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Top 50 eCommerce Tips – Part One, SEO

  • Written By Chris
  • Posted June 19, 2018
  • 15 minutes Read Time

As one of the most popular eCommerce platforms in the world, Magento certainly packs a powerful punch in terms of functionality and customisation. Harnessing this power, however, can be tricky – especially when it comes to getting the most from your site in terms of SEO performance.

Stores built on Magento can take advantage of some fantastic built-in features that can be individually tuned with just a few clicks, all helping to bring extra visitors and improve the rankings of your site on Google’s SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

It’s important to remember the value of search engine optimisation when considering any marketing strategy, especially when you’re in the business of selling products solely through an online store – the bigger your audience, the more sales you’re likely to generate.

The brilliant thing about SEO is that all the visitors your site receives through this channel are free, which means you don’t need to risk any of that precious advertising budget to see results.

We’re going to highlight a handful of these SEO features that you can use to improve your site’s rankings and drive more organic traffic to your store. These simple Magento practices can be implemented by anyone – there’s no requirement for much in the way of technical knowledge, but you will need to dedicate some time to get things set up correctly. Let’s go!

1. Optimising Meta Titles & Descriptions

Hidden within the pages of your website lies the key to success – metadata. If you want your eCommerce store to rank well on Google and bring in plenty of organic traffic, you need to ensure your site’s metadata has been optimised to target the appropriate keywords.

Optimising meta titles and descriptions start with understanding what searchers are typing into Google and other search engines to find your business. These search terms are known as ‘keywords’ and you should take the time to research which terms are popular within your niche. Once you’ve chosen the appropriate keywords, it’s time to optimise your metadata.

Optimising Meta Titles

One of the most important on-page elements when it comes to SEO is the meta title. In most cases, this is the main title of your page and can be customised to include the keywords you want to target.

The perfect meta title should accurately reflect the content of the specific page it relates to, include one or two of your target keywords and be no longer than 60 characters in length – that’s 60 characters, not 60 words!

By default, Magento will automatically populate the meta title of a page if it has been left empty. Whilst this can be helpful if you stock thousands of products, it’s unlikely to be optimised or include any of your target keywords.

We would suggest you take the time to optimise the meta titles of your category and subcategory pages as a minimum, as this will increase the likelihood of these ranking on SERPs and ultimately generate more traffic. Magento will generate these automatically, but you can certainly do better. In the case of product pages, the default product name/title will be used and this will be sufficient.

Taking the time to optimise the meta titles of your category and subcategory pages will increase the likelihood of these ranking on SERPs.

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Optimising Meta Descriptions

Up until the last few years, Google and other search engines used meta descriptions to gain an understanding of individual pages and rank them accordingly. Recently however, Google in particular is much improved and can now understand the entire content of a page thanks to its ability to crawl sites more efficiently.

What that means for you is that meta descriptions no longer have a direct impact on search engine rankings. That said, they still play an important role in demonstrating to searchers that your page holds the best answer to their query and therefore increasing clicks through to your store. In most cases, it’s these words that potential customers will scan when scrolling through Google search results and an optimised meta description could make all the difference.

To create the perfect meta description, you’ll need to accurately describe the content of your page in a way that is appealing to searchers – this could mean including relevant keywords or adding in your specific business USPs. A perfectly crafted meta description that tells a customer they could enjoy free next-day delivery if they buy from your store is a lot more enticing than a default Magento-generated line of text.

TOP TIP: Aim to keep all your meta descriptions under 160 characters as this is the current limit that Google displays within search results – if you exceed this limit, it’s likely that your description will be cut off mid-sentence!

If you take the time to optimise both your meta titles and meta descriptions, chances are you’ll see improved rankings on SERPs and this should bring in high quality, targeted traffic – all for free of course!

2. Create & Generate An XML Sitemap

When it comes to working smarter and not harder, few things come easier than generating an XML sitemap for your eCommerce store. SEO is often considered a long hard slog, but this is the dictionary definition of a ‘quick win’.

Even though adding an XML sitemap could be considered as a more technical SEO feature, thankfully you don’t really need a lot of knowledge to get one set up – and the benefits can be huge.

What Is An XML Sitemap?

First things first, you need to understand what an XML sitemap is.

In its simplest form, any type of sitemap is a list of URLs within a website, hence the name. The XML part translates as ‘Extensible Markup Language’ which is one of several ways of displaying information on websites, but you don’t need to worry too much about that.

What Is Its Purpose?

When search engines crawl your site, they are attempting to organise and index all the information they come across. By adding an XML sitemap, you are making life much easier for these crawlers as you’re presenting your website in their language and therefore increasing the likelihood of them understanding and indexing your store more effectively.

A well-structured, up-to-date XML sitemap will present Google and other search engines with all the information they need to crawl and rank your site. The sitemap can provide information on when a page was last updated, how frequently that page is updated and even the relative importance of that page within your entire site – clever stuff.

Magento and Magento 2 both offer the ability for you to generate an XML sitemap with just a few clicks. Simply log in to your admin panel, locate the Catalog menu option, click through to the Google Sitemap page and follow the step-by-step instructions.

TOP TIP: Set your sitemap to generate automatically overnight each day to keep it continually up to date, the early hours of the morning work best!

This type of sitemap is purely for SEO benefit and search engine use. If you want users to be able to access a list of all your pages to help them navigate around your store, you’ll need to consider adding an HTML sitemap. To do this Magento requires a plugin, so head over to the Magento Marketplace and search for ‘HTML sitemap’.

3. Add Header Tags To All Main Pages

Another crucial element to any page is the header tags but they are often overlooked, especially within the eCommerce industry. Their SEO value is somewhat undervalued so getting them right on your site can make a big difference to rankings and the amount of organic traffic reaching your store.

There’s more to it than just adding a single heading at the top of your page too.

What Is A Header Tag?

Header tags are thankfully very straightforward to understand and also implement on your site. They simply refer to the fact that everything contained within that tag should be read by Google and other search engines as a heading.

There are six different header tags that can be used within the HTML language – H1, H2, H3 and so on down to H6. These tags are all assigned various levels of importance from an SEO perspective, with H1 being the most and H6 being the least. You also generally see H1 tags being displayed on the page in a larger font as they are commonly used at the start of pages as the main heading.

Why Should I Use Them?

Header tags, more specifically H1 tags, are considered an important ranking factor by search engines, so getting these set up correctly is key if you want to reach page one of search results – and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?

Every page needs one and only one H1 tag – there is no reason to use more than one as this will only dilute the weight of your main H1 tag. There are some SEO industry experts that feel comfortable using more than one, but our experience tells us that we get the best results with a one high-quality H1. If you feel you need to add more headers, utilise the H2 and H3 tags – this is why they exist!

What Should An H1 Include?

The perfect H1 tag should accurately describe the content of your page, utilise one or more of your target keywords for that page and be somewhere between 20 and 70 characters in length. If the H1 ticks all these boxes, you’re going to put yourself in the best possible position to see that page compete at the top of SERPs.

TOP TIP: It can pay to try and craft an H1 that stands out from the crowd, perhaps by specifically answering a users’ question directly or utilising longer tail keywords. Doing this can grab searcher attention more effectively and ultimately increase the click-through rate to your store.

4. Tweak Magento’s Default Settings

As an eCommerce agency that specialises in Magento, we’ve spent a LOT of time understanding the unique strengths hidden within the admin panel of this platform. If your store is built on Magento, you’ll probably already be aware of how vast it is – there really are settings and drop-down menus everywhere!

That said, setting up Magento to give your site the best possible configuration for search engine optimisation isn’t too tricky once you know how. You’ll need a basic understanding of SEO to know exactly what is going on and why, but making these changes should get the core of your Magento installation set up to win.

Setting up Magento correctly and giving your site the best possible configuration for search engine optimisation will see your store rank higher and receive more organic traffic.

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First up, we’re going to make sure that Google and other search engines can crawl your site without issue. Locate the System menu option, click through to Configuration, then Design and onto the HTML Head. From here, you can ensure that your Default Robots setting is set to ‘index, follow’ – this is crucial as, without it, Google won’t be able to crawl or index your store.

You can also take this opportunity to change your Default Title and Default Description, although bear in mind these are only fallback options that Magento will use if a specific page doesn’t have a title or description in place. Add your business name as the title and a brief company overview for the description.

Next up, we need to make sure that Magento isn’t displaying the index.php string in your main site URL. This change will optimise both the store URLs and also give you the option of forcing Magento to show either the www. or non-www. version of your site, helping to avoid duplication.

Head to System > Configuration once again, but this time click through to Web. From here, you need to change the Auto-Redirect to Base URL option to Yes (301 Moved Permanently) to ensure Magento redirects everything back to your base URL. In simple terms, this means that if your site is https://www.yourstore.com, it will redirect to the www. version of your site going forward.

To remove the index.php string from your base URL, simply set the Use Web Server Rewrites option to Yes – it’s that straightforward.

To further enhance the SEO performance of your product URLs and avoid content duplication, it also makes sense to remove the category part of the URL to keep them shorter – something that Google is known to prefer. You can make this change in the same Configuration section of the admin panel, and just navigate through to Catalog and then Search Engine Optimisation. Change the option of Use Category Path For Product URLs to No and you’re all set.

Another important change to make to your settings relates to canonical tags. Without explaining the need for canonical tags too much, these tags guide Google and other search engines to recognising only one version of a URL instead of its variants – for example, if a page can be filtered or reordered in some way, the URL may change but we only want search engines to index the original clean URL.

To add canonical tags in Magento, stay within System > Configuration but head to the Catalog menu option. Within this page, you should see a drop-down menu that includes the title Search Engine Optimisation. Under this, find the Use Canonical Link Meta Tag For Categories and the Use Canonical Link Meta Tag For Products options – change both of these to Yes. Doing this should prevent duplication as Google crawls and indexes your store.

The last step after you’ve completed all these changes is to head over to System and click through to Index Management. From here, you should select all the items in the displayed list and then click Reindex Data using the mass action drop-down button. This setting will force the data on your site to be reindexed so it’s as up-to-date as possible for search engines.

Marcus Wincott

Marketing Manager

Media Lounge

SEO is crucial for any business and particularly important for online retailers. While some think it a difficult and confusing discipline, there are some simple steps to be taken that will ensure the fundamental building blocks are in place. These steps are far easier to implement than most businesses imagine.

5. Deal With 301 Redirects

One of the most challenging parts of running an eCommerce business is managing your product catalogue, especially if you stock hundreds or even thousands of individual products. Keeping on top of your entire catalogue is tough so making sure users don’t encounter any 404 errors is paramount.

When your product catalogue changes, you need to make sure you’re telling Google and other search engines that something has changed.

What Is A 301 Redirect?

In basic terms, a redirect is a way of automatically directing users to a different URL from the one they originally tried to access. The most popular versions of redirects are known as 301s and 302s, where a 301 redirect is a permanently moved link and a 302 redirect is only temporary.

Why Are They Important?

Maintaining and managing your stores’ SEO performance is key if you want to stay at the top of Google SERPs. If you ignore 301 redirects, you have little-to-no chance of ranking well.

Thankfully using redirects when it comes to eCommerce is broadly straightforward. If you’re not planning on stocking a particular product again in the future and you’ve decided to delete it from your catalogue, you need to add a 301 redirect to funnel any existing SEO ‘PageRank’ to another page – the category you deleted the product from, for example.

TOP TIP: If you choose not to add a redirect, anyone searching for that product on your site will come across a 404 error – this is obviously not good for user experience. It’s always best to build and style a dedicated 404 error page to entice visitors back into your store or, better yet, help them find the product they were originally looking for.

How To Add Redirects

Adding 301 redirects is fairly straightforward and you actually have a choice of two methods to get the job done.

The first method is the simplest and comes built into Magento by default. Thanks, Magento! Just head over to your admin panel, find the Catalog drop-down menu and click on URL Rewrite Management option. From here, you can add individual redirects by clicking Add URL Rewrite and entering in the ID path (this is for your reference), the request path (the old URL), the target path (the new URL) and the type of redirect you need.

The second method is adding your redirects straight onto the server which takes a little more technical know-how but is faster and generally recommended when you have hundreds (possibly thousands) of redirects to add at once. Given the huge variation in different servers and configurations available, we can’t provide definitive guidelines on how to add redirects as every server will require a different process. That said and as a broad overview, if you’re using an Apache server you will need to add your 301 redirects to the .htaccess file compared to NGINX where they will need to be placed into the server configuration file.

To Be Continued…

So that wraps up our top 5 tips for SEO in eCommerce. Over the coming months, we’ll be publishing our top 50 tips for your eCommerce business, grouped together into bite-sized chunks like this one focusing on a single area. We’ll then release all of these tips collated into a white paper with additional recommendations, actions and resources so keep your eyes peeled for that!

The next instalment will be here soon…