Technical SEO is an essential part of building a successful online store. It’s the foundation upon which your site stands. If you want to search engine algorithms to rank you higher, you need to optimize your eCommerce website according to the best practices.
Unlike on-page SEO, technical SEO isn’t about optimizing your site for keywords. It’s about making sure that your site loads quickly, is crawlable and indexable, has a clean design and solid structure, is optimized for different devices, and provides your visitors with a positive user experience in general.
Read on to learn more about the importance of technical SEO for eCommerce websites and how you can optimize your online store to rank higher and provide your customers with a better user experience.
What is Technical SEO?
Technical Search Engine Optimization is the process of optimizing your website and pages to increase their crawl ability, on the one hand, and improve user experience on the other. The former helps search engine bots crawl and index your website more efficiently, while the latter ensures visitors can navigate your website and find what they are looking for quickly and easily.
Why is Technical SEO Important for eCommerce?
You could argue that technical SEO is important for all websites and you would be absolutely right. However, since eCommerce sites usually have a lot of pages, their sheer number amplifies the impact it has on their performance, as well as creates more room for error.
On the other hand, a well-optimized eCommerce site will rank better for more products and provide a smooth shopping experience, leading to more sales and more profit.
By implementing technical SEO best practices right from the start, you will ensure that your website is built on solid foundations of speed, responsiveness, and navigability.
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Technical Search Engine Optimization for eCommerce Checklist
Search engines rank websites based on a multitude of signals. When it comes to technical search engine optimization, there are several factors that impact how your eCommerce ranks in SERP for different reasons.
Below is a checklist of some impactful factors, how they influence your eCommerce technical SEO, as well as some SEO tips for eCommerce sites.
Your website’s structure impacts how easy it is for both search engine crawlers and users to navigate it. If it is too complicated, your customers won’t find the product they want to purchase as quickly as they would like, while bots will use up more of the crawler budget than necessary.
Ideally, all your product pages should be three or fewer clicks away from your home page. This usually means organizing your products into product categories and subcategories by the following formula: Home/Category/Subcategory/Product.
The same applies to your URL structure. Make sure they contain your focus keyword and always separate words with dashes.
SSL Certificate (HTTPS)
An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate authenticates your website’s identity and guarantees a secure connection – meaning that all information a user enters on your site is encrypted and secure.
This security is crucial in terms of technical SEO for eCommerce for two reasons. Firstly, you want your customers to feel safe when making online purchases using their credit cards, and secondly, Google favors websites that use encryption (HTTPS protocol).
So, if you haven’t already, make sure you install an SSL certificate on your website.
Mobile optimization is a technical SEO factor that’s at the core of user experience. Considering a large number of users browsing and shopping through mobile devices, search engines want to see websites with a responsive design.
Mobile-friendly sites provide a seamless browsing experience to mobile users by ensuring all elements display properly and load quickly.
If your eCommerce store doesn’t have a mobile version, you are very unlikely to get to the top of search rankings. Further, your conversion rate for smartphone and tablet users is also bound to be suboptimal if potential customers get frustrated trying to navigate your shop on their devices.
Slow-loading pages often cause a high bounce rate as the user becomes annoyed with waiting for all the elements to display. As a part of core web vitals, the perceived load speed is an important issue to address across both desktop and mobile platforms. Naturally, you should strive for your pages to load as quickly as possible, keeping in mind that a loading speed longer than 3 seconds is considered to need improvement.
Apart from your server response time, the most common reasons for long load times are code and image file sizes.
Optimizing your website code to make it lighter manually can take copious amounts of time. Hence, using tools that help you compress the code is recommended.
When it comes to image sizes, it’s all about finding the right balance between quality and loading time. Again, you can use image compression software to reduce the size of your images without them becoming pixelated and avoid loading speed issues.
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that the mobile and desktop version of your eCommerce need to be addressed separately when resolving the issue of slow page speed both in terms of code and image optimization.
Thin Content and Duplicate Content Issues
Thin content refers to pages that contain little to no valuable content. Google doesn’t like pages that don’t bring any value to its visitors and penalizes thin content since the Panda update in 2011.
It’s a challenge most eCommerce stores face at some point, as it can become increasingly difficult to write unique content for product pages as their number increases. Still, you should try to have at least 500 words on each of your important product and category pages.
The issue of duplicate content is pretty similar in terms of why businesses struggle with it and the penalization by Google. At this point, it’s important to note that duplicate content can also include meta description, title tags, H1 tags, and image alt texts.
There are three steps you can take to avoid repeating the same content on your website.
Firstly, you need to noindex pages that don’t bring in organic search traffic while causing duplicate content issues. Most of the time, this refers to unique URLs created through category filters – simple enough.
Secondly, use the canonical tag to tell search engine bots that certain pages shouldn’t be treated as unique. The canonical tag is best used for pages that describe variations of the same product as it reroutes robots and incoming external links to a single unique URL. You can choose the URL you want to be treated as the canonical version or let Google decide for you.
After finishing with the first two steps, you should have a much thinner list of duplicate pages. All that is left is to roll up the sleeves and start producing high-quality content. It can be a daunting task, but there is simply no way around it if you want to stay competitive in search rankings.
XML and HTML Sitemaps
An XML sitemap, in essence, is a text file that contains a list of all the important pages and files on your website. Its purpose is to help search engine robots crawl and index your site more quickly and isn’t accessible for your visitors.
XML sitemaps are recommended as part of technical SEO for eCommerce websites because they tend to have a lot of pages and content that need to be indexed. You can consider it an “invitation” of sorts for bots to crawl your pages – the sooner they do and start indexing, the sooner you can start ranking.
HTML sitemaps, on the other hand, are another means that help users with navigation. It’s a simple list of pages that they can scroll through looking for the information or product they need. Apart from boosting UX and providing visitors with more options to explore your website, an HTML sitemap is a form of internal links in its own right.
Structured Data Markup
Structured data or schema markup is a bit of code that helps bots understand the content on your webpage. By implementing schema markup on your product pages, you can provide Google with additional details, such as review ratings, price, and availability for the product.
This can improve your chances to appear in rich snippets for a relevant search. Optimizing for snippets is a great way to get your customer’s attention and, if done correctly, can go a long way in terms of click-through rates.
While nobody can guarantee your product will appear in a snippet for a target keyword, the prospect is certainly worth the effort.
HTTP Status Codes
An HTTP status code represents the server’s response to the client’s request. They are a crucial part of your website and are also used to assess its health status since they can indicate the presence of technical issues. In this sense, the ones you should be focusing on are 3xx, 4xx, and 5xx error codes.
3xx are redirection codes. Among other uses, some of them (like 301 and 302) are used to redirect traffic from one URL to another either temporarily or permanently while preserving SEO value.
4xx are client error status codes. They indicate that a page isn’t loading as well as why. If you happen to find some of your pages are displaying 4xx errors during your eCommerce website audit, they are probably the first thing you’ll want to fix.
5xx are server error status codes. If you encounter this error, it means that there is something at the server level that prevents the request from being fully processed. Similarly to 4xx errors, this presents a problem for your SEO efforts, so fixing the errors should be one of your top priorities.
By correcting error status codes, you can ensure that search engine robots can crawl all the pages you want them to. This is a good first step when making improvements based on your eCommerce SEO audit.
Your crawl budget represents how often search bots will crawl the pages on your website. You can see this information through your Google Search Console. While most sites don’t need to give this frequency much thought considering it is not a ranking factor, an eCommerce business with thousands of pages may want to try to optimize for their crawl budget.
The benefit of doing so is simple: the more often search engine crawlers visit your website, the sooner Google will index any changes you’ve made, including your on-page and technical search engine optimization efforts.
So, how does one optimize their crawl budget? There are several things you can do, some of which were already mentioned in this article:
- make use of robots.txt to allow your important pages to be crawled
- update your XML sitemap regularly
- use canonical tags to avoid duplicate content and URLs getting crawled and wasting your budget
- fix broken links and resolve 4xx and 5xx error status codes
- avoid long 301 and 302 redirect chains.
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You’ve made it to the very end! As you can conclude, technical SEO factors impact many different functionalities of a website, from those purely technical to those focused on user experience, all ultimately affecting or contributing to how you rank in Google Search results.
If you are looking to improve your eCommerce technical SEO, the checklist we provided is a good place to start and can provide you with some basic understanding of the nuances.
Our team at Play Media can help you optimize your eCommerce website and grow your brand with sustainable advanced marketing strategies. Partner with us and let our team of professional SEOs aid you in boosting your search engine rankings and conversion rates!