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How Online Retailers Can Avoid Ecommerce SEO Pitfalls

While cyber fraudsters are patiently waiting to steal a few hundred bucks from you, Google can become the main thief in your way. No, it won’t take your money. At least, not directly. But it can steal your prospective buyers, which will consequently affect your earnings. If the engine doesn’t rank your store high organically, how can prospects find it?

You can always buy Google ads. But according to the LunaMetrics data, such an investment may result in 2% click-through rates. This is definitely not the result you’re looking for. I personally never click on paid ads, because they all feel like Google manipulations, while organic results are more of a fair game. So, organic search must be your playing field.

The problem is SEO is a bit complicated in ecommerce. You can’t just upload your products with keyword-rich titles and call it a day. Google needs more content to understand if your inventory is good enough to suggest it to searchers and, most importantly, rank it higher than competitors’ items. Learn what ecommerce SEO pitfalls you must avoid if you want a consistent flow of prospects from Google search.

Pitfall #1. Thin, or even worse, duplicate content issues

The last thing you want as a store owner is for visitors to get lost in your inventory. So, your store interface can’t go without product filters, that’s for sure. While these functionalities seem minor, they are critical for a comfortable shopping experience. With a few clicks, buyers can filter out unnecessary stuff and focus on items that fit their size, suit their style, and meet their budget. Sounds awesome, right?

But things are not so cheerful when it comes to ecommerce SEO. Each time a buyer applies a new filter, there appears a new URL, while the content on the page remains pretty much the same.

Let’s switch between different sizes of the same product category, e.g. shirts. Most likely, you’ll see the same items for each size, unless some of them were sold out. But URLs will be different for S, M, L, XL, and XXL shirts.

When the same or almost the same stuff appears for different URLs, it means your store has a thin content issue. This is what Google can penalize you for, so you can’t let the engine index dynamic URLs on your site. Here’s how to fix this.

1. Type in site:your-store-domain.com to figure out how many pages are indexed. If you have like a hundred pages, and you see tens of thousands, that’s a warning signal.

2. Type in site:your-store-domain.com/product-category-page to check if Google sees many versions of a single category page.

3. Use this tag to tell Google to skip dynamic pages in the next re-crawling session:

<code>
<meta name="robots" content="noindex,follow">
</code>

4. Only after Google re-crawls your dynamic pages and removes them from its index, deny access to them by specific parameters. Enter your acc in Google Search Console and go to the section with URL Parameters.

Pitfall #2. Instant pop-ups that hide your products at once

If something blocks instant access to your content for mobile users, Google will downgrade your store. One of such content blockers is a newsletter form that pops up the exact moment when visitors enter a site. If you disable this functionality, your conversion rates will go down. So, such a move is out of the question for sure.

What you can do is set the right time when that form shows up. Instant appearance makes no sense. If it’s a first-time visitor to your store, how can that person know if it’s necessary to subscribe to your newsletter? I personally always dismiss any forms that pop up instantly on unfamiliar sites.

Let visitors browse your inventory for a while or wait until they want to leave at all. Such timing will improve your lead conversions and won’t hurt ecommerce SEO. (For more tips on improving conversion, check out our guide on eight easy tips to uplevel conversion.)

Pitfall #3. Too heavy product images

As online customers can’t touch or try your products, their buying decisions are mostly based on what they see. But here comes the problem. Low-resolution images can screw up your product presentation, while high-res pics can slow down your store. Where’s the golden mean, then?

You can compress your product pics and keep their quality using free tools like Optimizilla. Just drag and drop your JPEG and PNG files, and in a few moments, you’ll be able to download lightweight images looking as good as they did before compression.

Pitfall #4. Pages that have discontinued items

The technological progress is so fast that a high-end device of today becomes a piece of trash tomorrow. Remember the hype around the first iPad in 2010? But there’s hardly anyone who needs it today. Everyone wants the latest model with all of its bells and whistles.

That said, keeping pages with discontinued items can hardly make any sense. But if you have such pages, and they bring you traffic or have backlinks or both, removing them isn’t the best idea. Your store will lose some SEO power that’s not easy to gain and go down in rankings.

On the other hand, you can’t leave those pages as is. They’ll just take space on your domain, which may slow it down and confuse visitors. No one is going to wait ages for your store to load. Here’s how you can handle this issue.

  • If the URL has no specs of the discontinued item, repurpose the page for something similar.
  • If the URL includes something like a serial number, tell the original item was discontinued and offer either a newer model or an analog.
  • If you still want to delete linked-to pages with discontinued items, set 301 redirects to live pages. That way, you won’t lose any SEO power and keep your domain clean from broken backlinks.

High page load times can be a problem across your site, from product pages to the order flow. To figure out if page load time is a problem for you, check out Bolt’s guide on measuring checkout load time. Performant pages both help SEO and improve your conversion funnel, driving more revenue through your site.

Pitfall #5. No text on product category pages

A lot of stores are missing text on product category pages, which can be a bottleneck for Google. While buyers judge your items by pictures, Google isn’t smart enough to understand what’s depicted there. The engine needs some text to get a better idea of what the page provides.

Add a few paragraphs of unique, preferably keyword-rich text to each product page. If you don’t want it to push your product images too low, you can hide some portion of text under the “Read More” button.

Pitfall #6. Plagiarized product descriptions

Sometimes, retailers copy product descriptions from official manufacturers and paste them to their pages. No matter how good and accurate that copy is, Google has its own rules. If the same text gets published for the second time, that’s nothing else than duplicate content.

Even if you have a large inventory and no time for writing, that’s not an excuse to post copy-pasted descriptions. One- or two-liners won’t work either with ecommerce SEO. You must go into detail about each product to rank for more search queries and give prospects more reasons to buy. Try to follow this format.

Also, enable buyer reviews to get more content to your product pages. But note that it’s a bit risky. On the one hand, customers will do the writing themselves and save you a lot of time. But on the other hand, get ready to reveal true opinions about your products, which will influence buying decisions. Unsatisfied customers are more inclined to write reviews than happy buyers, you see.

Pitfall #7. No focus on purchase intent in title tags

Having a lot of visitors land on your site is of little value if they don’t buy anything. That would do if you were a blogger. But you are a retailer, and the volume of sales is all that matters. Window shoppers can’t increase it.

To bring ready-to-buy visitors to your store, pick the right keywords for title tags. The tool you use may suggest you hundreds or thousands of ideas. The problem is many keywords come with their pitfalls. Some of them are too broad and difficult to compete for, while others generate minimum clicks, if any. As conversion is your priority, opt for purchase intent keywords that typically contain the following modifiers:

  • сalls to action: buy, purchase, order, etc;
  • price: cheap, inexpensive, low-cost, etc;
  • location: near me, country, city, etc.

Pitfall #8. No click-worthy tricks in meta descriptions

There are two factors that determine whether ready-to-buy individuals will click on your page in SERP or pass it by. First, they focus on the position it takes (the higher, the better) and secondly, the message they read in a meta description. While bloggers can just tell what their posts are about, things are more challenging for retailers. Describing your product features is not enough for a clicky-worthy meta description in ecommerce.

To drive more clicks, your meta descriptions must include a unique selling point (USP) of your products. It can be a free, 24-hour delivery across the country or a special discount that expires too soon to hesitate. Test different USPs to find out which one works best for you.

Pitfall #9. No rich snippets in SERPs

Another thing that can make your SERP preview more click-worthy is a rich snippet. This is a thin line above a meta description that reveals extra product details.

For example, the snippet of Best Buy includes star ratings, votes, price, and whether a product is in or out of stock. Amazon also shows how many buyers reviewed the product. As consumers, we want to know what others think about the stuff we’re going to buy, right? That’s why such clues can improve your click-through rates a lot.

Pitfall #10. Unsecure store domain (HTTP)

While bloggers can go with HTTP, this is often not an option for online retailers. Bolt offers Level 1 PCI compliance so that credit card and payment info is secure on your site.

Regardless, migrating to HTTPS can enhance customer trust. This protocol will encrypt communication between your store and the customer’s browser to protect all the data transfers. The problem is websites often lose their SEO juice as a result of migration. Here’s the ultimate checklist of things to do if you want your store migration to go without any SEO loss.

Over to You

Google can either bring you new customers or take them away. But it’s you who can determine the way Google will treat your store. If you avoid these ecommerce SEO pitfalls, you’ll comply with the major web standards and get more chances to rank high in organic search. If you’ve been in ecommerce for a while, you may know some other pitfalls that pulled you back in Google.

About the Author

Nick Campbell is a content writer at Ahrefs. We’re excited to have him guest blog for Bolt on ecommerce SEO pitfalls. Nick is passionate about technology, SEO, and blogging trends. When Nick is not researching a new topic, he’s probably at some tech event.