Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) can be difficult to understand for any business or organization, but SEO for enterprise e-commerce sites is on a level all its own. There are so many layers to large e-commerce sites; splash pages, product roll(s), product details, comments, reviews, etc... that when everything is taken into account, properly optimizing even one product page can take hours.
Combine the laborious nature of optimization with the likelihood that site changes are being made by others and you will find that often time situations complicate and become more challenging. Having multiple site admins can lead to real headaches when admins don't understand search or SEO, and the larger the site the larger the problem you may have, no matter the organization. This is especially so with the constant changing of search algorithms and consequent strategy alterations.
In a world where the ramifications of even miniscule site changes can have a huge effect on traffic and online revenue, detail and expertise matters. E-commerce sites are fighting viciously- sometimes cheaply- for Google and Bing rankings, proper title tags, image (ALT) tags, URL structures and even meta descriptions could be the difference between ranking first organically or not even making the first page.
To offer some insight and helpful tips, let's take a look at one of ThoughtLab's SEO campaigns for a large e-commerce site (and one of our favorite on-going clients), www.blendtec.com.
Backstory: Blendtec makes and sells amazing blenders. You may know them from the incredibly successful “Will It Blend?” YouTube series. Blendtec has been remarkably successful at selling their blenders through Costco and other brick and mortar retail location stores. They also created a large e-commerce operation, which itself sells millions of dollars worth of blenders annually.
This is was the genesis of their SEO problems. At the time, when you searched “Blendtec”, the companies own name, their site www.blendtec.com, was being outranked organically by Amazon AND the big box stores that sell their product. They tried to solve this problem internally and with 2 SEO firms in the years preceding their relationship with ThoughtLab. None of the previously hired firms were able to get results for Blendtec, but we knew we could help.
After some diligent analysis by ThoughtLab’s Director of Search Marketing, Matt Lord, we were able to formulate a strategy that rendered incredible results. A few hard months in the ThoughtLab team was able to get Blendtec back to the top of the organic search results for their own name and improve their overall search results drastically. Traffic went up over 100% for www.blendtec.com and had a hugely positive effect on the high margin B2C side of Blendtec’s business model.
On large e-commerce SEO projects there are numerous challenges, but I wanted to provide a few major problems we encountered with Blendtec that can help you build a simple checklist to improve your own SEO. These are common problems for large e-commerce sites & large website alike:
1) URL Structure
A well-crafted URL should make good semantic sense.
Best practice for the anatomy of a URL is as follows:
This is vitally important when dealing with an e-commerce site with a large collection of products and categories. Intelligent organization of wireframes in the early stages can pay dividends further down the ranking road.
One of the most important points to address in URL creation is keyword relevancy. A semantically correct URL is much more likely to be preferred by SERPs due to the keyword appearing logically in the URL. Just like with title tags, URL keywords play a large part in computing rankings.
2) Designing URL structure for anchor text link building
A well-crafted URL will serve as its own anchor text when embedded in forums, blogs, or any other similar online arena. This makes link building much more organic and safe from future algorithm updates that may address anchor text link building.
For example, isn’t brand.com/broadkeyword/longtailkeyword much richer than brand.com/longtailkeyword?
3) Micro data & schema.org
Micro data is a form of semantic mark-up designed to describe elements on a web page in richer detail. This mark-up can be combined within HTML to define an item type with the use of associated attributes.
Micro data had a huge boom last year. When used correctly it can greatly enhance the CTR of a page (between 10-25%).
Pages with correctly implemented micro data take up much more real estate in the SERPs by including ratings, images, pricing and more directly in the search result.
In addition to capturing a searcher’s attention, micro data provides greater information to search engines, improving a search engine’s understanding of the relevance of your website’s content to a user’s query.
Here’s an example of schema mark-up implemented correctly:
When implemented correctly, micro data can be a very powerful tool.
Are you using micro data correctly? Go to the Structured Data Testing Tool (http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets) and run your site to scan for errors.
Due to the dynamic and evolutionary nature of technology and the web, sites grow, domains change and sub-domains are added. It’s vital that all domains and subdomains correctly redirect to minimize the chances for duplicate content and keep all of your links in one basket.
Some examples of common redirect issues are as follows:
Resource: How to create301 redirects in various programming languages (http://www.webconfs.com/how-to-redirect-a-webpage.php)
4.1) HTTPS Redirects
Another common problem with large e-commerce sites is https and http. If you are using site wide https (and it is advisable that you do) make sure that the http version of your site cannot be reached in any internal links, images, etc…
A dramatic scenario we encountered with a recent client was 4 versions of their homepage!
It is also important to make sure that your sitemap does not reference any http pages, and be sure to claim all four versions of your site (http://www http:// https://www https://) in webmaster tools and set the preferred domain.
4.2) Using a new URL structure to link build and outreach
To ensure any ‘link juice’ is not lost, it is always advisable to reach out to all webmasters linking to the old URL and ask for a new fresh link. You can find a complete list of URLs linking to your site by searching through Google Webmaster Tools/Moz/Ahrefs etc…
Not only will this help you achieve more anchor text rich links and check for lost links, but also rekindle relationships and potentially create more opportunities for community outreach, endorsements, interaction, and most importantly of all, keep your brand’s link profile alive and vibrant.
5) On-Page Elements
An in-depth discussion regarding all on-page elements to be considered ranking factors is too great to discuss here, but as a checklist, ensure you make every webpage ideal by doing all of the following:
- Include a subject keyword in title tag
- Include a subject keyword in URL
- Include a subject keyword in image alt text
- Refer to a subject several times throughout content
- Write unique and engaging content
- Link back to the product category page
- Link back to the subcategory (when relevant)
- Link back to the homepage
As with any major site structure change, URL anatomy or site content, it’s important to generate a new sitemap.
Google crawls your site by following internal links, which is why it’s very important to have an intelligent wireframe and internal linking structure in place. With larger sites that have a complex structure, a sitemap can help Google crawl more of your content.
Not only will the submission of a new sitemap prompt Google to crawl and index all of your hierarchical changes, it can also help you take up more real estate when a user searches for your brand. So you get this:
Instead of this:
Obviously constant SEO updating and search management is a challenge- especially for large sites and e-commerce operations. For local businesses or boot strapped startups SEO is a surmountable problem- one that the diligent entrepreneur can see great rewards from. Smaller SEO projects can typically be managed effectively with a bit of homework (like this!), strategy and execution. On the other hand: 100’s or 1000’s of web pages properly search optimized (with each and every page working effectively in a cohesive strategy) is a mountain of ongoing work- albeit one that can have HUGELY positive effects to revenue.
I hope you enjoyed the piece! Please feel free to share and comment.