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An Interview with Arsen Rabinovich on eCommerce SEO

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An Interview with Arsen Rabinovich on eCommerce SEO

Melissa Fach
An Interview with Arsen Rabinovich on eCommerce SEO

eCommerce SEO can be a massive challenge for retailers and webmasters. There is a lot of advice out there, but too often the recommendations don't come from those that live in the trenches day in and day out. So, I reached out to Arsen Rabinovich, Founder of the TopHatRank marketing agency, to get some insights on eCommerce SEO, strategies, platforms, and audits. 

1. Can you tell us some of the common eCommerce technical SEO mistakes you see? 

The bad news — most of the frequently observed eCommerce technical SEO issues, at least in our practice, require a bit of work to fix. The good news — addressing these issues typically results in substantial SEO improvements.

Improperly handled pagination is on my list as the biggest offender. Everything from missing canonicals, placement of rel=next/prev tags outside of the header, unreasonable use of noindex/follow robots instructions, to all kinds of confusing canonical signals along with how view-all/infinite-scroll pages are integrated with their series' component pages. 

Poorly implemented pagination can lead to a bunch of other SEO problems like index-bloat (when you have more pages in Google's index than the actual unique pages on your website). 

Other bad players include improper implementation of breadcrumbs and competition between brand and category silos.

These issues are not easy to fix if you don't know what you are doing. Depending on which platform/CMS your eCommerce site is built on, it may require a bit of know-how and code. So unless you know what you are doing, I would recommend enlisting the help of a professional.

2. I know you know eCommerce platforms well; how does a business choose between them? What should they look for?

This is a question that is frequently asked when we consult our clients through migrations. And I catch heat for saying this from time to time, but you should first choose a platform that most fits your business's unique needs and focus on SEO second. 

For example, some of our clients like all the social shopping capabilities of Shopify, while we as SEO's dislike that we can't pull server logs, or change how categories and products are organized.

Regardless of the platform, a good SEO practitioner should be able to find creative ways of working around many limitations, to a certain extent of course.

3. What are your top 3 suggestions for eCommerce sites that are not converting? 

The first thing is always being able to effectively predict and address your potential buyers' Fears, Uncertainties and Doubts (FUDs) as they relate to your products as well as your shipping, payment processing, and return processes. 

Next one on my list is speed. This one is a common CRO advice but still needs to be repeated. The faster your pages load, the more conversions you will have. I am not going to cite anyone specifically; there have been plenty of studies done on this topic, "Google It". 

My third suggestion is to stop forcing registration at checkout and/or pre-purchase. This is generally a terrible idea; no one is going to sign up for your email list or create an account on your site before seeing the products.  At the same time, you should allow people to buy from you without creating a profile. You are not Amazon (yet). 

4. There are a lot of companies out there offering site audits, but we know not all audits are equal. What should a business look for when choosing a company to perform an audit for them?

When choosing an agency for your SEO audits, you should look for someone who will not just sell you a report from a tool. 

I am not saying that the tools are useless, tools are just that, tools. You still need a person who knows how to interpret the data these tools collect and knows how to apply all of the information in a way that will benefit you. 

Ask these questions: 

  • Have you audited sites on my CMS? 
  • Who does the actual audit? (a lot of times an audit will get pushed to a junior SEO) 
  • What is being evaluated? (technical, backlinks, content) 
  • Can I see a sample audit report/deliverable? (This will help you get an understanding of how much detail will be provided)

Beyond that, you should keep in mind that a typical SEO Audit deliverable is a document which contains a write-up, spreadsheets, and actionable tasking. Most of the time the auditor will not be able to implement his/her recommendations. So make sure that you are either able to do it on your own or have someone who can do it for you, and budget for that accordingly.

5. You offer competitor audits. Can you tell us how the information you provide would benefit an eCommerce business? 

Competitor/competitive SEO Audits are super fun. We get to pick our client's competitor websites apart and quietly giggle at all the mistakes we find.  But for our clients, they provide a myriad of information and help us formulate super effective SEO strategies.

With the help of tools like SEMrush, we extract everything from keywords to backlinks. We crawl their websites to understand how topics are organized, how their content is structured, what their internal linking strategy is and so on. 

We set up social listening to get an understanding of what is being expressed around their brand and content. You can even take it a step further and get into sentiment analysis. 

Typically these types of audits result in tactics that can be placed into two buckets; DO and DON'T DO. And that is what the ultimate goal is for these audits — to understand what your competitor is doing right and wrong. 

Key Takeaways

  • Improperly handled pagination is a big offender when it comes to problems with eCommerce SEO, and can lead to a long list of issues that often require an expert to fix.
  • Choosing an eCommerce platform should be about meeting needs.
  • Address your potential buyers' Fears, Uncertainties and Doubts for conversions.
  • Stop forcing registrations. 
  • When it comes to eCommerce SEO audits, ask the auditor questions to ensure you get the information you need. 
  • When it comes to eCommerce competitor audits, it isn't just about the SEO. 
  • How your competitor's topics are organized, how their content is structured, and their internal linking strategy is critical information. 

I want to thank Arsen for his time answering these questions for us. If you have any questions for him, please leave them in the comments below, or you can find him on Twitter. You can find Arsen and his team speaking at several SEO conferences throughout the US and beyond.

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Thanks Melissa and Arsen for this post. Extremely helpful.
Kelechi Ibe
Internal linking between topically relevance pages is such an underrated and under-utilized SEO strategy. Recently, I have seen top SEO experts always mentioning it. That says a lot! Success leaves clues!

Thanks for sharing, Arsen!
Marco Bonomo
Good insights! Thanks for sharing
Zack Neil
really informative article.
Also, within said category page we have 39 pages of products. We have set the necessary rel tags but would you also recommend setting the paginated pages to noindex, follow?
Arsen Rabinovich
Dan Judd
I typically do not like the noidex/follow directive. Is there a reason you want crawlers to crawl through these pages but not pick any information?

Or, do you have the same sequences of products appearing in a different paginated archive?

I like to think about it this way -- let us show Google how much information we have about this topic, or how many products we have from this brand, or how many products we have in this category.
Arsen Rabinovich
As stated for a particular category we have 39 pages, all of which are indexed, even though we have canonical and rel=prev/next set up. Was advised externally to add the noindex, follow directive to avoid index bloating? But we had the same understanding as what you have said
Dan Judd
Hi Dan,

there is nothing wrong to add a nodindex on the next/prev pages. These two meta tags work separately.
The question is more like: what do you want to achieve by doing this?

1. Do you have thin/poor content on those pages and you are afraid of that would negatively affect your rankings? ==> Yes add the noindex.

2. Do you have duplicate content on those pages? i.e. same product descrition but just color or size is changing? ==>Yes add the noindex.

3. Is the content on those pages necessary for the user, but not worth it for search engines? ==>Yes add the noindex.
Cooper Hollmaier
Arsen Rabinovich

This is a great article and you've provided some awesome advice here. Can you go into some more detail here about not liking the noindex,follow directive? As someone who works in this space (eCommerce) extensively, I tend to favor this directive, but in many cases can be backed into a corner and prevented from using with many major eCommerce platforms. I believe that with no ability to change up the content on the page (in the case of category pagination), I'm better off trying to noindex the paginated series (with the exception of page 1) because I feel that it provides little/no value to the user in a search. That said, I believe my intent here is to "follow" all of the links on my category pages so that I can get keep "feeding" my product pages while noindexing everything but page one. I could use a canonical tag, but it tends to get pretty messy. Just looking for some more from you on why you tend to dislike it.
Arsen Rabinovich
Cooper Hollmaier
Hey Cooper,

Thanks for commenting!

I dislike the noidex/follow directive because often it is used in situations where it doesn't make sense to use it, especially when it comes to using it across paginated "archives."

With eCommerce, I'm a firm believer in showing search engines how much assets (product pages) we have in a specific category.

So let's say you sell marbles, all kinds of marbles, different colors, and sizes. When someone searches Google for "blue marbles," which is pretty broad, Google will try to find the best page (hopefully on your website) to show the user.

The best page to match this query on your website is the first page in a series of a paginated archive for "blue marbles." Why? Because you have tons of product pages that sell different kinds of blue marbles. And since the query wasn't specific (5mm light blue marbles), this is the best place for the user to start.

So, in my opinion, it is better to let Google crawl and index all of the pages in this series so that it sees and knows how much content we have on the topic of "Blue Marbles."

In a perfect world, each one of your product or brand category archives should be unique in one way or another. But a lot of times that's not possible, so the ones that aren't unique should not be available for crawling and indexing, or should be addressed in a creative way, like by using filters.

As your website grows in size, crawl budget allocation becomes an important thing to keep in mind, and noindex/follow will become an issue.
Hi Arsen,

Interesting point around "competition between brand and category silos."
We are struggling to rank for a key category page. We have over 100 brands on our ecommerce site all with a lot of content referring to the target keyword of the main category page.

Would you advise removing the content on the brand pages? Or at least reducing references to the key term?

Arsen Rabinovich
Dan Judd
Hey Dan,

Awesome question!

It's a little difficult to answer accurately without taking a look at the site, so please do not take this and run with it. But, I wouldn't jump into de-optimizing the category pages right away and instead would look into using them as a part of your topic organization.

Think about it from the standpoint of - what is a logical navigational path to each asset (product page), and how can category pages be integrated into it:

category >> subcategory >> brand >> product
brand >> category >> subcategory >> product
(these ^ are breadcrumbs)

By creating a hierarchy or parent/child relationships between pages, you'll be able to minimize, and most of the time, resolve competition between them.
Arsen Rabinovich
We are on Shopify so unsure whether we can create that breadcrumb structure.

Thanks for the info though
Hi Fach,

I totally agree with you but have a question related to e-commerce SEO. How does breadcrumb navigation system affect e-commerce SEO?

Is it really an importact SEO factor of e-commerce SEO syetem?
Arsen Rabinovich
Shailesh Chaudhary
Hi Shailesh,

Breadcrumbs, when properly coded and marked up with schema, assist with creating relationships between pages and help with showing Google (and others) how you've organized your topics.

We frequently use breadcrumbs to fix competition between pages on sites with flat architecture.
I have a questions for Arsen. If you were going to interview people to help you with setting up an commerce platform and manage the SEO for the site, what are some signs that they don't have the experience you need? Should they know the ins and outs of each platform - or is that impossible?
Arsen Rabinovich
Hey George,

I'm going to give you an SEO's answer... it depends!

If their primary responsibility is SEO, I would ask questions that will help gauge where their eCommerce SEO skills are. SEO is relatively static when it comes to different eCommerce platforms (duplicating titles are an issue regardless of your being on Shopify or BigCommerce or Magento or WooCommerce).

On the other hand, eCommerce is so much than SEO. So it all depends on what you are trying to accomplish, what can you do in-house vs. retaining an agency and so on.

When we interview for an SEO position, we ask the applicant to review a website and identify ten critical SEO issues that need to be addressed right away. Their findings are usually a good indicator of where they are skill wise.

Hope this helps.

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