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Joanna Swartwood, Director of Marketing and Revenue GrowthTue, Sep 17, 2013 9 min read

The 7 Deadly Sins of ECommerce SEO

The 7 Deadly Sins of ECommerce SEO

Managing an ECommerce site requires a lot of attention focused in seemingly countless directions. From usability to promotion to reviews, online stores can often be some of the most complex on the web. But among the array of key focuses, strong SEO is an absolutely essential component of ECommerce. 

The 7 Deadly Sins of ECommerce SEO

To know how to do SEO for ECommerce right, sometimes it's most helpful to know how it's done wrong.

So, I've put together a list of the Seven Deadly (or at least harmful) Sins of ECommerce SEO. And don't worry, I've got solutions for you:

  1. Uniform meta descriptions
  2. Ah, meta descriptions - the love and bane of many a marketer's existence. 

    If you're unfamiliar with meta descriptions, they're the short snippet of information displayed in search engine result pages below a page listing.

    Below, we can see the meta description on a Zappo's search result for the query "Running Shoes":

    A meta description informs the user of what to expect on the page, and should serve as a concise call to action. Zappos does a great job fulfilling both these requirements above.

    If you're running a mid to large ECommerce site, it may seem smart and even necessary to use similar or uniform meta descriptions across all related product pages. After all, coming up with hundreds of unique descriptions for painfully similar pages is a daunting task.

    For example, you may choose to use the same generic "Women's Running Shoes" meta description accross all women's running shoes product pages - from Nike to Adidas to New Balance.

    While this may save you quite a bit of time, it diminishes the golden nugget of opportunity you have to tell a compelling story in search results. We know the most effective marketing harnesses the power of context; consider how compelling a specific description related to a page could be compared to a generic one which describes hundreds of others.

    Take the time to write unique meta descriptions for each page, and create a convention for your title tags while you're at it. If you need help, check out this article.

    And if you're curious about the example above, Zappos does in fact write unique descriptions for each product page. I did a little poking around on their site (just right click any page and select "View Page Source" to see the info) - here's an example description for the MR00 New Balance Running Shoe page:

  3. Skipping rich snippets
  4. Rich snippets are easier to implement than meta tags, and every bit as important. Just as meta tags tell a page's story to the user, rich snippets and microformatting tell search engines what each page holds. The more information we can provide a search engine, the better chance we have of them effectively indexing and ranking our page.

    Microdata gives you the abillity to label parts of your page as product names, brand names, prices, and more - effectively making it easy for search engines to display your page's information to searchers.

    You can learn more about implementing rich snippets here

  5. Generic (or no) product descriptions
  6. Just like meta descriptions, product descriptions require some time investment in the form of copywriting. 

    Selling is all about telling a story, and you need text to effectively tell the story in which your product and site visitor marry in a transaction and live happily ever after.

    Are images and other media important? Absolutely. But without copy, search engines aren't invited to the wedding. And Google hates to be socially exiled, so be friendly and invite them in with text.

    Now that you're convinced you need product descriptions, we're going to take it one step further: you need unique product descriptions.

    If you're a distributor of 3rd party goods, you'll be tempted to use the product descriptions they provide. This makes sense, since the creator likely knows the product best. No sense reinventing the wheel, right?

    Wrong. wrong. Even Elle Woods thinks so.

    Don't worry, this bit of information is news to many. I didn't even think about it until recently, when I saw it mentioned on KISSmetrics.

    If you're at all familiar with new-age SEO, you know that Google has declared war on duplicate content. Now consider this: if you're using the manufacturer product descriptions, so are dozens of other online stores carrying the product.

    And that means you've all got the same content displayed and you've inadvertently fallen down the duplicate content rabbit hole.

    Write your own descriptions. Tell a story. Make it compelling. This will pay off twofold in safety-proofing your search performance and improving your user experience.

  7. Absence of user reviews
  8. Reviews are becoming increasingly important as Google aims to hyper-personalize the user experience and provide word of mouth recommendations in every possible context.

    I'd argue there are two major SEO benefits (and dozens of other generals upsides) to incorporating reviews on your site:

    - Freshness: The more frequently your page is updated with relevant content, the more likely Google is to look upon it favorably. By letting users write reviews, they're doing some major lifting for you.

    - Improved Experience = Improved Page Performance: Search engines aren't just looking for impecably organized pages, they're looking for sites that capture and engage users. By incorporating the social proof of user reviews on your site, you give a major boost to your products' desirability, resulting in more time spent on page and increased conversions. This is noted by search engines, which grant considerable attention to low bounce rates.

  9. Keyword-vacant URLs
  10. There are a few non-negotiable places your keywords should show up on every page: your meta description, your title tags, your copy, and your URL. Unfortunately, URLs are often overlooked in the world of thousands of product IDs.

    Your URLs absolutely need to include keywords in order to fit effectively with the rest of the page and to be positively ranked by Google.

  11. Duplicate content
  12. Inherently, ECommerce sites have to repeat a lot of stuff throughout their pages. Your site likely has much-loved features like Related Products galleries, separate link paths displaying the same product page, and product tags.

    For example, check out the two URLs below that point to the same product on the Toys "R" Us site (not that I shop for dollhouses in my free time or anything...) One I found via site search, and one I clicked from a banner on the homepage:

    Same page + different URL = problem for Google. (Their URLs are also keyword-vacant, but that's another story)

    While providing multiple ways to get information is great for users, it can potentially harm your search presence.

    Utilize canonical tags to tell search engines which pages they should index, and add robots.txt data to block off duplicate sections on multiple pages.

  13. Skipping analytics
  14. When all is said and done, when your tags are optimized and your user experience is primed, you may think your SEO journey is complete.

    But alas, SEO and site management are a never ending task. A rewarding one, but a continuously demanding one nonetheless.

    Use tools like Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics to drill into any page errors (search engines hate 404 errors) and determine which pages are performing the best.

    You can even set up conversion tracking to determine which efforts are yielding the greatest returns.

    Although analytics can be daunting, the information hidden in those data sets provides invaluable insight into your customers' preferences and your site's opportunitites to grow. If you need some help getting started, here's an awesome free guide.


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