Technical SEO might look and feel pretty intimidating to a newbie. However, getting down in the weeds and really evaluating your website and e-commerce SEO is key to success in today’s digital world. In this post, we’ll break down the technical aspects of SEO and the tools that can best help you.
Technical SEO for eCommerce
SEO is so much more than targeting keywords. There is an additional technical side that is just as important to focus and optimize for; these include things like site speed, mobile-friendliness, 404 errors, user experience, and working links just to name a few. Technical SEO is also focused on providing the best user experience in regard to information architecture. The easier your site is to navigate the better your rankings will be. So where should you start with technical SEO? First, you need to run an audit on the site to understand what pages crawlers can get to, what they can’t access, as well as metadata elements like title description and header tags. All of this information will help you understand where your issues are at a quick glance. In order to run an audit, you will need to make sure you have Google Search Console set up. Once that is set up you can leverage additional tools to help in your audit which we will cover in the next section.
Leverage Tools to Run an SEO Audit
Before we walk through the steps in an SEO audit, we wanted to share specific tools we use to help us complete this report.
- Google Search Console
- Google Analytics
- Screaming Frog
- Title Tag Pixel Width Checker
- Raven Tools
- Deep Crawl or Botify (Typically used for large sites that have hundreds of thousands or millions of pages to crawl)
Once you have selected a tool to run your audit then dive in and crawl the site to see where your issues are. Let’s dive in to learn how to run the audit. An eCommerce technical site audit should:
- Provide a holistic view of the quality of your current website.
- Prioritize what needs to be done before you focus on off-page SEO.
- Highlight issues Google is running into with your site.
- Build a plan for how you are going to fix and clean up site issues.
Let’s dive in!
Set Up a Site Crawl to Gather Data
You can use Screaming Frog to crawl your site to reveal broken links, missing metadata, thin content, or duplicate content. Note that ScreamingFrog will allow you to crawl 500 pages of the site for free. Anything larger than that will require you to purchase a license. Start a crawl in the background and move on to the next step. The larger the site the longer your crawl will take. To start simply download ScreamingFrog > Launch the program > plug in the URL you want to crawl and click start. Make sure the Mode is set to Spider. See below for details.
Once you have started a site crawl go through and audit some additional things while you wait for the crawl to finish.
Are Multiple Versions of Your Site Browsable?
There are multiple ways users can try and find a website’s main page and supporting pages. They can search for things like:
Make sure only one of these versions is browsable since a user may type in www. versus non-www when searching for the site. All of the others should be 301 redirected to the URL for preference. You can also use a tool like http://www.urlitor.com/ to plug in different versions to see how they have set up redirect rules.
Always use the HTTPS version of your domain. HTTPS is the secured/encrypted version and implementing this secure version is both good for user experience and Google’s ranking algorithm. A secure site emits confidence and security for your customers. SEMrush has a great resource on 10 implementation mistakes that you should fix now.
Analyze Your Crawl Report Data
Once your crawl report has finished, take the time to dive into the data. This report will highlight broken links, duplicate URLs, missing title tags, meta descriptions, and alt text. You may be looking at this data asking yourself, “What does this report tell me?” We will go over some basic things here. If you need a complete guide on how to use Screaming Frog data effectively, take a look at this resource. Some things to look at in the Screaming Frog report include: Reviewing the status code of each URL and making sure pages are using the correct status code. Examples include:
- 301 redirect status for old pages that have link equity instead of using a 302 (temporary redirect). This is important for discontinued product pages and old category pages.
- 404 status for error pages you don’t want to be indexed. These shouldn’t be showing a 200 OK status since they don’t have any content on them and aren’t useful pages to a user.
- 200 OK status for pages that should be crawled and indexed by search engines.
Review the indexability and indexability status code of each URL, and make sure pages you want to be indexed are able to be indexed and not redirected, have meta robots tags, or canonicalized.
Review the title tags and title tag length columns for each URL. Make sure you are using a unique title tag and you don’t have a bunch of duplicates. Check the length for title tags as well to make sure they are under the 60-character limit.
You can review other things like description tags, meta robots tags (noindex/nofollow/index/follow tags), header tags, image alt text, and other elements with ScreamingFrog data quickly to see the overall health of the site and to make sure you are maximizing your crawl budget. Optimizing your crawl budget is extremely important, especially when your business is running an enterprise SEO strategy since technical enhancements are critical when allowing Google to crawl millions of web pages on your site. You don’t want Google crawling numerous pages of the site that you don’t care about being included in the index. ScreamingFrog will access pages of the site and help you see if this is happening so you can get it cleaned up.
Search For Your Company
Make sure you show up above other sites for your own brand name. Type your brand name into Google. You should be the first search result to appear. If you’re not, then work to show up in the number one spot.
Here are some things you can do to resolve the problem:
- Focus on building strong branded links
- Work to be listed in business directories
- Create or claim your Google Business Listing
- Ensure you are active on major social platforms
Next use the site operator feature to search for your website. For example:
This site search will indicate how many pages on your website are actively being indexed by Google. In the example above, Lizard Skins has 238 pages being indexed. The number of URLs being indexed should be lower than the number found in your crawl report. If the number being indexed is higher, it can be a signal there are junk pages being indexed as product or site searches. These pages are typically content-free, so by making them noindexed you will free up your site’s crawl budget. Your crawl budget is the number of pages allocated to Google to crawl your site.
Review Your Search Traffic
When you are in Google Analytics, set the time frame from the beginning of your site to the current day. This view will display potential penalties or unexplained declines.
If there was any reason for concern, you can go back to your historic notes and see whether you had issues with redirections or a change in the website host. These dips can help identify some potential easy fixes.
Dive Into Your Google Search Console
Google Search Console provides a number of SEO tools that you can use during your Technical SEO Audit. Things like error reports, coverage issues, performance data (clicks, CTR, impressions, etc.), schema markup data, UX and site speed issues, and more. This free tool should be something you look at regularly to understand the overall health of your site.
Let’s dive into a few things you can look at specifically so best understand how to use the data Google is gathering for you.
Crawl Details Using the Coverage Reports
Navigate to the Coverage section in the left-hand menu when you are logged into Google Search Console. This section will show you indexing errors that could negatively be impacting your search results.
If you have errors, you can start looking at the data to see why pages are having a hard time being crawled and indexed. Here is an example from above:
Alternate Pages that are using a proper canonical have grown from more than 14K to over 22K pages in a four-week timeframe. If you click to learn more it will tell you this page correctly points to the canonical page, so there is nothing for you to do. All good right? Well, you may want to dig a little to understand why there is a spike in the amount of pages showing up here over the last several weeks. By looking at the URLs you can start to see what kind of pages these are:
By hovering over the URL you will see a little magnifying glass that will allow you to inspect that URL. When you click on the magnifying glass it will pull up a page that offers more details about how Google is crawling the page. While they have canonicalized the page properly, they are allowing Google to crawl and index this page by not utilizing meta tags like noindex/nofollow tags.
While they are not a problem now, they should keep an eye on these kinds of pages to see if they keep growing in number. You don’t want search engines to start spending too much time crawling these pages. That means they may not crawl the most important pages depending on how much authority their site has. If that happens, it could hurt the pages that currently rank and drive traffic to the site.
Look at The Search Performance Report
When you go to the Performance tab take a look to see if traffic has increased or decreased over time on Google. You can see up to 16 months of data, which will allow you to look at year-over-year data trends to account for seasonality.
You can dig in and compare how clicks, click-through rates (CTR), impressions, and average position have changed over time to see what may be impacting site traffic. Is your CTR dropping but the average position staying the same? Is your average position dropping and causing your CTR to drop since being lower on page one of Google naturally causes your CTR to drop?
If you see decreases in performance you can dig into the mobile usage data to see if you are having any issues with mobile-friendly pages as site traffic from mobile devices keeps growing.
Review Mobile Usability Reports
This report will quickly give you insights into mobile page issues. Click on the Mobile Usability link in the left-hand navigation. It is under the Enhancements section if you don’t see it right away when you log in to the tool.
You can see if you are having any issues with the text being too small, viewports not being set, and if you have valid mobile-friendly pages. This free tool from Google provides some very useful data and will help as you put more effort into SEO and generating organic search traffic.
Review Your Site Speed
Site speed is a critical factor in ranking. According to a recent study, approximately 40 percent of online shoppers in the U.S. admitted they will not purchase if the website is too slow. Using Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool will help you identify specific tactics your team can perform to help improve your site speed for both mobile and desktop site speeds.
This tool will provide you with a Mobile and Desktop score from 1 to 100 and will offer specific tactics you can do to improve site speed performance. Earlier this year, Google said they would be rolling this out in 2021 and they would also, “provide at least six months notice before they’re rolled out.” Here is what they will be looking at incorporating into their core algorithm next year as they work to improve page experiences for users.
Image Source: Google Blog
Webmasters will need to look more closely at how their sites handle things like:
- Largest Contentful Paint: measures loading performance. It marks the point in the page load timeline when the page’s main content has likely loaded To provide good user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading.
- First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity. It measures load responsiveness because it quantifies the experience users feel when trying to interact with unresponsive pages to provide a good user experience, pages should have an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability because it helps quantify how often users experience unexpected layout shifts—a low CLS helps ensure that the page is delightful. Pages should maintain a CLS of less than 0.1.
These three elements should be the biggest priority for fixing site speed issues to prepare for Google rolling out the changes as part of their core algorithm in 2021. If you are still unsure where to start, you can always look to compress your images. Images can be quite large, so placing a focus on reducing file size will have a positive impact. Once you have completed reviewing the technical issues on the website, you will need to build a plan for how to go about fixing the issues.
Review and Optimize Schema Markups to Help Google Understand Your Content
Schema markups are HTML tags that improve SEO for e-commerce stores by providing additional information about the content on your web pages. These markups create rich snippets or a way for search engines to display more information about your products in search results.
There are different types of e-commerce schema markups to consider:
- Product Schema Markup: This extension provides rich product information including images, price, and availability. This makes it possible for SERPs to display product ads and to help web searches display new products.
- Review Schema Markup: This extension enables online reviews to be filtered and displayed from your website and blog posts.
- Video Schema Markup: This extension is used to describe the contents and formats of your video. This can include video resolution, audio language, age restrictions, or specific formatting.
- Product Availability Schema Markup: This extension allows you to display products available for purchase. They can also detail product names, descriptions, images, and prices.
- Price Schema Markup: This extension allows you to display the pricing of your products.
How to Fix Common Technical SEO Issues
Issue: Too Many Pages If your site suffers from having thousands of pages, you may be looking at a tough SEO fix. With thousands of pages, you run the risk of having duplicate content that could further penalize your site. Cause: E-commerce sites can easily generate thousands of product pages. For example, if you sell running shoes your site may generate a unique URL for each unique color and size you have available. This can easily add up the more products you sell.
Fix: Analyze your current URLs and look for ways to delete, redirect, or add noindex tags to help reduce the number of URLs being indexed. Based on how your site manages duplicate content based on inventory such as color, see if there is a way to set a color as the preferred URL and utilize parameters to account for things like color. For product pages that do not generate consistent revenue, you can decrease the number of pages by combining the products into a single page. Before you delete or combine pages take a look at Google Analytics to ensure the pages are not performing or generating consistent traffic. You will have to build a case around how and when to do this since it can have a large impact on rankings and traffic to the site.
Any page that does not bring in traffic or revenue should be reevaluated for its purpose. Non Performing pages may make up approximately 10% of your site, and others may make up 50%. Issue: Duplicate Content One of the most common issues with eCommerce SEO is duplicate content, and unfortunately, it can tank your ranking results if not properly taken care of. The good news is with a little effort in creating unique content and implementing canonical tags, you can turn duplicate content into a thing of your past. Cause: While there are several different ways for duplicate content to appear on your eCommerce site, here are the three most common. Multiple Product URLs If your website creates a unique URL for every color, size, or version of your product, you can easily rack up duplicate content. Here’s an example:
For every selection, it might create a unique URL.
If all of the selections generate a unique URL, then you can have a lot of duplicate content to optimize. Fix: A simple way to reduce duplicate copy is to add noindex tags to unnecessary filtered URL pages. After you have added noindex tags to non-performing pages, you can perform canonical tags. A canonical tag simply put is a way to tell search engines that certain pages are copies of a similar page. This code tells search crawlers the copy is not unique and should not be treated as such.
After you have implemented no-index and canonical tags, you will have to look into creating unique content for the remaining pages. The task can seem daunting at first if your site has thousands of products, but you will find significant rewards in SERPs. You can make the process simple by building templates for all of your category and product pages. Issue: Duplicate Content Continued Other forms of duplicate content include: Company Standard Product Copy Content All companies have an elevator pitch or boilerplate message that they use consistently to describe their products. While it is OK to use a similar copy across multiple pages, it is not alright to copy and paste on multiple pages. Manufactured Product Descriptions Believe it or not, this happens more than you think. Companies that do not invest in writing unique product descriptions, and instead opt for the given manufacturer’s description run the risk of having a duplicate copy from several of their competitors. This happens a lot in the home decor space where manufacturers place their products on numerous sites. For example, the couch on Wayfair:
Is also sold on sites like jossandmain.com, allmodern.com, birchlane.com, etc.
Fix: The only way to clean this up is to go through and create unique content for every product that is considered a duplicate. In some cases that can be the entire site if they rely on drop-shipping for selling products. Start with top-selling products or the largest category and go through and create unique content for every product. Issue: Thin Content Thin content refers to web pages with little to no content. Thin contact can significantly impact your business’s bottom line. eBay lost 33% of its organic traffic due to a thin content Panda penalty.
Cause: E-commerce sites suffer from thin content because it can be daunting to create unique content for thousands of products. I mean it can be difficult to write unique content after you have written 20 pages about running shoes. While the task is difficult, it is extremely important for you to write at least 500+ words for all of your main product and category pages. Fix: Identify the pages that have thin content. You can do this with Raven Tools or DeepCrawl to find pages that are on the thin side.
After you have created the list of thin content pages, devise a schedule to enhance those URLs with unique content. Similar to meta descriptions, you can build basic templates to help make the process go faster.
Slow Site Speed Site speed is a significant signal Google uses in its ranking algorithm. And while it is important for ranking purposes, eCommerce stores note it also directly impacts their bottom line. According to a recent research study, slow load times increase shopping cart abandonment by approximately 29.8%.
Image File Size Sites containing multiple high-resolution product images can directly impact your page load speed.
Old Code E-commerce platforms can be slow due to old codes. Unlike a blogging CMS platform, like WordPress, you cannot install a plugin and immediately see results.
Slow Hosting and Servers A slow hosting plan can easily limit how fast your website can be.
Upgrade Your Hosting Plans While it would be difficult to recommend a specific hosting plan as a blanket recommendation, you should expect to pay at least $50/month on your hosting support.
Optimize Image Size Compressing images is critical for eCommerce businesses. Product-heavy sites will see a significant boost with proper optimization.
Content Delivery Network (CDN) Investing in a CDN is a quick and affordable way to increase your site speed. Sites built on Shopify, Magento Commerce (Cloud) and Bigcommerce have a built-in CDN they use to serve images from so you have to rely on their network from image speed.
Hopefully, this break down helps technical SEO seem a little more manageable for your eCommerce business. Being able to double-check your site, fix issues, and continue to evaluate are all important to the customer experience as well as more sales. If you’re looking for some help with your SEO, our team, at Stryde, are the perfect people to help. Schedule a free consultation with us today and let’s see what we can do for your business!
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Looking for more SEO tips to help you grow your e-commerce business? Check out these posts:
- Getting Started With SEO – How To Identify & Prioritize What To Optimize
- How To Do Keyword Research For An Ecommerce Business
- What Should Your Ecommerce Site Architecture & On Page Optimizations Look Like For Maximum SEO Value
- Local SEO For Your Business That Sells Through Ecommerce & Retail Locations
- Getting Started With Link Building For Your Ecommerce Business
- How To Measure Ecommerce SEO Success