Six Rules for Custom eCommerce SEO

Often we as SEO professionals need to work with developers who create eCommerce web sites using their own proprietary solutions rather than an off-the-shelf product.  When this happens, it’s up to us to work with the developers to ensure that proper SEO functionality is implemented.  Alternately, we need to extend the power of an off the shelf eCommerce solution and we have the ability to go beyond what 3rd party SEO plug-ins might provide.

When I am working with a developer for the first time, I use the following rules and techniques as my ideal.  Every aspect of these rules that can be applied, or adapted as necessary based on technical or budgetary limitations, adds one more SEO element to the online catalog system.

OPTIMIZATION IN THE EXTREME

There are several recommendations I’ve listed here that you may find are “optimization in the extreme” or don’t fit with your personal view of what optimization really calls for.  In those situations, feel free to adapt what you want and leave the rest behind.

Also, there are many other aspects of the complete SEO process that applies to any site, eCommerce or otherwise which I have not included here, so it’s up to you to know or learn the broader SEO requirements that go beyond the scope of this article.

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1. ADVANCED HTML BASED NAVIGATION

Site Navigation for product Categories, Sub-Categories, and Products, as well as the links for each (and thus the resultant URL) should be dynamically generated rather than using graphic images.

MULTIPLE FIELDS

To get maximum value out of each Category or Sub-Category we need to have new fields in the CMS that allow us or the client to provide variations on naming that will then show up in different ways on the front end of the site.

FIELD DESCRIPTION USAGE
Category Actual name of the Category What the customer sees in the site navigation
CategoryLink SEO chosen name for a category URL String
SubCategory Actual name of the Sub-Category What the customer sees in the site navigation
SubCatLink SEO chosen name for sub-category URL String
ProductName Actual name of the product What the customer sees as the Product Name
ProductLink Permalink version of ProductName URL String alpha-numeric only

Example:

Field Content
Category Banner Stands
CategoryLink Trade-Show-Banner-Stands
SubCategory Rotating Stands
SubCatLink Rotating-Banner-Stands
ProductName The “Marquis” Trade Show Banner Stand (Standard) Rotating Banner
ProductLink Marquis-Banner-Stand

CATEGORY URL

When they click on Banner Stands it might take them to that category page if it exists – if so, the URL would be:

http://www.ClientDomain.com/Trade-Show-Banner-Stands/

SUBCAT URL

If they click on the Sub-Category they would see:

http://www.ClientDomain.com/Trade-Show-Banner-Stands/Rotating-Banner-Stands/

PRODUCT URL

And if they click on the Product name it would take them to:

http://www.ClientDomain.com/Trade-Show-Banner-Stands/Rotating-Banner-Stands/Marquis-Banner-Stand

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2.  ECOMMERCE SECTION HEADER AND CONTENT

Because of the fiercely competitive nature of ecommerce, we need to go the extra mile in creating proper maximized Page Titles, Footers, Meta content and Page Content for each Cat, SubCat and Product.

To this end, we will need the ability in the CMS to add unique content for each of these three fields within each section.

CATEGORY SEO HEADERS

Field Content
CategoryTitle for use on that category’s page TITLE & FOOTER
CategoryKeywords for use in that category’s Meta Keywords field
CategoryMetaDescription for use in that category’s Meta Description field
Category Description WYSIWYG box to allow strong, italics, bullet points, links  – appears on the category landing page
CatImageDescription If Image provided for Category landing Page, This field should be used as the alt attribute

SUB-CATEGORY SEO HEADERS

Field Content
SubCatTitle for use on that sub-category’s page TITLE & FOOTER
SubCatKeywords for use in that sub-category’s Meta Keywords field
SubCatMetaDescription for use in that sub-category’s Meta Description field
SubCat Description WYSIWYG box to allow strong, italics, bullet points, links for use on SubCat landing page
SubCatImageDescription If Image provided for Sub-Category Page, This field should be used as the alt attribute

PRODUCT DETAIL SEO HEADERS

Field Content
ProductTitle for use on that product’s page TITLE & FOOTER
ProductKeywords for use in that product’s Meta Keywords field
ProductMetaDescription for use in that products Meta Description field
ProductDescription WYSIWYG box to allow strong, italics, bullet points, links for use on product details page
ProdImageDescription If Image provided for Product Page, This field should be used as the alt attribute

ABOUT PRODUCT IMAGES

Sometimes an eCommerce system calls for multiple photos for any single product.  Because of this you’ll need to ensure that the content management system is adapted to allow a unique and appropriate Alternate Attribute for each product image posted.

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3. AUTOMATING 301 REDIRECTS

If any URL is dependent upon a site owner’s text entry, the system will need to automatically handle 301 redirects so that old URLs which are no longer valid, don’t end up becoming 404 not found pages.

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4.  AUTOMATING SITEMAP.XML GENERATION

When you have a dynamic web site, eCommerce or otherwise, if the site owner is able to add, modify and delete pages, or add, modify and delete categories, sub-categories and products, you’ll need to work with them ensure that the sitemap.xml file(s) is/are auto-updated.  This will need to happen either as soon as the content additions or deletions are generated, or on a set schedule.

You’ll also have to decide how many URLs the system should include in a single file before it automatically generates another one.  Just because you can include 50,000 URLs doesn’t mean you should.  Especially if the server the site is on is less than robust, or if the actual files are generated on the fly…

BEWARE – I’ve gone through this with a number of development companies.  Some of them get it and others “think” they do, only to have me find during testing that a sitemap.xml file either throws an error or is missing half the URLs, or has the incorrect version of some URLS included.

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5.  AUTOMATING CUSTOM DATA FEEDS

Depending on the client budget, you’ll want to consider whether the site should automatically generate custom data feed files for distribution of product data to 3rd party shopping aggregation sites, such as Shopping.com or Google Base.  There are several other similar sites as well.  Each one to be considered will need to be checked to find out what the feed submission process will entail.  And you’ll then need to coordinate with the site’s developer to get the feed implemented for each one.

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6.  TESTING TESTING – IS THIS THING ON?

Just because I’ve outlined the most important ways to implement high value SEO for eCommerce does not mean that you can just pass this information to the developer and walk away.  You’ll need to be a participant in the process from start to finish, most especially when it comes to Quality Assurance testing BEFORE site launch and AFTER.

One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen in the execution of this type of functionality is that developers leave out various tasks, or they make assumptions about what or how they should do the work, only to cause the end result to be a mess of invalid URLs, mis-interpreted placement on the front end, or duplicate content.  When that happens, it will be your responsibility to make note of the problems, and be able to explain why things need to be changed.

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THE BOTTOM LINE

So there you have it – the core tasking I include whenever I can in working with 3rd party developers to help make an eCommerce site as optimized as possible.

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Alan Bleiweiss has been an Internet consultant since January 1995, and has been specializing in SEO since early 2001.  Some of his most notable clients include Weight Watchers International, Starkist Tuna, Fortunoffs, and Publishers Clearing House.  For more information contact Alan Bleiweiss at www.HeyDudeWheresMySite.com or visit Alan’s Blog at http://SearchMarketingWisdom.com

About Alan Bleiweiss

Just another guy. Who happens to have a lot of experience living, breathing and sleeping organic SEO. So that's my primary focus - high end SEO audits and consulting for sites ranging from thousands to tens of millions of pages. In my spare time I blog, rant, write eBooks, and speak at industry conferences.

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15 Comments

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  6. Darren Champen says:

    Great insight.

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  8. Darren Champen says:

    I’m using this for a few clients..you’ve helped me alot…

  9. Jon says:

    Good Point on the auto generating sitemap.xml. That does take a lot of time to maintain. Like you said though, it is tough to get it right.

  10. [...] past August, I wrote an article entitled Six Rules for Custom ECommerce SEO that gives a solid foundation of the “how-to” for customizing and automating search [...]

  11. Hey Alan,

    Killer stuff. Been following you for 2 years now on twitter. Just started reading your blog. I’ve been doing a lot of work recently on E-commerce clients. Love to see you do more blogs on architecture audits on big E-commerce sites.

    Best,

    BRLM

  12. Many thanks for being my personal instructor on this topic. I enjoyed your current article quite definitely and most of all liked the way you handled the issues I regarded as controversial. You’re always incredibly kind towards readers like me and help me in my lifestyle. Thank you.

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