December 18, 2013
Search Engine Optimization or SEO is a long-used, vague term that elicits a set of conflicting emotions for merchants. In its most general sense it defines a set of actions merchants take to make sure their site shows up when customers search for their products via a search engine.
Proper SEO implementation on your web store can make a big difference in its visibility and sales. Ragan.com put together a list of SEO statistics that should help you understand its value. To highlight a few key points:
- Search is the No. 1 traffic driver to sites - 3 times that of social media
- 75% of search engine users never scroll past the first page
- Almost 40% of customers come from search
While Google claims that having relevant content that users love is the key to ranking high on searches, SEO practitioners will tell you that there are other things you can and should do in order to improve your search engine rankings.
● Product names and descriptions
Do your products contain the search keywords you want to attract? If you have a large catalog and tend to upload your product names and descriptions from your suppliers, you should make sure that you are customizing the product names, descriptions and short descriptions to include important keywords. The same rules apply to category names and descriptions.
● CMS pages
A lot of time goes into writing and creating content for the web. Making sure that your site has informational pages with well-written, keyword-rich content will help you attract customers interested in your products. CMS pages in Magento are a great place to feature product guides, videos with descriptions or summaries of their content, and other types of information that are important information. One company that uses the CMS format to their advantage is Kirby Allison's Hanger Project. His shoe-care guide is an excellent example of high-value, keyword-rich content.
Blogs are important places to feature high-velocity content, which can help improve your rankings. Ideas for the holidays, comments on topics trending on twitter or in the news media are great subjects for your blog and will help you attract short-term search engine traffic. While Magento itself does not offer blog functionality as a core function, there are several extensions available that allow you to incorporate a blog in your store.
User-generated content is a magnet for search engines, and product reviews by actual purchasers are a great way to encourage users to add information to you site (besides the fact that shoppers find them useful). You can either use the built-in review system that comes with Magento or a service like YotPo that helps solicit reviews for you.
Meta Data: Use Title and Descriptions Effectively
Meta Data is information on your web pages that is not visible to your users (though the title does show up in the browser tab) but is used by search engines to display results. While optimizing your meta data only has a nominal effect on search engine results, it does help improve your click-through rates when your results are displayed. The meta-title shows up as the link text and the description is the text below it on most search engines.
Meta-titles should be about 60 characters in length and descriptions should be limited to 155 characters (Magento shows a 255 character limit, but search engines have recently decreased the number of characters they display in search results.).
While the meta-data is not visible on your web site, it is in the html section of the code that creates the pages. If you want to see the metadata on your page without viewing the page's HTML source, visit Exadium's Meta Data Analyzer and type in the url of the page you would like to see. If you use Google Chrome, you might want to install an extension called META SEO Inspector, which produces a pop-up window showing your site's meta data.
Kill The Keywords
In Magento and many systems there is a space to enter keywords about a specific page. In the old days of the web, search engines used this information when determining page rankings. However, all major search engines have disavowed the use of this field because of rampant abuse by keyword spammers. In fact, that keyword field is now a negative as it signals to your competitors what your keyword strategy is. We highly recommend you remove any text you have in the keywords field.
Use Canonicals, Please!
If you don't know what canonical tags are, don't worry. Magento will take care of them for you automatically. Just make sure you have them turned on in System > Configuration > Catalog > Search Engine Optimizations.
Be sure to choose YES next to both Use Canonical Link Meta Tag selections.
And, by the way, canonical tags simply help you avoid communicating duplicate content to Google and the other search engines… a major faux pas!
Focus, Focus, Focus
By focus, we mean focusing the search engines on the relevant sections of your site. Let's face it, you don't want Google to crawl your site and index your account log in, cart, checkout and other pages as they confuse Google as to what your site is about.
You should have a 3-pronged strategy for this:
- A good Robots.txt
- Submit an XML sitemap
- Use robots meta tags
A well-crafted robots.txt file should be sitting on your server. Google has a nice explanation if you aren't familiar with it, but it basically tells search bots to ignore parts of your site. If you don't have a robots.txt file on your server, the search engines may get confused trying to index your site. To find out if you have one, simply add robots.txt to the end of your url, e.g., "www.yourstoresdomainhere.com/robots.txt". If you get a 404 error instead of something that looks like this, you don't have one!
You should also be submitting a sitemap to Google and Bing webmaster tools accounts. There is a great blog article on the mechanics of it. It doesn't require any tech knowledge to set up, though you may have to adjust the permissions of a folder on your site. Your xml sitemap will help the search engines focus on the important pages of your site.
Research has shown that page load times on retail sites are increasing. As we cram more and more code and content into a single page thinking to increase appeal, we may actually increase bounce rates and erode search rankings. Google has been very public about its initiative to speed up the Internet and punishes pages that take longer to load. We recommend our recent post on page load times to explore this area more.
There Is More To It.
As a merchant, you should develop a passion for SEO but realize that you don't have to be an expert at it (or, even hire one) to improve your site's search engine visibility. For a slightly more technical review of Magento's SEO capabilities, Yaost has provided a nice overview.
If you need assistance with these or other SEO tasks, you might want to consider reaching out to a certified Magento developer for help. We also encourage you to take a look at "Growing Your Business with SEO on Magento", an on-demand course hosted by Magento U that's ideal for merchants.