How to Properly Optimize an eCommerce Website

Published Jul 22, 2014 by James Parsons in SEO
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Optimizing an online store is an uphill battle. You’re already suffering from the large number of thin pages, the easily missed duplicate content, the issues of eCommerce platform configuration and the fierce competition.

Keyword Research: Finding What Users Search

Part of optimizing your site for SEO will be an awareness of keywords. You don’t need to care about density, but you do need to care about presence. Go to the Google AdWords keyword planner and dedicate some time to doing keyword research for your products. Put in products and click to get keyword ideas. It should show you what the most common search terms related to that product are. Note those down for inclusion in your titles, image descriptions, meta descriptions, product descriptions and anywhere else they might fit.

As with any use of keywords, don’t overdo it on any given page. Stuffing your content full of every possible related keyword is a spam technique that doesn’t do much to bring you value. Always pick the best couple of keywords to use and don’t worry about the rest.

Be aware that there’s always a search difference between singular and plural, even though there’s generally significant overlap between the two. An exact match target will be better for your ranking, unless it has incredibly high competition, in which case finding a more esoteric exact match long-tail keyword with high volume may be better.

Analyze and Fix Duplicate Titles and Descriptions

There are a whole host of tools available online to scan your page for duplicate content, in product descriptions, meta descriptions and page titles. You want to scan over your site and identify any issues that comes from duplicate content.

Some of these issues will be legitimate. If you have, for example, different pages for a single product in different colors, having a copied product description on each page is a strike against you. Even duplicate titles, if you’re selling too many products with too-similar names, can be harmful.


Some instances of duplicate content will come up with faceted search and other eCommerce configuration options. Others will be issues of content itself. You can deal with duplicate content in a few ways.

Rewrite titles, descriptions and product pages to remove duplicates.

• Use canonical tags to tell Google not to pay attention to legitimate duplicates.

• Delete (or redirect) unnecessary duplicate pages.

• Combine product pages into larger, more comprehensive pages.

Search for External Duplicate Content

Once you’ve cleared up any duplication issues on your page, it’s time to look for issues off your page. You can use one of many plagiarism checkers online, Copyscape being the big one, to scan the Internet for sites that include content from your page. Typically there will be two kinds of results.

Content scrapers who stole your content. You don’t have to worry about these pages, as they are spam and won’t penalize you. However, you can assist Google in removing them by reporting them as scraper pages.

Manufacturer and distributor pages that have original product descriptions that you copied when you set up your site. This content will penalize you. Mark any instances of copied product information and flag them for alteration. You need to find a way to portray the same information in an original manner.

Sanitize Page URLs

By default, too many eCommerce suites come with absurd URL configurations. Some track session information, some track customization information, some just use dynamic scripts instead of static URLs. The problem you run into is that Google identifies a page by its URL; two URLs for the same page look to Google like two pages with identical content. Canonicalization can help with this, but it’s not the only issue.


The other problem with messy URLs is the user experience. Which would you rather see; a URL with a string of numbers and code you don’t recognize, or a nicely laid out URL with /category/subcategory/product formatting? Users like to be able to see what they’re being shown, both on and off your site.

Thankfully, you can solve this issue in most cases by using a plugin available for your eCommerce suite. Which plugin you use, for which suite, depends on your configuration.

Guarantee Robust Product Descriptions

Now to address the thin content issue. Even if your product descriptions were unique and weren’t flagged in the duplicate content scan, they may still be too short or too thin. You can solve this issue in a number of ways.

Merge pages for similar products. If you have a shirt that you sell in six colors, make one page for the shirt and use a customization box for the colors. The same goes for sizes of shoes, clothing and other items.

Expand your product descriptions themselves. Work in extra detail in prose, and set aside specifications in a separate table.

• Include user reviews, FAQs and other interesting – and valuable – information.

Expanding your product pages and turning them into informational hubs helps eliminate any form of thin or duplicate content issues. It also gives you more opportunities for variations on keywords without sounding stuffed.

Videos, Guides, Reviews and More

To expand on one of the points made above, you can include more information on your product descriptions beyond just product information.

User reviews and testimonials are a great way to add content that isn’t copied from another source online. It also helps you sell products, if users leave positive reviews and glowing praise. Usually a product review will include talk about your service as well, for an added bonus.

When your products are complex or can benefit from instructions, consider adding FAQs, usage instructions, installation guides or video content to your product pages. This can be very helpful to users and can be very unique.

Make sure you have unique product images for your items, and try to keep them a consistent size and quality across your store.

Optimize Product Images


You can also optimize your images. You need high quality images that maintain format throughout your site. Don’t mindlessly switch sizes, image format or photo style from page to page.

For each image, optimize the file name with a keyword and the name of the product. This helps you rank on Google Images, which can be a surprisingly effective form of traffic for some products.

Additionally, include optimize image alt text for every image. This is a great opportunity for a 2-3 sentence additional description and keyword drop. Just make sure that content is unique as well; Google will still compare it against text found on other pages.

Use Breadcrumb Navigation

Breadcrumb navigation calls back to the URL formatting above. Just like users prefer to see a /category/subcategory/product chain in the URL, having it visible on the page is even better. A link to each subcategory page and main category page also gives Google quick and easy links to any part of your site. It’s easy enough to optimize as well.

If you go through this article and optimize each point, you’re well on your way to the top 10 percent of web shops in terms of optimization. From there it’s just down to your marketing, product desirability and service quality to make or break your business.

Written by James Parsons

James Parsons

James Parsons is a blogger and marketer, and is the CEO of Pagelift. When he isn’t writing at his personal blog or for HuffPo, Inc, or Entrepreneur, he is working on his next big project.

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