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How To Do Technical SEO For Ecommerce Websites

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How To Do Technical SEO For Ecommerce Websites

Over the past two years, several businesses have been moving to online models due to changing market conditions.

Competition is heating up quickly in many sectors.

Some businesses performed well with out-of-the-box templates and ecommerce solutions. But with so much competition in search, you need to provide the best user experiences possible.

At some point, you’ll have to wade into the technical side of your website to avoid errors that can hurt search performance, especially if you’re thinking about migrating your site or moving away from out-of-the-box services.

Although you can run even large ecommerce stores on platforms like Shopify, you should still take time to understand the technical tasks those platforms do for you.

A crucial part of this is technical SEO for ecommerce stores, which falls into two areas: technical proficiency and technical optimization.

Website Architecture & URL Structures

I use the term architecture versus site structure, as structure often leads to people focusing on URL structure only.

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The idea site architecture should follow that of a standard catalog.

Catalogs have been around for centuries.

If you go back more than 100 years and look at the classic Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogs of the 19th century, very little has changed in how we structure offline catalogs and even our ecommerce websites today.

Years of repetition have effectively trained users into familiarity with this format, so following a simple site structure of:

Homepage > Categories > Sub-Categories > Products

It is something users are familiar with and makes logical sense. It should then transcend into your URL structure, which should be consistent and descriptive of the page (for users).

Products should also sit on their own category agnostic subfolder, meaning you can pull them into various relevant categories without creating product page duplication.

For example:

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  • Category Page: example.com/category
  • Subcategory Page: example.com/category/niche-1
  • Product Page: example.com/p/product-name or website.com/products/product-name

From experience, trying to keyword stuff ecommerce URLs isn’t a “needle-moving” tactic.

If you take leading ecommerce platforms like Shopify and Salesforce Commerce Cloud, they force URL structures on you that include subfolders and product SKUs. And these websites can compete just as well with any other.

Sitemaps (XML & HTML) And Google Search Console Setup

An HTML sitemap may not be strictly necessary for ecommerce websites to function, but they’re a good idea. HTML sitemaps can allow for better internal linking to category and subcategory pages. They help track and organize your pages and help users navigate your site.

It’s also not imperative to have an XML sitemap, but they can help Google with URL discovery.

And when you crawl your URLs connected to the Search Console Inspection API, you can also identify potential issues (e.g., a category page only being found via XML sitemap and not through internal linking).

To get better (less filtered) data and more insights into the quality of your pages, you can:

  • Submit structured XML sitemaps to Google Search Console
  • Add a Google Search Console property for each subfolder branch on your website: yoursite.com/clothing, for example.

This data can help you identify whether you need to improve the value proposition and quality of certain category, subcategory, and product pages.

You can also incorporate a form of XML sitemap into your homepage design to provide a natural crawl path to pass PageRank from the homepage to categories and subcategories without spammy lists of links, like this example from the MoneySupermarket.com homepage:

Screenshot from MoneySupermarket.com, July 2022

Stock Handling And Soft 404s

When your products go out of stock, your product page templates will reflect this.

It can cause Google to interpret the page as a soft 404, removing it from the indexing, meaning you lose traffic and ranking for the search terms associated with the page.

If a user is looking for a specific product and lands on your page only to find they can’t buy it, they’ll get a negative brand experience.

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But, this is also an opportunity to cross-sell other products or incentivize the user to wait until you have it back in stock.

You can do it through automation.

When a product template stock level hits zero, if it displays default out-of-stock messaging, Google will identify it as a soft 404. To prevent this, bring similar products and elements on the product page to create a different value proposition. The user has guidance on what to do next, and you can prevent the soft 404 error.

For example, suppose your stock for Brand X HSS 3 mm drill bits runs out. Add an automated check that replaces the “out of stock” message if you have similar products in stock. You can do this using your product information management (PIM) system. Amend the template to show similar brands and products that meet the same or similar criteria – in this instance, a 3 mm drill bit.

If you also operate physical stores, you can change the messaging to “out of stock online” and direct users to a store locator.

You can also create templates that use your PIM to identify upselling and cross-selling opportunities for other pages.

And if you use custom tagging within your PIM, you can steer customers towards similar products by different variables (e.g., size, color, shape, release event).

These PIM integrations with the product pages can also help prevent negative user experiences.

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Using PIM data to add value for the user should be a standard practice in optimizing your ecommerce store. The additional usability can help your product pages stand out against competitors, especially if your competitors have similar pages or value propositions.

Structured Data

Using structured data can help improve the products of an ecommerce website in the search results by providing Rich Snippets in the SERPs. It also presents information clearly to search engines, helping them understand all the core elements of the product (for comparison with competitor websites).

Rich Snippets can help improve click-through rates from the SERPs to your pages, but they aren’t guaranteed.

For product pages, product schema is important and can enable review rich snippets.

For your category pages, you can also utilize the ItemList schema. If you have local stores, you can include the LocalBusiness schema on the individual store pages.

In addition to Product schema, the site should also be utilizing other generic schema types, including:

  • Organization.
  • Breadcrumb.
  • Website.
  • Sitelinks Search Box.

A refined technical website provides a better user experience and can help you get the edge on the competition. If you want to learn more, check out SEJ’s technical SEO category or this full ecommerce SEO guide.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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Fact Checking: Get Your Facts Right

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Fact Checking: Get Your Facts Right

In the last decade or so, the concept of “fake news” has become a major thorn in the side of consumers and content writers alike.

Digital marketing experts who write SEO content at the enterprise level might not consider themselves journalists or news reporters – but there’s a greater overlap between the roles than many people realize.

Like journos, enterprise SEO content writers need to earn the trust of their audience by demonstrating authority, relevance, and experience.

And while you might think that, as a content marketing specialist, the only person you’re serving is your client or employer, the truth is that good SEO content provides just as much service to consumers.

You’re not just advertising to people; you’re helping them find answers, information, and solutions to their problems.

That’s why, for SEO content writers, getting the facts right is crucial.

“Fake news” has eroded a lot of people’s trust in media. Online content, in particular, is always fighting an uphill battle due to the oversaturation of the digital space – and the sheer amount of misinformation that finds its way into blogs and social media sites with little quality control.

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Today, fact-checking is arguably more important than ever before.

One little mistake is all it takes to lose a consumer’s trust forever.

But what does it mean to get your facts right? Is it just ensuring every name is spelled correctly, and every claim has an attributed source?

Both of these things are an important part of SEO fact-checking, but they’re only a small piece of a large puzzle.

Enterprise SEO Fact Checking Best Practices

Fun fact: Even when consumers don’t know you’re lying, Google does.

Web pages with deceptive, inaccurate, or poorly vetted content are penalized and less likely to appear in search results.

Want to avoid the wrath of the almighty algorithm? Here’s what you need to do:

Get The Basics Right

A few paragraphs back, I mentioned that fact-checking isn’t limited to correctly writing people’s names, ages, positions, and pronouns.

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Nevertheless, getting the basics right is still important. If you can’t do at least that much, then you won’t be prepared to do more in-depth fact-checking.

It’s especially important to get this information right when you’re quoting multiple people.

Not only do you need to attribute quotes and ideas to the proper sources, but you also have to make sure the information they shared with you is accurately reproduced.

Double Check Everything

If you get a quote from someone that says the sky is blue, go outside and look up, just to be sure.

Okay, that might be an exaggerated example – but you get the point.

Double and triple-check everything.

If you find a useful quote or statistic online, track down the original source. See if you can find other reliable web pages with the same information.

Don’t be afraid to do a little research yourself. Crunch the numbers and try to find corroborating evidence.

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Never take anything at face value.

Go To The Source

Speaking of tracking down the sources of stats and quotes: That’s a cornerstone of fact-checking so important, it merits expanding on now.

Have you ever had a teacher or professor tell you, in no uncertain terms, never to use Wikipedia as a source?

Well, that’s just as true when writing enterprise-level SEO content. Wikipedia might be useful in pointing you toward helpful sources, but it shouldn’t be your primary text.

Nor should any second-hand source. If another web page states something as a fact, confirm where it got that fact.

If it’s a disreputable source and you parrot it, then you become a disreputable source, too.

Understand The Information

Content writing – especially at the enterprise level and especially in an agency (rather than in-house PR team) context – often requires authors to cover many different areas of expertise in many different industries.

It can be tempting to regurgitate and plagiarize information that already exists, but if you do that, you won’t be able to offer any meaningful insights.

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You have to understand the information you’re relaying.

That will help you spot contradictions and factual errors and demonstrate genuine authority.

Is AI Automation The Future Of Fact Checking?

Enterprise-level content fact-checking requires a lot of time and effort, but cutting corners is a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately, just as it has with many other aspects of SEO, AI automation may soon be able to simplify the process.

U.K.-based independent fact-checking organization, Full Fact, has been leading the charge in recent years to develop scalable, automated fact-checking tools.

Full Fact’s efforts have already garnered the attention of the biggest names in search engine technology.

In 2019, the non-profit organization was one of the winners of the 2019 Google AI Impact Challenge, which provides funding for potentially revolutionary automation research projects.

Full Fact’s stated goal is to develop AI software capable of breaking down long content pieces into individual sentences, then identifying the types of claims those sentences represent, before finally cross-referencing those claims in real-time with the most up-to-date factual news data.

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Though Full Fact is still years away from achieving its goal, the benefits of such a breakthrough for SEO content writing are self-evident.

That said, you don’t have to wait for the future to use AI automation and other software tools to help you fact-check.

For example, the Grammarly Plagiarism Checker not only identifies duplicate content taken from another source but also highlights portions of text requiring attribution.

Commonly used enterprise SEO tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, and Moz, meanwhile, can be used to investigate a domain’s authority, helping you decide which sources are considered reputable.

Fact-checking in today’s oversaturated news and information marketplace can be intimidating at first glance. But the number of resources available to content writers is growing by leaps and bounds every day.

Making full use of these resources better enables you to win consumer trust in an age when that kind of trust is a very delicate, precious, and valuable commodity.

More resources:


Featured Image: redgreystock/Shutterstock

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