SEO for E-Commerce: Cautions, Admonishments, & How to Get it Right

Over the years, search engine optimization (SEO) has been a lot of things to a lot of people. We all know that having good SEO is important for organic search rankings, but understanding what that really means and what it doesn’t is key. Too often, ecommerce sites get caught up in the latest “flavor of the month” tactics that will have only a short-term impact on their results at best and, in a worst case scenario, may actually lead to penalties and hurt their websites.

To get SEO right for your ecommerce site, you need to first understand what SEO is and what it isn’t. Over the next three posts, we’ll look at several common elements of SEO for ecommerce, including what to watch out for and strategies to implement to make sure that your site is following best practices. These elements will help you to create a strong foundation on which to build your future optimization efforts.

SEO: What it Isn’t:

While most ecommerce companies know that SEO is important, many people still don’t really understand what it actually is and—as importantly—what it isn’t. SEO isn’t keyword stuffing or over-optimized anchor text. It’s not content spam, article directories, or doorway sites. These are all tactics that were used in the past to try to boost the position of a page or site within organic search results. And while these tactics may have had some impact at that point in time, Google and other search engines eventually wised up and attempted to put a stop to it.

Once the search engines recognized this type of SEO manipulation, they stopped adding value based on these types of actions, putting sites that used them back at square one. In some cases, they even penalized sites for tactics that the search engines considered to be questionable.

SEO – What it Is:

So, if that’s not what SEO is, then what is it? Search Engine Land columnist Jenny Halasz offers an excellent definition:

“The effort taken to provide search engines and their visitors with a relevant, logic-driven, and efficient experience.”

Looking at this quote, let’s break it down into its key points:

  • Relevant– It’s important to make sure that the content on the site is actually related to the keywords that people are using to search for your page.
  • Logic-driven– Most people prefer logic-driven information architecture, and so do search engines. They like to see a nice pyramid architecture structure. Having a logic-driven website structure makes it easier for people and bots to parse out your content, versus hitting the home page and everything being overly flat or too deep.
  • Efficient– In the world of mobile, every second/millisecond counts. If your site takes too long to load, users won’t wait. Search engines don’t want to provide a negative experience to their users, so if your page loads slowly, you’re less likely to show up very high in the search results. Most importantly, Google recently announced that they will move to primarily indexing mobile versions of websites rather than their desktop counterparts—just one more signal of the importance of your site’s mobile experience.

SEO isn’t about gaming the system or jumping on the latest tactic that could give you a brief boost. When done correctly, it should be a holistic, forward looking process that genuinely makes your site useful to customers. To do SEO effectively, you should only want to do things that “above board” and build true value and equity for your site.

Build Your Site for Human and Autonomous Users

Every site has two types of visitors: human beings and autonomous or machine visitors. Good SEO takes both types of visitors into account, making sure that your site is relevant and easy for your potential customers to actually use and also catering to the needs of autonomous users—including GoogleBot, BingBot, and other search engine bots.

Google likes to say that, as long as your site is useful to visitors, you don’t need to worry about SEO. That’s bad advice. You have the autonomous user that you have to cater to. If you build your site in the wrong way, you can make it hard (or impossible) for GoogleBot and BingBot to come through your site.

As an example, I recently previewed a client’s new mobile site. It was blazing fast with an incredible overall user experience. But, it was built in such a way that every URL within the site rendered an empty page to search engines. Your site may look great, but if you don’t take the autonomous user into account, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

SEO E-commonalities

As an ecommerce marketer, you have a lot on your plate, and a wide array of strategies and tactics fall under the SEO umbrella. So where should you start? In the next parts of this series, we’ll take a look at three SEO “e-commonalities”: layered navigation, structured data, and product life cycle. Each of these elements can have a positive or negative impact on your search engine rankings, so getting them right is an important part of your SEO strategy.

Looking for Some More Help?

If you’re looking for even more information on how you can optimize your website from an SEO perspective, take a look at our special report: The 4 Pillars of a Successful SEO Mindset. This report outlines the importance of creating great content, being realistic with your expectations, and outlines how crucial collaboration and teamwork are in order to take the next step towards SEO success.