Working on ecommerce SEO can be a big challenge, purely because the scale of the sites means that more things can go wrong. Whilst this is not a comprehensive list of everything you need to look out for in an ecommerce SEO campaign, here are some of the top things to look out for.
1. Manage your crawl budget
Crawl budget has become a bit of a buzz-word in SEO in recent years, with many interpreting it wrongly and implementing poor practice based on misguided advice. For most websites, you won’t even need to think about crawl budget, but this is not the case for eCommerce, where relatively small issues can have big implications.
What is crawl budget?
Crawl budget can be defined as the number of pages on your website that get crawled by search engines in a certain time frame. For this, you need to consider how many pages are being crawled per day and how often they are being crawled. Ideally, you want all of your important pages to be crawled as often as possible. Here’s 2 examples where it might be an issue:
Say you have 10,000 important pages in your site and Google is crawling your website 10,000 times a day then happy days, right? But if those crawl events are only happening on the top 100 pages then that means 99% of the site hasn’t been crawled today and that can be a problem.
If you have 10,000 important pages on your website and Google is crawling 100,000 non-important pages a day then this is also a problem, as attention is being taken away from the pages that you want to rank.
You want your most important pages to be crawled regularly so search engines fully understand your site. Crawl budget issues resulting in inefficient crawling of the site can potentially hurt your site.
How to identify crawl budget issues
Before you go and make wholesale changes to your site,
you should establish if there is an issue first. The best place to start is Google Search Console. There are 2 reports to look in for this; Pages and Crawl Stats.
The Pages report is a great indication of how many pages on your site Google is aware of. Not all of them present a crawl budget issue and some of them indicate that your site is set up correctly for this purpose. But some of them show that your site has an excess of pages which are being crawled regularly but are not important.
These excess pages which are not indexed may still get crawled regularly by Google and can divert attention away from the important pages on the site. In most cases its not a problem, but the greater the number the bigger the problem.
To find your crawl stats report, go to “Settings” and then “Crawl stats”. This is a summary of which pages have been crawled on your site and what status codes they are. For crawl budget purposes, we are looking for the average number of pages crawled per day.
Once we know how many pages Google is aware of, and how many pages are being crawled per day, we can then use that to get an idea of whether or not there may be a crawl error issue. If the number of pages being crawled per day is only a small fraction of those which Google is aware of then this means that there’s a risk your important pages are being ignored.
How to fix crawl budget issues
There are a wide range of solutions for crawl budget issues, here’s a few which will have some big results:
- Improve site speed – it takes time for search engines to crawl and index a page and this is impacted by how long it takes for the page to load. The faster a page loads, the more time crawlers have to crawl the rest of the site. Even modest improvements to site speed can have a significant impact on how many pages get crawled.
- Correctly configured robots.txt – in this file you can tell search engines which pages on the site you want them to ignore. This is a really easy way to ensure that they’re only crawling pages you want them to.
- Manage parameters properly – parameters in URLs often happen when filters or sorting options are activated. When these options are combined it can exponentially increase the number of pages that exist in Google’s eyes. Knowing how to prevent these getting out of control is important for managing crawl budget.
- Improve internal linking – giving search engines a helping hand will always help. Therefore, make sure that your important pages are well linked to maximise the chances that crawlers will find them without any hassle. Also, avoid having internal links to broken or redirected pages as this can slow down the crawling of the site.
2. Keep the structure simple
Ecommerce sites can get really big, really easily so organisation is essential. The goal is to make it as easy as possible to know where about you are on the site at all times and to know where to look to get to the information you need. Being able to understand where things are on a website whilst removing any ambiguity or confusion not only helps search engines understand your site better but provides a better customer experience too.
Imagine a large ecommerce site with no subcategories. Every category would be a direct child of the homepage and the structure of the whole website was completely flat. Sounds horrible doesn’t it? Proper categorisation of a website becomes more important the larger the site gets and allows customers to know where to look when searching for a list of products. For example, if you’re looking for a maxi dress on a large fashion site, the logical journey would be “Women’s Clothes > Dresses > Maxi Dresses”. This looks super simple and makes pages easy to find. Here is a super basic version of how you would want an ecommerce structure to look:
We can only accommodate children 14 years and above – we are not able to have additional beds in any of the rooms.
We no longer accept group bookings without prior discussion, if this is attempted online, without agreement, your booking will be invalid and cancelled.
As well as improving user experience, a solid website structure also helps search engines to understand the website. Having relevant pages grouped together in this way not only makes it easier for search engines to crawl the site, but also establish if you are a trusted seller of a particular product.
One aspect to consider is category naming. A customer (and search engine) should find it easy to find the page they’re looking for. However, sometimes parts of a website can be difficult to define as part of the overall structure. Therefore, it can be tempting to group them under a category such as “Essentials” or “Miscellaneous”. Names like these tell us nothing about the pages contained within and could reduce the relevance of these pages to search engines as well as ruining user experience.
As websites get larger, it can be difficult to know the best place for categories to be placed. As a result, it can be tempting to duplicate categories to make navigation to them easier. One problem with this approach is that it takes twice as much time to manage these product listings, and sometimes 2 pages with the same name can look different.
From an SEO perspective, search engines need to know which page to rank for a search query and they need to spend as little effort as possible making that decision. This can result in the wrong page ranking in search results as well as impacting how well a page ranks.
Avoid category duplication as much as possible. If a page absolutely MUST be in more than one part of a website, use the same page and link to it from multiple locations.
As with duplicate categories, a common occurrence with eCommerce sites is to have multiple products targeting the same keywords. Often, there will be a number of options available for products, such as colour, size or customisation. Fashion websites tend to handle this quite well by allowing you to choose the size and colour of a product within the product page.
Other industries struggle with this, such as perfume. For example, if you have 2 products for “Dior Sauvage 60ml” and “Dior Sauvage 100ml” how will Google know which product to rank for the keyword “Dior Sauvage”? Where it gets complicated is that there will be significant search volume for each size, which can make it tempting to have separate pages for them. But this could impact the potential to rank for the primary keyword. This should be avoided unless it is a specific part of your strategy.
3. Navigation isn’t just about the main menu
Many make the mistake to assume that the navigation of a website is defined primarily by the main menu. Whilst the main menu is important, there are many other ways to navigate a website that should not be neglected, such as:
- Site search
- Good categorisation
- Links to similar products
- Breadcrumb navigation
- Category to subcategory
- Internal links within copy
It’s important to remember that different people have different preferences on how to find what they’re looking for. Users of your website need to be able to navigate to any page with the minimum of fuss so having a range of options available to get where they’re going is important.
For search engines, it is also important to be able to find all pages on a website and understand where they sit in the overall architecture. Well thought out navigation on multiple levels will help them to do that.
4. Have a solid content strategy
A blog or content hub is always recommended for an ecommerce site and can be really powerful. A well thought out content hub could have the following SEO benefits for your website:
- More traffic
- Increased brand awareness
- Improved conversion funnel
- Better internal linking
- Improved topical authority
- More diverse link building options
However, its really important not to create content for content’s sake. Content that does not have a purpose or is not well written or briefed could actually have a detrimental effect. Conversely, a blog with very little content can look unprofessional.
When creating a content hub, you should have a long term strategy and a clear goal for every piece of content being written, such as how you plan to use it to drive traffic to the website.
5. Structured data
When crawling your products, search engines need to be able to find critical pieces of information to understand the pages, including:
When crawling 1000s of pages, this can be a challenge to automatically gather and organise all that information so that it can be used to decide search results. Wouldn’t it be great if you could take a short cut and just directly tell search engines what they need to know on a page? Well, with structured data markup, you can.
This is basically a snippet of code on the page that tells search engines what they need to know about your content without having to find it on the page first. This makes indexing your pages a lot faster, which is handy when there’s a lot of them.
Want to know more? Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Structured Data.
6. Monitor issues
As mentioned in the introduction, the larger the website the greater the chances that things can go wrong. Another factor to bear in mind is that its not just the SEOs who will be working on these sites, there will usually be large teams of people with all sorts of different jobs working on them and most of them won’t be thinking about SEO when they do. Therefore, there’s a lot for you to keep on top of.
Here are some (not all) of the common SEO issues that can slowly creep in on large eCommerce sites:
- Pages going offline
- URLs being altered
- Duplicate pages being created
- Orphaned pages
- Typos in link URLs
Frequently monitoring your site for these issues is important to ensure that your website’s SEO performance doesn’t suffer.
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