SEO Friendly Shopping Carts
Are you considering the option of having an ecommerce enabled shopping cart created to sell your products online? If you want to reap the benefits of organic search engine traffic as well, there are few things you need to know.
Shopping carts and e commerce websites are created with the purpose of being user friendly. User friendly does not always mean that it is search engine friendly. Finding the best e commerce software that is both user and search engine friendly will provide your visitors with what they need to make purchases, while giving the search engines what they need to maximize your organic search engine rankings.
By making your e commerce store search engine friendly, you are usually making it more user friendly too; so its hitting two birds with one stone. Lets take a look a look at a few areas which cause problems with e commerce software:
URL Strings, Dynamic URL’s & SEO Friendly Page Names
Most shopping carts these days are created with a database that provides all the product information dynamically. This includes:
- Product Descriptions
- Shipping Information
- Navigation Structure
Usually, if you were to take a look on your website server, there is one page that is used as the template to dynamically create hundreds or even thousands of product pages on the fly. The parameters are usually appended to the URL string which tells the server which information to pull from the database, enabling all the product information for a specific product to be displayed on the screen.
When you set up your e commerce store, you provide information within the admin area, such as category names, product names and all the information regarding the product. This information is then tucked away in the database and then called back up when links are clicked on throughout your website. Lets imagine you sell widgets, you have set up a category in your website called widgets, and you have a blue widget that sells within the site. The URL string for this product may look something like this: yourwebsite.com/store/product.php?cat=1&product_id=124
There is nothing wrong with this type of URL, but it is not search engine friendly or user friendly. Some may ask how a URL can be visitor friendly, a visitor friendly url is one that can easily be told to someone, remembered or jotted down. Would it be easier for a user to remember yourwebsite.com/store/product.php?cat=1&product_id=124 or yourwebsite.com/store/widgets/blue.php
Many shopping cart programs come with what’s called URL Rewriting, which essentially allows you to give your URLs flat file names that are not dynamic in nature. Google indicates in their guidelines to webmasters that they prefer flat file names to Dynamic URLs. Additionally they go on to say that they will index dynamic URLs, however they will only index a portion of those URLs. When I read this, this tells me a few things,
- I have dynamic URL’s in my website they may only index “some” of my web pages.
- They will index some of my pages and I have no control over the pages they select.
- They may not index the strongest selling products within my site, lowing my ability to succeed
Every page that you have within your website has the ability to rank for related keywords. The more pages you have within your website, the more chances you have to rank for targeted phrases and the more potential visitors you can drive to your website. By using dynamic URLs you are taking the chance of limiting your success via organic search engine marketing.
Shopping carts often times create duplicate content. This duplicate content is created for the purpose of aiding the visitor in easily finding products within your website. Products are generally listed in various categories so they are readily available no matter how the visitor prefers to shop. E commerce stores usually offer the option to find products by price, by category, items on sale etc. Usually when the URL strings are compared they are not the same, essentially allowing the same product information to be displayed on multiple URLs.
This type of duplicate content will not have you removed from the search engines or have any penalties applied, however it does make it harder for the search engines to understand the overall theme of your website. You essentially are categorizing your products by their relation when you add them to your site, and then removing the categorization by allowing them to be grouped based on price.
The best solution to this problem is to not allow the search engines to index those pages which are created to show products outside their categories. For example, if you allow your visitors to see all the widgets in your store and view them in order by price the URL may look like this: yourwebsite.com/store/product.php?cat=1&price=1. You can disallow Google from visiting and indexing any pages that are sorted by price with a line in your robots.txt file like this:
This essentially tells the search engines “Do not index any URLs that have &price= within them.” The great thing is that if you add this, it covers all products and categories that sort by price. You can create various disallows and place them in your robots.txt file and eliminate duplicate content immediately.
Secure / Unsecured Pages
If your website is e commerce enabled then it is highly likely that you have unsecured pages (these pages begin with http://) and secure pages (these pages begin with https://). Secure pages are those with private information which needs to pass through to the server or database on a secure connection. This helps to protect your visitors information from hackers and prying eyes.
When you visit an unsecured page such as a product page, add the product to the shopping cart and then login to your account with the company or begin filling out the forms to place an order, you are likely to be pushed to a secure page. If during the middle of that order you decide to view another product, you should then be leaving the secured area. If links within your template are setup as relative instead of fully qualified URLs, you would then be viewing pages that are supposed to be unsecured but they will actually be secured. While most people do not see this as a problem, it does actually present a problem to Google.
and are considered two separate pages to Google. This causes two problems. 1) You now have two pages with the same content, causing a duplicate content issue. 2) This can present an issue with your PageRank and back links when visitors link to your site.
When you have two or more web pages that have the same content on the page, Google will select only one to show and the other pages will be omitted from the database. That makes sense, except you don’t have control over the page that they select. What if you have 10 other people linking to page but Google chooses to list the HTTPS version instead? Essentially the HTTP version could have a PR4 and the HTTPS version could have a PR0. Since the HTTP version is omitted for duplicate content you lose rankings, traffic and sales.
The easiest way to correct this issue is to ensure that your website template utilizes fully qualified URL’s within the links; if not throughout the entire site, at least within any pages that show secured content.
As you can see, it is important to ensure the e commerce software you select for your website is both visitor and search engine friendly. Contact us today to assist you with selecting and implementing an SEO friendly shopping cart for your website.