SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for eCommerce sites plays a vital role in driving valuable organic search traffic that converts into sales and revenue.
But, over the last few years, as Google has unleashed Panda and Penguin on Web spammers, thin affiliates, and duplicate content sites, many online store owners feel that SEO is a dirty word - a way to cheat instead of compete.
In fact, we should draw a distinction between good SEO (that is encouraged by Google), and bad SEO that we'll simply label Web spam.
eCommerce sites, in particular, find themselves running afoul of Google's search algorithm updates, and this makes it doubly important to stick to best practices when it comes to optimizing for search.
This list provides great tips, and highlights where and how to avoid Web spam (unintentional, or otherwise).
1. Use the best shopping cart solution
One of the best ways to ensure your online store is permanently disadvantaged, is to stick with a bad Web host (or shopping cart software) because it is too much trouble to move.
It is absolutely vital that your shop makes use of a vibrant, cutting edge, popular and growing eCommerce solution in order to stay ahead of rapidly changing technologies on the Internet.
A great example, is the current swing to mobile Internet access.
Does your store offer mobile eCommerce (mCommerce)? If not, you better get on board quickly, because that's the way things are moving.
You can find out more about which shopping cart software has great SEO and responsive Web design (mobile support) by reading The 3 best shopping carts for mobile eCommerce (m-commerce).
You might also want to check out How to move your website to a better Web hosting service to get a feel for what's involved in migrating a store to a new Web host.
2. Create great content, or nothing at all
Google loves fresh, original and high quality content. It wants as much of it as possible to keep people happy with their search results.
The trap that most online store owners fall into is to upload a catalog of thousands of products, using very little (or none) original content, and copy and paste product descriptions from the manufacturer.
This is worse than doing nothing at all because you'll get the same result - but it takes more effort to upload all those products than do nothing.
Think about it. Why should Google display your duplicated product description above the original manufacturer's description?
Instead, cut down on the number of products you offer, and make sure that every product page offers some great content of interest and value to potential buyers.
How you do this is up to you. At the very least, write your own product descriptions. It may also be a good idea to encourage customers to write reviews and share their experiences too.
Read Top small business content marketing tips for tips on how to create effective content for your business.
3. Improve speed and performance
Having a lightning quick website is not only great for search, it is also great for increasing conversions and maximizing revenue.
Improving the load time of pages on your store is vital for keeping both Google and customers happy, but it sometimes takes a bit of technical know-how and skill.
There are a number of great potential speed and performance gains you can implement without requiring too much technical knowledge. Check out:
4. Cut out thin or duplicate content
As mentioned, it's a favorite eCommerce trick - upload a thousand products from a manufacturer's catalog to an online store and copy and paste the manufacturer's product descriptions.
Some webmasters try to supplement their thin product catalog with a blog that provides some great content for the search engines to index.
The problem is that Panda (the part of Google's ranking algorithm that deals with content quality) is a site-wide penalty - in other words, it doesn't just apply to the content that caused the penalty, it affects the page rankings of the entire domain.
Panda hates thin or duplicate content, and your entire site will suffer if you have too many product pages with little to no new or original content.
This means that thin product pages may get the entire store penalized or ignored, and writing a blog won't change anything (other than to waste time and resources creating content that won't rank anyway).
The only way to avoid this problem is concentrate on a manageable number of products that you can spend some time really promoting well - as per point 2 above.
If you're worried that your online store is not getting the Web traffic it deserves, and that SEO may be the problem, check out Top 5 reasons your site is losing Web traffic to Google's Panda.
5. Blend eCommerce & SEO strategies
There are a number of eCommerce strategies that businesses use in order to increase the volume of sales, or the value of those sales - like cross, or up-selling.
Cross selling offers related products to a customer that has shown an interest in a given product. Up selling offers a more expensive model or product, based on the customer's interests.
Both these techniques are great search optimization strategies from a content point of view.
Providing highly relevant content for customers to explore helps them to find new or better-suited products faster. It also means that they are spending more time browsing pages on your site, and Google takes this into account via the bounce rate metric.
Offering plenty of relevant options and alternatives for customers to explore (without cluttering up the page, or making the layout confusing), will lower the bounce rate, and improve the site's internal link profile.
Plenty of engaged visitors is a strong quality signal to Google, and you will likely increase page rankings and organic traffic volumes as a result of a healthy internal flow of traffic.
So those are my top 5 SEO tips for eCommerce webmasters. Is this something you feel is important to your business? Share your thoughts in the comments.