Ecommerce SEO Guide – How to Run a Technical SEO Audit

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Technical SEO

TECHNICAL SEO

Technical SEO is one of those things that’s important for ALL sites… but doubly so for ecommerce sites. That’s because ecommerce sites tend to have lots and lots of pages to manage. Even a “small” ecommerce site can have 5,000+ pages. And all of those pages increase the odds of technical SEO issues.

Not only that, but most ecommerce product pages don’t have  a lot of backlinks pointing to them. That means that technical SEO is often the “tiebreaker” on Google’s first page. For example, if you and your competitor are neck-and-neck, a technical SEO issue can be the difference between the 5th spot and a coveted #1 ranking.

That’s why regular technical SEO site audits are considered an ecommerce SEO best practice.

How to Run a Technical SEO Audit on an Ecommerce Website

In this example we’re going to use Raven Tools. In my opinion it has the most thorough and easy-to-understand site auditing system out there.

In addition to Raven Tools, here are other SEO tools you can use for ecommerce site audits:

To use Raven for your ecommerce SEO site audit, choose “Site Auditor” from the left-hand sidebar:

raventools site auditor

Then Raven will analyze your site for potential errors.

site auditor message

Then scan the report for issues that crop up.

site auditor report

Like problems with your title and/or description tags:

duplicate title tags

Duplicate and thin content:

duplicate and thin content

And broken links:

link issues

Now that you’ve seen how to identify common SEO errors on ecommerce sites, it’s time for me to show you how to solve them.

HOW TO FIX COMMON TECHNICAL SEO ISSUES ON ECOMMERCE SITES ?

Problem: Too Many Pages

Having thousands of pages on your site can be a technical SEO nightmare. It makes writing unique content for each page a monumental task. Also, the more pages you have, the more likely you’ll struggle with duplicate content issues.

Why It Happens

Some ecommerce sites simply have lots and lots of products for sale. Because each of these products require their own page, the site accumulates lots of pages. Also, sometimes each slight variation in the same product (for example 15 different shoe sizes) has its own unique URL, which can bloat your ecommerce site’s total page count..

How to Fix it

First, identify pages that can be deleted or noindexed without affecting your bottom line.

In my experience, 80% of an ecommerce site’s sales come from 20% of it’s products (the old 80/20 principle at work). And 60%+ of their products haven’t generated ANY sales over the last year.

Rather than work to improve these pages, you’re often better off simply deleting them, noindexing them, or combining them together into a “super page”.

You can use your ecommerce CMS (like Shopify) to see which products haven’t generated any revenue for you. If they haven’t, put them into a “maybe delete” list.

zero traffic pages

If a page isn’t bringing visitors to your site or putting cash in your pocket, you should ask yourself: “what’s the point of this page?”. All it’s doing is making your technical SEO efforts more difficult.

In some cases these “deadweight” pages will make up 5-10% of your site. For others, it can be as many as 50%.

Once you’ve removed excess pages that might be causing problems, it’s time to fix and improve the pages that are left.

Problem: Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is one of the most common ecommerce SEO issues on the planet. And it’s one that can sink your site in Google’s search results (thanks toGoogle Panda).

Fortunately, with a commitment to unique content on every page of your ecommerce site (and using advanced SEO techniques like canonical tags), you can make duplicate content issues a thing of the past.

Why It Happens

There are a lot of reasons that duplicate content crop up on ecommerce sites.

Here are the three most common reasons.

First, the site creates unique URLs for every version of the product or category.

For example, if you have a category menu like this…

ecommerce category page menu

…it may create a unique URL for every selection the person makes.

unique URL

If those URLs gets indexed by Google, it’s going to create A LOT of duplicate content.

This can also happen if slight variations of the same product (for example, a unique URL for every shoe size or color) create unique product page URLs.

Second, we have boilerplate content. This is where you have a snippet of text that appears on multiple pages.

Here’s an example:

boilerplate content

Of course, it’s perfectly fine to have a short line or two on every page (for example, “At Brian’s Organic Supplements, we use the best ingredients at the best price.”).

But if your boilerplate content gets to be 100+ words — and appears on multiple pages — it can be seen as duplicate content in the eyes of Google.

Finally, we have copied descriptions. This happens anytime you have the same (or very similar) content on multiple product or category pages.

For example, here’s an example of duplicate content on two different ecommerce product pages…

product description 1

Product Page #2:

product description 2

As you can see, the content on these two pages are almost identical. Not good.

How to Fix it

Your first option is to noindex pages that don’t bring in search engine traffic but are causing duplicate content issues.

For example, if your category filters generate unique URLs, you can noindex those URLs. Problem solved.

This is a dead-simple way to nip a lot of duplicate content issues in the bud.

Once you’ve noindexed all of the URLs that make sense for your site, it’s time to tap into the canonical tag (“rel=canonical”).

A canonical tag simply tells search engines that certain pages are exact copies or slight variations of the same page. When a search engine sees a canonical tag on a page, they know that they shouldn’t treat it as a unique page.

(Not only does canonicalization solve duplicate content issues, but it helps makes your backlinks more valuable. That’s because the links that point to several different URLs reroute to a single URL, making those links more powerful).

PRO TIP: Implementing canonical tags can be tricky. That’s why I recommend that you hire an SEO pro with technical SEO expertise to help. But if you prefer to set up canonicals yourself, this guide by Google will help.

Finally, it’s time to write 100% unique content for all of the pages that haven’t been noindexed or set up with canonical URLs.

Yes, this is hard work (especially for an ecommerce site with thousands of pages). But it’s an absolute must if you want to compete against the ecommerce giants (like Amazon) that tend to dominate Google’s first page.

To make the process easier, I recommend creating templates for product and category page descriptions (I’ll have an example template for you in the next section).

Problem: Thin Content

Thin content is another common technical SEO issue that crops up on ecommerce sites. Even after you’ve solved your duplicate content issues, you may have pages on your site that have very thin content.

And make no mistake: thin content can derail entire ecommerce SEO campaigns. In fact, Ebay lost upwards of 33% of its organic traffic due to a thin content-related Panda penalty.

organic traffic drop

But let’s not focus on the negative. Our data from analyzing 1 million Google search results found that longer content tended to rank above thin content.

content total word count

So I recommend that you see publishing in-depth, unique content as a competitive advantage.

Why It Happens

One of the main reasons that ecommerce sites suffer from thin content is that it’s challenging to write lots of unique content about similar products. After all, once you’ve written a description about one running shoe what can you write about 25 others?

While this is a legit concern, it shouldn’t stop you from writing at least 500 words (and preferably 1000+ words) for all of your important category and product pages.

How To Fix It

First, you want to identify pages on your site that have thin content.

PRO TIP: Everyone has a different definition of “thin content”. In my mind, thin content refers to short snippets of content that doesn’t bring any unique value to the table.

You can go through each page on your site one-by-one or use a tool like Raven Tools to find pages that are a bit on the thin side (Raven considers pages with fewer than 250 words as having a “low word count”):

thin content pages

Once you’ve identified thin content pages it’s time to bulk them up with high-quality, unique content. Templates make this process go significantly faster.

Here’s an example template for a product page description:

PRO TIP: The more truly unique your content is, the better. That means actually using the products you sell. Write your impressions. Take your own product images. This will make your product descriptions stand out to users and search engines.

Problem: Site Speed

Site speed is one of the few signals that Google has publicly stated they use as part of their algorithm.

But site speed isn’t just important for ecommerce SEO: it also directly impacts your bottom line. Research by Radware found that slow load times can increase shopping cart abandonment by 29.8%.

Why It Happens

Here are the three most common reasons that ecommerce site pages load slowly:

  • Bloated Ecommerce Platforms: Certain ecommerce platforms are inherently  slow due to bloated code. And unlike a blogging CMS likeWordPress, you can’t just install a plugin and watch your speed improve. (By the way, you can check out this study to see how the loading speed of different ecommerce platforms compare).
  • Large Image File Sizes: High-res product images are awesome for your  customers, but can make your page load like molasses.
  • Slow Hosting and Servers: When it comes to web hosting, you get what you  pay for. A slow hosting plan can put the brakes on your site’s max speed.

Fortunately, all three of these site speed issues can be solved somewhat easily.

How to Fix It

  • Upgrade Your Hosting: I can’t recommend specific hosting providers because your decision depends on your preferences and needs (for example, the level of support, pricing, security, etc.). But what I can say is that you should spend at least $50/month on your host. If you spend less, your loading speed is likely to suffer.
  • Invest In a CDN: A CDN is one of the fastest (and cheapest) ways to significantly  crank up your site’s loading speed. Bonus: a CDN also makes your site more  secure from attacks and hacks.
  • Optimize Image File Size with Compression: This is a biggie for ecommerce  product pages. Make sure to export images so they’re optimized for the web.