If you delving into the deep world of ecommerce SEO, then you are bound to have come across the term Technical SEO as it is one of the four pillars of SEO.
But what exactly is technical SEO and what are some of the things you can do to improve your ecommerce stores SEO?
Well that is what we are going to look at in this guide, so lets get started!
What is Technical SEO?
To put it simply, technical SEO is making sure that your store can easily be crawled by search engines such as Google and Bing, so that they index your content and display it is search results or SERPs.
This is why technical SEO is generally focused around your sites architecture rather than the content on your site.
A good analogy for this is a car that you are trying to sell, you could have the best interior (your content) in the world but if the engine doesn’t work very well (poor performance), the wiring isn’t all connected up (broken links) and safety inspectors can’t open the doors or hood properly to check on all of this (search engine crawlers), then you are probably going to struggle to get anyone to come and see it (search traffic).
But fortunately, there are quite a few steps that you as the website owner can take to improve your ecommerce stores SEO.
1. Site Security
Having an SSL certificate on your ecommerce site is something that you should have anyway as it improves user experience and trust but it can also have an impact on your sites SEO.
This is because Google have been using https as a ranking factor since 2014 and while it is known as lightweight ranking factor, it is still a ranking factor and you want to give as many good signals as you can to search engines.
While most hosted ecommerce platforms come with this feature as standard and already installed for you, for self-hosted sites, this need to be done manually and you will need to redirect any http URLs to the new https.
You can easily check if your site is running on the https protocol as browsers such as Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge will display a padlock in the address bar, sites running on http will often show an ‘not secure’ or similar message.
2. Check Your Sites Speed
Load time is becoming a more and more important aspect of technical SEO as the faster as site loads, the better the experience for the user and that is why search engines such as Google include page speed as one of their ranking factors.
Google is probably at the forefront of this (which isn’t surprising as the world’s biggest search engine) and introduced their core web vitals in 2020, which is a set of metrics by which your site is measured against and if you use their PageSpeed Insights tool, you will be given a score out of 100 for both your mobile and desktop site.
This isn’t the only speed test you want to run though as PageSpeed Insights doesn’t provide detailed load time information, for that you need to use third-party tools and our personal favourite is the speed tool from Uptrends as it allows you to test from multiple locations and devices.
But what can you do to improve your ecommerce stores load time? Well it does depend on the platform you are using as some offer more control than others but some things you can do include:
- Move to a better web host – if you are using a self-hosted platform such as WooCommerce or Opencart, then moving to a better quality web host can see some big improvements to load time
- Use a lightweight theme or template – not all themes are created equal and some can seriously slow down your site, so search for themes that have been designed with performance in mind
- Keep apps or plugins to a minimum – sometimes apps are essential for your store but you want to keep the amount you use to a minimum, especially if they are loading elements on the front end of your website
- Use Optimization apps or plugins – most ecommerce platforms now offer some form of optimization app that can help improve performance by optimizing code, lazy loading images etc
- Optimize images – often the largest element on the page so make sure that they are optimized to be the correct size and in a web friendly format
When looking into improving your sites load time, it can be useful to look for platform specific optimization guides such as our one for making a WooCommerce site faster.
3. Mobile Responsiveness
Mobile is becoming more and more popular year on year, with over 50% of web traffic now coming from mobile devices and due to this, search engines want sites to be mobile responsive.
As standard, most modern themes have this functionality built in (if it doesn’t run away as quickly as possible!) and offer a preview of the mobile display within the customizer and you want to check to make sure that your site not only displays properly but is also useable.
And for this, I highly recommend trying your site on an actual mobile device, whether it is your own phone or someone else’s to make sure that everything is working properly (especially your checkout) and that your site is loading fast, as this not only has a positive effect on your sites SEO but can also improve conversion rates.
4. Make Your Site Crawlable
Now this one may seem obvious but sometimes not checking or unchecking an option within your platforms dashboard could prevent search engines from crawling your site, you may also make a change to your robots.txt file that can also stop search engines.
Most platforms will include a guide to making your site crawlable in their documentation, so make sure that you check it out.
You can also help search engines when it comes to crawling your site by submitting a sitemap to them, sitemap names can vary between platforms but it is usually something like yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml but once again check your platforms documentation to find out either what the URL is or how you can find it.
Sitemaps can be submitted in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, smaller search engines may also have a webmaster area where sitemaps can be submitted.
5. Site Structure & Navigation
Making your site crawlable is one thing, making it easy for search engines to crawl is another one and this is where your site structure and navigation come into play.
When it comes to site structure, there are a few different options you can choose from but in most cases, the best option is the hierarchy structure, which can resemble a pyramid when laid out.
This type of structure starts with the homepage and then goes to main category pages and your blog homepage if you can have it either:
- Link to sub-categories and blog categories before going to individual product pages and blog posts
- Link directly to product pages and blog posts
This is going to depend on your site, you can also add in additional sub-sub-categories but you want to keep user experience in mind and not force them to click too many times to see the products/posts that they want.
Once you have decided on your site structure, you want to mimic this in your navigation menu, so have your main categories, with sub-categories nestled below them.
By creating a good site structure, you are telling search engines which pages are associated and this makes it easier for them to understand how your site works and can also help them crawl your site.
6. Broken Links & 301 Redirects
Broken links are not good for SEO and they are also pretty bad for user experience as I’m sure you have clicked on a link at some point, only to be confronted by a 404 page!
Well this is something that you want to avoid on your own site and while you may be very diligent, there are often links that get overlooked as a result of:
- Pages being deleted
- Page URLs being changed
Now this can happen for both internal and external links on your site but how do you check for these?
Well you can do it manually and go through checking every single link on every one of your sites pages but this isn’t very practical, which is where SEO tools come in that do it for you.
We currently use Ahrefs for our site audits and they are available on their free account, which is a bonus and they crawl your site every week and then notify you when your report is ready, you can then go in, see what issues there are and go about fixing them.
But how do you fix these broken links?
There are a couple of options, the first one is to delete the link from your site and while this does solve the issue, it may not be the best thing to do.
And this is where 301 redirects come in to play, as they redirect the original URL to another live URL of your choosing, this could be a replacement product or post or if there are no options available, you could redirect the user to the category that the product/post was originally in, if the link was internal.
If it was an external link, then you can either remove the link or find an alternate page to link to.
This then removes the broken link from your site and the 301 redirects inform search engines of where the old URL now points to, meaning that neither search engines or users are greeted by a 404 not found page.
7. Thin Content
Content is king when it comes to SEO but there are a couple of technical aspects to content as well and a big one is thin content, which is content on your site that provides very little to no value to the user.
But what is thin content?
Well there are quite a few different ways you can have thin content on your site, including:
- Duplicate Content – this is content that appears more than once on your site, either by using the same content on multiple pages
- Copy and Pasted Content – like duplicate content by it has been scraped or copied and pasted from another site (such as manufacturer descriptions)
- Doesn’t Answer the Question – this is where there are words on a page but they don’t provide an answer to the search query
There are also some examples that are very specific to ecommerce websites and one of these is having too many category pages that only include a few products.
These pages provide very little value to the end user and this is why site structure is so important but this can be fixed by either combining categories and deleting the unused ones (with 301 redirects obviously) or noindex them.
To find out which pages on your site fall under the category of thin content, you will need to do a site audit and then create a plan based on this information to fix it, so that it improves your sites SEO. Search Engine Journal have a great post on How to Fix Thin Content, which is definitely worth a read.
8. Duplicate Content & Canonical Tags
As sites start to grow, the chances of pages having duplicate content increases and this is most often found with product pages, for example if you create separate listings for the different colors that the product comes in, the URL and title might be different but the description will probably be the same.
This can also happen if a product is listed in two separate categories, which means the listing is the same but it has two different URLs.
Now, while you won’t be actively punished by search engines for this, it can still have an impact on your sites SEO as search engines try and figure out:
- Which version of the page to index
- Which version should be presented in relevant SERPs
But ideally, you don’t want search engines doing this for you as they might not pick the page you want but fortunately, there are a couple of ways that you can fix the issue of duplicate content:
- 301 Redirects, where you tell search engines that one URL redirect to another one
- No Index, you can choose to no index a page, meaning that your site tells search engines not to index that page
But there is a third option, which is adding a canonical tag as it directs search engines as to which page you want them to crawl and index but what does a canonical tag look like?
<link rel=“canonical” href=“yourdomain.com/category-two/example-product/” />
Now it does depend on the platform that you are using as to how you can implement canonical tags, some like Shopify have this built in for product page (but there are still some issues with collection URLs) and others like WordPress, need to be done with a plugin or by manually entering the tag to the pages code.
This is just a brief description of how these work but the guys over at Ahrefs have produced a more detailed Beginner’s Guide to Canonical Tags.
9. Structured Data (Schema)
Structured data is a very important part of SEO as it helps search engines understand what the page is about and there is one that is very important to ecommerce stores, which is the Product Structured Data.
Now it does depend on the ecommerce platform that you are using as to how much control you get over this but as a minimum, you want it to fill in the follow:
- Product name
- Product description
- Product Image URL
- In Stock / Out of stock
This provides search engines with information about your product and it can also pull this information to display a rich snippet in search results, like in the image below:
This structured data can increase click through rates as it is providing the user with more information about the product, you can also take this a step further by adding schema enabled product reviews to your product page.
These are reviews from customers about your product (not your business in general) and these can also be pulled and displayed in SERP results, like in the image above and as reviews are very important in the world of ecommerce, they can improve your rankings as they are a signal to search engines that your product is good.
Just be aware though, that by providing this structured data to search engines, it isn’t a guarantee that your SERP will include a rich snippet, it is up to the search engines whether they choose to show it or not.
Technical SEO can be a bit of a rabbit hole but it is still worth gaining an understanding and making sure that your ecommerce store is technically sound from an SEO standpoint as the better your foundations are, the easier it is to build from it.
For new stores, implementing technical SEO is easier as you are starting from a blank canvas but for existing stores, it can involve some work and you will need to carry out audits in order to be able to find any areas where your site is struggling.
But it can also be a great opportunity as you can improve on areas and for things like thin content, it gives you a chance to replace poor content with high quality content, which is only going to benefit your site in the long run.