While Google has nearly 200 ranking factors, most of which are really out of our control, there are a handful that we do have some control over. Optimizing these factors for search engines will have a big payoff in our SEO efforts.
Let’s dive in!
Title tags: These are the most important as they tell Google what a particular page is about. Your eCommerce platform MUST let you customize title tags for each product, category, and page.
Heading tags: These are also really important in categorizing the content on one page. Just like dividing content into subsections makes it easy for people to read, it also makes it easy for Google to read.
Image Alt tags: Search engine spiders can’t see images, so if your website is all images(or Flash/Java) and no text, good luck getting found. Unless you are targeting an obscure keyword like “Namibian monkey traps.” Your platform should be able to let you add img alt tags.
Custom Meta Descriptions: While I doubt there are any platforms that don’t let you do this, if you come across one, RUN! Your Meta Description is like your ad copy – it’s what compels your searcher to click through to your site.
Custom URL structure: You platform should let you customize your URL structure. URLs with keywords in them usually perform better(yoursite.com/category/product.html) as opposed to ones without(yoursite.com/productid?=123)
301 redirects: Unless you are an SEO ninja master, you are going to need to tweak and update your URLs every now and then. Using 301 redirects funnels all the link juice from an older, out of use URL to the new one. You will be needing these A LOT! Make sure your platform lets you make as many as you need.
Access to HTML/CSS/PHP/Whatever code: While not all hosted solutions give you complete control over this, having it let’s you easily install Schema.org markups – which will skyrocket your Click-Thru Rate.
Ability to create static pages: Product pages are usually created automatically in most shopping carts, where you enter all the information in the back end and it spits out a page according to a template. Your cart should also let you make static content pages which are golden for creating nice, high quality, Google-friendly linkbait.
Blog functionality: I don’t think any carts beside Shopify have this plugin, but having a blog on the same subdomain(not blog.yoursite.com, but yoursite.com/blog) is a great way to post fresh content which Google loves.
Update: BigCommerce has since added blog functionality.
Access to Robots.txt
Robots.txt is a file that is kept on your server which dictates to search engines which pages they can and cannot crawl. Having a Robots.txt file that you can modify yourself is a great SEO tool because you can block off certain pages of your store, such as the cart page, the checkout pages, and account pages. These unnecessarily confuse Google about the relevance of your site.
It’s also helpful to have the ability to block any pages you want, because you can exactly tailor how your site looks like in Google’s eyes.
BigCommerce is the shopping cart that I use and unequivocally recommend to anyone who wants to get started in ecommerce. The user interface is very intuitive, the customizations are nearly endless, and they qualify for each and every point from my checklist.
If you have some knowledge of HTML/CSS, you can do wonders with BigCommerce
The only issue I have with BigCommerce is that they don’t support a blog feature. The only way to run a blog with these guys is either RSS your already hosted blog onto a page(which is patchwork, at best), or point your already existing blog to a subdomain on your website, which is again, patchwork. Making the customer leave your site at any point in time is just bad news.
Shopify comes second on my list. It doesn’t let you customize everything as much as BigCommerce, but the basic SEO requirements are fulfilled. Their out of the box themes are really pretty, and they have a blog plugin – which is awesome, because Google loves new, fresh, updated content.
To be honest, I haven’t really worked with Volusion too much, but their platform, from what I’ve seen on other sites hosted by them is a little tight. They don’t let you customize the HTML at all(I tried doing this for a client once – couldn’t change a thing), and the templates are a little bit early 2000s. They fulfill most of the requirements from my checklist, so it’s ok from an SEO perspective. I’d just like more flexibility.
If you can code or know a guy that can do it cheaply, Magento will give you the most flexibility. They fulfill all of the requirements from my checklist, and then some. I tried using Magento once, but it was too much of a hassle. They have a 200 page manual on how to customize the HTML and which files to change and not to change, and frankly, that’s a little too much for me to do.
The reason I like BigCommerce so much is because they are the closest thing you have to Magento when it comes to customization.
Remember, if you are running a one man show, it may be better to go for something that you can do yourself, rather than overwhelming yourself with too many bells and whistles.
At the very least, on any website, you will want optimized title tags, good keyword ratio in your content, header tags, and custom meta tags. Everything else will be a bonus.
What shopping cart platform do you use? How has your SEO experience been with it so far? Share with us in the comments!
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