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site optimisationHaving spent the last 6 years Client side as Head of eCommerce and agency side managing digital marketing teams, one constant has been confusion in new platform builds over what a “search engine friendly” website actually is. 

eCommerce solution providers advertise optimised platforms and Clients demand search engine friendly sites; do both mean the same thing? Rarely. Client side eCommerce managers can confuse technical and content optimisation, leading to miss-matches between expectation and delivery. A technically optimised web platform does not necessarily mean that keyword planning and meta content optimisation have been carried out.

This blog provides a tick list of the core elements that you should specify in any RFP or ITT when scoping a new eCommerce platform. They act as a starting point for SEO dialogue, enabling you to push vendors on specific areas of optimisation expertise. Please note the list is not in any order of priority.

  1. 301 redirects to preserve search engine rankings 
  2. Avoiding duplicate content and use of the canonical tag where relevant
  3. Dynamically generate search engine friendly URLs for product and content pages e.g. www.yoursite.com/category-name/product-name instead of www.yoursite.com/productdetails.aspx?pid=037012&cid=144&language=en-GB
  4. Ability to specify / edit URLs for individual pages via CMS – important for campaign landing pages and microsites
  5. Support for linking of product pages and content pages to improve internal linking – should be delivered via the Catalogue Management tool or CMS
  6. CSS absolute positioning for text links on product list pages to ensure the first link for each product is keyword rich
  7. Dynamic XML sitemap that is submitted on a regular basis
  8. HTML sitemap that is auto generated based on your catalogue and site structure
  9. Support for rich snippets within platform – encoding of data in RDF format e.g. customer ratings & reviews
  10. Custom 404 error page and automated report to flag error pages so your internal team can take action (you can achieve this through a separate monitoring tool such as Indiabook)
  11. Robots.txt file is provided and you can access and edit when required
  12. Core provision for meta content (title, description, keywords) that is auto generated when you load new products and content pages and can also be edited easily from within the CMS
  13. Text links in navigation not images; if coders are using sIFR (flash replacements) push them for clarification on how this is being done to ensure it complies with accessibility standards
  14. Keyword optimised H tags within html for headings – structure for use of H1 to H6 to provide a relevant hierarchy of content
  15. Ensuring flash objects are search engine friendly
  16. Ensuring pdf content is readable e.g. captions for images, document meta data
  17. Graceful degradation – when elements like JavaScript are disabled in the browser, key content is still visible to search engine spiders/bots as well as to visitors
  18. RSS feeds to support product and news announcements e.g. deal of the day
  19. Page load time to meet agreed threshold but make sure you define how load speed is measured e.g. after all page elements have loaded – this factor will be included in Google’s algorithm in 2010
  20. Social media content such as blogs are hosted on your primary website domain using an SEO friendly blog engine (e.g. Wordpress is better than Blogger) - blogs usually sit on a sub-domain such as blog.yoursite.com to ensure you benefit from the search engine juice.

It is essential that your site specific SEO requirements are accurately documented during your project scoping phase to ensure you evaluate the relative optimisation strengths of potential vendors.

Please note that this checklist does not attempt to tackle bespoke areas of website optimisation that relate to business specific commercial goals. You may have more detailed needs for elements such as Google Sitemap (e.g. separate news sitemap) that will need thorough mapping. My recommendation is to make sure you have the essentials covered and then work with an SEO specialist (in-house or outsourced) to overlay the detail.

I would welcome comments and recommendations based on your own experience. Is there anything you think missing from this list?

James Gurd

Published 5 March, 2010 by James Gurd

James Gurd is Owner of Digital Juggler, an ecommerce and digital marketing consultancy, and a contributor to Econsultancy.He can be found on on Twitter,  LinkedIn and Google+.

49 more posts from this author

Comments (33)

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Andrew Lloyd Gordon

Andrew Lloyd Gordon, Digital Marketing Expert, Speaker and Trainer at New Terrain Limited

This is a fantastically useful list James! Thank you.

How common, in your experience, do eCommerce solution providers have all of your list covered? Or do you find you regularly have to point out areas of their offering that is lacking (from an SEO perspective)?

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Afternoon all

Andrew - glad the list is useful, one tries ones best....

In general, I would say that the mid tier (BTFresca) and top tier (ATG) solution providers are very good at delivering technically optimised websites "out the box". However, and this is a big however, the devil is in the detail - you need to understand how each element relates specifically to your business and make sure this is documented in the technical specification. It is rare that out the box functionality meets the exact requirements of a business - XML sitemap is a good example as a separate version for news is not standard.

Magento, though relatively new in the market and yet to see a major Enterprise edition UK implementation, has excellent out the box SEO coverage and a neat UI to update content such as meta tags and URLs.

Not all of this list will be de facto though - i've not yet come across a pitch where the canonical tag is talked about as part of the platform because you need to map out the content structure before you can define where this is relevant. 

My advice is work out what you need before choosing your platform partner. It is very costly to try to repair a poorly optimised site post launch and sometimes the platform won't cope with your demands.

Matt - cheers for the positive words. Your blog is on my list of catch up reading, so look forward to learning more about the js thing. Will comment if I know anything about it!

cheers

james

over 6 years ago

Andrew Lloyd Gordon

Andrew Lloyd Gordon, Digital Marketing Expert, Speaker and Trainer at New Terrain Limited

Thanks James for your further advice. Really useful.

I've already heard good things about Magento and will probably take another look at their offering.

And your point about, "It is very costly to try to repair a poorly optimised site post launch..." brings back some very painful memories :0

Cheers!

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Cal - yes spot on, can't believe I didn't put that in the list. I bow my head in shame.

Andrew - when thinking about Magento, take a look at Matt's post (link above in his comment) as there is some interesting stuff in their about the potential js issue.

Sorry to bring up painful memories, I find my consultancy services are really helpful to erase those memories:)

Thanks

james

over 6 years ago

Andrew Lloyd Gordon

Andrew Lloyd Gordon, Digital Marketing Expert, Speaker and Trainer at New Terrain Limited

Spotted the reference to Matt's post thanks.

No worries about bringing back painful memories. It was our own fault. Next time, I may just give you a call about your consultancy services :)

over 6 years ago

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John Santangelo

I think this is a fairly comprensive list for any company considering a content management system as well, not just limited to ecommerce.

over 6 years ago

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Lloyd James

Just picking up on the Magento SEO Comments really.  Magento 1.3.x was great and you could do a lot of SEO with it including:

  • Google Site Map
  • URL Rewrites give full control of URL's
  • Meta-information for products and categories
  • Auto-generated Site Map for display on site
  • Auto-Generated Popular Search Terms Page
  • much, much more

The newly released 1.4 version bring even more great features and improvements so it'll be great to see what people do with them.

over 6 years ago

Mike  Darnell

Mike Darnell, Social Marketing at Treepodia Ecommerce Video Solution

Hi James,

Great list!

while reading I was actually thinking that, considering how basic and useful this stuff is, it's funny one doesn't bump into "SEO Sanity Check" lists more often.

Regarding Magento - I've been hearing good things about the platform for quite some time and have had a number of contacts report that site remakes they've had made with Magento are doing significantly better SEO-wise. I also particularly like the fact that Magento is Open Source and so far have already seen over 1000 extensions built on top of their core - It speaks well for their adoption. 

For those of you etailers for whom the above tips from James are already a matter of course and are seeking to gain some extra SEO juice for your sites, I'd advise reading Mark Robertson's review of a new automated video creation and syndication system that we (Treepodia) put on the market last month: 

http://www.reelseo.com/harnessing-offsite-videos-increase-ecommerce-visibility/

Best,

Mike

@treepodia

(sorry if this got posted twice) 

over 6 years ago

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Garen

Man what good post James. I think we all can agree that getting eCommerce sites is a lot harder than getting a blogs, site, ect. Anyways, I am working on a clients site (which is) an eCommerce site. What other tips to do you to help get my clients store listed on Google?

over 6 years ago

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Clerkendweller

21. Verify your ecommerce platform can't be used to host malware

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Elena

Stop wasting people's time with spam - your links are all no follow on these blogs, so stop the lazy marketing.

james

over 6 years ago

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Mark Simon

Regarding #20 there is a slightly better practice than using a subdomain for your blog that is really easy to do with Wordpress most of the time.

Your blog should be a subfolder instead of a subdomain whenever possible:

http://www.yoursite.com/blog

Search engines view subdomains as separate sites while subfolders are part of the same site.

I would also recommend to 301 redirect the non www version of your site to the www as part of eliminating duplicate content. for example:

http://yoursite.com

should 301 redirect to:

http://www.yoursite.com

over 6 years ago

Richard Powell

Richard Powell, eCommerce Professional at Freelance (Directrix Digital)

Great checklist very comprehensive. Could you clarify for 20, does this mean that blog.yoursite.com is an acceptable domain for the blog, or that it should instead sit within www.yoursite.com/blog? In my experience the SEO unfriendly whitelabel model comes up often e.g. www.supplier.com/yoursite/blog. I've spent convincing my customers to put new website capabilities in their existing domain.

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Richard - I will take Mark's lead on this and open up the question to SEO specialists. 

Mark is suggesting that you add your blog to a subfolder on your domain rather than as a sub domain. I've always used the sub domain route but open to a better way.

My understanding was that the sub domain route is good because you can link the content back to your main domain to support link building. Especially useful when you are linking blog content to product pages.

Mark - good point about the 301 redirect for any non www. versions of the site - the other option is to use the canonical tag for these versions and let the search engines know that the www. is the primary version of that page.

Thanks

james

over 6 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

> Graceful degradation – when elements like JavaScript are disabled in the browser...

With the increasing use of AJAX - that aim, though admirable, is becoming in reality pretty hard to achieve.

Those sites that end up designing two versions - an AJAX and a non-javascript one - find that it is not a small cost in developer effort, and makes the site more vulnerable to glitches as the extra code complexity invites human error later on.

We've seen problems like different pricing or delivery charges being shown depending on if you browse with javascript on or off !

> Page load time to meet agreed threshold

Using page speed as measure of performance is becoming a Google thing - but you'll get it for free, if you focus on the higher level aim to 'maximise conversions' - by measuring multiple-page User Journey speed.

With AJAX  - each page can depend on previous ones (eg a site I know where page content is built from dynamic data including some shipped in javascript three page  earlier).

So it's the end-to-end journey that must be measured - not any page in isolation.

After all, your site makes money only when the whole flow for dynamic Journeys is working eg like say an Add to Basket Journey

* homepage -> click menswear
* menswear -> do a search at random (enter text for a random colour, random garment )
* search results -> click on one at random
* Product page -> choose a size+colour at random, click Add to Basket
* Basket: check correct product is there, STOP.

over 6 years ago

Jon Vlahhos

Jon Vlahhos, Manager at Coming

Garen,

What i have always done is this.

Because there are so many articles about Google SEO, from so many different sources I was getting confused. So I started creating a summary of Google.com SEO Guidelines (30page document), and have it on 1 page on my desk.

The summary is below. Look after each one and you will do better then most.

Regards JonHos.com

Create unique , accurate title tags.
   Deeper down the site it should reflect that particular page
   Brief but descriptive titles

   Make use of the "description" meta tag

   Meaningful URL's

   Make site easy to navigate


Create naturally flowing hierarchy
   Use text for navigation
   Use "breadcrumb" for navigation.
   Put a HTML and use an XML sitemap

   Have a useful 404

Offer quality content and services
  Write east to read text
   Stay organised around the topic
   Use relevant language
   Create fresh unique content
   Offer exclusive content or services


Create content for users, not for search engines

  Write better anchor text

  Use heading tag appropriately - H1 and then H2

  Optimise your use of images

  Make effective use of robots.txt

  Be wary of rel="nofollow" for links

 Promote site in the right ways
   Blog about new content or services
   Know about social media sites
   Add site to Googles Local business center
   Reach out to your site's local community.

   Make use of free webmaster tools at google.  

   Make use of webanalytics

=============

Jonnie

over 6 years ago

Gareth James

Gareth James, Freelance SEO Consultant at SEO Doctor

Re: the Blog...if you can get the blog on /blog instead of a subdomain, I would say this is better.  Subdomains can split your domains authority.  You see more and more brands moving away from subdomains, apple.com do a good job of this.

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Gareth

Thanks for the suggestion - it's good learning for me as when I previously looked at this the recommendation was on a sub-domain but now the concensus is on /blog on the main domain.

Thanks

james

over 6 years ago

Georgina Atwell

Georgina Atwell, Independent Digital Consultant at Magnocarta

James, I can't tell you how timely this is, thanks for sharing and will definitely check out Magento. Cheers G

over 6 years ago

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Kenneth B

Hi, I would like to thank you for this great post some really good information here and things to consider for those who are new to SEO. I would question 301 redirects preserving page rank, as there may be some change when doing this over a larger scale however this will be corrected once all the page juice is passed over but this could take anything from few day to weeks.

over 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Evening all,

Georgina, glad you have found the content useful, sorry the delay in replying!

Kenneth - you are right that 301 redirects aren't perfect but I've found that it is an essential part of site migration and at least helps manage the transition. As page rank becomes less important (some even argue it will be obsolete soon), I think a key challenge is to ensure you stay visible to customers. Redirects help you maintain visibility of your pages in the short-term until the new URLs are doing the job independently.

Thanks

james

over 6 years ago

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steve

Surely it just looks dodgy if you redirect a page. Why would you want to redirect some automatically and not just let them click a link themselves. If the page rank is passed on it seems a bit unfair as you are artificially increasing the importance of a page.

about 6 years ago

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Alayna Peters

Dear James,

Thank you for the brilliant information!

I am about to build an onliine gift store and I am struggling to decide which ecommerce platform to choose.

I am wary of Magento due to slow page load times and a steep learning curve for individuals who are not developers. Are these problems to be true in your experience?

What is your opinion of osCommerce, PrestaShop, Zencart and Virtuemart?

In relation to SEO, should stay away from any of the above?

I am leaning towards osCommerce, but I have been told that their SEO capabilities aren't the best?

Thank you for your help. I truly appreciate your help and advice, especially in these early stages.

Thank you for your time.

Kind regards,

Alayna

about 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Alayna,

Thanks for the comment and glad you found the blog helpful.

I am not an expert on each of the ecommerce solutions you list above though I do have experience of Magento. In my experience, Magento can be an incredibly good platform provided it is planned thoroughly and all the SEO levers are tackled upfront. Also, the Magento admin system is really easy to use and highly intuitive - I've had a look round account management, call centre, reporting etc and even I understood it!

Usually SEO problems with ecommerce builds arise when the right questions are asked at the wrong time, or not at all, and specifications do not include detailed requirements before they are signed off. If I was you, I would send an SEO scoping list to each of the potential platform providers and ask for their response to how they would satisfy each requirement.

Then go check some of their current websites - take a look to see how well the sites are ranking and how they support SEO.

From a development perspective, it would help to know someone who has knowledge of code compliance in relation to accessibility and adhering to standards like the DDA - push each vendor on their skill set and what they will do to meet these criteria. 

No solution is perfect, we're talking about humans and technology after all. However, if you ask the right questions, ensure the specs contain detailed requirements for all aspects of SEO (technical, marketing, customer experience etc) and have a clear vision for how you want the site architecture to support your goals, then you give yourself the best chance to have a well optimised website.

Thanks

james

about 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Steve,

Sorry missed your comment. If you are referring to 301s, then these are essential for informing search engines when URLs have changed. 

Also, why make customers take an extra click that is not needed? One of the aims of site journey optimisation is to get people to where they want to be as quickly as possible, minimising the click path. If your page has moved a 301 redirect achieves that whilst preserving your page juice until the new page starts to rank on its own merit.

You can go for the hybrid option and i've seen a few websites do this - customer lands on page and message says it will redirect automatically after X seconds, or you can click on a link instead.

I guess the final decision sits with the web owners on what they think will be best for their customers, though my preference is not to make people clck unnecessarily. When switching domains, it would be a nightmare to have every old URL with a text link to click - 301s are more effective for mass change.

Thanks

james

about 6 years ago

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social bookmarking service

@ Jon Hos Thanks for the share, you really explain in details :D

almost 6 years ago

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Tom

I wished all hosted ecommerce solutions offered the abilty to host a blog of one's choice on the host's platform. I've been using WordPress with great results for years, and if this could be integrated with a hosted ecommerce solution, my job would be much easier.

Thanks,

Tomm

over 5 years ago

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Syed

Great Article, Keep it UP

over 4 years ago

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Elderly Alerts

My advice is work out what you need before choosing your platform partner. It is very costly to try to repair a poorly optimised site post launch and sometimes the platform won't cope with your demands.

over 4 years ago

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Cathy

Thanks for you this list. Very helpful! It should rank #1 for the term I typed "blog seo requirements"

about 4 years ago

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Matthew Barbour, Account Manager at Nexternal Solutions

I agree, this is a great list!

Nexternal is the one eCommerce Platform that seems to meet all of these requirements, including: Clean, Keyword-rich, Static URLs; Customizable Title, Description, and Keyword Meta Elements; H1 Tags; Define Custom Alt Tags; Canonical Elements; Keyword Rich Anchor Text; Efficient Tree-Like Link Structure; Limitless Descriptions for Heavy Content; Auto-Generated Robots.txt and XML Sitemap; Product Reviews for User-Generated Content; Rich Snippets on Product Detail Screens; Setup 301 Redirects for Discontinued Items, etc.. If you would like to learn more, visit: http://www.nexternal.com/ecommerce/search-engine-friendly-shopping-cart.asp

almost 3 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Matthew,

Most ecommerce platforms do everything you listed, it's not unique to Nexternal.

However, the issue is the implementation. An automated sitemap is no good if it's not set up correctly to be populated with the correct URLs and the relevant tags that are required to give the search engines the right content.

Canonicalisation is a good example. If the tag is plastered across all pages without understanding the nuances of which URLs you need indexed and why, you can actually harm your SEO efforts. For paginated pages, the canonical tag can be put on the wrong page (usually the 1st page in the series when it is best placed on a 'view all' URL).

So being able to do it is not the key barrier to effective use of a platform for SEO; it's not thinking through/understanding how each element needs to be configured to support the SEO team that is often the issue.

I'm sure it was intended this way but your comment does come across as a bit of a sales pitch.

Thanks
james

almost 3 years ago

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Matthew Barbour, Account Manager at Nexternal Solutions

Thanks for this implementation information James. I agree that you need to fully understand how to configure each element to ensure SEO success. Sorry for the “sales pitch” type message… just wanted to make sure your readers are aware of Nexternal :) Thank you again for your helpful list.

almost 3 years ago

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