The number of online shops is growing exponentially, and the competition level facing entrepreneurs is growing with it. Having the best product is far from enough! You can lose customers over the smallest details, so the transactional journey you provide should meet the highest standards.
To help out the business community we have conducted research powered by SEMrush Site Audit to find out which issues e-commerce websites are struggling with most. We have scanned 1,300 online shops for 80 technical and SEO issues, varying widely from mild nuisances to severe business-damaging errors.
We have gone over all the common on-page and technical SEO issues, including problems with HTTPS implementation, hreflangs, crawlability, site architecture, and more.
Guess what? Even the biggest retail websites have errors! Our research will help to give you an educated overview of your website’s health and find new ways to improve your business.
Paul Lovell, international SEO & PPC consultant and Founder at Always Evolving SEO, shared his expertise and concluded the research. We’ve also asked industry experts from all around the world to share their advice.
Comments from SEO experts
One of the biggest mistakes in e-commerce is not giving user experience the top priority.
The first big issue is the loading speed of e-commerce websites. Page speed is very important for an excellent user experience, especially on mobile devices. But when it comes to providing product information to the customers who are deciding if they want to purchase, the speed of the website’s response is critical.
Once this speed is optimized, it’s important to retain users and make their stay on the website a pleasant one. Browsing, picking products, and getting detailed information should be easy and enjoyable. A common thing that a lot of e-stores do not provide is product suggestions. Similar to the offline shops, we must make our site the store with the best showcase, and the best products, and the best customer service.
A good user experience will not only increase the conversion rate, but also positively affect important SEO metrics, like page views, time on page, and bounce rate.
I think the biggest problems of e-commerce sites in Brazil are related to crawlability issues. The vast majority of SaaS or Open-Source platforms generate many irrelevant pages that are 99% of the time crawled and indexed by bots.
The concept that states “the more indexed pages the better” is one of the most common misconceptions that exist in today's SEO. Therefore, we need to look very carefully at the pages that are generated by the e-commerce platform and define what should or should not be crawled and indexed. A good starting point is a crawlability report in SEMrush Site Audit or the new Log File Analyzer tool. I recommend blocking the crawling and indexing of the faceted navigation (filters) and all internal search to avoid indexing irrelevant pages and keyword cannibalization.
Of all mistakes, the most critical are surely the technical ones relating to crawlability. If there are difficulties for the search engine bots, the pages will not be indexed and ranked! Then everything else is compromised.
However, if you’ve already resolved all technical and SEO issues on your e-commerce website, pay attention to the images. Do not underestimate their power in your strategy, upload large original images (not just the manufacturer's, which are replicated extensively on the web), use semantic file names, make the alt texts descriptive and rich with related keywords.
I think the most important issue is “Low word count”. One major problem I often find on e-commerce sites is the lack of effort for editorial content.
A category page should not be just an H1 tag and a list of products with duplicated snippet texts. It must explain to the user where he arrives, what he will find and, if possible, give him a way to choose a product and go to a detailed page.
If you sell the product, you should know it well, so explain in the description why it is interesting, useful, effective, etc. Complete by answering the frequent questions that customers ask about this product.
You wouldn’t believe some mistakes that websites have, especially with clients who previously used an SEO agency.
There are always several issues with sitemaps. From sitemaps that weigh more than is allowed to sitemaps that are not found or that still have URLs in protocols different from the current one (links lead to HTTP pages for HTTPS site).
I think webmasters are a bit afraid to make deep segmentations. I have domains with more than 60 sitemaps and there is no problem with that. We shouldn't just divide the sitemaps for large projects - it is always a good way to see more specifically where we have problems on the website. And as an additional advantage, we can use sitemaps to set up SEMrush Site Audit and take specific actions on a domain that way. Moreover, we can divide the programming budget or SEO.
E-commerce websites for me always have issues with the technical side, whether that's crawlability or other technical issues caused by the platforms they are built on. But we also have the fact that e-commerce sites are so big that even the basic SEO aspects are also part of the problem. Website owners are not always SEO savvy and may not realize that using a supplier’s product descriptions will lead to duplicate content issues, or that product variants, for example, black leather shoes, size 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, are all URLs that are being indexed and we only need one of them to work for us from an SEO point of view.
Get the basics right first and foremost, but also regularly run site audits and strive to better this area as much as you can.
One of the worst mistakes (from a CRO viewpoint) you could make with an E-Commerce website is not having product reviews on your product pages. Once people are on your site and looking at pages, you just need to convince them to buy!
According to a study on Moz, 67% of online consumers’ purchasing decisions are influenced by reviews, so not having product reviews on your site can cut off a large number of your potential customers. Furthermore, online reviews can encourage potential customers to spend more, which makes adding reviews a no-brainer when you’re trying to maximise your conversions.
On top of all this, reviews have a few benefits for SEO, they can be used with Schema to have a star rating displayed in the SERP, which helps increase your click-through rate. Additionally, pages also act as fresh new content, which Google treats favourably in the SERP rankings, so product reviews can be an easy way to keep your pages fresh and expand your keyword set, by ranking for reviews of the products you’re selling.
E-commerce websites are no different than other websites when it comes to some of the core issues like crawlability, performance and interlinking, which hurts your crawl budget at the end of the day. The increase in popularity of JS frameworks due to great UX metrics brings more crawlability issues to the table and makes it tough to grow organically. My recommendation would be to get the basics right and make your website worth user’s time, you’ll surely make search engines happy in the process, I bet.
One other big thing I want to focus on here is about finding and grabbing the opportunities rather than just focussing on what you have. An e-commerce might be optimising for the categories they have (for example “Shoes”) and also ensuring the filters are not exposed to search engines for obvious reasons, but then they’re missing the opportunity to generate traffic for some of the trending search patterns like “Black Adidas Shoes”, which is a combination of category, brand and color. So, while keeping an eye on optimizing what you have, my recommendation would be to keep the nother eye on what can bring more opportunities for you and grabbing it with both hands.
User-generated content is another powerful weapon which can help you provide a great user experience by helping users decide what they want. Obviously, search engines love seeing unique and fresh content on your website along with great engagement metrics. So, this is another area I would recommend investing in, for getting both benefits.
Voice search is becoming more important in everyday life and it’s really important for retailers and e-commerce sites to try and capture this traffic.
By 2020, voice will account for 50% of all searches and 40% of adults already use voice search once a day. Although Amazon have their own products, like Alexa, voice search on phones, tablets and computers is much more powerful and capable of delivering much better results for the user.
We haven’t come across any sites that have got this nailed yet so it’s a great opportunity and worth the effort to get in early and get this right.
Regarding voice search for e-commerce sites, we think that you should be:
- Optimizing your site for key terms (voice and text search often have different syntax and semantics and as such you should be considering both)
- Marking up all your products correctly. This includes things like size, type, make, model, range, price, stock levels, rating, brand, material, SKU etc. to ensure the search engines have the most info possible to index them.
- Providing information for a user. We believe that all of the things required to rank for featured snippets/position zero will work for voice too. This could be listed information, answering specific questions, creating user guides, solving common queries etc.
It’s worth noting that a lot of these tactics also work very well for traditional search, so double the reward for getting it right!
You can also find a more detailed breakdown of this in a post that our Content Marketing Manager Dave Gregory wrote.
The most common SEO ecommerce errors we see are user generated errors where the clients team add and remove products and create 404s. To make sure we don’t miss any pages going down we make sure to crawl the site with SEMrush every 3 days to pick up any major changes or issues. The great thing about using the SEMrush regular crawls is that you get email summaries so you know when you need to take action. Double that up with GA alerts and you have a really robust system.
A common issue we see is poor canonicalisation when it comes to configurable products. For example, if you are a lighting manufacturer, you can have a mixture of shades, bases and bulbs - all of these combinations spit out unique URLs which shouldn’t be in search. Having a strategy for handling canonicals is one of the most fundamental points for ecommerce SEO.
A soft mistake that I see a lot is a random internal linking structures that indiscriminately point to the “star product”. Although this isn’t technically a bad thing, it is an improper use of internal links. In an ideal world you want to group products and blog content together that fit a similar thread and use them to internally link to one another. By siloing content like this, you are sending stronger topical signals to Google and are more likely to get the right content ranked in the right SERP with the perfect search intent.
My advice is you should not underestimate new search console.
It’s a powerful and free tool that will give you a 360-degree view on what is going on with your website. Aside from keyword performance you now have a deep dive into indexation issues. You may in some cases see plenty of pages that you may not want or you should not Index. Additionally, you can build an amazing dashboard linking new search console with data studio.
If your website generates revenue for your business, checking its technical health is a must and should be carried out regularly. As we can see from auditing over 5 million e-commerce pages, there are many basic SEO factors that even some mega brands have problems keeping on top of.
We hope that our research provides a comprehensive overview of what needs to be improved in e-commerce sites, and how smaller e-commerce brands can compete by ensuring that they keep a close eye on the highlighted issues and follow the best practices.