Sales-based sites are where SEO really comes into its own in terms of return on investment, and it literally is the case that even the smallest tweaks can result in real increases in revenue.
So here are seven ways to help transactional e-commerce sites boost their search rankings...
1. Multiple categorisation
A common instinct for e-commerce site architecture still seems to be the 'filing cabinet' approach: each product is assigned one category and one category only. But of course in reality any one product may fit into many different 'buckets'. A pair of trainers might fit into ‘mens trainers’ as well as ‘Reebok trainers’, ‘white trainers’, ‘tennis shoes’ and ‘cheap trainers’.
Now you may say to me “get with it mate, usability people have been recommending this for years!” True, and you may already be using a number of 'sort by' options to categorise your products. But do those categories form their own landing pages from which to target all those keyphrases, or are they simply ways of filtering results? The key is to make sure each of those categories is linked to using a clean, HTML anchor text link.
You need to be careful, however. The arch nemesis of multiple categories on a site is duplicate content. A warning sign to look for is if your product URLs looks something like this:
All very organised, you might think. But if your CMS produces URLs like these imagine what happens when you put the same product in two different categories... you end up with two completely unique URLs for the same product. That is a no-no for SEO. The best solution is to get your developer to do some URL rewrite jiggery pokery so you end up with URLs like this:
By having the product pages only one folder deep, you can have them listed in as many categories as you like and there'll only be one version of that product URL. Your doors are now open to the fun filled world of multiple categorisation. Happy days.
2. Only the First Link Counts
There have been numerous tests by SEOs to show that if you link to the same page twice from any one page, only the first link 'counts' for Google. This has an important impact on many e-commerce sites which - including Amazon! - tend to have images linking to products or subcategories BEFORE the actual descriptive text link.
What this means is that the keyword-rich anchor text link isn't counted by Google because the first link is the image. You can use the brilliant First Link Checker tool to find out quickly and easily if this is a problem for your site.
So what to do about it? An easy fix to this would be to place the text link above the image, or not have the image link to the product page at all. But this is a bit of a usability fail: we expect to see the text below the image like a caption, and we also very much expect to be able to click on the image.
3. Dealing with pagination and duplicate content
Another extremely common scenario in e-commerce sites is that many categories contain more than one page worth of content. Rather than listing all of the items on a single page, the standard behaviour is to paginate products. Usually this takes the form of URL parameters – for example the URL of each paginated page becomes:
This is often the cause of an almost identical duplicate of the original category page – yes there are different products on page 2, 3, 4 or 10 – but usually each of these has the same page title, headings and copy, and is almost certainly targeting the same keyword as the main category page. This duplicate content tends to dilute the effectiveness of the original page.
There are a few ways you could go about resolving this:
# Add the Robots Noindex Metatag to the duplicated pages to exclude them from being indexed.
# Use the Parameter Handling Tool in Google Webmaster Tools to exclude paginated pages from the index. This is essentially simpler (and lazier) way of achieving the same result as the Noindex tag – but just for Google.
# Use the Canonical link tag from paginated pages to ‘point to’ the original page and pass SEO value across to it.
A quick disclaimer! Each of these techniques could potentially create other crawling and indexation issues if not applied carefully. I would test them out on one section of a site and measure the impact before rolling anything out sitewide. However the beauty of finding a solution to this on a site with potentially hundreds of pages is the cumulative ranking benefit it can bring - well worth the initial headache if you ask me.