I’ve worked with over 35 Ecommerce sites on multiple different CMS’s from well known and widely used to very niche. I’ve worked with drop shippers, health supplement companies, clothing companies, florists, iPhone case companies, macbook decal companies, floor tiling companies and always the problems are the same.
There is no exception.
Regardless of your industry or vertical, if you are selling products online you should be thinking about some key elements of your ecommerce site.
In over 3 years of SEO here are 18 of the most common problems I find in ecommerce sites.
1. Bad product descriptions.
No product description, thin product description or duplicated product descriptions. Even product descriptions from the manufacturer.
Without quality product descriptions and useful, crawl able copy your products will never rank in the top 10, even for less trafficked terms. It is absolutely crucial to write quality product descriptions. You can outsource this to a copywriter for penny’s on the dollar by how much you would be making from organic search visits after the descriptions are in place. An engine can’t read the images that you have represented on your product page unless they have descriptions, so if that’s the only content you have, you have essentially net zero.
Write actionable content such as clothing sizes charts, where the products are made, how they’re made, their unique traits, how soft is that shirt? Things of this nature will help the shopper but also help you get indexed. It’s a win-win.
Don’t use duplicated content from other stores and definitely not the manufacturer’s site. Using these will only hurt your rankings and give you no chance to be better than the person you copied them from. They make you look spammy and essentially use someone else’s branding.
Use descriptions that could be shared! Bonobos does an awesome job of all of this and takes it the extra yard;
They not only give the Color, Detailing, Fabric, Rise, Thigh, Waist, Care, Inseam and Finish information on their pants but they also talk about world domination and “Simpsons” reruns. That’s the kind of creative that gets you shared, it’s also the kind of goofiness that gets read. It’s the human element that search engines want to see and it’s the problem solving content that users need.
2. Lack of product reviews.
Lack of product reviews, bad representation of product reviews or no semantic markup to represent those reviews to the engines.
Product reviews are an easy way of injecting a large amount of content into your product pages. Amazon has facilitated reviews with massive scale (average products that are worth anything might have anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 reviews) and have seen drastic results in effect. By setting up systems to judge and represent the reviews in a smart way (such as “most helpful” reviews batched into a list of three with a “read more reviews” button) you can inform your users very quickly and get them moving through the buying process.
Nearly 70% of users are reading reviews of products before buying, this makes it even more crucial for you to represent your own before the user just pops over to Amazon, reads their reviews then buys it over there.
It’s user generated, so it’s essentially free to you once you build the system to represent them. It also refreshes the content of your product pages, breathing new life into them and giving Google something to crawl on it’s next run through.
3. Not optimized for typical search queries.
Optimized for the product name, not the product type. Use model numbers, brand names etc. Instead of things people will actually be searching for.
I had to tell this to a florist client of mine the other day, “People aren’t searching for ‘a beautiful sunshine’ when they’re looking for flowers, so don’t use your product name as your key search indicator.” People don’t care about the name of your product unless it’s an iPad, you need to optimize the vision of your product before you can worry about people returning for that product. If they are looking for a certain product specifically by name, they will find it. Sometimes it’s a nice occurrence that your product name is also the direct search term like “Stargazer Lilly Arrangement.” That just works.
Target the type of your product, so if your product’s name is “A Summer Sunshine of Lilies” target lilies, not the summer sunshine bit. Use model numbers in your title tags, brand names, things that people will actually search for. If you’re selling TV’s chances are a lot of people search for the model number of the individual TV’s. Facilitate that based on your niche.
4. Keyword stuffing product pages.
Stuffing the product description with keywords instead of actionable content, sizes, fitting, usable details.
This ones is simple enough, don’t stuff product pages with useless keywords. There is a difference between being cunning, giving actionable content, helping the user and stuffing a boat-load of spammy keywords just to be noticed. What do you think will happen even if the good graces of o-holy Google shine upon you? Users will hit your page, see that the content is BS and probably bounce when it doesn’t help them in any way.
5. Lack of image alt text.
Not providing image alt text can be seriously fatal but really easy to miss. You gain too much from alt image texts to let them be ignored.
If you think about the real content pieces you have at your disposal, the real sizable content pieces, your images are chief among them on an eCommerce site. You have titles, descriptions, reviews and images. A lot of images. Optimizing the alternate image text of your images can take a bit more work but it’s an easy way to target direct search terms and give the engines some great context on what those blocks of content are all about.
6. Lack of unique titles.
Duplicate content, titles from manufacturers, not search friendly, even spammy.
The title tag of a page is Google’s biggest indicator of what that page is all about, as Ogilvy used to say “When you’ve written your headline you’ve spent 80 cents on the dollar” which basically leads me to say, it’s really damn important you get this right.
Don’t use duplicate titles from other pages on your site, this will hurt your chances for any of your pages to rank. Don’t use titles from manufacturers, as mentioned before it will only give them better credit, could potentially get you penalized for duplicate content from a more reputable source and may come across as spammy.
Feature your product’s type as discussed in the “search queries” section above instead of the direct name. Use model numbers if you’re in a suitable niche, make it stand out from the crowd that appears on the front page, but for a good reason.
7. Lack of SEO and user-friendly URLs
This is an issue on products, and breadcrumbs on categories. Item numbers or cat-id’s instead of actual product and category names that can be easily keyword targeted and understood by both users and engines alike.
User friendly URLs help the consumer know where they are as well as engines know what they’re reading. Make sure you optimize this. Category Ids are not anywhere near as valuable as a keyword-centric category name.
People would much rather see “/mens-pants/bootleg-mens-white-linen-pants” than “/cat-13/product-65424?pants”
It gives the user a better sense of where they are, sends of a ton of trust indicators that are really undervalued by many retailers online and can easily be taken advantage of.
8. Thin content on the page.
Not enough substantial content that actually gets used or consumed, or that is crawl able by the engines.
Images, description, meta descriptions, related products, reviews, related blog posts, ebook style guides etc. All of these can be taken advantage of. Just because it’s a product and you just want the user to hit that “add to cart” button, that doesn’t mean ignore they’re buying process. Forest for the trees.
9. Lack of sharing functionality.
No +1, like, tweet, pin, email or stumbleupon buttons on the page. This can be costly especially if you have products that are targeted at the tech crowd. Know personas to decide which network to feature.
Find the persona that is most likely to share based on your core offerings. If you’re selling cooking wear, cooking guides, furniture and housing products you might represent a “Pin” button, as most of those personas live on Pinterest. If you’re selling Macbook Decals or iPhone Cases, maybe a “Tweet” button, as tech-goers and general Apple users tend to live on Twitter.
If it’s a bonkers poster, or just something really loopy, think about a Reddit or StumbleUpon button.
Tie in your specific audience to feature the button that you think is most suitable to them. You don’t want to spam your page with share buttons because that can dilute the core call to action of your “add to cart” button, so simplify using personas.
10. Lack of sitemaps and robots.txt.
The lifeblood of crawling on your site. You need automated sitemaps that update as your products update and pages are added. This ensures that your new products, categories and content gets indexed as efficiently as possible and that it’s crawled in the most opportune path.
Most good ecommerce CMS’s, such as Shopify, offer automated sitemaps, or plugins for automated sitemaps. Make sure you have something of the sort in place for your clients. Moving products and categories around, adding products, removing products, this puts a lot of strain on crawlers. Make sure you have a constantly adapting sitemap.xml in place that can keep up with your changes on a daily basis and give Google a clear crawling path.
11. Lack of a blog and content-driven internal linking.
Product featured posts, buyer guide posts, product upkeep posts, and linking to those posts from product pages and category pages.
Product featured posts are a killer way to improve your organic search volume! What can’t you get in with your product description? Use that as a blog post. Create buyer guides, create evergreen content based around your products, but ones that even users who don’t buy your stuff will need. Product upkeep posts are a perfect example of this. For my florist clients I’ve helped them make “Care guides” for flowers, “How to keep your flowers alive using vodka” is an easy one. These can be widely shared, highly usable to anyone who searches, you can feature your own product with a linked image or even a represented “buy now” product hover.
Link to related posts from your product pages and categories. This can help give users information about your products to inform them a ton before they buy. It can help give information where your reviews may lack. Typically users who read a blog post about a product are 50% more likely to buy that product. Take advantage of that, write about all of your products. Throw them into your content calendar and get writing.
12. Lack of crucial technical elements.
Proper canonicalization, 301 redirects etc. Read more about onpage SEO here.
Don’t use dynamic URL’s like the ones discussed above, avoid using parameters as much as possible, use dashes instead of underscores, use all under case letters in the URL, don’t use URLs based on time (IE: 2013-flower-arrangements) ESPECIALLY on category pages.
Don’t let your homepage redirect from the root, make everything stem from there, otherwise you will have a hard time ranking for anything, your links will be sparse, Googlebot will have a fun time trying to crawl your site, your social shares will be massively out of whack, things will just be a mess.
Keep it clean and use your main root domain. Don’t link to anything but your homepage from your site’s logo. Don’t stack redirects. Use 301 redirects to take users over to a different category if the category moves. Use rel=canonical to align duplicate categories. Use Google Webmaster Tools to fix duplicate content that stems from multi-page variations in categories etc.
13. Slow page load speeds.
Product pages taking too long to load, too many large on page images.
Use sprites for your images to make them load faster.
Keep your source code light, keep things clean and fluid. U
se Google’s Pageload Speed tool for specific instructions on what needs to be cleaned up.
14. Lack of schema markup.
Product reviews, star guides etc.
Use Schema.org – a collection of HTML tags that Google has adopted to improve the display of their SERP’s – to better represent product page information within the search engines. Schema provides markup tags for products, reviews, ratings and other objects.
With this information you already generate certain trust levels with the consumer, increasing click through rates and minimizing the questions that they will surely have once they hit your page.
15. Lack of content heavy category pages.
Category pages are the perfect place to put guides, links and other information that can help the buying process.
This is a common mishap, categories are a prime hub for content! They are the perfect place to put product guides, buying guides, related blog posts etc. Guide your users to buy with information. The more you convince through information the more likely they are to buy so don’t waste their time and give them what they want.
16. Lack of persona-driven buying pages.
Focus in on your target personas, what their common gripes might be while buying, what problems they may have, what decisions they may need to make, focus on that and create content based around that to point your buyers at exactly what they’re looking for. You know what is the best solution to that answer, but they may not.
If you can understand your users down to a case-by-case buying persona for certain products you can help give them all the information that is suited to them and easily funnel them to buy the product with informed consent. Think about how Google wants to show you only information that related to you (Google+, local targeting etc.), If that’s the case, they will surely show your users the information that they think relates to them the most. So should you (and in doing so, you will rank for those users in the long-run).
And example of a persona I could picture is someone looking for minimalist running shoes. They might be trying to switch to minimalist running shoes from traditional running shoes and wondering what the differences are or what the benefits may be. They also don’t know much about the best minimalist running shoes or the history behind them, as they’re used to traditional running shoes. They don’t know what key-points to look for, so give them an 80/20 approach for what to look for.
You could represent a “category” type page based on minimalist running shoes, show a video of the difference between minimalist running shoes compared to traditional running shoes. Put up links to the most popular brands of minimalist running shoes based off of sales (New Balance, Merrell etc.) then give the key points to look for – rise and drop of the shoe, weight of the shoe, trail or road shoe etc. Related blog posts such as the history of minimalist running shoes, the benefits of minimalist running shoes etc. Then represent 3 of the top best seller running shoes on the page.
If that page doesn’t convert then I’m Fred Astaire, and I can’t dance.
17. Lack of physical location information
This is a common issue for eCommerce stores with a brick and mortar location.
If you have a brick and mortar location it’s imperative that you include that address in your footer. If you have multiple, have a zone guide somewhere on your site, have a headquarters labeled in the footer. You need to include that data because Google will rank you far better for those locations and you can dominate locally relevant search queries.
This is definite advantage that local brick and mortar stores have over online-only stores. If you don’t offer anything at your physical location, market where your stuff is made. If it’s “made in the US” that can be a staple of it’s own credit.
18. Lack of a strong, dynamic CMS.
A strong, dynamic CMS can make all the difference between a painful eCommerce experience and a dream-inducing one. With some systems all of these practices above will come almost standard (except for the content obviously) mainly technical though.
My absolute favorite Ecommerce CMS is Shopify. It’s bar-none my favorite I’ve personally ever worked on. It handles pretty much every SEO element for you from a technical perspective so you can focus on your content and products. It also has a very broad theme and plugin directory much like WordPress and a beautiful user-interface with an integrated analytics dashboard. This helps to see at a glance how your site is performing.