Optimizing an E Commerce website is quite different from usual websites and thus most marketers /SEO’s find it very difficult while dealing with such huge eCommerce websites. Unlike service businesses or simple static websites, which will typically have few pages to optimize, E Commerce websites provide ample amount of learning experience and opportunities for optimization. I personally love to work on E Commerce optimization , because this is the only place where you can actually work on some advanced methods, Google Analytics, Semantic Markup and Google Base for example. E Commerce websites come with some inherent qualities — dynamic URLs resulting in duplicate content, duplicate meta tags and a large product catalog — that makes it challenging to achieve a high Google ranking. So, those who think that Optimization of an E Commerce website is akin to shooting fish in a barrel,no need to read any further, probably, you should read something relatively simpler, may be “What is Google Authorship” . For others, some highly recommended optimization tips while dealing with E Commerce Websites are explained below:
1 Tip One: Keyword Research- Don’t Step Off On The Wrong Foot
Keyword Analysis is something which decides the future of a campaign - you can relate keyword research with“the start of an athlete”, relatively a good or poor start where - a poor start will make sure that your competitors have an advantage from the word GO. If you messed up initially in your keyword research, it doesn’t matter if you are Usain Bolt of E Commerce world or not, youwill not be able to generate ROI as expected. Keyword Analysis is not just about looking for most searched keywords and just because of the high number of searches, trying to rank them. No!! Its about ranking for the most appropriate keyword which will ultimately result into positive ROI and increase in revenue. A proper thought of keyword analysis will have keywords with Brand Names, Model Numbers, Product Names and Categories, because this is the way a user performs searches. Having said that, long tail keywords should be a part of your Keyword Strategy - you can rank pretty quickly for long tail keywords and thus, you can generate quick ROI. If you are an experienced webmaster, please jump to the next tip, for those who are not sure what “Long Tail Keywords “ means, click here , read the post and then move to the next tip.
2 Tip Two: Duplicate Content- Enter Panda Update
As I said initially, E Commerce websites are not easy to manage and optimize, they might have hundreds or thousands of product pages and thus require extra caution while optimizing. When you have thousands of pages on your website, you are most likely to be caught by our friend called “Panda”. Most of the marketers and developers copy product description from manufacturers and run the same content on multiple(read thousands) product pages which attracts Panda. There are reports which suggest that there was a drop of up to 60% in the traffic due to content farming, though, there were some online stores which benefited from Panda, a study by E Creative Team suggests the same. Dynamic URLs add more to it by auto generated pages , you need to make sure that all auto/cart generated pages are being tagged with “NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW”, because if you have duplicate content running on your website, original and unique pages might get affected as well. A post from Google highlighting quality guidelines for marketers confirms this:
One other specific piece of guidance we've offered is that low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings, and thus removing low quality pages, merging or improving the content of individual shallow pages into more useful pages, or moving low quality pages to a different domain could eventually help the rankings of your higher-quality content.
Shallow pages are pages which offer the same content and does not add any extra value. Read more about shallow pages here. Almost all large eCommerce websites which were hit by Panda have had large number of product pages containing duplicate description of the product which leads to the shallow page label. Almost all e-commerce websites offer variations in their products, for example, a site selling T-Shirts will offer T-Shirts with different sizes/colors and each variation will have a separate page for it. If you have 30 products and each product has 5 different sizes and 10 different colors, it will result into 1500 unique products pages. Instead of writing 1500 unique descriptions( which is not practically possible), you can write 30 unique product descriptions on the product page itself, you can provide a drop down whereby a user can select the color and size accordingly, please see a snapshot for the same below:
Source : Alma Mater
As explained above, color and size drop down will make sure that you are not running a pool of “Shallow” pages and thus, Panda will stay away from your store. Having said that, you need to make sure that the meta elements ( Description, Titles) of your web-pages are unique as well. You can check this in your GWT under HTML improvement tab, see snapshot below:
Do not use same description and title tags for multiple product pages, every page should have a unique description and Title tag. Almost all the CMS used for e-commerce websites offer this feature, either there will be an inbuilt feature for specifying unique meta tags or you can use plugins, modules and extensions for this. Do not use the same generic meta description for multiple pages, a common mistake which most of the marketers do is that they tend to use the default meta tags, for example, a site running on Joomla, under Global Configuration, you can set Default Meta tags, i.e if meta tags are not present for a particular page, meta tags specified under Global Configuration will be used and this causes a duplicate meta tag issue.
The following extensions/plugins/modules will help you while optimizing a website running on major CMS’ given below:
You can find many other plugins through which you can optimize and organize your shopping cart for better user experience and for search engines.
Search Pages and Pagination:
Almost all e-commerce sites offer site search functionality, you need to make sure that the search pages are “NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW” as these pages are crawl-able and will be considered as duplicates. Also, if you are using paginated content, it is HIGHLY recommended that you should use pagination using rel= next and rel= previous attributes, if you are unsure of how to use pagination, read this fantastic post by Rand on pagination. Again, almost every CMS provides this feature of pagination, if not, there has to be some plugin or extension, search for that.
Dynamic vs Static URLs:
I will not explain the difference between Dynamic and Static urls and why static urls are preferred. In case you want to know more about this, you can read this post. Dynamic urls are not only user unfriendly, but are also the main reason behind duplicate content/meta data , so you need to make sure that you are using static URLs. Having said that, there is a myth around SEO industry and I am sure you have heard statements like “Dynamic URLs cannot be crawled”, which is factually wrong. In case, you know the answer already, you can hate me on Facebook, unfollow me on Twitter and can throw my circle back on Google +. But, if you are inclined towards the above statement, do read this piece of content from Google on Static Vs Dynamic URLS
Tip Three: Landing Page Optimization- If Done Once, Its Lame, Keep It Going
Optimizing your landing pages is not a one time thing if it’s an eCommerce website. You have to optimize your web-page again and again, reason being, you will introduce new offers, products, your competition will change and thus you have to be proactive towards those changes. A landing page is the first impression for your user, it doesn't matter whether the visit originated from an organic click, banner ad, paid search result or from an email marketing campaign. You have to make sure that your landing page delivers what you promised. Strategies which focus only on generating a visit are not worth looking at, its the conversion which matters, not a visit. A clean and simple Headline outlining your product/offer, attractive description , pricing details and easy to navigate Call-To-Action , and that's it. You can also use videos for product descriptions as its always better to show, rather than tell and thus you can increase your sales using product videos. Your product description will benefit from videos describing how to and demos for the product. You can optimize videos according to the keywords being targeted and by using proper semantic markup, you can rank those videos in SERP. A study by ReelSEO suggests that web sites with videos that come up on a Google search have a 41% higher click through rate than their competitors. Below is a fantastic video featuring the product:
Google uses videos to market their new products and services. See this example explaining Knowledge Graph.
Your Call-To-Action(CTA) buttons should be simple and easy to locate, you can include multiple CTAs depending upon your goals and type of website.Make sure that these CTAs are on prominent positions, probably near the top of your page, so that a user can easily locate them.
Golden Rule of KISS- K.I.S.S (Keep It Super Simple)
During the transaction/subscription process, always try to remove unnecessary steps as these “not required” steps annoy a potential user and might affect your conversion rate.
Keep the number of steps to a minimum. The more steps you have the more complicated it becomes.
Tip Four: Social Media- Sharing Is Caring
If you think that social sharing is all about adding Facebook Like, Twitter Follow/Tweet button, you are still living in the stone-age as shown below:
And you are probably not aware of the fact that “Social Login”, “Post Purchase Share” can increase conversion rate , user engagement, Brand popularity and other important social matrices. A recent study from ExactTarget, Forrester Research, Gigya, Hubspot and Janrain came up with the following facts:
● 68% of consumers go to social networking sites to read reviews.
● 40% consumers prefer social logins over creating a new/guest account
● Consumers who comment using social logins spend 15 minutes 35 seconds average time on sites
● 80% of US social network users prefer to connect with brands through Facebook
● Infographic generated by Monetate shown below using the same data gives some more facts(read surprising facts) :
Another interesting study by mryouth.com suggests that Gift recommendations from social media users are 2x as likely to result in a gift purchase than those from non-social media users. And they are 1.5x more likely to make recommendations in the first place. The report also suggests that when Brands respond to the queries from customers, 80% of those customers made a purchase as a result of the interaction, so in case if you created your Brand pages on Facebook, Twitter and its been ages since you responded to queries, its HIGH time now. Read complete study here.
Tip Five: Semantic Markup- Enter The Structured Web
According to Amit Singhal, Head of “Google Search”, the goal is to make the search experience comparable to, “how humans understand the world.” In order to build a system which can read and understand like humans, structured data and modeling is required. This is the reason why Google introduced and recommends Schema.org, semantic modeling which will help Google understand what content is all about. The concept of Semantic Modeling is not new, it was first introduced in the1960’s by M. Collins, M Ross Quillian and Elizabeth F Loftus as a form to represent data in a structured manner. The whole idea of semantic modeling revolves around machine readable content so that automated agents can understand it, organize it and finally, deliver it to the users. A human can search for a lowest priced book, can understand “Operating System”, when documents says “OS”, but machines cannot accomplish this task without human intervention, because web-pages are designed for humans, not for machines. As I said, semantically structured web is required which will enable machines to understand and respond to complex search queries. Google is now actually trying to make happen what Tim Berners-Lee initially expressed the vision of Semantic Web, which is as follows :
I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A "Semantic Web", which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The "intelligent agents" people have touted for ages will finally materialize.
Google is now moving towards being a “Knowledge Engine” from a traditional “Search Engine”, Google renamed its Search Team to Knowledge Team recently, which further solidifies the aforementioned fact. Google Knowledge Graph, Carousel list are some more concrete evidences for the same. I can write a lot when it comes to Semantic Markup, which we shall discuss some time later, lets come to the implementation now, you can use either RDFa or Microdata, depending upon your website’s HTML version, when it comes to Rdfa, GoodRelation is the widely used vocabulary and you can find its supporting plugins for your open source CMS here. Likewise, Microdata plugins/extensions are available as well, some examples are as below:
3 Magento ( Paid)
If you are interested in a more granular study about Microdata for products, read this post. Apart from the fact that semantic data will help Google understand your content, semantic markup will generate a rich snippet for your results in SERP, which will further attract potential users and thus increase your CTR. See this visual guide/ infographic on Rich Snippets for additional information.
Tip Six: Google Analytics- Statistical Analysis
While data driven decisions plays a key role in your statistical analysis, data could be misleading too, especially if you are not properly trained to use the data. While analysing your GA data, there are chances that the data can be misleading, even when the data is technically/scientifically correct. People who are not properly trained to use the data or do not have a broader perspective within which to place a particular piece of data, often get trapped in this. For example:
While analyzing GA data of your website, you noticed that the number of visits to your website are much lesser when compared to the last month, even when your rankings are same as they were in the last month, and that’s it. If you are not properly trained to analyse the data, this is something which is very concerning for you. Now, a properly trained SEO will analyze the situation and will try to understand the root cause. The very first thing is that the visits should not be a part of your core analysis, its the conversion which should matter!! Secondly, analyze the bounce rate , number of exits/entry from your important pages which will give you a broader perspective of analyzing the data. A poor, irrelevant email marketing could have resulted in those irrelevant clicks and thus, visits.
One of the other misleading matrix is Bounce Rate, I wrote a post on this which explains how Bounce Rate can mislead you. When analyzing data on an ECommerce website that has thousands of pages, the probability of getting trapped into such misleading facts is quite high. Below are some tips which will help you to analyze your website’s performance in a proper manner:
1 Grouping Of Data: A typical ECommerce website will have product pages, category pages, shopping cart page, checkout page and many other pages depending upon the nature of the website. If you are analyzing all these pages on the whole, your data driven decisions could be misleading. In order to group these pages according to their functionality, you can use “Search And Replace” filter as explained here.
2 Social Tracking: As explained in tip number six, social media will play an important role in your online marketing campaign, so its very important to track visits, conversion from all these social channels. A default social report is available in Google Analytics, but it is highly recommended that you should use advance social reports in order to analyze your social engagements. In order to populate this report, you need to use API’s from respective Social Channels, read this post or this to learn more about tracking Social Engagements. Of course, if all else fails, you could just read the Google Manual
3 Custom Reports: Whether we like it or not, let’s face it: Google Analytics does not provide amazing reports by default and probably, Google knew that as well, that’s why they introduced Custom Report Section for us, so why not use it? Custom reports die their natural death in most of the statistical analysis, so start using them, they offers a wide variety of data which will help you to analyze your campaign’s performance. You can add the metrics that matter to you on the dimensions which you want to see. Every campaign has its own key metrics and thus, its very important that you are utilizing this fantastic feature. For example, if time on site , bounce rate for all the organic clicks is what you want, you can create your custom report for the same.
4 Multi Channel Funnels: Multi Channel Funnels in Google analytics is a recent addition from Google and it gives a lot more data to those who want to analyze how conversions are taking place on their websites. Use of multi channel funnel is best suited in ECommerce websites which have more than one source of advertisement. If you are new to this, please watch below video from Google, explaining this fantastic feature:
This funnel will help you to analyze how your website is performing across multiple channels and which channel is outperforming/under performing so that you can take necessary steps in order to rectify the issues. The multi channel report shows a number of new metric, all your traffic sources, grouped by source/medium. The new metrics are:
● Assisted Conversions: This is the number of conversions that contained this source/medium combination in the last 30 days.
● Last Interaction Conversions: This is the number of conversions where this source/medium was the “last touch.”
● Assisted / Last Interaction Conversions Ratio: This is the simple ration of the above two metrics.
All these metrics will help you analyze your data in more detail and thus, a more detailed decision can be taken after analyzing these reports. Multi Channel Funnel reports will be of great use for you if you are running a PPC campaign for your website, please read this post and watch video below for more details on MCF.
5 Goal Funnels: Every business, online or offline, have some steps which a user has to perform before (s)he becomes a customer. In an offline business, filling up the form, paying the cash and collecting goods could be general steps in order to become a customer. If users are filling the form but not paying the cash, there has to be some issue in the form which is hindering users to pay the cash, may be some terms and conditions, which users are not comfortable with. Same rule applies on every online campaign, there are some steps which a user will follow before (s)he becomes a customer. While most of the marketers focus on users who convert into customers, ideally, you should focus on “Why some of the potential customers left in between”, because the goal is to maximize sales. Goal Funnels provides exactly what we are talking about, i.e how many potential customers left in the middle of the process of becoming a customer. Remember the “Golden Rule Of KISS” , explained above in this post, unnecessary steps in the process could be the reason and if you have Goal Funnel steps defined, you will be able to see which step is the culprit and thus, you can fix the issue. This post covers A-Z of Goal funnels and a case study to illustrate the same.
Tip Seven: Bonus Tip
I don't know how many readers I lost up till this tip, but for those who are still with me, here is an additional bonus tip for you. Start your day at work with following thought in your mind, I am sure, you will excel in whatever you do:
“The more I read, the more I learn and the more I learn the more I realize, how far I am from being an EXPERT”