget.

You can use the Google Search Console to check your crawl budget.

To improve your crawl budget:

  • Optimize your overall link structure.
  • Increase the number of backlinks.
  • Remove duplicate content.
  • Fix broken links.
  • Update your sitemap regularly.

6. Crawl the Website

You can use tools such as Screaming Frog, SEMrush, Ahrefs, and DeepCrawl to identify and fix a variety of HTTP error issues including:

  • 3XX redirection errors.
  • 4XX Client errors.
  • 5XX server errors.

You can also identify duplicate or missing page titles, image alt text, H1 tags, or meta descriptions using this crawl.

7. Canonical Tags

Sometimes, large ecommerce sites have product pages reachable from multiple categories. Such situations often lead to different URLs with the same content.

To avoid this, use a canonical tag. This simple HTML element will tell the search engine which version of the URL should be crawled and shown in the search results.

You should proactively use the canonical tag on the homepage as homepage duplicates are quite common in ecommerce sites.

8. Robots.txt

Robots.txt are files that indicate that a page or section of a website should not be crawled by search engine bots.

Using Robots.txt serves a number of purposes:

  • Blocks pages that are non-public – like login pages, forms, or ones that contain sensitive information.
  • Maximizes your crawl budget – block unimportant pages.
  • Prevents resource pages from getting indexed – PDFs, images, etc.

These days, most websites do not use Robots.txt – as Google has gotten pretty good at finding and indexing the most important pages on websites.

However, on ecommerce websites, there are a few types of pages in which it’s wise to use Robots.txt files. These URLs would likely involve the following:

  • /cart.php
  • /checkout.php
  • /finishorder.php
  • /*login.php

9. Redirect Out-of-Stock Product Pages

Most online stores have a few pages with out-of-stock products.

Although taking such pages down is the usual norm, doing so can lead to a 404 error, which in turn, can negatively affect your search results. Besides, most visitors find the 404 error annoying.

Instead, you can redirect the URL to the next most relevant page.

If the product is gone for good, use the 301 (permanent) redirect. If not, you can use the 302 redirect, allowing Google to continue indexing the URL.

10. Duplicate / Thin Content Issues

Duplicate content and issues with thin content can spell serious trouble for the SEO of ecommerce websites.

A common reality is that the search engines are constantly refining themselves to reward websites that offer unique content of the highest quality.

It’s surprisingly easy for duplicate content to exist on ecommerce websites.

This can often be caused by technical issues with the CMS and code-related factors. These issues commonly involve pages related to session IDs, shopping cart pages, internal search results, and product review pages.

Thin content, on the other hand, refers to pages with very little or no content. These commonly include empty product descriptions, test/orphaned pages, and thin category pages.

Because thin content is not good for the user experience, it can be a huge culprit that can bog down the quality of your website (in the eyes of the search engines).

In turn, this can seriously inhibit a website’s ability to rank highly on relevant searches.

For both thin and duplicate content, this is where you need to use canonical URLs to help the search engines understand that there is only one version of a page that should be indexed.

11. Fix 3xx, 4xx, 5xx Errors

HTTP status codes are a server’s response to a browser’s request. When someone visits your website, their browser sends a request to your server, which then responds with a three-digit code.

Of the five most common status codes, the first two aren’t typically big issues.

  • 1xx – The server is processing the request.
  • 2xx – The request was completed successfully.

The next three can be problematic.

  • 3xx – The request was received, but the user got redirected elsewhere. Includes 300, 301, 302, 303, 304, 305, 306, 307, and 308 errors.
  • 4xx – Client error. Page not found. This means a request was made, but there was an issue on the website side. This one commonly appears when a page doesn’t exist within a website. Includes 400, 401, 403, and 404 errors.
  • 5xx – This means the request was made, but the server failed to respond or complete the request. Includes 500, 501, 502, 503, 504, 505, 506, 507, 508, 509, and 510 errors.

These HTTP status codes are very important to assess the SEO and health of your website.

Google bots treat these codes differently in terms of how they crawl and index the pages on your website.

While most codes don’t necessitate an emergency, 3xx, 4xx, and 5xx are ones that need your attention.

12. Rendering

Rendering of a website involves URLs being processed for JavaScript. This happens after the URL is crawled.

There are generally two types of rendering that take place on websites:

  • Client-Side Rendering (CSR).
  • Server-Side Rendering (SSR).

Client-side rendering relies on JavaScript executed by the browser via the JS framework. The client will request the source code, then make a second request for the .js file – of which contains all the HTML in JavaScript.

While in server-side rendering, the processing of all of a page’s resources that are housed on the server. A page gets requested, then the HTML is delivered to the browser, rendered, downloaded for JS and CSS, then appears to the bot or user.

If pages aren’t properly rendered, this means they won’t be indexed adequately. In turn, they won’t be ranked appropriately on the search engine results pages.

13. Page Speed

Page speed has been a ranking signal for a long time.

Also commonly referred to as “page load time,” page speed refers to the time it takes to display the content on the browser from the time the server receives the initial request.

The faster the page speed, the better it will ideally rank on searches.

You are wise to routinely test the pages of your ecommerce website with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.

Google’s PageSpeed Insights sample report

This will show you the load times, as well as what is bogging them down. From here, you can adjust your pages accordingly.

14. Structured Data

Structured data can be used to enhance the products of an ecommerce website in the search results in rich snippets. In turn, give it a better chance of ranking highly.

This data provides the search engines with extra details which can work to improve visibility, click-through rates, and outrank competitors. Common forms of structured data to include are:

  • Product name
  • Aggregate rating
  • Price
  • Availability

Adding these schemas to your product page will ideally display the mark-up to the search engines and improve its chances of ranking for a related query.

To use structured data, you need to embed the content pertaining to the product between the itemscope itemtype =http://schema.org/product> and the tags. From here, put the product name within the area and in the tags.

For the product ratings, you need to add a section to the code to contain this variable. This markup should look like: itemtype=http://schema.org/AggregateRating”>tags.

Lastly, you need to build a section that indicates the price and availability inside the itemscope itemtype=http://schema.org/Product>.

Here is an example of what the schema should look like:

sample schema

15. HTTPS/SSL

HTTPS and SSL pertain to the security of your website.

An HTTPS/SSL tag indicates that a website is secure and the connection is encrypted.

If you see a green padlock in front of the URL in the search bar, this means the website has an SSL certificate.

HTTPS

About five years ago, Google rolled out algorithm updates that favored HTTPS websites.

While this was subsequently claimed to be a lightweight ranking signal, it’s important to note that 50% of Google’s page one organic search results feature an HTTPS website.

Think about it – if you visited an ecommerce website and it had the blaring “Not Secure” sign next to the URL, how likely would you be to fork over your credit card information?

Do your website and your visitors a favor and get an SSL certificate!

16. Mobile Usability

In July of 2019, Google switched to a mobile-first index. This means that Google will see the mobile version of a website as the baseline for indexing and determining rankings.

Combining this with the fact that mobile commerce is growing exponentially year after year, there is no longer an excuse for ecommerce websites to forgo mobile usability.

Retail Mcommerce Sales Worldwide

In the process of implementing your ecommerce SEO strategy, you need to consider several crucial configuration factors:

  • Responsive design
  • Dynamic serving
  • Use of separate URLs

In regards to the mobile-first index, there are a handful of best practices to follow:

  • Use structured data
  • Use correct canonical tags
  • Make sure Smartphone Googlebot can access your site’s pages
  • Use equivalent text, images, and videos for both mobile and desktop versions

17. AMP

The AMP Project (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is sponsored by Google and defines a clear standard framework for quick-loading mobile pages.

These standards essentially inhibit developers from using components that delay loading times – such as advertising tags.

In regards to SEO, we all know that Google loves fast-loading pages; using AMP can work to boost your pages’ mobile rankings.

Additionally, as what should come as no shock, Google search ranking algorithms prefer AMP pages.

AMP, however, can cause problems for ecommerce websites. AMP is typically best for static web pages; meaning it can cause problems on dynamic ecommerce pages that involve JavaScript features.

The truth of the matter is that AMP and ecommerce pages do not work well together – at least not yet.

While there are alternatives, it’s recommended to hold off on AMP for the time being.

18. Use the Latest Technology

This should go without saying.

We live in an age where cybercrime is an everyday occurrence – sadly enough.

Ecommerce websites can be extremely vulnerable if they are not upgrading their systems, security, performing updates, etc. on a regular basis.

Always remember, cyber attackers are working around the clock to find holes and weak spots in the current ecommerce technology.

This is why the major platforms like Magento, Shopify, BigCommerce, and so on are constantly working to refine their systems.

Even though the price tags on the most cutting edge ecommerce technology may be steep, it’s nothing compared to the potential cost of a data breach – which comes with side effects like loss in customer trust, poor reviews, and a slew of other nasty problems.

19. Platform Migration

To follow up on the last section about using the latest ecommerce technology, this will likely involve a platform migration – at some point or another.

When you carry out this task, you need to be very careful to avoid losing SEO value. In this process, there are many precautions to keep in mind:

  • Generate a list of ALL existing URLs – This is to ensure you can properly reference and redirect pages during the migration.
  • List down which changes will occur during the migration – Changes in menu navigation, breadcrumb navigation, site hierarchy, URL naming conventions, etc.
  • Build a list of new URLs that will be implemented on the new site.
  • Create a redirect map – Cross-reference all old URLs with the new ones once the site is migrated.
  • Make note of all manually-built links.
  • Create a list of your top-performing pages.
  • Keep tabs on your search rankings.

Once the new site is launched, make it a point to monitor and crawl the site to ensure everything has been cross-checked and there are no blaring errors.

20. Use of Google Search Console/Google Analytics

Hopefully, you are already watching your GSC and GA data like a hawk.

In terms of an ecommerce site, you should always be looking at Search Console for data about your most profitable keywords, your best/worst performing pages, and how many inbound links you are getting.

In terms of Google Analytics, some of the most important trends to watch involve how people are finding your ecommerce website (and converting).

For instance, if lots of people are finding your online store via Facebook and Instagram, this is a sign that running ad campaigns on these platforms to boost traffic (and hopefully, sales) would be a smart move.

Additionally, ecommerce website owners should always be keeping a close eye on their bounce rate and conversions. If you are getting tons of visitors, yet have a high bounce rate and few conversions, this is a sign that your SEO efforts are driving in the wrong traffic.

Insights on these two platforms are the lifeblood of how you grow your ecommerce website.

If you aren’t already, be sure you’re checking up on them every day!

Wrapping Up

Ecommerce sites need to consider several aspects of technical SEO.

The key here is to identify and resolve the SEO-related issues right there and then to avoid disastrous consequences in the long run.

Hopefully, the 20 essentials mentioned in this checklist will prove to be great starting points to get your technical ecommerce SEO in order.

Give them a try and see if your website will drive more sales conversions.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
All screenshots taken by author

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Manish Dudharejia

Founder & President at E2M Solutions Inc.

Manish Dudharejia is the President and Founder of E2M Solutions Inc, a San Diego Based Digital Agency that specializes in ... [Read full bio]

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