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Elena Terenteva

E-commerce SEO: Misconceptions and Challenges

Elena Terenteva
E-commerce SEO: Misconceptions and Challenges

The fundamentals of SEO are the same for all websites. But the devil is in the details – when dealing with e-commerce website optimization, you have to employ very specific techniques, depending on your circumstances. The competition is tough and doing your best is not always good enough. In order to be great, you have to be number one.

Last week, during an SEMrush webinar, Scott Masson and Vincent Cuibus, SEO specialists at Suso Digital, a London-based SEO agency, shared tips on how to get your e-commerce site SEO optimised in time for the summer buying season without losing a single position.

Today, Scott and Vincent are answering some additional questions, commenting on all the aspects of a perfectly optimized e-commerce site, from keyword research and site speed to the biggest e-commerce and SEO misconceptions and challenges.

Can you suggest some non-traditional ways to do keyword research?

One great way to find keyword groups and ideas that will fly under the radar for many SEOs is by paying attention to online communities in a niche.

Let’s say, for example, that you want to start an authority blog in the knitting niche. Using normal tools like Keyword Planner or Ubersuggest; it’s hard to find many keywords that aren’t either:

  • Generic keywords based around “tips for beginners” and other iterations
  • Commerce focused and highly competitive, such as “buy knitting needles”

However, a quick Google search brings up dozens of popular knitting forums. These online communities are invaluable, as they give you a great insight into exactly what questions your target demographic is asking, what they want to talk about and what they want to read.

From a quick five-minute jaunt through www.knittingforums.org.uk, www.knittinghelp.com and https://www.reddit.com/r/knitting, I found loads of popular threads on topics such as:

  • How to use knitting charts
  • Cable border knitting tips
  • Tension swatch
  • How to use different gauges of knitting yarn
  • Tips on edging a blanket
  • The cheapest place for cotton (great for affiliates)
  • Substituting yarn

While this method is great for content-driven sites, for more targeted commerce keywords, I often like to see what successful competitors with fairly similar metrics are doing. You can have access to every keyword metric under the sun, but that will never compare to the experience of a big e-commerce site that consistently makes a lot of money off of the products and services you are selling.

It’s particularly useful to use sites with similar external metrics, as it’s a good indicator that you’ll be able to rank similarly for any keywords that you find.

SEMrush is great at uncovering these kinds of keywords, as well as giving you access to hundreds of very relevant related keywords. This allows you to not only see what keywords competitors are targeting, but can even show you some they might have missed.

Another way to spy on your competitors is to crawl their site with Screaming Frog:

  • Take the title tags
  • Remove all brands
  • Pull out all the two-, three- and four-word combinations that appear more than once or are on key pages
  • Stick those combos into a keyword research tool

Which Schema mark-up benefits an e-commerce site the most?

http://schema.org/Product and http://schema.org/Offer are the two schema types most commonly used in e-commerce websites.

As well as helping search engines better understand your content, one huge benefit a well-implemented markup will have is useful rich snippets, which can dramatically improve your CTR. Reviews and specific product attributes that users might be searching for will be shown in SERPs, which can compel searchers to click through to your site.

Other integral schema elements e-commerce sites should use whenever applicable are:

  • Offer ending dates
  • Customer reviews and ratings
  • Price ranges
  • Specific brands
  • Product descriptions and specifications
  • Product availability

How often would you recommend conducting a site audit? Do e-commerce website owners have to do it more often? What issues have to be solved first of all?

Depending on the size and complexity of the site in question, I would recommend doing a quick audit anywhere between once a week and once a month.

That might sound like overkill, but if the site is well optimized to begin with, often these audits are just to make sure everything is ticking over as it should be. Because of the high number of automated processes and different tickets your development team might be working on at any one time, small SEO mistakes can quickly spiral out of control.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to audit the site regularly to catch any burgeoning SEO issues before they become problems.

Also, it really pays off to take the time to really understand how your or your client’s site works. Anyone with access to site crawlers can see dynamic URLs are being created without the correct canonical tags in place, but when working on a large site with a busy, overworked dev team, it is a huge help if you can identify what is causing this issue and how it could be fixed.

What is the biggest challenge a webmaster can face during breadcrumb implementation?

The kind of breadcrumbs a website uses depends heavily on a number of factors, including how the site is structured, how users navigate to certain pages and how a page relates to the pages above it in the hierarchy.

For example, it would make sense for an ecommerce site with a strict physical silo structure with no crossover between products to display location breadcrumbs like this:

Home > Car Accessories > GPS

However, a more complex site with multiple category cross-over products would require attribute-based breadcrumbs, as one product or category could fit into two sections like so:

Home > Home & Garden > Kitchen > White Goods > Washing Machines

Home > Electrical > Appliances > Washing Machines

Therefore these breadcrumbs would need to be dynamically generated, which can then cause headaches with duplicate content, as although the pages are ostensibly the same, the two different breadcrumbs in the source code will make Google see them as two distinct pages.

Therefore, when dealing with dynamically generated breadcrumbs in a complex site, factors such as canonical tags need to be taken into account too.

Speaking of site speed – how can it be improved? What site speed is acceptable in 2016?

Most sites I come across have the same easy-to-fix, yet significant speed issues: CSS and HTML files are not minified, or they don’t use a CDN, or there’s a bunch of front-loading JavaScript that slows everything down. Often nine out of ten of the basics are not in place, and the basics are all that are needed to achieve a good site speed.

Some other big issues I come across with site speed are those caused by CMS systems and the wide availability of public plugins that do a variety of different things. These plugins often mean that a page has to load a whole bunch of external JavaScript or PHP applications, or worse, write a bunch of inline scripts that take ages to render and prevent the page from loading.

If you don’t have a lot of programming experience and don’t understand how a plugin might affect your site, I recommend sticking your site into Pingdom’s Website Speed Test so you can see exactly what files are slowing down your site loading speed.

Maile Ohye, who works for Google, has stated “two seconds is the threshold for e-commerce website acceptability,” and all the data seems to back her up. Numerous studies have shown that loading times in excess of two seconds dramatically increase bounce rates, and have very negative effects on your SEO, plus they can even reduce your crawl rate.

We recommend using two seconds as a maximum loading time, but aim to get it under one second.

What is the biggest e-commerce SEO misconception? And what SEO tactic is usually overlooked, despite the fact that it can benefit an e-commerce website? 

The most common e-commerce SEO misconception is that content isn’t crucial for e-commerce sites. The majority of sites I work with have thin content issues, and while these sites are happy to plough resources into link building, they’re often hesitant to put aside any for hiring writers and populating their category and product pages.

Not only have we seen that having lots of unique written content across the site improves rankings, but it also increases traffic by ranking the pages for a wider range of long tail keywords that were incidentally targeted in the content.

Elena Terenteva, Product Marketing Manager at SEMrush.

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