There are many factors that go into ensuring your website is 'rankable', but one of the most important issues for an e-commerce website is how well the search engine bots can understand the products on your site and how they relate to each other and the wider website. Through this article I’m going to explain some of the most common issues retail sites face in making their products accessible to, and easily understood by, the search engine bots.
Search bots discover pages on the internet by following links to them from other pages. This is also one of the ways that “authority” is ascribed to pages through a trickle-down effect from pages with high authority to lesser authority. It is not only crucial for pages to be well-linked to from others on the website for the benefit of search engine discovery, but also website usability. What is the point in having stock on your website if it can’t be found by your visitors?
There are several points on a website that allow for natural linking that can benefit both your customers and the search engine bots. Make sure you have well-considered main navigation elements, breadcrumbs and an HTML sitemap.
Slow load times
An often quoted study by Akamai suggested that a 100 millisecond delay in website load time can influence conversion rates negatively by 7%. This reinforces Google’s own study published in 2017 which claimed that 53% of mobile users will leave a web page that takes longer than 3 seconds to load. Three seconds, on a mobile device… that’s not long. In fact, you can test how quickly your webpage loads on a mobile device using Google’s own tool. You might be shocked by the results.
Fixing the load speed of your e-commerce webpages will likely require the assistance of a developer, but to get an idea of what needs changing have a look at tools like Pingdom’s Website Speed Test or Google’s PageSpeed Insights. This will give you an understanding of whether your issue is with your code, server, content or a mixture of all of them!
One common technical issue for retail sites is not utilising product or review “mark-up” or, implementing it incorrectly. Review schema mark-up, a bit of code that “labels” your reviews as such can enable your search listing to pull through a star rating which makes your website stand out in comparison to others featured alongside you in the SERPs. Similarly product mark-up can allow for the price and stock levels to pull through.
One big trick a lot of retail sites seem to be missing is optimising their product images for image searches. Image search is an often-forgotten element of the research journey although it can be particularly important for websites that sell products for which design and aesthetics are important.
Google decides where an image should rank in a related search through a number of factors including the HTML “alt=” attribute, the image caption and the image file name. Other than that, the standard SEO rules apply; the more authoritative the webpage is that features the image, the more likely it is to rank.
Technical SEO advice for e-commerce sites simply would not be complete without mentioning faceted navigation. At Avenue this is one of the most common SEO issues we find ourselves advising on with retail sites. Faceted navigation is the process of using filters on your site to narrow down the content visitors want to find. Typically, you would see faceted navigation in play on an e-commerce site when you are greeted with a list of products. For instance, you may have a clothing site with a landing page for “women’s clothes”. From there you could select size, colour and brand filters which would narrow down the list of products you are shown. The issue with faceted navigation, if not set-up correctly, is that it can create a lot of very similar thin quality pages that are crawlable and indexable by the search engines.
The issue with these pages is that they can keep the search engine bots away from crawling your more important content, link equity that could help rank your core product pages higher gets diluted amongst the pages you don’t want ranking and there’s the issue of lots of pages cannibalising the keywords on your listing page.
The easy way to see if your site’s faceted navigation is creating indexable URLs that you would rather weren’t cluttering up your website is to perform a site: search. Simply go to your search engine of choice, type in ‘site:[your website domain here]’ and look through the pages that are listed. If you see ones with a ‘?’ and a string of numbers and letters then your faceted navigation created pages are likely being indexed. Just click on a few of these and see what pages you are presented with.
There are many technical issues that can plague a retail site and impact its performance in the organic search results. The key is to keep checking how well your website is being indexed and what pages the search engines are finding. From there, you have a better chance at streamlining the SEO efficiency of your site and getting those top-ranking spots.
Helen Pollitt is head of SEO at Avenue Digital