7 Critical SEO Errors of E-commerce Websites

It’s common for online merchants to think that by simply listing hundreds or even thousands of products on their e-commerce website, search engine traffic will start rolling in. It turns out that is far from reality.

The sad fact is, optimizing e-commerce websites for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is much harder than it is for blogs or simple 5 page company websites. By having lots of product pages constantly shuffling on and off the site, numerous problems arise that make SEO very difficult for e-commerce websites.

Today we are going to go over 7 common SEO errors of online stores and e-commerce websites.

1. Lack of Product Description

From my experience, this error usually is made by online gift stores (in the broad sense) and online clothing shops. Unfortunately, the complete lack of a text description of the product virtually puts an end to the chances of the page being in the top 10 of a search engine query, even in the case of low-frequency queries. So be sure to add a description to the item card; do not kill your page’s chances.

Lack of Product Description

For example, these boots. Nothing special, just boots. Of course, the picture speaks a thousand words, but the search engines cannot see images. So make sure to add a description of the product.

A great way to measure how much unique content you need is to measure the default word count of a blank product page. Count all the words that are used in your navigation, sidebar, footer and any text that is present on a blank product page. Make sure your unique text, exceeds that “default” word count in order to have a heavier weight on unique content.

Obviously the more unique content you write for your product description will always be better for your SEO efforts. However, keep the following things in mind:

  • Only write quality descriptive content that helps your customers make purchasing decisions.
  • Don’t copy content from other websites. The search engines will penalize you for doing this.
  • You may want to test what description word count helps with purchase conversion. Too much content might hurt.

2. Using Product Descriptions from Manufacturers

If you want to be filtered by the search engines, just add a description from the manufacturer. This action can guarantee your site will be banned from the search engines.

The thing is that these descriptions are distributed to many online stores. And most of them are leaving the text in its original form. All this leads to a number of pages with non-unique content and filters from Google. To make this an even worse mistake, these manufacturer descriptions are usually not written in a way that sells.

The rule here is: always create unique content. Google has been getting better and better at kicking websites down the rankings because of duplicate content and content scraping.

Now creating unique content for thousands of products or wildly varying inventories can be a daunting task. I’ve been there before. You may want to consider putting a NO INDEX meta tag on product pages that you can’t write unique content for.

If you have thousands of product pages that you either can’t get to, or will be out your inventory in a matter of days, then certainly consider keeping them out the search engines. The point here is you don’t want to have thousands of pages with no unique content compared to only a few that do. What this does is it makes your website look like it has automatically generated thousands of simple webpages to try to gain SEO traffic. That’s exactly what you don’t want it to look like.

It’s much better to keep your SEO in good standing than let it suffer from poorly optimized product pages or a spammy looking content strategy.

3. Lack of Product Reviews

About 70% of buyers are looking for reviews of products on online stores or forums before making a purchase. This means that if your site has no such reviews, you are missing a very large percentage of the audience. Moreover, it is easier for review pages to reach the top of search results than selling pages.

Lack of Product Reviews

Amazon.com has allowed its users to not only buy products, but also leave reviews of books, gadgets, and more. Thus, they have created a whole community of book lovers who share their experiences.

The beautiful thing about product reviews from customers is:

  • They are creating unique content for your online store and it’s free! We’ve been talking about all the trouble involved by not having unique content and how hard it is to create it. Product reviews solve this problem!
  • It keeps the product page “living”, which can help to bring the search engines back more often. Anytime you can update your site more frequently, the better it is for your overall SEO efforts.

4. Not Optimizing Product Pages Based on The Search Demand

Be sure to consider the demand and search keywords that people are typing into the search engines when you write headlines, title pages, and product descriptions. Otherwise, you may create a situation in which you are promoting something that no one is searching for. This is a common mistake of stores with a great number of different goods.

For example, you could make a page by mistake that has the title tag, H1 heading and image alt tag information optimized for the keyword phrase “Floral Pattern Scarf”, when it would be much wiser to optimize for a more specific keyword phase such as “Chanel Floral Pattern Scarf.”

With that said, here are some tips to help you better optimize those product pages:

  • Use model numbers in your title tags and H1 headings.
  • Use brand names in your title tags and H1 headings.
  • Don’t forget to fill out your image alt tag information!
  • Don’t keyword stuff the page with the keyword phrase by repeating it over and over again.
  • And never, ever, use iframes to display content. Make sure your content actually exists on the product page it is meant to be on.

For more on-page SEO tips, be sure to read our article entitled The On-Page SEO Recipe for Peak Inbound Marketing Efficiency.

5. Non-Unique Titles

Another problem of the large online stores is duplicated title tags. Watch for their uniqueness and try to avoid identical values. It is the school foundation of SEO, but when we are talking about online shopping, for some reason, many have stopped observing this simple rule.

Here is what a title tag looks like if you view the source code of a webpage. This example is from the SEOmoz.org home page:

SEOmoz title tag

It’s difficult to create unique title tags when you sell multiple items from the same brand, or similar items from many brands. You will inevitably repeat the same keywords over and over again. Search engines are aware of this occurrence, and therefore you should focus on making unique key phrases.

A lot of online shoppers are searching for a key phrase oppose to a single keyword. A formula that tends to work well is the “band-model” title tag recipe:

For example your title tag should be structured in this way: Brand – Model – Item Type

Some real life examples could be: “Honda Accord Sports Coupe” or “Burton Aftermath Snowboard 2013″

An important tip for nailing down the right keywords is to survey your customers to see what language they use when they talk about the products you sell. The structure in which they phrase your products will clue you into how they might search for them.

6. Lack of “Speaking” urls

What is a “speaking” url? Here is an example: http://www.readanybook.com/ebook/harry-potter-and-the-prisoner-of-azkaban-65. Speaking urls are also known as “keyword friendly urls”.

lack of speaking urls

We see the name of the book right in the site address. It is very important in terms of SEO to create such a url for all of your products. No more anonymous IDs! Make your profile unique to the search engine with a unique url.

There are only three reasons why you should use speaking urls:

  1. Semantics: It makes it easy for the customer or searcher to know what to expect when they click on the url. If you have an incredibly long url full of numbers and gibberish – it can look spammy and be a turn off.
  2. Keyword and Anchor Link Luck: There is a chance that the URL will be picked up by another website and re-posted. Important keywords will be present in the anchor tag if they url is used as the anchor text. Getting keywords within anchor text that points back to your website is the main driver of getting to the top of search engine rankings.
  3. Relevancy: Having relevant keywords in the URL used to be a big driver for domain names. Google is starting to put less priority on that, however it can’t hurt to have relevant keywords in your urls for product pages.

7. A Lot of Duplicate Content

Pages to print, archives with different sorting elements, tags, and more – all these things, which create duplicates, should not be indexed by search engines and must be closed in robots.txt. This is important because your site can get sanctions because of duplicate pages (especially on large sites such as many online shopping sites).

an example of a lot of duplicate content

This content appears on many pages of a fashion online store.

Here are some tips to trimming down duplicate content:

  • Use robots.txt to block areas that create duplicate content such as archives, tags and even category pages in some cases.
  • Use the canonical tag to indicate which web pages are the pages you want indexed. For example, if your shopping cart creates new urls because of reviews or comments (meaning you have more than one page with the exact same content, except one has reviews or comments and the original does not), the canonical tag will tell the search engines which page they should be paying attention to.
  • You can add nofollow attributes to links that point to areas of duplicate content. However, you have to be extremely thorough at making sure you find every single link that needs to be nofollowed (because Google will find them).

The Golden Rule of SEO – Make Usability a Priority

As you know, Google is a search engine that is very worried about its users and their experience. First of all, you should make your online store convenient and useful for customers in order to achieve its respect. What is good and unique to your clients – it’s good for Google.

The more time people spend on your site, and less they click back to the search results page is a great indication that Google is sending them to the right place.

Finally, people who like your website and what it has to offer are much more likely to link to it – and as we said before, links are what drive you to top the search results page!

What errors in online stores’ search engine optimization have you identified? Please leave them in the comments below.

About the Authors:

Sean Work is the Director of Marketing at KISSmetrics. To keep up to date on future KISSmetrics articles, please follow him on Twitter.

Korah Morrison is a marketing specialist and writer at GrammarBase.com who likes to write articles about SEO, social media, and internet marketing.

  1. Good tips, Sean.

    There’s also an opportunity for many e-commerce sites to target long tail traffic by providing a buyers guide or blog. Answering keyword-related questions is a good method for driving relevant traffic to their website.

    • It’s true a blog will capture long tail traffic and help the e-commerce site but would you go with a sub domain approach or sub folder? I’ve been thinking lately a sub domain would work better especially because of panda/penguin. What do you think?

  2. Sean,

    Curious to get your take on point number 2. Have you seen alorithmic penalties occur on product pages that contain manufacturer descriptions? How about if there are the manufacturer descriptions but additional unique content is added?

    I ask because many times, the manufacturer “descriptions” are really just factual bulleted lists that contain very valuable information for the visitor. Getting rid of this to simply have “unique content” seems counterproductive to the user experience.

    • See a short list of bulleted points is very little content in the first place. And if everyone selling the same product has the same bulleted list – well no one is different (that doesn’t impress the search engines). It’s much better to expand on that list that is provided, giving the customer a lot more insight as to what the product offers.

  3. Andrew Wiesner Nov 07, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Great Post!

    Brilliant reminder to alter details for great optimization and customer satisfaction.

  4. “always create unique content” – I totally agree. The competition among online stores and e-commerce websites is tough. Thanks for this post, Sean!

    • Yes, unique is important. But how do you do when the description is taken from Amazon API thru using some kind of plugin(azon WP) ??
      Any advise how to optimize the page ??
      Hope to hear your great advise.
      Thanks.

      • Well that’s the issue with using automated services. There is a chance it’s actually going to hurt more than help. Again, if it’s just a short snippet that’s not a big deal. Just be sure to add your own description as well.

  5. I agree with all. Many e-shops have a lot of pruducts that is litle bit difficult to use seo methods in all pages. But it is important.

  6. This is incredible. I’ve just learnt that product description is very vital and would make searching for such product easier. Thank you

  7. I’ve come across another, slightly more technical one recently:

    Check your pages are using one URL structure.

    Most e-commerce sites use automatically generated links and sitemaps. Carefully check these are consistent in the way they create links, so that all links to one page use exactly the same URL.

    The main items to check are:
    www. versus non www.
    http versus https
    using .html .htm or no file name extension consistently
    capitalisation

    • Yep :) Shopping carts and content management system notoriously create duplicate content automatically. We talked about this on this post: http://blog.kissmetrics.com/on-page-seo-recipe/

      Use a sitemap generator to see what URLs are being created by your carts and management systems. It’s a tedious process, but it’s necessary for identifying all those “leaks”.

      Remember there should be 1 URL for one product. If you have more than one URL per product then you are shooting yourself in the foot SEO wise.

      • Hi Sean,
        re; 1 url per product?
        How dose this play out if you have a product in a few different categories, eg. size category, brand category, type category. so i reality it might look like;

        /domain/size/product-a
        /domain/brand/product-a
        /domain/type/product-a
        Would one have to place a no-follow after 2 of the above URL’s to eliminate dupilcation?
        Also is there a specific site map generator that you know works with Magento?
        Thanks
        Paul

      • Re: 1 URL per product
        This is a really good opportunity to use the rel=canonical tag. If you have the same piece of content that is accessible through several dynamically-generated categories, pick one ‘canonical’ version, and tag it in there for all the products. All are still accessible, but search engines know to only give credit to the canonical version.

  8. Nice post sean!

    I agree with all your points. As talking to duplicate content things which I see the product page where you can see different page of a sing product due to difference in color or size which you mostly see in ecommerce site of shoes or cell phones. Instead of creating different page for each variant you can show it on one page only.

    • Yeah you can do that. You can also title the page differently by adding the color to the title tag and the H1 heading. “Blue Cell Phone Cover”, “Red Cell Phone Cover” etc..

  9. Nice tips. I do agree with all the gaps.

  10. Question: First off – Great Article. On #7- for that little highlighted block of text that is duplicate content, is it really that detrimental? I ask because I have a website with about 1300 blog articles for 7 different categories. We are considering automatically placing a short sentence in the footer to link back to the blog category landing page, ie: “To learn more about sleep problems and solutions visit our landing page.” Is this not beneficial?

    • Well it’s all about reducing duplicate content as much as possible. In that case, it’s best to make that text an image. That way you don’t have repeating text across the website.

  11. Good post.

    Not taking the time to create custom product descriptions is a big one. Reviewing analytics data and incorporating frequently searched queries into your descriptions and searchable fields is key.

    Especially in gift markets, I find creating a custom product name is a good idea. Once a consumer can search your product by exact name/sku with competitors it can be a losing battle, to compete on cost.

  12. Great tips! Having unique product descriptions will take a bit of time but will pay off in the long run. Personally, I read the descriptions of products before I purchase since there could be fine print that the picture didn’t show. (Most of the time, they’re rather amusing!)

    Good point on Customer Reviews keeping the site “living” too.

    Cheers.

  13. Hey,

    Excellent post. You have explained great errors in depth. i like it.

  14. I never thought of blocking sections like archives using robots.txt untill reading your post. I can see how it can be very helpful.

  15. I think sometimes an ecommerce site can be quite “heavy” resulting in slow load times. This can definitely be true of Magento sites and therefore I think another error is not beefing up the server resources for these installations. If the site does not load quickly, there is a very real chance that the visitor will leave before the page renders.

    • If magento is the case, it is not about the core. It is totally about your compiling and server type. You MUST use at least VPS for magento. It is not for regular wp/joomla type of e-commerce solution. It is really really flexible and more powerful than others.

  16. Great post – In regards to #2 on your list – Any tips or tools for identifying pages on a website which are using copied content? i.e. Content which is also on thousands of other sites?

    Got a client site where the number of products where the content is copied from the manufacturer runs into the thousands, so need (preferably) a way of checking URLs in bulk for this issue. Any ideas?

    Cheers!

  17. Site Architecture is also a common mistake. Too many navigation links (not prioritizing the main categories and therefore, diluting the links and the page itself). The same products in too many categories – misleads the crawlers into categorizing product pages. Lastly, making all pages the same priority level off of the home page – we want to think all of our pages have the same level of importance, but they really don’t!

  18. Well thought out & detailed post. I love it ! Just got back from a (new) client meeting yesterday where large portions of their (3000+ page) site are excluded in robots.txt because of the performance hit they take when the site is crawled by a bot (which, of course, only addresses bots who abide by the robots.txt directives).

    Your article is a great reminder that, once we’ve got the worst of the offending bots id’d & blocked (so we can start to get those pages indexed) the bigger question is which pages/directories really should remain disallowed — at least until we allocate the resource to rewrite those product descriptions.

    Clearly, as you’ve outlined here, either you clean up the product descriptions, etc. or you should exclude the page.

  19. Hi,
    Excellent post. I agree your all points.Its really helpful and informative.
    Thanks for the sharing.

  20. Very well explained, and I agree how you elaborate things that need to be fixed for SEO advantage and becoming more friendly to search results.

  21. makeonlineshop Dec 03, 2012 at 3:53 am

    I do not agree with the duplicate content thing.

    Every shop must have similar content on every page and Google is not stupid enough not to understand this.

    • I”m with you on that. It is typical to have a duplicate content area – obviously you don’t want to overdo it, but duplicate content on pages is a fact of life.

  22. Hi, You wrote: “Use robots.txt to block areas that create duplicate content such as archives, tags and even category pages in some cases.” below od this picture:
    http://blog.kissmetrics.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/A-lot-of-duplicate-content.jpg

    I can’t fint any informations about it, how to disalow index some areas on the site!!! :(

  23. I totally disagree with adding a NOINDEX tag on product pages you haven’t found time to write descriptions for. I would never actively tell a search engine to stop indexing content that is actually helpful to a user. It would be a much better solution to use a dynamically-generated meta description, or a factory product description than it would be to remove it completely from the index.
    I would always go with machine-generated over nothing at all. Then as resources became available to write unique, compelling copy, that’s when I would replace the generated copy.

    • I’ve run ecommece sites before where we had thousands of pages of products that wouldn’t get indexed and it was pretty apparent that it was because they lacked unique, descriptive content. The idea of putting the NOINDEX tag is to show the engines only your best content to keep up “your batting average” so to speak. Of course this entirely up to you and your team. Each site has a different trust ranking in the eyes of the engines, so some can get away with being poorly descriptive while others can’t.

    • I’m with AJ. I have no doubt that rewriting every product description is enormously helpful, but implying that it’s necessary to noindex duplicate descriptions doesn’t jibe with my experience. The ecommerce site I work for has about 400 products. Some of our pages get sandboxed from time to time, which in inevitable when link building, but I still have 40% of our product descriptions left to rewrite—yet virtually all of them are somewhere in G’s index.

      Telling readers to noindex their pages before at least checking their status beforehand is rather extreme. Many of those pages might have internal links that would stop passing juice to their target pages, resulting in collateral damage.

  24. Long tail keyword is also very effective for e-commerce sites to target more traffic and getting more buyers and their site’s.

  25. Hey!
    Thanks for informing us with such important errors.
    I really liked the idea of relevant keywords.
    Would you please recommend me the best software for selecting the best keyword??
    Thanks.
    Matt

  26. Thanks for the advice. I’ve got a new e-commerce site and have been building out a line of digital papers – with a big chunk of the description copied on each page. I noticed in Google Webmaster Tools that about two-thirds of my pages are “not selected”. The duplicate content may be my issue. Oh boy, I have a lot of work to do!

  27. this is one of simple and easy to understand e-commerce seo article. Love your canonical tag specially. One of hard part one e-commerce seo is organize duplicate contents with correct canonical tag usage..thanks for good info..

  28. Everything you have written is spot on, especially about using product description from suppliers. I actually do that for our online bookstore. Without them it is so long and time consuming process to write book descriptions for each book, and so much easier to use the publisher blurb. The books i do write unique descriptions for myself, strangely enough do for the most part rank better than copy/pasted versions, now i know why. I would say for our stores, that is our biggest area to improve on.

  29. I am always amazed by thin content on product pages. I try to write unique wordy keyword included descriptions sometimes containing links to other product pages or even to pages on other relevant (non competitor) sites.

  30. An excellent post, I really wish I had read this before I started my e-commerce store, but all the same, now that I have read it I know exactly what I need to do to bring myself more customers.

  31. Your post has given me inspiration. :) Make them feel loved and remind them why they need me are 2 ways that I’ll definitely be doing.

  32. I have been running an eCommerce site since 2007 but every time I faced lots of duplicate issues which I copied from Manufacture sites but after reading your steps definitely this will improve my SEO ranking.. Thanks mate..

  33. Thank you for sharing this information.

    What are your thoughts if information is shared in a PDF on a website, and then is shared as actual text in blog posts.

    Are those blog posts which are copied from the PDF still unique content? Or, since the information was published on the site as a downloadable PDF, the content is still considered unique?

    Thanks.

  34. how to fixed with duplicate title tags on the mobile?

    • What do you mean by mobile? For any website viewed on a mobile browser the exact same things discussed would apply here.

      If you have created a mobile website, I’m pretty sure you have control over the title tags (unless you are using some helper/template system – you may not).

  35. Hey Sean, really informative post. I though your suggestion on analyzing survey response to see how customers are referring to your products and then optimizing for those search terms was a creative approach. Thanks for sharing!

  36. Shahan SeaMedia Mar 10, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    I have heard that the eCommerce website Filter options creates a mess for SEO.
    Have you heard it ?
    How can that be solved?
    By Canonical or by other methods??

  37. Well, if you create an appropriate link based architecture it shouldn’y be a problem. You can have that exist along side filters. You can do a lot of tricks with your robots.txt file to block Google from indexing weird filtered laden URLs – in addition to dynamically adding NO INDEX tags to filtered results.

    This area happens to be a specialty of mine :)

  38. Excellent article, just what I was looking for my price comparison shopping site.

    Also can you please advise on what would be the ideal length of product descriptions on pages?

    Thanks

    • I always think it’s a good rule of thumb to do a character count of all the duplicate content on your product pages. Add up the total amount of content created by your navigational text, footer text, sidebar text etc. Then at the very least make sure you write the same amount of unique content for your product description. Obviously the more the merrier for SEO purposes…

  39. Sorry but to pick up on a point about unique content with regards to manufacturers descriptions. To put it bluntly manufacturers descriptions and bullet points usually describe the item you may be selling in the best way possible, for you or indeed search engines or should I say the great god google to expect different websites selling the same items from the same manufacturers to re-write product descriptions on an ecommerce site that may be selling hundreds or even thousands of products is quite frankly ridiculous! How many different ways do you think there are to describe the same product with the same functions for f**ks sake! Stop sucking up to google, tell em to go f**k themselves and for christs sake will someone create a search engine that works like good old fashioned search engines used to without all this SEO nonsense! or am I the only one that just lately in 2013 that finds google search results complete and utter crap half the time? I’m increasingly turning to Bing more than i ever used to!!

  40. What about the size of the price. I often find it irritating if the price is written in dinky little letters or I have to search for the buy button.

  41. I am completely agree with mat point of view. I think that in fact,google dont think about to provide the “best user experience” but thinking about to provide “best google experience” i mean they want to win even more control about any web around internet, they said “you have to do on my way or you will pay consecuences”, well , from the user side, duplicate content about a product is not only “bad experience” but good one. Could you imagine you are selling a screws for instance. You need to know exactly size and technical properties..or chemist compound or a telescope or scientific instrument …..so the best information is provided by manufacturer so man,you can write poetry about screws , compounds or telescopes of course, but the only true is that you are giving irrelevant information to user and confusing him/her. In my view, talking about duplicate content in a online shop is stupid. Nobody in the real world , changes product tag for your “unique content tab”, for sure…your tag will be unique, but wrong and confusing.Google is getting paranoic about any website, because they hate organic traffic due dont give them money.Google would be interested about service, empathy, quality , and legal merchandising , and good payment methods instead. But of course , it is too complicated for Google “good”..and above all…not interesting thing for them.Show me the money, and the power guys, follow me, and you will be in the google paradise they said in ohter words..I wonder how a lot of webmasters and seos are so fanatic about google rules without no sense..In fact they dont mind at all the user experience…but his own income experience.May be i am a little rude, but we must stop google or become slaves..THINK BY YOURSELF!

  42. Hi, been Googling for a while. I have a question I haven’t found answer for:
    What if I have a single product (part actually) that can be used on many different places and want to rank it for each one the same? To put an example:
    Say I have a “memory module” that is compatible with many computer brands, for example Compaq, Lenovo, Dell, Sony and etc (many more).
    I want to rank for “Compaq memory module”, “Lenovo memory module”, etc.
    I know that for showing up on SERPs, I must have the main keyword on the title. How can I do, without repeating the same product content with different titles (I know that this method will not help actually), to rank the memory module for all the “compatible” brands?
    Will it be the same if I put “Laptop memory module” in the title of the post, and then the “Compatible” brands listed inside the body of the post?
    I don’t know if I was clear with my question, let me know…
    Thanks!

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