SEO is one of the most important marketing channels for e-commerce businesses. Despite this, many businesses often overlook the simple mistakes they are making despite the detrimental impact it can have on their rankings and, therefore, their revenue.
For almost a decade, I’ve helped business owners find and rectify mistakes like these at Break the Web. The result is more traffic to their website, increased revenue, and significantly higher profits at the end of the quarter.
In this article, I will explain six commonly overlooked SEO mistakes I see on e-commerce websites and show why you need to fix them.
Creating a Website With Difficult Navigation
Aesthetics matter, but allowing your customers to easily navigate your site and find what they want is critical.
Amazon is a great example.
Amazon is not the best-looking site in the world, but you can find whatever obscure product you want within a few seconds.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have sites like the Restaurant Guide of Atlanta that don’t have enough options or a dropdown menu, which means that it takes minutes to find anything.
When it comes to navigation, the key should be to simplify your users’ lives; more does not necessarily mean simpler. Having 20 options on the menu versus 200 makes it easier for me to find what I need. Too many options can be overwhelming and challenging to search through.
It’s important to offer options, but having an enormous number of choices makes it more difficult to find what you are looking for. Amazon offers enough options to allow users to find anything but not too many that it’s overwhelming.
But navigation isn’t just a UX experience; it also impacts your SEO.
All of those links in your navigation are passing SEO value, and if you’re linking to unimportant pages, you’re wasting that value. If you fail to link to the most critical pages, you’re not maximizing your search traffic.
Linking to those pages is important for your SEO because it is what your customers are looking for the most.
Your website needs to have easy navigation that links to relevant pages.
Adding Duplicate Data Across the Site
Standard settings on some CMS and e-commerce systems can cause data to be duplicated across the site.
Google hates duplicate content because it leads to poor user experience. It wastes Google’s valuable resources by forcing it to crawl and index the same content multiple times.
Google Search Console points out when a website has duplicate information.
With SEO, the most common duplications appear within the title tags and meta descriptions.
Title Tags: The page title of a specific webpage, typically found at the top of the browser window, giving the web reader an opportunity to see what the webpage is about, as well as appearing as the title of a listing in the search engine results page.
The title tags are also what the search engines use to gauge the thematic relevance of a page while determining if it can be an appropriate search result for a relevant search query.
Meta Descriptions: Descriptions used to describe what a page is about. This description can be used as a summary of sorts to help the search engines properly categorize the intent of the page.
If the search engines find your meta description to be most valuable (versus the content within the page), the description will appear below the page title in the search engine results page.
Shopify in particular often duplicates title tags and meta descriptions across different pages, which is terrible for two reasons:
- It prevents you from optimizing the tags and descriptions so that you can entice users to click
- It leads to Google algorithmically punishing those pages for duplicate and often irrelevant data.
More Reasons for Duplications
Another common area I see mistakes is in category page filters, which are critical to a site because they allow users to quickly find what they want. But if you forget to noindex, the URLs the page filters create could potentially tank all of your rankings, even for pages that aren’t associated with the search filters.
What Is Noindex?
Noindex is a short piece of code that tells the web crawlers (GoogleBots, BingBots, etc.) to ignore a page and not place the URL within their database. This code allows a page to remain hidden from the search results, also avoiding duplicate content issues.
In the most basic level, the code looks like:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex">
Google’s implementation instructions mention that for this noindex to function properly, the page should remain accessible via the Robots.txt, which is different than Shopify’s recommendations for noindexing a page.
For category page filters, these search filters typically work by allowing you to check a box and then sending you to a slightly different URL using parameters such as ?color=black or ?size=medium.
The problem arises when Google indexes all of these variants and then realizes that you have thousands of identical pages, making it look like you’re trying to manipulate the algorithm.
As a result, Google will often penalize your entire website, causing your traffic to tank and revenue to follow.
The solution is to noindex all of your parameters by ensuring the search engines don’t index URLs containing a question mark or other parameter signal.
Common Alternative to Noindex
A common alternative to the noindex code while avoiding duplicate content issues within an e-commerce site is to make use of proper URL canonicals.
Canonical URLs, or canonicalization, is a way to tell the search engines the correct or proper URL of a page. For example, by taking a look at a long URL on Amazon (due to specific page filters), you will notice that when performing a search in the source code of the page, the canonical URL is typically the primary or parent URL.
Here's an example of what the canonical code looks like:
<link rel="canonical" href=" https:// mycoolshop.com/product/pants/" />
So, if you had an example URL like what is shown below, you can see how the proper canonical URL will prevent duplicate indexing.
- URL: https:// mycoolshop.com/product/pants?variant=9038208203/
- Canonical URL: https:// mycoolshop.com/product/pants/
Be wary of duplicate content.
Using Duplicate Content on Product Pages
Writing unique content for every product page on your site is time-consuming, but when you use duplicate content, which is content that’s indexed on multiple pages on your site, you’re negatively affecting your SEO.
Not only is Google not going to reward you for the duplicate content on the extra pages, but it may also even choose to punish you if it thinks you are attempting to manipulate its algorithm.
Having unique content on your product pages is vital because it’s one of the most important ranking signals. The majority of your competitors are unlikely to have more than a hundred words of unique content for each product page (our own findings throughout the years), and therefore, there is an opportunity for you to beat them by writing more for each page. When making product descriptions, be sure the word count isn’t too short or too long.
On the other hand, if you’re merely copying and pasting content across your product pages, you give Google no reason to bother indexing each page.
The result is that many of your products might never appear in the Google search results because you failed to make them different enough from one another for Google to justify indexing and ranking them.
Failing to Use Schema Markup Properly
Schema markup is a way for search engines such as Google and Bing to easily extract important information from your site so they can display it to searchers.
On the simpler end of a schema markup, you have phone numbers and email addresses, which Google needs little help to extract.
But more complicated elements can include price data, product descriptions, and star ratings.
Schema is critical to your success because it can take up more space in the results pages, enticing people to click on your link and therefore drive more traffic to your site. But schema isn’t simple, and problems often arise when you use the built-in systems that CMS and shopping platforms such as Shopify include.
These schema set-ups often have little to no nuance, which can make them challenging to set up in the first place, and sometimes they still fail to extract the right data.
Failing to use schema markup correctly can have a negative effect on your rankings because it confuses Google and makes users less likely to click on your result.
Lacking Research for Content Ideas
Content is the basis of the internet, and without it, Google would have nothing to rank your website for. But rather than writing about whatever you think your customers want to hear about, it’s critical that you research content ideas.
The result is that you’re writing about search terms that people search for regularly, rather than wasting your time on topics that have fewer than a hundred searches each month.
Ignoring the Website Architecture
Backlinks are the most important ranking signal, but internal links and structure are also far more powerful than many e-commerce websites realize.
Unfortunately, your internal linking strategy needs to be well-structured to work effectively, and once your company grows, it can be very time-consuming to go back through and create the structure you need.
For that reason, it’s best to create the ideal structure as early as possible. By internally linking strategically to the most important category pages, you can ensure they rank for valuable keywords as well as pass link value on to the products that are listed in that category.
If you’re not using internal links strategically, you’re letting link value go to waste and therefore not ranking for as many keywords as you could be. Rather than worrying about getting more external backlinks, try to make the most of the power you already have on your site.
Stop Overlooking the Simple Things
Every day I talk to clients at my agency, Break the Web, who unnecessarily overcomplicate SEO. That’s not to say that it’s easy, but they actively choose to focus on the more complex areas while overlooking simple mistakes they can easily rectify.
Go through your website and see if you’re making elementary mistakes like these. You can fix these in only a few minutes, but they can have a huge impact on your rankings.
As an experienced SEO consultant who’s been helping clients for a decade, it’s easy for me to spot mistakes like these, but business owners often don’t notice them.
Don’t let these small errors hold your company back. Prioritize SEO yourself or hire an SEO company to ensure that you’re auditing regularly to catch these types of mistakes.
About the Author
Jason Berkowitz is a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist and founder of inbound marketing agency Break The Web. Since 2009, he has been collecting search engine data and utilizing this information to develop strategic inbound marketing campaigns. Jason lives full-time in New York City but also explores the world with his newfound skydiving passion.