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Whether you’re an established eCommerce store with an endless list of customer orders and years of industry experience, or you’re just starting out on your eCommerce venture – the chances are you’ll encounter some of the technical SEO issues highlighted in this article.
The eCommerce space for most products is an incredibly competitive market. Unless you’re selling a very unique product, there will be a lot of competitors out there. This makes high-quality search engine optimisation services essential for ecommerce sites.
Here’s 4 SEO technical issues that regularly appear on eCommerce sites and the actions you can take to fix them to ensure you’re performing optimally.
1) Missing Robots.txt File
The robots.txt file is a text file hosted within your website files which you can use to inform search engine web crawlers (such as Googlebot) which pages on your site to crawl. In theory you might have thought that you would want the search engines to crawl every page on your website, right? Wrong.
If you think about it, you wouldn’t want your customer account area pages to rank in the search engines even if they could, right? So you’ll be able to see why you might want to block certain pages on your website from ever being crawled by the search engines. Therefore it’s an incredibly important and common technical SEO issue.
Another thing to consider here is that Google gives every website a ‘crawl budget’. In other words, Google wants to understand how much of its time and effort should be allocated to indexing your website. If your website has lots of pages, you can easily diminish your crawl budget with duplicate content or by not instructing Google to ignore pages you don’t want to be indexed in the search engine results.
For eCommerce websites that have just recently launched, it’s worth checking your robots.txt file is removed when changing from a staging environment to the live site. The consequences could mean that your website is completely removed from the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
2) No XML Sitemap
An XML sitemap provides your website’s structure to search engines in a URL list format.
Having an XML sitemap is especially important if: your site has thousands of pages, you frequently add new or update pages on your website or have a weak internal link structure, all of which are very common for online retailers. Not having an XML sitemap is a real issue, but it’s a common SEO mistake, so try not to be too hard on yourself about it!
Generating an XML sitemap can be done via plugins such as Yoast SEO and SEO tools like Screaming Frog. Be careful to check the generated XML sitemap so that it includes the correct pages and doesn’t include any redirected or ‘noindex’ pages.
3) Duplicate Content
Nearly all online retailers will have experienced a dilemma when it comes to duplicate content. Most eCommerce sites will have products that fit perfectly into 1, 2 or more categories simultaneously. Thus, the common issue arises.
One of the most commonly used methods of eliminating this problem is by adding “rel=canonical” tags, which tells Google the primary page which should rank in the SERPs.
While the “rel=canonical” tag is a great option, it’s recommended to explore all avenues. If you’re a very large eCommerce retailer for example, updating canonical tags every time new products are added, re-stocked or sold can be extremely time-consuming, and not always cost-effective. In these cases, it may be worth considering implementing a flat URL structure for products. Let’s look at an example, below.
You could use a flat structure of:
- Examplewebsite.com/productx or
You could then use a breadcrumb trail (as a secondary navigation) to let both the search engines and users understand where a product page falls in the structure of the website.
Duplicate content is an extremely broad issue when it comes to eCommerce stores, and can be a result of multiple issues at the same time on occasion. For example, not directing http to https will cause 100% duplicate content issues across your website. Conducting regular SEO Audits will be the best way to ensure you aren’t contributing to the issues.
4) Redirect Chains
We all know how important it is to implement 301 redirects in place of 404 errors on your website, so as not to damage your user experience or performance on search engines. At the other end of the spectrum of forgetting to implement 301 redirects is having redirect chains in place, often due to multiple website migrations over the years. This is something a tonne of eCommerce stores will face as there are a few things that cause this common eCommerce SEO issue.
A domain migration in year 1, followed by a http to https migration in year 2, followed by a site restructuring in year 3, followed by the removal of some of your products in year 4 (pages which are then redirected to the home page or category page).
Too many 301s can slow down a website and make the user experience less than ideal. This is another key fix which an SEO Audit will identify for you.
ECommerce SEO Audits
The single most effective way to ensure you are staying on top of all of your technical SEO issues for your eCommerce website, is to conduct an SEO audit. An SEO Audit is an in-depth analysis of your site to identify all the issues which could be contributing to a problem with search engines indexing and ranking your website.
Nigel Adams is an experienced digital marketing freelancer with lots of eCommerce experience. He is based in the UK and runs a results-driven Bedford SEO company, with a small team. If you’re interested in an SEO Audit for your eCommerce store, he’s your go to guy!
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