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e-Commerce SEO Surgery #2




Paul: All right, so thank you everyone for joining us from Birmingham to Canada, Colorado, and Los Angeles. I'll let everyone introduce themselves. Ladies first. Liz, I'll let you introduce yourself.

Liz: Hi everyone. My name is Liz Morehead. I am the director of web and interactive content at Impact, which is a digital sales and marketing company. We provide agency services for digital sales and marketing teams around the world. 

I oversee our publishing division because we do a heck ton of education on digital sales and marketing from latest news, and strategy, and expertise and all that. The short version is I'm a common nerd and that is what I do, spend a lot of time in a cave, chucking words out and people. That's pretty much it. 

Luke: I do eCommerce, CRO, SEO, UX, a bit of everything, but ultimately I help clients improve online sales. I specialize in all kinds of corners of eCommerce from the platform right out to front-end. That is me. Hi people.

Franco: I'm Franco Valentino, the founder of Narrative SEO. We're a technical SEO firm out of Nashville, Tennessee, and right now you cannot go to a bar downtown and that's killing everybody. The streets are going to go mad soon. Anyway, we do eCommerce. We do a lot of technical SEO at the plumbing level, digital interconnections and scalpels and everything in between.

Paul: I'm Paul. I like really technical with vlog analysis, Schema, Tag Manager and all the other bits and pieces in between. Who wants to go first and start looking at appliances online? ao.com gave us permission to dig through their site. Liz? 

1st Website: User Experience and Buyer-Focused Content

Liz: Okay, so welcome to ao.com, where everything is important, so nothing is important. Just to preface this for this website and the next one that we're going through, I'm focusing on two things. One, the actual words on the page, are they effective, are they appropriate calls to action, are they going to engage people's attention? Then also, and this is the one thing I really focused on for ao.com, the organization of the content. 

My challenge for this website isn't necessarily the content itself, but rather how it's laid out because as a consumer, I feel as if I'm sifting through a lot of noise in order to get what I want. It's almost as if just scrolling through it, I feel like I'm looking at one of those store inserts that I get in a newspaper or a catalog come to life. Not as if it was really built for me to be able to find things easily. 

At a high level, just visually with the content, there isn't a lot of good hierarchy or differentiation. If you look at everything, a lot of the font sizes are the same boldness, but when I look at the mega menu here, it almost faded into the background. I actually scrolled a little bit at first to find it before I actually noticed.

What I'd love to see also here is some more ability to self-select and figure out where it is that I want to go before I start getting hit in the face with every single deal, every single coupon, every single sale that you guys have going on right now. 

A great way, for example, to maybe implement some more consumer or buyer focused copy would be at the top, “I am looking for” or “I need help with”. The “I need help with” type of content or type of positioning would be very helpful in this help and advice section, because if I'm a consumer and I'm going out there, the thing I'm thinking is I need a dishwasher. There are thousands of dishwashers on the market and I'm not then going to then sit here and say, "I'm just going to look for arbitrary buying guides." Then sift through that as well. 

You don't want the helpful material to be as cumbersome as trying to figure out what it is that you want to buy as well. Maybe a little bit more sorting, like are they pricing guides, are they comparison guides? Are they best of lists? Make it a little bit more contextualized for me as the user, so I understand what exactly I'm getting into in that section. 

Another thing that really jumped out at me at the bottom that just screamed to me like, did anybody really think about the user or the buyer in this representative example section? I don't remember who told me this a long time ago, but whether thinking about the organization of your website or more specifically the copy and how you're presenting information, the number one golden rule is you do not want to make your user think. 

When I look at this representative example section, my first instinct as a user is, “a representative example of what?” There is no context here and it takes me between 15 and 30 seconds to be like, "Oh okay. I'm looking at..." 

Again, it's taking a step back and thinking about, did you build this website to just have a virtual catalog where everything was on here or did you really think about the buyer and the journey that they're going through in order to find what it is that they're looking for? 

Okay, we're talking about financing. This could have been a much more exciting section where you speak to the pain points of, you want that new refrigerator, but how are you going to pay for it? Plus there's no call to action here. I don't know what I'm supposed to do with this information.

One thing I did like that I want to show very quickly is when I was looking through some of the deeper product pages, leaving aside the fact that there needs to be some serious editorial cleanup on some of these little subheadings and things like that. I liked that you guys had self-selection. Self-selection is something I think that takes things like consumer electronics, consumer goods, appliances and things like that and makes them accessible, makes it easy for me to immediately and very quickly sift through and push away all the things that I don't want, but I don't find something like that until I get down here. 

If there's a way to bring that experience at a broader, more generalized level, even if it's as simple as, I'm looking for a TV, a new refrigerator, my laundry exploded and there's soap everywhere. I probably need a new one. Anything like that. It’s sad that that experience is buried there, but those are my initial thoughts on the copy and content. 

Again, my overall takeaway from this, and this I think goes for any eCommerce site. You don't want to just lift the experience of a catalog or a sales insert in a newspaper and just replicated on your website. It doesn't work that way. You just end up with people who are more confused and less likely to buy because the more friction you create in the process, where either your copy or your content organization makes it difficult for me to find what I'm looking for, I'm going to abandon and go elsewhere. 

Paul: That was good. Yeah, so structure and emotion. 

1st Website: Duplicate URLs, Diluted Link Equity, and Pagination Issues

Luke: I want to talk about some of this mega menu here. For one, it's complicated. There's a lot going on. It almost felt like a directory, kind of finding it difficult to find out where to go, but from an SEO point of view, all of these URLs contain MMREF, which is like a parameter. 

I am sure that's going to be a parameter for a mega menu reference that they use to monitor performance and engagement on mega menu clicks, but what's really irritating here is all these URLs are indexable. That seems a little bit weird because then you've got duplicate URLs going on. 

If they are using Google Analytics, then what I'd absolutely recommend here is using events for these clicks instead of URLs. The benefit in doing that is when a user comes to click on one of these items, then you can track that event in GA. Equally, if I was to copy and paste this URL, it's not going to artificially flag it as a mega menu click, which is exactly what would happen if I clicked “best gaming desktop”, copied the URL, send it to a friend or shared it on social. 

Another issue here is, as I said, there's a lot of links going on here. All of these links are follow. They're not restricted in any capacity, so there's probably hundreds, if not probably running into the several hundreds if not thousands of links in here and all of these are going to be diluting the equity that the website has. 

Ao.com is not a small site. There's a lot of equity for it to play with, but there's better ways to distribute equity to the important areas of the website. I'm pretty sure not all of these URLs are going to be super important and deserving of equity passing to them from every page on the website, so that's certainly something to look into. 

This is like a general rule, right? This isn't just for ao.com, this is in general, which is if you have a mega menu in eCommerce, which is quite a popular thing, first of all consider design. But second of all, think about what URLs you can set a priority for SEO, which ones do you want to pass equity and which ones you're not so bothered about. 

You may find, for example, that this one here, this kind of bezel based offer from Samsung is a really good promotion, but it's not really going to do anything for you from an SEO perspective. If that's the case, then nofollow and prevent the equity from paths into places it doesn't need to happen. 

So pagination, this is something that I see a lot in the wild for eCommerce sites for sure is just how websites manage pagination from an SEO point of view, from a UX point of view, from many different perspectives. 

Let's take a look at this page here and I scroll down and I want to go across to say page three. It's referencing the URL without the pagination, which means for ao.com, Google and other major search engines are going to find it a challenge to go away and index products that are deeper in the page, which is a real problem. The last thing you want is to be in a situation where products on page two and onwards aren't receiving any equity because items on page two may be really important. 

I'm always the kind of guy who rants about user experience when it comes to products you no longer sell, so I just want to bring up an example here. This is for a Morphy Richards kettle, nothing particularly important, but you've got to think. 

Since the year of 2015, there's going to be thousands upon thousands of products that ao.com no longer sell, and what it looks like ao.com do is 410 the old product pages. Now, these product pages absolutely have equity. 

Rather than 410, which of course the equity is then is dead if it's not passed along, why not show user experience which says, “Hey this Morphy Richard's Kettle is no longer available. What if you browse these other Morphy Richard's kettles that we have in a similar price range, or a similar color, or a similar spec?” That would really make a difference and it would allay to preserve some of that equity at the same site. 

1st Website: Website Error Codes

Paul: Let me share my screen and see what I'm recommending because that ties in perfectly with what I'm saying. Obviously, I didn't have access to search console or analytics, so I go into the Wayback Machine, Google sheets and I pull out everything that's a 200 status code and everything's been closed ever as a 401 code. 

Then I go to SEMrush and I pull out all of the pages there. These pages here have been picked up and were indexed. Then we're crawled by SEMrush or Wayback Machine at some point. I've got two of them here, which are really good examples of what you are meaning about passing equity. 

You've got this page here. Now, when we look at the backlink history for it, we've got a link from GamesRadar going straight to that page, which is an authority score in SEMrush of 71, so straight away they've just cut that link.

Obviously, you've got a couple of other strong ones there on the leaf as well like T3 for example. There's a handful of good domains and that's where they should be checking their pages before they 410, then making a decision on whether they should 410 them or 301 them. The top level category for that product or to the new product and that will help obviously with those pages gaining indexing slightly higher. 

I'm not even too sure, even if they try to 301, if it'd actually do anything anymore, because Google is pretty much not going to come back to that page realistically again unless they're really lucky.

Luke: It's a tricky one. I've certainly come across the situation before and I think normally to help clients out in this situation is you've kind of create almost like a temporary XML sitemap, which is you might just have a discontinued sitemap. In doing that, you kind of encourage Google to go and, first of all, go and crawl those items that are no longer available. 

We can almost let them do the 410 and start to jiggle some of the equity around, but it's not always successful. Sometimes, Google is just stubborn as like, “you told me it's gone. I'm not going to come back and check that out”. But it's worth a shot. If you've got a bunch of a couple of thousand URLs you could throw around, build a site map, submit it via Google search, console and see what happens. 

Paul: Over to Franco. I know Franco has got a lot of good stuff to share. He's been sharing some technical stuff with me.

1st Website: No Schema, Outdated jQuery, More Error Codes

Franco: I'm actually going to start sharing just some notes real quick. We typically start with a view of the framework that the website is built on. In AO’s case, there is Adobe Enterprise Cloud and they're using IIS basically for the server that the website's built active server pages, Microsoft technology, so that's all fine and well.

It's a standard eCommerce platform and it's got its own ways of applying things like security and speed and headers and things like that. I'll be kind to them at first and say, look, you guys are doing a lot of things that are right. You have a content delivery network. You've laid CloudFlare on top of the website, which helps distribute the pages globally. They're using modern image format, so webP lots smaller, faster, lighter, renders while on the browsers. They are enforcing HSTS. 

No page is not secure on the website. We know it's a known rank factor for security. Another huge, and I was really pleased to see this, they turned on Brotli compression within CloudFlare. Typically, the protocol that encrypts files is the protocol that compresses files between the server and the user's browsers as Gzip compression. It's a standard protocol, been around for more than 30 years. Brotli is a newer one. It's about 30% faster, so they're getting a really good speed boost just by having Brotli enabled on the server. 

The images are lazy loading, so when you get that first view of the website, all the images that are below that don't load until the user scrolls them into view. Again, standard practice. Actually, most modern browsers are starting to implement that natively, which they should have done a long time ago, but it's there now. 

We saw micro data on the homepage, we didn't see any schema. I didn't see JSON-LD. I'll let Paul talk about that a little bit more, but this is a really, really, really big opportunity for them because schema, if you're familiar with it as a way of wrapping rich metadata around your website and having a search engines or Google distribute the website in new SERP features. Especially in eCommerce, product schema is really important.

If we go to the about page, there's no schema on the about page. From an EAT standpoint, expertise, authoritativeness and trust, that's a really big opportunity to help improve the knowledge panel to Luke's point, those old backlinks, right? On an individual product page, we also saw some invalid attributes for the ratings. 

One other thing, when we look at the jQuery query versions that are loaded by the framework...the version that they have running is 1.10. The current release is 3.4.1. This is a big security vulnerability, so it's a little bit harder to fix because you have to either update the CMS or update the server and find out where jQuery UI 1.10 is, and then update it to 3.4.1, so kind of important on that front as well. 

Another thing we did is because of the jQuery issue, this sort of flagged to test with disabling jQuery or JavaScript on the website. When you go to this particular product, if you disabled JavaScript, the image rotator, the slider completely disappears. Why is that a problem? 

When Googlebot comes into the website, it runs two passes. It goes through and sucks out the HTML and the CSS first to understand all the content on the page. It doesn't do JavaScript at first. If it has enough cycles, it'll then render the JavaScript. 

In this case, we're opening a hole, and if Google has tens of thousands of pages to crawl, it may not pick these up and then therefore not pick up the ad tags, which are super important for image search.

Tthere's a fetch and render tool. If you just Google fetch and render, you can actually test it just like Googlebot tests by plugging in what the user agent. This is the Googlebot smartphone user agent...and they'll actually get the output of how Googlebot sees that particular page, which is if you match it up between your desktop and what you see in the render tool, you'll see that a lot of the page content is not there initially.

Things are good from the speed perspective. The F that we're seeing here is just “expires headers” in the browser. Just tell the user browser to save a JPEG for 30 days, things like that. It flags it a little bit, but it's okay to ignore those because there's a lot more important data here. 

Now, if we do the lighthouse crawl, there's a lot of unused CSS. There's about two seconds worth according to lighthouse, so the performance score is sitting at about 44. If somehow they can get it to a 70 by cleaning up potentially JavaScript cause they have a lot of requests to JavaScript. 

The more modern scripts, jQuery, 3.4 is a lot faster than 1.10. Just code level improvements I think would help a lot. The sit map was in really good shape. They are publishing the last modification date, which for the QDF ( Query deserves freshness) rank factor, that helps a little bit.

All right, let's get into the response codes because there's a lot of meat in here. This is a massive site, so I stopped the crawl at about 46%, but even so at 46% there were 2200 pages at 46% that did not have an H1 on them. We know that the H1 is really important, it's a hint. First of all, it's not necessarily signal, but it's the most important HTML code on the page, which can signal what this product is. In e-commerce, it's typically the name of the product or the model number, which helps it rank, so an audit of the H1s would be a really, really good thing for them to do. 

All right, let's get to the 500s. This is a critical error. When, Googlebot runs through a website and it sees a 500, that's a server, it means the server's gone. It's not there, so it leaves, right? It hits a firewall essentially. 

A 500 is a really, really strong signal to the crawler to leave the site. Just by cleaning those up, the crawler can stay and actually make more sense of the site and get more pages indexed. Paul, I'll let you talk a little bit about it. 

Paul: Yeah, yeah. In all the log analysis that I've done over the years, as soon as Google hits a 500 error, especially the amount that obviously we see within that crawl that was taking place there, the Googlebot just going to back off. I can guarantee you that if ao.com look at their log files and do some proper analysis, they will find that their crawl rate has dropped directly when that issue started. I can lay absolutely money on that and that's going to hinder them from getting indexed. 

Luke: Just to jump in real quick Franco on this bit. There's something that I love to do for clients in GA on this case and it's just pushing a little data layer that push event whenever you hit a 404, a 410 or a 500. Even if because your log files are perfect and they're great and they'll give you the context, but to kind of build a business case, if you can justify how many people in a given space of time have bumped into that issue and then maybe align that with abandoned baskets. 

You then have a business case immediately to say, Hey, this is costing us X thousands of pounds a week, a month, a quarter, all of a sudden it gets re prioritized and put to the top of the queue because you can guarantee, I mean, there's agencies and there's a lot of people taking care of this domain. 

This won't be necessarily new to them, but what they may not be aware of is just how much of an impact or just how many people are seeing this. Building a report in GA to allow them to see all of this good stuff in a very quick report. Number of users, number hits, number of transactions this impacts, that can be a really big way of helping you to kind of say, “Hey, look, this is a big deal let's get this fixed”.

Franco: Yeah, that's a great point. There also we picked they're using Tealium as their tracking versus GTM. They have GTM, but like you said, set up those alerts and at an estimated 2 million visits a month, they'll have some statistically significant data really quickly. Just measuring and tracking is super important on e-commerce. 

Ran it through a couple of other tools as well. GT metrics was flagging sort of the standard stuff and any SEO agency will know what to tackle and they may be in different areas because there's a lot of code on that website. 

Paul: AO is a very big site and I mean in the UK certainly the SEO has noted there's a lot of history there. Hopefully AO will find some good information there.

2nd Website: Editorial Inconsistency and Organizational Issues

Paul: Right. Let's jump into the next site. Tri... is it, what's the name again Franco?

Franco: Trifecta Nutrition.

Paul: There we go. Let's get this out of the way and see if we've got some time at the end for some questions. We have to make this one a little bit quick.

Liz: I've got a few thoughts. I've got a few thoughts. Here's what I want to say first. What I do like about this website as opposed to AO, is that they clearly made a concerted effort to target their audience and their goals with their copy. They're focused on their goals and their needs first as opposed to leading with something. 

I see a lot on different e-commerce websites, which is “look at this great thing we have. Look at this great thing we do”. Eat like you train; I really like that kind of bold in your face statement.

One thing I do want to note...there's just a lot of editorial inconsistency here. Like why are certain words capitalized and other words not? Also world-class is hyphenated because it's a modifier, but that's fine. There's like a lot of stuff here where I just wish they had had like a quick copyeditor run through this because those are the types of little things that, it doesn't seem like a big deal, but it erodes your credibility overall. 

You've got to make sure that your content has a style guide, which means like these are the rules, the commas go here, this is capitalized, this isn't. Again, it seems like it isn't a big deal, but when someone like me or anybody else who is like a version of me that likes to like do stuff, comes to this website, it's something that's going to jump out at them.

I like how they have things laid out. I like that they have the legitimizer right here. I like that they actually use video. The one opportunity though that I really think that is missed here is that they don't really spend a lot of time differentiating themselves from their competitors. 

There's one thing, “finally take control of your diet with a science backed meal plan.” Is that something your competitors are not doing? Is this a place where you actually differentiate yourself? Is this the reason why you got up in the morning and said, “we have to do Trifecta Nutrition because nobody else is doing this or we can do it better than anybody else”. There is no differentiation here that creates the urgency of why you over somebody else at least in my mind. 

The other thing I want to note here, is that I like how you have the information laid out, but there's just a lot of stuff here where I could literally just spend so much time just going through this page and there's just so much to do. I wish it was a little bit more well organized. When you get up here into the menu, there's nothing except for the article section that really allows me to do any sort of self-selection in terms of learning more.

I do like that you have the video here, but again, I think there could be more video. I would love to see a video maybe here in the hero where you could create a really compelling case around your value proposition, what the real problems are that Trifecta Nutrition solves better than anybody else. Also it humanizes your brand too. 

One thing I also do like here is that you have a learning center. I think it could be something more creatively labeled here other than articles. Articles as physically what they are, but from a value perspective, this is self-guided education. This is a nutrition learning center. You have really great topics here.

I like how things are laid out. It's bright, it's colorful, but the thing to keep in mind though is that because of the way you have things styled, a lot of these headlines don't shrink well. The 12th best, what? I don't know what that is. 

I will state that there are some opportunities here to have content created around problems. What are the problems getting started with the meal plan? What are the problems with X diet? Y diet? Any type of problem that has to do with fitness, nutrition, dieting, eating, all of things. When I think about when I'm making a purchasing decision, I want to know what the problem with something is before I try it because I don't want to have any sort of buyer's remorse, whether that's literally around a product or figuratively around it.

I think reviews could also be really helpful here and I want you to think a little bit more outside of the box. Not just reviews about like your own product, but you are operating in the health, fitness and wellness space, the number of products, programs, diets, shakes, recipes like all of these different things. You should become the go to resource for reviews on any of those types of things. 

Those are my thoughts on the content. I want to pass it over to you gentlemen.

2nd Website: UX Issues and Dual-Install Slowing Website Down

Luke: Purely on the way of e-commerce, CRO and UX and stuff, I really don't like this search, because this could be my subjective bias, but when I search for things here, I want to see the product and I can't seem to get to the product. It's content. 

That leads me to my next point, which I feel that this website is confused in the sense of is it e-commerce, which of course it is technically, but it doesn't feel like an eCommerce site. It feels like a resource. It feels like a blog, I guess more than it does e-commerce. I think I can see what they're trying to do. I think it just needs more separation between what is content and what is the user experience. 

How much does this cost? Is my first question. I have to scroll a heck of a lot of way to find out what that information is and I just feel if this was a proper e-Commerce site, then those questions will be answered far sooner. 

Franco: The challenge with Trifecta is, it's a dual install. It's HubSpot COS on the front side and it's actually WordPress on the sub domain, which shopped Trifecta.First of all, an e-commerce shop should have a decent level of schema on here.

While they have some schema, we have a website and webpages. We're not seeing any product schema, which is really, really, really, really, really important, right? Schema is an opportunity. 

When I actually click on the item, it'll actually pop up in a window, which again, it should go to a product page now because it's another really, really strong signal to put in the titles, meta descriptions, headers and everything that goes along with the product to rank it by itself. That's getting confused between the front side of the website, the content side, which is HubSpot and the WordPress side. 

The HubSpot COS is fine. It's a good server, right? If we hit the WordPress side, they need database optimization immediately on the server. The cache with the repeat view is five seconds slower than the initial load, which means the origin server is faster than what they're doing on caching. Also the first byte times are way, way too slow. They should be sub half a second, so less than a second initially for mobile and half a second for desktop and the total document complete time is 14 seconds. 

WP optimize is a plug in, they can use for that and reduce the first byte time from one second down to maybe 200 milliseconds, for example, right? That's one way to do it. 

Something else, all of the meta descriptions on the WordPress side are duplicated. They have two meta-description entries in the code, so what's happening is Google is not actually picking up the meta description, it's picking it for them, but not the one that they want picked. 

Instant improvement if they can get rid of that duplicated meta-description field, right?. That'll send a clear signal and it'll pick up what they want deliberately put in for a click metric versus what Google's choosing for them. 

Paul: That's the end. I'll let everyone say goodbye and if anyone's got any more questions they can hit Liz, Luke, Franco or myself up on any of the social media sites that we're on to carry on the conversation. Thanks for letting us do this SEMrush.

Franco: Yeah, thanks for having us Paul. Liz, Luke, see you all.

Liz: Good to see you too. Bye everybody.

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