For most businesses, eCommerce provides the opportunity for local merchants to reach customers outside of their trading area, across the globe. However, in some cases the services offered require a local presence to fulfill, for example a hair salon, day spa, landscaper, or garden center. As one of those merchants you realistically can’t deliver on the transaction. In this article we will be looking at those situations and ways local merchants can get income from customers outside of their trading area. Continue reading
XML sitemaps are powerful tools that belong in every eCommerce and web publishers toolbox. Not many people use them effectively, though. (Or at all!)
In this post: How to use them, how to get the most out of them, and some mistakes to watch out for.
Don’t depend exclusively on XML Sitemaps
XML sitemaps should be considered a supplementary or “support” tactic. You should design your site such that it’s “naturally” crawl-able by search engine spiders.
That means you should have straight links to all of your pages. Never depend on XML sitemaps for getting pages indexed. (This isn’t just dodgy SEO – it’s bad navigation, which is absolutely fundamental to any site or business!)
For more on this topic see how to set up crawling paths.
When to use XML Sitemaps?
If you have a website with 100 pages or less and it’s irregularly updated and/or generally static, you don’t need an XML sitemap. There’s no harm in having one, especially if you’re preparing for future expansion – but you’ve probably got more important things to worry about for now.
If you have a site with 1,000 pages or more, frequent changes, and/or lots of new content added regularly…then yes, you should be using XML sitemaps.
If you have a large website with over 10,000 pages, or one with deep content (content that requires more than 4 clicks from the homepage to reach), then you absolutely need to use XML sitemaps.
How Many Sitemaps Does My eCommerce Website Need?
However a much more effective and easier to maintain configuration, is to use multiple sitemaps. We suggest breaking up your sitemaps into logical groupings such as:
- Products Only – This XML file will list only individual products, and will be modified as new products are added/removed.
- Categories Only – This XML file will have only the category or department pages.
- Boilerplate Pages – This XML file will have the static boilerplate pages like “contact us”, “about us”, privacy, TOS, etc.
- Editorial Pages – This XML file will have links to any editorial, articles, or informational sections and pages your website may have.
- Blog – This XML file will have links to your blog pages. It should have listing for individual posts, archives, tags, author pages and any other templates you are using.
You can have more than one sitemap per segment, but it’s really unlikely that you’ll ever need to. (If you have 50,000 products, for instance, surely you’re better off getting rid of the weaker performing ones altogether so that you can focus on the good ones!)
Common XML Sitemap Mistakes
- Listing files that are blocked in Robots.txt. Don’t include files you are blocking from being indexed.
- Not changing the <Last Modified> tag. This is an optional tag but if you are going to include it make sure you update it whenever a file changes.
- Submitting files that no longer exist. Remove files that no longer exist on your website from all XML files.
- Submitting duplicate files with parameters. Duplicate content on an eCommerce website is a bad thing, don’t create that situation if you can avoid it
- Not pinging after an update – When you update an XML sitemap, the best thing to do is ping the search engines, while they will eventually find the new file, being proactive speeds up the process.
Sitemaps can be a powerful tool to ensure that your website is properly indexed. If you implement it intelligently, you can get lots of value with minimum effort and maintenance required.
For small businesses and eCommerce merchants, keeping up with the new social media services that sprout up faster than weeds in a garden, is an overwhelming problem. How to use these services for SEO, to gain links, traffic and ultimately prospects, customers, and sales is even more complicated. In this article we’ll take a look at Pinterest, and some ideas on how businesses can leverage to their advantage without being considered a
Terms of Service and Community Culture
As with any social media service, the first two steps are reading the terms of service, and watching the community BEFORE getting involved. Terms of service pages are notoriously boring, but you want to get an idea of any legal pitfalls and what the service’s stanceon is like before posting your own content.
One of the interesting differences on Pinterest is that the user is responsible for making sure they aren’t violating any copyright restrictions posting pictures. So if you upload a picture, drawing, or item that someone else owns the copyright, you are legally responsible and liable, not Pinterest.
The second part of becoming involved in any social media community is watching, observing, and getting a feel for what is generally considered “acceptable behavior”. As a real life example: wearing a bikini to a pool party is acceptable, wearing the same bikini to a formal wedding isn’t. Context is everything. On Pinterest, it’s a culture of showcasing awesomeness, aspirational quotes or ideals, pictures that are funny or outstanding, or anything that showcases uniqueness and creativity. It’s a positive community, not a negative one of confrontation.
The Crisco Game Plan
Crisco the cooking shortening was introduced in the 1870′s. At the time people were mostly cooking with lard, and getting people to change was difficult. In 1912, Crisco released it’s first cookbook, which they gave away for free. The idea was to show people how to use the product and they would buy it. This has been a tried and tested method that has stood the test of time.
Home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot have large how-to sections on their websites on how to lay flooring or install tiles, showing you how to use the products they hope you buy from them. This can also work on Pinterest, for example Family Handyman posts DIY home improvement projects to their account. The key to getting the most out of this strategy as a merchant is to post your best, most useful, problem solving content.
Contests and User Submissions
Another effective strategy is to get users to pin pictures of themselves using your products. You can incentivize this behavior with weekly/monthly contests. A fun way to keep it interesting would be to vary the theme of the contest every month – most creative, most artistic, most unusual, etc. Run a cooking website where you sell baking equipment or cake decorating equipment, run a chocolate cake contest one month, then a cupcake contest, followed by a muffin contest. Contest laws are tricky and vary from state to state so be sure you review the terms of service and any legal restrictions that may come into play.
Link, No-Follow and User Data
Many people look at social media services and see the links are no followed, and assume they have no SEO value… In my opinion, this is only partly true. In the classic sense a link with a rel=”nofollow” tag will not pass any link equity or anchor text keyword value, and insteadwill act strictly as a “pointer”. In my opinion these pointers have value, especially if they generate click throughs and user data. I would rather have 1000 links that are nofollowed, that users click through, generate user traffic and sales, as opposed to 100 normal “straight” links that no-one sees, clicks on or generates user data. For more on this be sure to read the link building experts interview 2012 edition.
So in conclusion:
- Look at social media services like Pinterest, see if they
are a demographic match for your community
- Read the terms of service or legal restrictions, and get a feel for the
- Look for ways to post your best content, that shows people how to use your
- Look for ways to get your customers to upload and share pictures of things
they have created using your products
- Don’t focus on links that pass keyword equity, focus on links that drive
customers, traffic, sales, and generate user data
Optimizing images for SEO is a controversial, overlooked and underutilized tactic.
The main argument against it is that it encourages image theft and hot-linking. That might be a small price to pay in comparison to the potential payoff, though.
However, keywords can lead to conversions. Consider phrases like “Wynn hotel room pictures”, “angry birds halloween costume”, or “navy blue one piece swimsuit”.
Users searching for such images are often researching those products, and may be planning to buy them. (Even for those who aren’t, you get the opportunity to imprint your brand upon them.) They will often bookmark your pages and comeback to them later and make a purchase.
In this article we will take a look at some the best tactics for accomplishing that goal.
Optimizing Image File Names: Use Keywords
From an organizational workflow perspective, it makes sense for most eCommerce retailers to name their images with a product number (or SKU), as this helps them to quickly match images to their respective products.
This is a wasted opportunity from an SEO perspective, as your product numbers or SKU’s have little relevance to anybody outside of your store. Customers search using natural language using search terms such as “small gold hoop earrings” and not “sku 345812345″”. You’re missing out.
A compromise would be to include both keyword terms and SKU’s in the naming of images files. You could do <gold-hoop-earrings-3432.jpg> or <3432-gold-hoop-earrings.jpg>.
The first gets better priority on search engines (because of keyword prominence), but we recommend using the second – it makes life much easier for the people responsible for your site’s day-to-day maintenance. You save them time and effort, which can ultimately be put to better use on less mindless minutiae.
Next you’ll want eliminate stop words and low value keywords, and replace the spaces with a delimiter. The optimal word delimiter is a hyphen, Google and the other search engines have gotten better at working with different characters as delimiters, but there’s really no reason to be creative in this regard.
You don’t want too many keywords (which surely sets off “keyword stuffing” alarms). The fewer keywords you use the better. <12345-gold-hoop-earrings-small> is good. <12345-gold-silver-bronze-earrings-accessories-hoops-dangle>, not so good.
Search engines are pretty smart these days – if you put your image on a product page, it might just turn up when somebody searches “gold accessories”, even though it isn’t in the filename. So do everybody (and ultimately, yourself) a favour – keep it succinct.
Optimizing Image File Types
Use standard image file types such as “.jpg”, “.gif” and “.png”. Again, there’s nothing to be gained from being innovative in this area – unorthodox file extensions just look suspicious, to both users and engines.
You want to use the file type that gives you the best trade-off between image quality and file size. Experiment! Changing file types (especially for photographs) can sometimes drastically reduce file size without affecting quality too much.
Google and the other search engines can work with all three image types mentioned above, however in practice I have seen some preference given to “.jpg” and “.gif” over “.png” files.
Optimizing Image File Sizes
In recent years, search engines have begun to use file and page sizes as a secondary ranking factor. That means you’ll be punished for using oversized pictures. So it’s in your best interest to use images that have been sized to the size you are using on the page, and not resizing by using CSS or inline HTML.
Serving a 500px x 500px image and using CSS or inline code to resize it down to a 150px image is going to increase your page load time, especially on pages with multiple images like an eCommerce category page.
Make sure you save the image in a web-optimized format. Desktop image editing software often includes a preview or other “unnecessary” information which makes the file larger than it has to be.
A secondary part of image optimization concerns the pixel size. You want to make sure your images are a common size or have a common ratio of height to width. Square image sizes are the safest as search engines understand these the best. If you are going to go with rectangular sizes, your safest bet is to choose something with a 3:4 or 4:3 height to width ratio or a ratio that matches the golden ratio. if your image has height to width ratio which falls “too far” outside of one those common aspects you are working from a disadvantage.
EXCEPTION: Conventional desktop wallpaper sizes have immunity against this, because they’re common and widespread.
Optimizing Images with Magnification Software
Lately, many retailers have begun to use image magnification software, to allow customers to zoom in and see the items in detail while shopping.
This provides a great user experience, but it can works against your SEO. Most of the software uses flash or AJAX, which renders the image file invisible to search engines.
So you need to either do user agent agent detection and serve a straight image to the search engine spiders, or use a <noscript> tag. Serving content strictly based on user agent does fall under the technical definition of “bad cloaking”, so ideally using these two solutions in conjunction with each other would prevent you from looking like you are trying to “trick” the search engines.
Of course, this is ultimately a trade-off you must make. If your customers love being able to zoom in, then you should give them what they want. If they’re generally indifferent to it, though, then you might as well get rid of it.
Optimizing Images With Alt Tags
ALT Attribute Tag was originally created for visually impaired browsers or other screen readers to let the user know what the image they couldn’t see was showing. (Fun fact: Did you know that there’s alt text commentary on every xkcd comic?) Search engines do give some weight to the text contained in an ALT attribute. Be descriptive, but don’t stuff. (Follow the same guidelines for naming your image – 3 to 5 words is plenty.)
Optimizing Images with Heading Text & Surrounding Text
Placing the keywords that you want to rank for and that accurately describe the image in a Hx Heading Tag and in the surrounding text give the search engines more hints about what the image is actually a picture of. Be descriptive.
Optimizing Images for Conversions
If you are going to perform image optimization the most critical aspect is optimizing for keywords that are going to bring customers that will bring them into the conversion funnel. For example, optimizing an image for [Bellagio Hotel Room] is very likely to bring in a consumer who has high intent of booking a hotel room at the Bellagio Hotel if you can keep them on the information scent.
Takeaways from this article:
- Optimize your image file names with 3-5 words omitting stop words and using hyphens as a word delimiter
- Optimize your image file types with common images file format like “.jpg” and “.gif”
- Optimize image file size to make your images as small and fast loading as possible
- Optimize your image file size to be square, or well proportioned rectangles
- If you are using image magnification software, use alternate search engine friendly implementations like <noscript> to get your larger images indexed
- Optimize your images with descriptive alt tags, without overstuffing them full of commercial keywords
- Use heading and surrounding text to re-enforce keywords
- Choose image keywords that are likely to get browsers who have a good possibility of turning into customers
As customers continue to migrate to online stores and Mobile eCommerce grows, many local brick and mortar stores are at risk of losing sales and customers. In early 2012 the big box retailer Best Buy announced it was closing 50 stores. However smart merchants are starting to use using to eCommerce to drive foot traffic to the stores, without needing to resort to Groupon like discounts which can have disastrous results. Continue reading
In previous articles we’ve talked about making your online eCommerce shopping module more search engine friendly. Topics included optimized product pages and category pages, getting rich snippets and mobile SEO.
Now let’s talk about the actual checkout process and how you can make it better and easier for your customers.
Shopping Cart Data in the Masthead
Consumers have been trained by most successful eCommerce websites to look for shopping cart data or icons in the upper right hand corner of web-pages. While your avant-garde hipster designer may bemoan the fact that it’s so typical and uncreative, that’s the point. Shopping cart functionality should be familiar and simple, not an experiment mystery meat navigation.
The bare minimum you should settle for is a cart icon and the word “cart” or “shopping cart” next to it. Clothing and fashion stores are fond of “shopping bag”, which is fine because it’s a term commonly used by their demographic and not an internal buzzword that might not be clear to customers. The point here is don’t ever confuse your customers with overly technical terms or internal company language & terminology. Don’t make them have a “Don’t Make Me Think Moment.” More advanced shopping carts will show you the number of items you have in your cart; some will even show the total price of all the items in your cart. See the examples below of Amazon, Lowes, Nordstrom or Victoria’s Secret.
Shopping Cart Page Information
The actual shopping cart page should be a simple, easy to understand part of your overall eCommerce package. This is not the place to introduce complexity or confusion; it’s the place to “close the deal.” Have buttons to add/subtract/change/edit or delete items entirely. Using simple icons like “+” or “-” symbols and leave little to no room for interpretation. Boxes showing the quantity or the word “edit” also solve the problem easily. Using a clearly understood garbage pail, trash can icon, or the words delete/remove is fairly transparent as well. It’s also common to use the words “update” or “refresh” somewhere so customers can make sure any adjustments they tried to make actually occurred.
Shipping and Taxes
In my many years of dealing with programmers and developers, one of the areas that’s always a battle is displaying shipping and tax information on the shopping cart page. The programmers usually protest with something like “I need to know the shipping destination” before I can calculate and show that information, which is true. However the technology and programming is fairly simple, and it’s possible to make an educated guess, based on a few simple factors:
Is this a returning customer (based on cookie or login data)? If so use their default shipping destination or last shipping destination.
If this isn’t a returning customer, invest in IP geolocation detection software to “guess” at the customer’s location.
Is this a 100% fool proof solution? No. But it’s better than not showing anything. Using this information will display the “best guess” tax and shipping costs. Be sure to include informational text to indicate that it’s an estimate.
This gives you the ability to “up sell” expedited or priority shipping.
Registered Customers or Anonymous Customers
Almost every merchant I’ve ever dealt with wants to require customers to register BEFORE CHECKOUT so they can add them to their database and market to them in the future. However, as a consumer, I know there are many cases where I don’t want to register because this is a “one of” purchase. So my suggestion is to let the customers choose whether they want to register or not.
If you can tell by using cookies that this is a brand new customer, offer them an incentive for registering, like a discount they can use in an offer box on this or a future purchase. The key point here is to incentivize the behavior you want, but to ultimately let the customer choose their own path.
Many studies have shown that reducing the number of pages in the checkout process has a significant effect on shopping cart abandonment. One of the first eCommerce projects I was involved in had a 7 step checkout process. We reduced it down to 3 and shopping cart abandonment was reduced by 40%. Keep your checkout as simple as you need it to be.
Page One – for the customer to enter their billing information, shipping information, shipping method, payment information, and gifting instructions, and everything else YOU NEED to complete the transaction. Don’t impede the checkout with needless obstacles with requests for information or business processes that you want or that it would be nice to have.
Page Two – a review page that lets the customer see everything they entered on page one, the items in their cart, and accurately computed tax and shipping information. Allow them to go back and edit specific sections on page one with direct anchor links. Don’t force them to scroll. Don’t require them to re-enter credit card, CVV2, or password information. Just obfuscate the information with stars. As a customer, I can tell you this is an annoyance that has made me abandon more than one shopping cart. Include a prominent checkout button. I like to see a checkout button at the top and bottom of the page.
Page Three - Once the checkout is done, send them to a page letting them know the process is complete. Send an email with all the pertinent order information and confirmation numbers. Make this screen as tight, uncluttered, and printer friendly as possible. Not only do one page printouts make customers happy, they are good for the planet and don’t waste paper and trees.
If the customer is a new customer, give them the ability to create and save a profile at the end once they are done completing their transaction. Too many stores have this process in the middle and lose the customer because they can’t create a username that isn’t taken, or create a password that meets your often arbitrary security requirements (like requiring a symbol, number, upper case character, and be a minimum of 8 or more characters). Make them a customer first, then make them register as an add on.
Two final points: if you are using an analytics package such as Google, learn how to use goal tracking to get a better understanding of what’s going on in the shopping process. From an SEO perspective, block search engines from the entire “shopping cart.” This data is different for every user, adds no value to the search index, and will never rank for any keywords of commercial importance or intent.
So let’s review what can you take away from this post:
- Put as much shopping cart data as possible in your masthead, preferably where your customer expects to see it: in the upper right corner
- If possible try to include item counts and price data
- Use language and names familiar to your customers
- On your cart page, use editing language and symbols your customers will understand, are familiar with, and will not be confused by
- Reduce the number of pages and required information to complete a transaction to only what you really need–not what you or your marketing team wants
- Incentivize and include the registration process AFTER the transaction is complete. Don’t complicate the checkout process because it will only increase shopping cart abandonment
- Set up goal tracking in your analytics to better understand what’s happening during checkout
- Block the search engines from the checkout process and cart entirely: there’s no data in there that will help you rank for anything competitive or of commercial intent
- Follow-up with confirmation and shipping information and status updates as that information changes
- Don’t pass up the opportunity to get review data from real customers
For retailers who run eCommerce websites, getting enhanced listings is a key way to improve the prominence of your listings and get more click-throughs.
In this article we will be looking at implementing rich snippets for reviews.
Product Reviews for Existing Products
The first and most powerful way to get rich snippets is to add product reviews to your existing products. (We discussed how to get these reviews here.)
Once you have obtained a “critical mass” of reviews, you can add them to the product pages. You need to use the proper HTML markup to ensure that the search engines will understand and properly extract the data to display it in a rich snippet format. (Otherwise you’re not getting the most value out of those reviews!)
There’s no point being creative with conventions here – if you use something familiar, you’re more likely to get the desired snippet. If you use common styles that search engines are familiar with, you will have an easier time getting the rich snippet.
The two most common rating systems are 0-5 stars or a number rating from 0-100. Not all of the information is required, but the more information you provide, the better. First, we will be looking at adding the markup for individual reviews directly on the product page. In this example, we will be working with the following data:
Item Name: 32″ Blue Widget Holder
Item URL: http://example.com/blue-widget-holder-32/
Item Description: This wall mount will securely hold your 32″ blue widget to any wall.
Review Author: Mike G.
Review Date: 2012-03-01
Review text: This is the most secure mounting system for blue widgets I have ever used.
Lowest Rating Score: 0
Highest Rating Score: 5
All of the specifications for product reviews can be found on Schema.org/Product. If you want a tool that’s less complex and complicated, a much easier tool can be found at Schema Creator. Ultimately, your data should look like this:
<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Review">
<a itemprop="url" href="http://example.com/blue-widget-holder-32/">
<strong>32" Blue Widget Holder</strong>
This wall mount will securely hold your 32" blue widget to any wall.
This is the most secure mounting system for blue widgets I have ever used.
<div itemprop="author" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Person">
Written by: <span itemprop="name">Mike G.</span></div>
<div><meta itemprop="datePublished" content="2012-03-01">Date published: 03/01/2012</div>
<div itemprop="reviewRating" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Rating">
<meta itemprop="worstRating" content="0"><span itemprop="ratingValue">4.5</span> / <span itemprop="bestRating">5</span> stars</div>
Each review should be wrapped in its own block of code. If you want to have separate pages for the aggregate review data and the individual reviews, you’ll have to use a slightly different implementation. Here is the basic data we will be working from:
Item Name: 32″ Blue Widget Holder
Item URL: http://example.com/blue-widget-holder-32/
Item Description: This wall mount will securely hold your 32″ blue widget to any wall.
Brand: Acme Widgets
Product ID: 123wms
Average Review: 4
Total Reviews: 5
We’ve found http://schema-creator.org/product.php to be much easier to understand and use. Properly formatted your product data looks like this:
<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Product">
<a itemprop="url" href="http://example.com/blue-widget-holder-32/">
<strong>32" Blue Widget Holder</strong>
<div itemprop="description">This wall mount will securely hold your 32" blue widget to any wall.</div>
<div itemprop="brand" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Organization">
<span itemprop="name">Acme Widgets</span></div>
<div itemprop="manufacturer" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Organization">
Manufactured by: <span itemprop="name">Acme</span></div>
<div>Model: <span itemprop="model">wm-1-1</span></div>
<div>Product ID: <span itemprop="productID">123wms</span></div>
<div itemprop="aggregateRating" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/AggregateRating">
<span itemprop="ratingValue">4</span> based on <span itemprop="reviewCount">5</span> reviews</div>
<div itemprop="offers" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Offer"><span itemprop="price">$45</span><link itemprop="itemCondition" href="http://schema.org/NewCondition" /> New</div></div>
Be Sensible: Test It First!
Before implementing this site-wide, the best thing to do is put up a test page and use the Rich Snippet Testing Tool. Once you have that format right, build a review submission page that links directly from your product pages. Pre-fill as much information as you possible can. The easier it is for your customer to complete the review, the more likely she is to do it. This also makes it easy for you to extract from a database and publish with the properly formatted markup.
It takes time.
After you have published the products with proper markup, you’ll need wait a while before rich snippets begin appearing. If you’re sure your page has passed the testing and is properly formatted but the rich snippet is not showing, Google has provided an FAQ on rich snippets not appearing. If none of the reasons match your case your next best option is to look in Google’s Webmaster Central Console.
When you add reviews to product page in some cases there are SEO concerns to be aware of.
Adding fake reviews is a bad, dishonest practice, and in some jurisdictions, illegal. Just don’t do it. As a retailer, you want a healthy relationship with your customers and with the marketplace at large.
It’s best to have a review policy that allows you to edit out fake, questionable, slanderous, or offensive reviews. You don’t want to delete bad reviews, if customers feel they can’t trust you, it’s unlikely they will buy from you. There is some debate as to whether reviews with poor english, bad grammar, or lack of keyword focus can do more harm than good from an on-page SEO perspective.
So if you decide to implement this strategy, do it on a limited basis and pay attention to how adding reviews affects your rankings. If you can see a direct correlation between adding the reviews to the page and a drop in rankings, move the reviews to an auxiliary page, and only show the aggregate review data on the product pages, as this gives you a lot more control over the content the search engines see.
Adding reviews isn’t without risks, but if you are aware of them, are on the lookout for the potential problems, and can clear the biggest hurdle of getting real customers to submit them, they are a valuable asset, and can definitely improve your click through rates in the SERP’s, and add value for existing and new customers.
Previously, we looked at SEO for the eCommerce Category Page. In this article we’re going to be drilling down one step further and looking at SEO for product pages.
As with all aspects of SEO, getting the URL right is one of the key steps in the process and should not be overlooked or downplayed in importance. URLs should be as short as possible contain no more than 3-5 keywords, use standard word delimiters (such as hyphens), and standard file extensions (although using no extension is even better). Avoid using parameters if at all possible, if you need them for marketing/tracking purposes use the hashtag instead.
Bad URL Example: example.com/prod1234
Bad URL Example: example.com/prod.php?id=1234
Bad URL Example: example.com/darkbluewidget
Bad URL Example: example.com/darkbluewidget.go
Bad URL Example: example.com/buy-cheap-dark-blue-widget-cheap-online-now
Bad URL Example: example.com/dark-blue-widget/?utm_source=camp1234
Good URL Example example.com/dark-blue-widget/
Good URL Example example.com/dark-blue-widget/#src=camp1234
Putting products in a sub-directory or sub-folder, is tricky. If the sub-directory or sub-folder changes or gets renamed you have a lot of 301 redirects to deal with, and that can easily turn into a headache. However if you have thousands, tens of thousands or more of products without a sub-directory things can get messy if you’re not diligent. It can be done, it just requires a lot of discipline or things can go wrong very quickly.
Products should have good unique descriptive titles that describe the item, contain good keywords and are keywords customers are likely to be searching for. The more unique your titles are, the better. However, if your products are very similar, for example “3×4 Bath Mat – White”, “3×4 Bath Mat – Navy”, this can sometimes be a challenge. In all but very few cases, the product title should be first followed by a dash, hyphen, colon or other common delimiter and then the store name.
Good Title: Navy 3x4 Bath Mat - Ultimate Bathroom Store
Bad Title: Ultimate Bathroom Store – 3×4 Bath Mat Navy
Generally speaking, search engines weigh the words at the front of the title higher than words at the end. If you notice in the good example, I even moved the color in front of the name of the product. In the bad example, you can see that the color “navy” is the seventh word and will be given very little weight. In most cases the on H1 tag for the product will be the same as the title but not always. In the example above it would actually be optimal to have them be slightly different.
HTML Title: Navy 3x4 Bath Mat - Ultimate Bathroom Store H1 3x4 Bath Mat, Navy. While then HTML title will be seen in the search engine listings for the product, it’s primarily for the search engines. The H1 tag which will appear on the page is more for the user and any internal search functionality.
Each product should have a unique description. The description, should be unique and different from every other product in your store, but different from every other store selling the same product as well (see preventing duplicate content on your website). Sometimes this can be a challenge if you have a large inventory, or don’t have staff/budget to rewrite product descriptions you get from the vendor/manufacturer. However, keeping the exact same description as hundreds of other merchants is a real obstacle to ranking well for products. One strategy to get around this is to make your page more unique with product reviews. If you go down this route, make sure you use the proper XML Schema Markup for product reviews.
Customers like to see big clear pictures of the products they are shopping for. It’s even better if you can get multiple images. However large images contribute to larger file sizes, longer download times, and page speed does have an effect on rankings. So size your images properly, don’t resize a 1000×1000 image down to 250×250 with HTML or CSS. Many sites show smaller images and let you click for a larger view. This gives you the best of both worlds. If you can rename your files to match the product, you will have an advantage over merchants forced to use SKU or inventory based image naming schemes.
Once a customer has entered the sales funnel, you want to keep them on course, and not provide too many links for them to leave. However there are a few ways to add internal links to your benefit. The first is with breadcrumb navigation, this is the tiny text that lets you know where you are in the store hierarchy:
Home >; Bath Products >; Bath Mats >; 3x4 Bath Mat, Navy If you make each of the words a link, you help your overall SEO effort by spreading internal keyword link equity. Another strategy is to show related products, add on products, or upsell other products. The best way to do this is to show 2-4 thumbnails for the products towards the bottom part of the page.
Social media is a popular topic right now and it definitely is a part of search engine rankings. However, adding half a dozen Facebook like, Tweet this, or other buttons can make your page look busy. Additionally if you use the buttons with active voting counts (ie 17 people liked this on Facebook) you will have a negative effect on your page speed. Each of those active counts will call a different service and add approximately one second per button. If you add six buttons that’s six seconds. Be honest with yourself if your products are that social that you really need that, or can you use plain on site local images.
Takeaways from this post:
- Get your URLs right, keep them small, straight forward, uncomplicated, and free from parameters
- Use your HTML and H1 product titles wisely, and to your maximum benefit
- Make your product descriptions unique not only to yourself but from other merchants
- Look at reviews to make your pages unique
- Keep images small, while offering consumers the ability to see larger pictures if they want
- If possible, use keywords to name your image files
- Link internally using breadcrumbs to help your overall SEO effort
- Show related or add on products to increase sales, make pages more unique, and add value to the consumer
Retailers running eCommerce stores often under-utilize their category and/or department pages.
In this post we will talk about ways to maximize the contributions these pages can make to your overall SEO strategy.
Get the URL Right
Unless your eCommerce package was designed with SEO in mind, you will often find yourself with inelegant, complicated URLs that look like this:
Search engines have made tremendous strides in recent years in handling “complicated” URLs with parameters tacked onto the end. They have even come up with solution in webmaster central to let you tell them which parameters to ignore, and the rel=canonical to give Google the correct URL.
That’s no excuse for you to get sloppy though. You shouldn’t take search engines for granted, or expect them to do all the work for you. They do occasionally get things wrong, so it’s best not to have to depend on their guesswork/interpretations.
Instead, use simple category URLs like:
Use keywords instead of numbers. If it means the difference between ranking #2 instead of #4, it’s well worth the extra work. Other factors to consider:
- Try to keep it between 3-5 keywords total
- Use sub-folders and hierarchy where it makes sense from an information architecture standpoint, don’t do it just to add keywords
- Use common characters as word delimiters whenever possible
Editorial Photos and Text
Most product and category pages use small thumbnails as links that lead directly to products.
If you want to increase your rankings, try adding an editorial “beauty shot” and some editorial text. Keep it at around a 100 words – long enough to weave a compelling narrative about your products and/or the lifestyle they promote, but short enough so that your products aren’t too far down down the page. Experiment with photos. Try using visually compelling images with some text mixed into them and see how they affect conversions.
Products and Thumbnails
You want to have editorial control so that you can control the default sorting order of your products, featuring your most important products first. Display a reasonable number of products by default – if you have more than 100 products per category, give consumers the ability to view all of the products at once.
Another nice feature is to give consumers the ability to sort by price, size, or other characteristics. When you add these shopping features you don’t want to create duplicate content with URLs like:
When you create this situation you create the potential for search engines to choose the “wrong” ordinal page. If you have to use URLs like that add the meta noindex tag, conditionally to those pages. A better solution is to use hashtags like this:
Search engines will not index URLs with the # symbol in them.
Secondly you want to make the thumbnail image a separate link from the name of the product. Both should be links, but create two HTML links, don’t wrap it in one link, it just makes things easier for the search engines to understand. Use the name of the product as the alt tag for maximum SEO value.
Using breadcrumbs on all the pages in your shopping environment is a good way to increase the value of internal links, as long as you make the words links
Home: Sinks > Kitchen Sinks > Stainless Steel Sinks
However also try to create links in the editorial sections of your site as well. If you have a blog, put links in there too – but keep it natural and organic. Hard-selling blogs are a turnoff, and that’s ultimatately worse for you in the long run.
Page and File Size
Takeaways from this post:
- Keep urls as simple as possible without parameters
- Use keywords in the urls instead of numbers whenever possible
- Try adding editorial pictures and photos to make pages more compelling
- Let consumers search/sort with parameters, just make sure you don’t create duplicate content
- Link to the department/category pages from the breadcrumb area, editorial areas, and blog whenever possible
- Keep the file size as small as possible and consolidate scripting elements to keep the pages loading quickly
Marketing your business, brand and products through the medium of video is certainly nothing new. Many companies have been doing this for years, albeit with varying levels of success. However, video marketing still has plenty to offer to businesses, new and old, small or large. In fact, if anything, it is becoming increasingly important.
Leading video sharing site YouTube recently announced that it receives over 4 billion views each and every day. That’s 770 videos being watched simultaneously every second.
That’s a huge audience. It exists, and it’s growing. Admittedly, many of the aforementioned views will have been for the latest music videos or ‘epic fail’ viral hits, but that doesn’t mean that ecommerce businesses can’t take advantage too.
The sweeping changes in the way that search engine results pages are presented have also helped to improve the visibility and effectiveness of videos. In the past year or so, greater prominence has been given to multimedia results on the pages of Google, in some cases even helping them to appear above organic results. Therefore, a successful, keyword-targeted video can be just as visible as the top ranked search results.
So what can an ecommerce site do?
There are plenty of online stores and brands that already employ some form of video marketing. Whether this is done in a strictly promotional capacity or as a means of demonstrating products and services, the effect can be much the same. Some potential applications include:
- Branded adverts
- Expert advice
- Informational guides
- Celebrity endorsements
Videos can be used to supplement text or to demonstrate things that you would struggle to communicate with the written word. This is why hosting multimedia content on your product pages can be so effective, particularly when it comes to driving sales. However, you can also enjoy the double benefit that comes with publishing your content on video hosting sites.
There are plenty of sites that already take advantage of this. For example, Amazon now features previews for a number of games, DVDs and other products. GHD, who manufacture and sell a range of specialist hair care products, most notably ceramic tongs, have also successfully developed a strong identity on-site and on YouTube.
As well as promoting the latest collections, videos also provide practical demonstrations of products in action. In the above image, you can see that as well as a large image of the product, there is also a useful text description and a video, which visitors can view to establish how effective it is in action. For any customers who are undecided, this could prove pivotal in whether or not they make a purchase.
However, it’s not just on their own domain that GHD is able to demonstrate products and help those searching for hair styling tips. Their branded YouTube channel features adverts and video guides, all of which are created and managed by the company. Having achieved over 1.8 million views in the last six years, this has clearly been an extremely effective source of traffic and sales.
ASOS, a popular online clothing store, have created a community around their brand. An integral part of this has been the creation and circulation of videos. Their site features catwalk presentations of each product, giving visitors a 360 degree view of the garments on offer. Meanwhile their YouTube channel features dozens of exclusive videos, including the latest discounts and promotions as well as a regular magazine show. Not only does this help push sales, it also creates interest in the brand, helping grow loyalty – as evidenced by the 8.1 million views that their content has received.
When you go off-site with your video marketing, it is imperative that you get your branding right, just like ASOS and GHD. After all, if you were to create what is ostensibly just an informative guide without any direct association with your site or business, you are unlikely to reap the full benefit of this – regardless of how popular it proves to be. So don’t leave viewers in any doubt, ensure you have clear branding at the beginning and end of your video to help guide them to your site.
With the introduction of Google Search Plus Your World, content that is entertaining and interesting is going to enjoy even more visibility online. Search results will be tailored for individual users, based on the activity of their wider circle of online friends. So when someone shares a video, news article, blog post or image, this will be shown prominently on the results pages of their followers for related search terms. Consequently, if you can produce excellent content and market it effectively, you can enjoy unparalleled visibility within your target market.
Both the quality and quantity of content will therefore become increasingly important for businesses online. In the competitive world of ecommerce, it is vital that you give yourself every advantage possible. Video marketing can certainly be an effective part of a comprehensive strategy.
So what do you need to do?
- Set up a branded YouTube page and also sign up for other video publishing sites
- Invest in some decent AV equipment
- Create a strategy – what are you looking to promote and how are you going to go about it?
- Start recording
- Publish on-site and off-site, with clear links between the two
The most important thing to remember is that you have to be confident about what you publish. If a video isn’t up to scratch or it doesn’t represent your business as you would choose, don’t set it live. Creating multimedia content can be a little hit and miss. Some things may be exceptional, others, less so. Knowing what to publish and what to rework is part of creating a cohesive and effective video marketing strategy.
Some will fail, some will succeed and some will fade off into obscurity. But videos, as with any published content, can have long-term benefits. Whilst it may initially fail to capture the online community’s imagination, in time it could accumulate significant views and conversions for your site. From the moment it is first published searchers can find, view and share it. Newer alternatives may come along and traffic may slide, but it will remain accessible until the day you decide to remove it.
So make sure you get a slice of the surging video market. The 4 billion views that YouTube now receives could just be the very tip of the iceberg, so there really is no better time to start producing and publishing video content.