eCommerce | December 1, 2014
Building a Brilliant eCommerce Site With Best Practice
Websites don’t sell themselves – FACT. Building a brilliant eCommerce website takes skill and often some (best) practice. And through our years of working with many online businesses we’ve picked up a few tricks along the way, so we thought we’d share them with you.
Here is Liberty Marketing’s guide to building a brilliant eCommerce website with best practice. It’s split up into the following sections:
Seek and You Shall Find: URLs, titles and meta descriptions
Homing In: Category pages, Headings and copy
Take a Look Around: Duplication, product pages, site search and images
The Hidden Depths: 404s, sale and seasonal pages, internal and external linking, mobile, redesigns and moves.
Before we get into the good stuff, let’s talk money. Making money is the aim of selling goods online at the end of the day.
Last year the UK online retail market grew by 16% to £91billion. And eCommerce accounted for over a 1/5 of the country’s entire retail market (IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index). By 2020 international eCommerce has been estimated to grow to an enormous £21billion with Britain dubbed to have a 60% share.
eCommerce is here to stay with steady growth, but in the months in the run up to Christmas it is set to boom. In a study by PayPal in 2013, over half the population said they would purchase all their presents online, and 9 in 10 said they’d buy at least one thing without even leaving the comfort of their home.
The potential of the internet is immense, and every minute your business is not acting to its full potential you are losing money. So make your website the best it can be with these easy to follow best practice tips on eCommerce SEO.
Seek and You Shall Find
It may seem egotistical to Google yourself, but any good business knows that you should search for your business on a regular basis. How else are you going to know how you rank for search results, or how the competition is doing?
Take a look at what your search returns. How do you appear? Here’s one from a client of ours, Pure Commercial Finance, as an example:
A URL will describe where a page can be found. This should be short, easy to read and clearly dictate what your business has to offer.
Whether you are creating new pages for an existing website or building one from scratch there are a few things to bear in mind.
• A URL should be no more than 100 characters long
• Aim for 3 words or less and hyphenate these
• Incorporate keywords where possible (Do not stuff them in)
• Avoid capital letters, numbers or symbols
A title should clearly define what will be found if you click on the link. You want these to be creative and unique, but make sure not to distract from the content.
As with all writing, there are a few basic rules to follow:
• Aim for around 55 characters.
• Include the keywords at the beginning if possible (this makes them more relevant)
• Use different keywords on different pages to avoid cannibalisation
• Always place the brand name at the end. Separate this with a ‘|’ or ‘-‘
• Titles should be engaging and encourage users to click on your page
A meta description is used to provide further details of page content and to convince users to navigate to your site. Like with all copy these should be unique, and they give you a chance to be a little more creative.
• Meta descriptions should be no longer than 160 characters in length
• Contain the keywords in a natural way
• Where necessary include a call to action (be careful with these as they can look spammy if not done correctly)
Once you’ve searched for your site and analysed it, click on it! We are going to follow the journey a potential customer may make. It’s time to look at your landing pages.
The first thing to do is sit back and think: if I was a customer would I buy something from this site? Hopefully the answer is ‘yes’, if not, you have a lot of work to do.
Wherever you land on the site, whether the homepage or elsewhere, look to the top of the page and the main navigation bar. This is the key to finding your way around the site.
A navigation bar should clearly display category pages, which divide and group the products or services on offer. For example, a clothes retailer may have categories such as: women’s wear, men’s wear, kid’s wear, home wear and sale. Plus a home icon.
Each of these category pages should adhere to the following:
• The title, meta description and H1 should be keyword optimised
• A short introduction in the first fold, with the bulk of the copy at the end of the page
• Have plenty of image links to popular or promotional product pages
• Filters are a must for eCommerce websites as they aid navigation
• People like to be in the know, so clearly display prices and special offers
• If a page is no longer available create a temporary 302 redirect or 301 if the page will not be returning
So it’s time to own up, do you ever read an entire webpage? Of course you don’t. Most users will skim a page, and that is why headings are SO important. Plus they help for search engine indexing too. So don’t neglect your precious page headings!
• Headings are great but be careful not to go too crazy with them. Define with a <H1> tag, <H2>, and so on. But there should only be one <H1> per page.
• Headings should stand out from the rest of the content. Bolding or an increased size is a common technique.
• They should reflect the keyword and content to show relevancy
The term ‘content is king’ is thrown around quite a lot in digital marketing circles, but that is simply because the copy on your website is so important. After all, it is this which helps you rank with the search engines.
You want to aim for quality not quantity. What are the key features of this item? And how big is it? What do your customers want to know?
The format of your content will vary depending on the type of page, but there are a few constants to keep in mind:
• Use no more than 3 keywords or variants, and make sure these appear early on
• All important information should appear in the first fold
• Keep it short and to the point (lists are great!)
• Each page should have at least 200 words on a page (we’d encourage more)
• Separate text using tabs or ‘read more’ expanders
• Adapt the font size and colour to ensure it is easy to read
• Correct spelling is essential!
Take a Look Around
As you click through your site do you notice any red flags? Is everything working as it should and what is the site like to use?
One of the worst mistakes eCommerce companies make is investing in quality content, but then duplicating this throughout their site.
Identical content throughout a site or the copying of another site can result in your website receiving some serious penalties. This can cost you money, affect search rankings and even temporarily put you out of business.
Common types of duplicate content include:
Boilerplate text – Repetitive statements or phrases. Copyright statements, and terms and conditions at the bottom of a page can be categorised as this. Avoid this by condensing text and linking to a page with the full details.
Similar products – Products may be similar but they are not identical. The same should go for your descriptions of them.
Manufacturer descriptions – It may be tempting to simply copy and paste a manufacturer’s description, but avoid this by rewriting for your personal target audience.
Canonicalisation – When there are multiple URLs leading to the same content or page.
Your product pages are just as important as your homepage, your customer has come this far, you don’t want to lose them now. This is where you should show them off to their best and concrete that sale. Make the most of these pages by:
• Use the product name as a keyword and optimise accordingly
• The product or brand should appear in the <H1>Product descriptions should answer real customer questions, for example, if selling a bag – what shoes would match
• Can I fit my phone and purse inside?
• The ‘add to cart’ button and other CTAs should be prominent
• Display the price including tax and any delivery costs
• Show out of stock when appropriate
• Display the different payment methods’ icons
• Link to delivery info, returns policy and size guide
• Cross sell by featuring similar or complementary items
• Feature good reviews for credibility
• Follow the copy points previously outlined
• If a product is no longer available, 301 redirect it to the most relevant and useful alternative
Site search is an extremely underrated feature of most websites. It is a great navigation tool, and can also provide you with traceable data of what your potential customers are looking to buy. Simply enable this in Google Analytics and monitor search results over time. It may affect what you sell in the future.
Images provide a visual element to a page. They won’t be seen by search engines (without ALT text) but they are extremely important for customer usability. Buying blind is risky, people want to see what they are purchasing.
• Take photos from multiple angles or next to a person for size of scale
• Place keywords in descriptive ALT text
• Include a zoom function
• Use high quality images to reflect the value of your products
The Hidden Depths
Every website has some pages which rarely get seen, but that doesn’t mean they are any less important. For example…
A 404 page tells a user (and the search engines) that a page no longer exists. And a useful 404 page will help a user redirect their search and stay on the site. These should show a 404 response header and popular links.
Sale and Seasonal Pages
Most successful retail stores will have promotional periods, where offers or sales are extended for a limited period of time. Some may even have seasonal related pages for events such as Christmas and Halloween. So how do you prepare these for down periods?
• Keep the pages live but ‘no index’ them and remove from the main navigation menu until they’re relevant.
• You could design a page to say there is currently no sale/it is out of season, and include links to alternative pages the user may like. Also include a CTA for newsletter signup or social media alerts.
Internal and External Linking
Linking is like a friendship, you tend to get along with people who have similar interests, keep in touch with good friends and introduce them to others. With people you consider to be poor friends you may try to break ties with by pretending not to know them!
Use internal links throughout your eCommerce website with related or recently viewed products. A page should never be more than 4 clicks away from another on the site, but avoid excess linking as this can affect customer usability. It is fine to link externally but make sure these are trusted and relevant – you could even use ‘no follow’ tags.
This point we can keep short and sweet: Make sure your site is mobile responsive.
Site Redesigns and Moves
This is where things can get a little tricky from an SEO perspective. Although a brand new spanking website may look 10 times better, it can seriously affect your position on Google and undo a lot of hard work. If URLs will be changing make sure to 301 important pages and add Google Analytics tracking codes to the new site. Finally, be aware of duplication!