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, by Simon Rouillier

The Golden Rule for E-commerce Site Search Engine Optimization

US e-commerce site sales posted 14.8% growth in 2010, compared with 1.6% in 2009. Growth forecasts for 2011 call for a 13.7% jump with sales of $188 billion, resuming a trend of slower growth that signals a maturing sales channel (source: Emarketer).

There are good times ahead for e-commerce sites. Unlike the US market, the Canadian market—and the Quebec market in particular—has yet to reach maximum growth, as can be seen from this article. This bodes well for Quebec e-commerce, notably in terms of traffic to the site, whether organic or paid. Here are a few suggestions for optimization and good practices for your e-commerce site.

As an e-commerce site owner, it is in your interest to make sure your site is SEO-friendly. This means optimal indexation of your pages and traffic acquisition through positioning on organic generic and trademark keywords.

The usual prerequisites for website optimization are: page titles, meta descriptions, title and ALT tag attributes, with page-specific keywords, found in the product description and page content. Beyond these, there are some considerations that are specific to e-commerce sites.

First and foremost, you must make sure that there are no obstacles that could hinder search engines when they index your pages and content. This means avoiding JavaScript, particularly for navigation menus and reviews.

Navigation and indexation

Insofar as it generates a breadcrumb trail, which will help with effective product indexing, classification or taxonomy is essential to e-commerce site architecture. Thus, you will need to determine whether visitors are more inclined to search for your products by brand or by category (Nike shoes vs. Running shoes). This needs to be thought about in terms of your search volumes, your inventory and your business objectives.

Creating a footer-accessible HTML sitemap listing the main categories and subcategories is recommended, along with an XML sitemap whose location is specified in robots.txt. You can thus opt for a segmented sitemap that will enable you to monitor the indexation of your site’s various sections.

To optimize your page titles, you can also implement an internal search engine that will enable you to collect valuable data on the search terms entered by your users. At the same time, you will be protected from indexing of generated URLs by specifying disallow in robots.txt for all internal search results parameters. You can also disallow indexing of URLs with more than two parameters.

Content duplication

The biggest sin that e-commerce sites commit is to allow duplicate content, which has the effect of diluting page rankings. Duplicate content implies that there are identical pages with different URLs. Use canonical tags and 301 redirects and monitor the results with Google Webmaster Tools to ensure there is a single URL for each page.

E-commerce sites also suffer from duplicates because of pagination caused by large numbers of items in each category. The pagination URLs are differentiated by a parameter, but their contents are not differentiated from the page without a parameter—i.e., the original URL for the category. A common solution to avoid this pitfall is to use the no index, follow tag for URLs with pagination parameters to prevent Google from amalgamating pages that are different despite the similarity of their content.

The ideal product record

It is optimized for referral, as explained below. It is possible to go even further by adding aggregate microformats: products/reviews to ensure it appears at the top of enriched search listings (rich snippets). This is also an excellent way to obtain a choice placement and optimized product placement in Google Merchant Center. As Google Merchant Center will obtain content from your site via the microformat, you can control your product description. It is up to you to provide as much detailed information as possible!

To ensure proper indexation of your images, without generating a URL for each image, you should add dynamic information to your ALT tags—by using the item name and brand, for example.

Paying careful attention to product descriptions is highly recommended as this impacts not only referrals but also facilitates conversion! A consumer who understands a product is more likely to buy online as he does not have to go to a store to get more information.

Interlinking

Linking pages to each other allows search engines to differentiate between main pages and secondary pages, such as category pages and product pages. You can add product suggestion modules which will help you increase the duration of site visits and the number of page views. These modules may be products in the same category, similar products or other products viewed by users.

By tweaking your interlinks, you can also push certain pages to increase hits with high-volume search terms or tweak a niche product.

A blog can also support your organic traffic by providing long-tail keywords and optimal interlinking, provided that you put your blog in a file on your site http://www.domainname.com/blog, which is preferable to using a sub-domain.

Google Merchant Center

Google Merchant Center was launched in 2009. It allows you to upload your product listings. Items listed in Google Merchant Center show up in universal search results and let you direct organic traffic to your site. You can track and optimize your strategies and performance.

You can set up promotions with or without coding modifications and display local product availability with your results or optimize your Adwords campaigns or create more attractive ads.

As we have seen, to acquire organic traffic for your e-commerce site, a significant part of the work is done on-site, by improving your site pages and your keyword positioning. To support these efforts, you can also launch Adwords campaigns. We will look at this in an upcoming feature.

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