Compared to regular websites, online stores pose many more challenges in terms of their optimisation and subsequent search engine optimisation because of their form. This optimisation is the particularly important step, as its incorrect implementation shall block the effects of other SEO activities and of link building. Why are online stores so demanding?
This is caused by the high number of sub-pages, some of which generate weak or duplicate content. Additionally, the store software has to handle a large number of products and users, as well as take care of functionality, resulting in additional challenges to the Google robot. Similar problems are faced also by large information websites, advertising websites or yellow page and product catalogue websites. Below, I will try to point out the important factors, which should be taken into account during SEO optimisation of such websites.
9.1 Ensure cohesion
9.2 Look for unique features, adjust prices
9.3 Check out the competition, analyse
9.4 Take care of your Social Media image
9.5 Use marketing automation
9.6 Cooperate with influencers
You have certainly often read that search engine optimisation requires high quality, unique content. This rule also applies to online stores and poses one of the biggest challenges.
If a store offers thousands of products, how is it possible to describe them all with unique content? This is not about products only, there are still category sub-pages and the home page.
The master rule says: at least every sub-page should have unique content. If you want the page to be valuable for Google – if you think it should be displayed to search engine users – it must contain text. Otherwise, it should be removed from the index.
Of course, it is sometimes impossible to take care of, even in a store with thousands of products, the descriptions of which are collected from the wholesale company or from the manufacturer. Time and resources are limited. You must remember though, that your competition has the same descriptions and it may result in Google considering that your page has duplicate content and lower its position in search results. Thus, I would like to suggest the following strategy:
I always suggest looking at market moguls, namely at stores of leaders operating in this difficult sector. As of the time of this paper being written, Zalando.pl has up to 7,000 characters on category and sub-category sub-pages. Analyse this aspect, check out how much content is there on the pages of your competitors.
The idea is important, too – remember that the prepared content should be useful to the user. Advices or encyclopaedia-type content is a proven solution. The rule is simple: any meaningful text is better than no text.How much content should I prepare?
Online stores are characterised by large numbers of sub-pages, translating into challenges, such as product and category presentation on the pages. Today, displaying a part of the offer by presenting links to sub-pages presenting other products is a standard. This is the so-called pagination. It is a standard commonly used for years, but not always well implemented in terms of SEO.
Remember about what I wrote above: each and every sub-page should have unique text. Pagination pages are also sub-pages, which means that content preparation for all such sub-pages requires tremendous work. If we do not provide sub-pags with unique text, we either violate the thin content rule or duplicate content. How to handle this, then?
My experience suggests the following solution:
Another rule that works well (especially if the given piece of software does not allow the canonical, next, prev tags to be implemented) is to insert robots="noindex,follow" in pagination sub-pages (with the exception of the first page, of course).
The product search engine on the page of your store is another element which may lead to incorrect page interpretation by Google. If entering any phrase generates a unique URL, it may be indexed by Google (again, remember the unique content rule!).
How it can be fixed? The best solution is to enter robots="noindex, follow" on the sub-pages of the search engine. This signals Google that the particular sub-pages should not be indexed, by the robot may still follow the links leading to sub-pages.
Before starting a store think which keywords may be entered by your potential customers searching for products in your offer. Try to make the names of individual categories as precise as possible and as often searched as possible.
Naming categories in a manner convenient to store owners is an often-encountered mistake. This does not always match the search process applied by the users.
Some time ago we have optimised one of the online personal care stores. Initially, the store tried to gain a good web search engine position with general phrases: “Intimate care”, “mouth care”. An audit revealed that customers do not enter such words in the search engine windows. Instead, they look for names of specific products. Thus, we quickly replaced the names of individual categories with specific product groups. The “mouth care” was replaced with “toothbrushes” and “toothpastes”. This quickly led to better results and the page became more visible.
As I have already mentioned, content is something that we need to take care of when creating category sub-pages. Each sub-page of any website offers positioning using 5-10 key phrases. Make sure that each of them is provided with a solid dose of high-quality text. This rule especially refers to those sub-pages with products you want to sell the most. Owners of large stores often prioritize actions on page this way, filling product sub-pages with content which are considered as the most attractive for the business.
SEO with a long tail
Do not forget about the so-called long tail. This is optimisation with the highest possible number of different, but thematically related phrases, e.g. “toothbrushes for small kids”. The long tail is used i.e. during promotion of highly competitive products, where the main keyword is difficult to optimise efficiently. Although it is the stick that has two ends and not a tail, the rule is exactly the same. A long tail should be used carefully, as it is easy to overdo it. Make sure that the used phrases do not impact the functionality or legibility of published content.
The content you present should also be provided with internal links. Internal links help achieve two goals: navigation through your virtual store becomes easier, and the page is optimised better. If you provide names of specific products or categories in your texts, add the relevant, direct link to them. Google robots consider it a positive signal, reinforcing the position of your store.
Valuable links related to your store are one of the keys to a strong position with Google. In addition to links being present in texts introducing individual categories, I recommend starting a blog. It seems that soon most of the top organic Google search results will be based on compendium-type pages and offers will only follow suit. Then it is a good idea to promote our products in a valuable way. If you sell the toothbrushes, your potential customers will certainly be interested in an article dedicated to: “How to select a toothbrush for an infant?” or “How to store toothbrushes?”.
Remember that your users are at different levels of the sales funnel. Some people have an issue but do not know how to solve it. Others know what the problem is but do not know which product to use for it. These people enter various keywords in Google, and these keywords are unlikely to be names of products or store categories. If you write a blog with advices, it is quite likely that you can reach those people before they think about the product you are selling.
This is a fairly archaic example, but there are still many online stores making this simple mistake. Generally, store sub-pages should not generate URL addresses indexed by Google robots. For example: if the basket on the store page receives a generated, unique URL, the search engine may deliver thousands of low-quality pages, resulting in a significantly lowered rating of the target store page.
Some time ago the so called “dotpaygate” made a lot of noise throughout the Polish Internet. There was a circulating screenshot suggesting that transactions made using the service in question are indexed by Google and everyone can easily access customer data. This fake news (as it turned out to be later) became viral and spread throughout the Internet. In the end it turned out that there was much ado about nothing and indexing was the result of the users themselves making links accessible and this example proved well how disastrous can such “URL carelessness” be.
The correct structure of the page code and legible architecture are not enough if you do not take care of several significant, “soft” issues. Here are some of them worth considering if you start an online store.
Avoid multiple topics in your store. It is much easier to sell narrow product groups in e-commerce rather than all kinds of possible bric-a-brac. If you run several businesses and sell car parts and children toys, for example, start two separate online stores.
Avoid combining sales of products from two unrelated sectors within the same site. It is quite unlikely, after all, that a customer looking for brake pads would be tempted to buy environment-friendly teething rings for infants. This is an extreme example, of course, but before starting a business, notice how your offers interacts and ensure the clearest possible layout for your offer. You can be sure that such a harmony, although difficult to achieve in the beginning, will eventually convert well and can help achieve better results.
Internet users are more and more picky. They gained significant experience over years and can find their way in the plethora of information and marketing offers. Studies published some time ago by Blue Media indicate that fewer and fewer of us pay attention to the price when buying products online. It is currently an important factor for 61% of the surveyed individuals and the same index had a value of 71% only two years ago.
Transaction convenience and a wide selection of payment methods have become much more demanded. Also ensuring convenient use is necessary nowadays and must be offered to all customers. Try using several price variants for selected products. It may be the case that even the smallest decrease of price may multiply the sales of the given product.
Numerous tools enabling comparison with competition and following trends in real time are available on the market (e.g. Brand24, BuzzSumo, or Senuto). They open the door to discovery regarding how Internet is used by your potential customers and what they are currently looking for online. Precise monitoring of such activities is an effective way of being a step ahead of the competition (although the competition tries to do the same).
Facebook, Instagram or Twitter may be valuable customer acquisition sources, as well as an excellent tool to build the brand awareness. In the beginning try to make sure that the image of your company is cohesive and communication using all social media channels matches the visual creation of your store (logo, colours, message style). Try targeting the content - you can select a specific age group, gender or location using most social media platforms.
Advertisements may be displayed e.g. as link posts, redirecting to the product page of your store. Studies indicate that a social media users are impatient customers, making decisions quickly and often driven by impulse, but also expect quick results of their decisions. Thus, make sure that the Internet user can easily find the product purchase button after being redirected to the product page.
The so-called carousel is a good choice to promote a wider selection of products using Facebook. This is a type of advertisement displayed as scrolling photographs. It enables instantaneous view of the entire offer. Conversion achieved using the carousel is significantly higher than using traditional, sponsored posts.
It is a wide and vast topic but should be at least mentioned. This new trend is gaining popularity. Marketing automation includes mainly matching precisely customer expectations You can e.g. prepare e-mail correspondence tailored to the individual needs of your customers.
The contents of your page may also be adapted to the taste of each customer separately. Thus, instead of a universal message, they receive exactly what they are looking for on the page of your store. For example a user who wants to buy toothpaste, will see not only an offer list but also a suggested link to a store blog article related to the impact of toothpaste ingredients on the health of teeth.
If a person, whose business is related to your sector operates online, maybe it is worth to use their renown and reliability in a cooperation?
Following my earlier example (of the personal care store playing the main part), it may be difficult to find someone vigorously describing their experiences related to teeth brushing. But we can certainly and quickly find female vloggers reviewing lipsticks and other lip make-up cosmetics. The relation to the offer of your store may be loose, based mainly on the creation and set of characteristics identified with the given person.
Writer Szczepan Twardoch, who once published a book on male style and classical elegance, is a good example here. He was not used by marketing specialists to promote books or cultural events, wherein such use could seem natural here. As a person related to the world of refined emotions and prestige, however, Twardoch became the face of a Mercedes marketing campaign, and recently promoted one of well-known banks.
This is an important factor in terms of functionality. If your page loads quickly, the user will stay on the page and use your store. Is it important in terms of optimisation? The opinions vary. We have experienced a situation, in which the page loaded for a long time and web search engine positions did not move. But this does not mean that the element may be neglected, as the user making the purchase is always at the end of the line. You should make everything to make the purchase easier for the user.
In the case of online stores, product photos should be adjusted to the displayed size. It is sometimes the case that the loaded graphics are very large, occupying server space and connection bandwidth, and are displayed significantly smaller. This can be felt during browsing of store categories. In such situations, it may be a good idea to upload the photos to the server in the displayed size, or – if the server can handle this – apply software resizing of the photos to the required size.
Talking about the server, we should pay attention to its availability. Namely: how quickly does the server respond to our queries and how quickly does it process our website. These two elements are very valuable for the store loading speed.
This is one of the parameters influencing the position. By placing keywords in it, we can influence better positions for given products or categories. URL addresses also influence indexing and ensure better understanding of the page. This means that a store with a fairly deep category and sub-category structure should think about the structure being cohesive and easily understandable to a robot and to a user. It would be ideal that the architecture of categories and sub-categories looks as follows:
But this is not always possible, for example due to programming limitations. Solutions of the following type are often used:
where XX and YY are some ID numbers.
This is nothing bad, many e-commerce solutions (just to name PrestaShop) generates such s URL addresses without impact on positioning.
It is much less favourable, if the store generates incohesive addresses, as may be the case with WooCommerce, e.g.:
Google and the user may get lost in the paths here. Attention should be paid to what is displayed in the higher-level sub-pages, e.g. www.store.pl/product/ or www.store.pl/product/category and check whether duplicate or thin content are present.
Owners of online stores may display additional information in web search results about products such as price, opinion or availability. This offers the opportunity to stand out amidst the competition.
If this is the case, you must use schema.org tags and introduce them to the HTML code of the product template. schema.org tags enable Google better understanding of data available on the page by a Google robot. We are able to provide the robot with information regarding which page elements are the title, the price or a product review. Most ready stores are provided with this functionality, sometimes it should be enabled or requires a plug-in.
In the case of a dedicated solution it is certainly worth the effort to make sure that the programmers implement this functionality in the online store. A look at schema.org may be useful (all schema tags are listed there) and offers an insight regarding whether more tags may be used. Google search results change all the time and add additional elements based on schema tags published on websites.
As we can see, the road to effective optimisation and positioning of an online store is full of challenges. Luckily there are methods and tools facilitating this task. Always remember to analyse continuously data provided by the customers. The knowledge of steps the customers take and how they use the store may be more valuable than many SEO audits. Check the time spent on the page and the rejection factor. Control remarks and reviews left on social media profiles. Such a reliable supervision combined with technical optimisation and positioning aimed at the Google search engine are a recipe for success of your store on the Internet.
Web search engine positioning of an online store offers a chance to increase the range and reaching target groups. This group takes part in various purchase stages and can visit your store discovering your products. SEO for e-commerce also means continuous work on code and content optimisation, but also on the offer. Efficient positioning of a store requires a few hours a week – in order to remain at the top of Google search results for multiple key phrases.