The 5 Biggest SEO Mistakes in E-commerce
E-commerce puts the spotlight very clearly on the marketing of a product. For customers to be assured they’ll receive their orders promptly, an online shop has to rely on a variety of its core processes working well together. One major contributing factor in ensuring a shop’s success as a channel for marketing is a sound investment in search engine optimization. This does not just mean working on the technical side of your on-page aesthetics – checking that your products and categories are well-structured and perfectly described, too, is an absolute must.
Being successful in the complicated field of SEO is really dependent on a number of factors. Luckily, we’re going to show you the biggest five mistakes you could make – as well as showing you how to avoid making them – if you’re looking to get your products ranked highly on those search results.
1. Dealing with Out-of-stock Items
“Product X is out-of-stock, with the next delivery due to arrive in two weeks. Until the delivery is here, I’ll take the product offline.”
Google places some high demands on the quality of the search results: This search engine’s algorithm can only reward optimized pages when they remain online. Remember: if a product page is offline, then it only exists in the search results as a page that can’t be found. This means that instead of finding useful search results, the user just gets an error message, equating to a negative experience of your site. Generally speaking, this means that they’ll not be return visitors, and the overall result is that the page will be quickly thrown out of the search index.
Putting the page back online once the product is in stock is not without its issues either, however. If your product was previously found using the search term ‘Product X’, don’t assume that this is necessarily the case now. The search engines will have to re-assess your product page. They’ll need the capacity to understand your pages again and to evaluate where your site and its search term should appear.
The possible solutions are simple, and luckily, they will also work in your favor when it comes to customer relations. So rather than taking a product page offline, make sure you display an estimated delivery time. You could also, for example, create the possibility for your clients to bookmark a product and send your customers an email when their desired product is once again online. This is not only good service, but it also enhances the relationship between your customers and your shop. Customers will inevitably feel taken care of and will prefer shopping in your online shop if it means not having to search for their desired product again.
Quick Tip: Remember to pause your Adwords campaign when your product isn’t in stock. Forgetting to do so will dramatically reduce the performance of your campaign.
2. A Product in Many Categories
“I’ve got a product that fits into many categories. I’ll make sure it’s displayed in all of them.”
A logical category structure is the basic essential of every shop. It’s not only customers who have to find your site easy to navigate, but important search terms have to be incorporated in your site too. While it’s tempting to create a new category for each of your search terms (and their synonyms) and it’s inviting to put the products in each applicable category, it’s unlikely this will work in your favor. Remember – if your customers just find the same products in each category, they will quickly become frustrated and regard the whole visit to your site as a waste of time. Don’t overwhelm your customers with a multitude of categories. Ensure they enjoy their experience on your site.
Sometimes, it is, however, profitable to put products under a number of categories. In such cases, pay careful attention to the URL structure:
* If the URL contains the category name, it’s important to designate a main category to the product. This main category will be built into the product’s URL, ensuring the product can be found under this specific URL. Not doing so will result in the creation of “duplicate content,” meaning that the search engines won’t be able to recognize which of the URLs is the most important for placing your product in the search results.
One solution is to duplicate the product and then to individualize and adapt the text of the duplicate. When you do so, the search engines won’t recognize the product as a double.
* If the URL does not contain a category name, rather just the product name, then avoid the duplicate. Remember to think carefully about usability and logical navigation on your site to ensure that using your site comes easily to clients.
3. Implementing Standard Metadata
“Metadata? But no one really even knows what to do for the best anymore. Everything changes so quickly. It’s great that my shop’s software tells me exactly what to do.”
Ask 10 SEO experts on the importance of metadata for search engine optimization, and you’ll get 10 different answers. This is confusing, to say the least, and the majority of online shop owners will resort to simply following everything their shop’s system dictates. The metadata per article and category will normally include the title, description and keywords. There’s also often the opportunity to provide standard metadata.
When you use standard metadata, your system will generate duplicates of the title, description and keywords. These elements are then used by the search engines to differentiate your products and categories, so using the automatically generated data eliminates any possibility for this differentiation. In the worst case scenario, these pages won’t just receive a worse placement in the search results; rather, they’ll be categorized as duplicates.
A further issue brought through reliance on the shop system arises when the headline of a page, i.e., the category or product name, is also used for the meta title. Such a function limits the fine tuning possibilities of a website, especially when the title or headline has to be changed.
The metadata is the advertising platform for the search engines – these are the titles and descriptions that provide the elements displayed in the search results. These elements shouldn’t just put you above the competition; rather, they should immediately attract customers searching for your products. Make sure you invest in suitable, unique metadata – it will pay off.
4. Marketing Products via Affiliates or Partner Shops
“We’ve also initiated a partner program. This is a good opportunity for us to increase our status and profit without too much work.”
Making sure that your products are available in a number of partner shops will increase profits as well as brand awareness. This fact has led many shop owners to embark on affiliate partner programs, making their product information available to their affiliates in XML files.
This is problematic as here, once again, the issue of duplication comes into play: If the product information is taken directly from the original shop’s site, then identical copy will appear on the affiliate’s site too. Don’t forget – the search engines will only credit one of the two sites. The ideal solution, in this case, is if the affiliates create their own descriptions to market the products.
My recommendation: this does involve a little work. Make sure you’ve got an alternative description for every single one of your products, and ensure it’s a different description to the one on your site. By doing so, you’re avoiding the dangers duplicate copy brings, and you’re securing your position in the rankings.
5. When the Data Name Depends on the Article and Category Name.
“When we started our shop several years ago, we didn’t really think about the terms and titles on our site. Today, there are a number of them that I don’t like, and ideally, I’d like to change them.”
It’s not unheard of for online businesses to change a product’s name or correct an error in a description. There are, however, shop systems that will then automatically also correct the name of the product everywhere on your site. The consequence: depending on the configuration of the shop system, the old product – which ideally will once have received a good ranking – will no longer be detectable under its new, corrected, name. Users, as well as the search engines, will land on an error page. Renaming categories will have even worse consequences as renaming a category inevitably means the URLs to many products will also be altered at the same time.
Before you go ahead and change the names of articles or categories, make sure you’ve consulted a site technician or developer. If you do happen to change the URL, have a redirect in place for the old URLs. Where possible, though, do avoid creating new URLs. Change article or category names carefully, not too frequently and never just because you don’t really like them anymore. Change them only when absolutely necessary.
Individual texts and reasonable diligence are the key factors when it comes to SEO-focused product maintenance for a successful online shop. Think carefully about your working processes and keep these five points in mind. Make sure you invest a little time and energy in the optimization of each product,and you’ll soon find that it pays off!
About Birthe E. Stuijts
Birthe E. Stuijts is the owner of ranketing GmbH and since 1996, she’s worked on the development of search machines and online marketing. Supported by her team of 10, she takes care of a number of KMUs and global players in the world of SEO and SEM.
Birthe E. Stuijts knows how to deal with the speed at which this industry develops, knowing that nothing remains as it once was for very long. She ensures her knowledge and experience in this area is passed on in various lectures and workshops on the topic.