Technical SEO is perhaps the most important of the “big three” page, often times seems as the most difficult aspect of SEO in general in part due to the many moving parts as well as the need for a certain degree of competency and implementation of the code. This difficulty is often compounded when dealing with e-commerce websites. However, it’s important to obtain enough degree of competency in maintaining the technical SEO health of your e-commerce site to ensure that the search engines properly crawl your site and that you are optimizing your store for rankings.
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Below are 8 actionable tips you can take to make sure that your technical SEO is on point and that your site remains in good standing in the eyes of Google.
Preventing Duplicate Content
Duplicate content, pages that are exactly the same with the exception of the URL, is often a huge a problem when it comes to technical e-commerce SEO due to the many filters that e-commerce stores typically have when it comes to products. Choosing variations of a products size, color, quantity, etc.; often times generates a new character within the pages URL string. Google will see this as duplicate content, and you will be able to see as such using a web scraper of your choosing. It’s important to fix this for a few reasons. The most salient being that it can have a negative impact on your websites crawl rate and by extension, your websites rankings.
The accumulation of thousands of useless pages generated from filters on your websites product and category pages means that Google is going to spend an inordinate amount of time crawling these useless pages instead of crawling the valuable pages you want to ultimately rank in the search results. You can think of this as “cutting the fat” and making your website “leaner”.
You can fix this issue by blocking these pages from Google’s crawl via a disallow directive within the robots.txt file of your website, or by applying a canonical tag towards the main URL of the page that you ultimately want to be ranked.
Implement Schema Markup
Click-through rates weigh heavily when it comes to ranking factors, and being able to entice
searchers to click on your page from Google’s search results page is particularly important when it comes to e-commerce. This is why you should be implementing JSON-LD schema markup, or “structured data”, to your product pages. A schema is nothing more than snippets of code placed on the backend of your product pages to incentive searchers to click on your listing by giving them a “preview” of what’s on the page. The type of schema that you want to implement is the “product” schema on your product pages. Doing this can dramatically increase your click-through rate, which will, in turn, increase your sites rankings. You can implement schema by using a plugin with your particular CMS or getting a developer to do it for you.
Establish proper site architecture
Establishing and maintaining an organized site architecture not only provides a good user experience for its visitors but also makes crawling your website a whole lot easier. This is particularly important for e-commerce websites, as you don’t want your most important pages ( product pages) being a bunch of clicks away from the homepage. Ideally, the “deepest” parts of your website should be no more than 4 clicks away from the homepage for satisfactory site navigation not only for your visitors but search engine crawlers as well. You want to establish a “flat architecture” on your website, making sure that you reinforce the architecture using keywords that you want to optimize your website for.
Establish a process for the removal of product pages
If you are running (or have run) a big e-commerce site, you know from first-hand experience how easy it is to accumulate 404 errors. Products are constantly being added and removed, and if you don’t have some sort of streamlined process in place to deal with this problem, the 404 pages just start racking up. This not only negatively affects user experience but also your crawl budget and the indexation of your website as well. One of the ways in which you can combat this problem is by making sure that your XML sitemap dynamically updates itself when you add or remove pages to your site. Another way is to create a custom 404 page that links to other categories and/or products that are like the product that was once there. That way, you are preserving any potential “link juice” by linking out internally to other pages, and you are also helping to maintain good user experience by navigating potential visitors towards similar pages of interest.
There are many plugins you can use for custom 404 pages depending on your CMS. There is also the option of having one made for you manually.
Optimize product images for search
One mistake people often make with their e-commerce sites is failing to optimize their product images for image search. With the rise of image searches on Google, this is a mistake you cant afford to make. This is particularly important because if you operate in a competitive vertical and your product pages aren’t ranking well, you have the opportunity to rank more competitively in the image searches for your products if you optimize and mark them up strategically. This entails making sure you are using keywords that you are targeting the file names and alt tags. I find that many e-commerce website owners and SEO specialist alike forget the importance of image searches and that a considerable amount of traffic can be generated via people searching through Google images.
Make sure you track your image rankings within Google Search Console.
Compress images for site speed
At the heart of the idea of establishing a good “user experience” is site speed. One of the number one killers of web rankings is less than stellar site speeds and if your website takes less than a few seconds to load, a significant percentage of your visitors will ultimately end up bouncing which will have a negative impact on your rankings. One of the major sources of low site speed that e-commerce site owners face stems from uncompressed images. Since you are running an e-commerce site presumably with a lot of products, compression of your images should be of utmost importance. It is important to use some sort of compression tool to make sure your images are being compressed and that they aren’t dragging down your site’s overall performance.
You also want to make sure you are regularly using a site speed tool such as GTmetrix or Google page speed insights to make sure your site loads in satisfactory time.
Eliminate Redirect Chains
Managing thousands of pages on your e-commerce website is a herculean task in itself and often times leads to technical errors around certain directives either being used improperly or being overused. Redirect chains, a situation that arises when you 301 redirect a page to a page that also has a 301 redirect, can easily start accumulating when dealing with thousands of pages. This invariably leads to two vexing problems that have negative implications for your website. The first being that “link juice” won’t be properly distributed throughout your site due to more of it being a loss with every successive redirect in the chain. The second being that it contributes to low overall site speed, taking longer for your pages to load.
You can eliminate redirect chains by identifying them using a scraper (e.g screamingfrog) and then handing it off to your developer to fix.
Get Your Store Acquainted With AMP ( Accelerated Mobile Pages)
Most of the visitors to your store are going to be via mobile, and this percentage is only going to increase in the future. With that being said, it’s important to optimize your store from a mobile point-of-view, and that entails making sure it loads fast enough on mobile and deliver’s a pleasant user experience. Setting your store up with AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) can help you achieve this. AMP allows site owners to deliver bare, stripped down versions of their pages, drastically cutting down on the load times of pages. You want to make sure that you have the most important pages of your e-commerce site (home page, product pages, category pages, etc) integrated with AMP. Start with the most important pages of your purchase funnel first and then expand outward.
You can set up AMP pages via a plugin offered on your particular CMS or you can have a developer set it up for you.
In conclusion, I hope I elucidated the importance of maintaining good technical SEO enough for you. While there are many other things you need to be aware of concerning technical SEO as an e-commerce site owner, the aforementioned mentions above are great starting points and should be of utmost importance when it comes to your technical SEO priorities.
Mike Griffin is a Digital Strategist for iDisk SEO, a Digital Marketing agency that specializes in full-service SEO. An e-commerce lover, Mike enjoys reading up on anything related to retail and the emerging technologies within the space.