SEO in Focus

Winning at eCommerce SEO with Luke Carthy

  • September 26, 2019
  • Steven van Vessum

The biggest SEO issue I see in eCommerce stores is being too strict with the faceted navigation. Some are locking away all traces of URL parameter driven facets from bots, whereas others are opening the floodgates to everything.

As with many things, there’s often a sweet spot somewhere towards the middle!

Welcome Luke, can you tell us a little about yourself?

Sure! I’m a chocolate British guy with a love for speaking and a borderline unhealthy obsession with all things eCommerce optimisation and fragrance.

So, naturally I’m a freelance eCommerce SEO consultant (opens in a new tab), I’ve spoken at a bunch of awesome events (Searchlove, MozCon, BrightonSEO etc.) and I’m the founder of Custom Freshener Co (opens in a new tab).

In case you’re wondering, Custom Freshener Co is a manufacturer of bespoke promotional air fresheners loaded with mouthwatering fragrances.

What do you love so much about eCommerce SEO?

Good question… For me it’s the fact that the devil really is in the details. I also feel that eCommerce SEO is typically well accounted for from a commercial point-of-view too. (This really helps with board-level / senior level buy-in).

Plus when you couple this with the fact that you can quickly and accurately attribute your efforts and actions right down to sales and core KPI impact; what’s not to love!

Ooh - one more thing.. I feel it’s super-important to mention that SEO in its purest, simplest form (increasing organic traffic) isn’t enough to really excel in an eCommerce / listing site environment.

You have to be well-seasoned in CRO, UX, customer journey etc and really tune in to customer’s expectations to make solid ROI moves. It’s multi-faceted (bad-dum-tshh), challenging, ever-changing and I love it!

Who are other thought leaders in the eCommerce SEO space?

Not strictly eCommerce per se, however I’ve a lot of love for the epic AG Consult clan, Karl Gilis (opens in a new tab)and Els Aerts (opens in a new tab). They’re the absolute conversion rate optimization (CRO) and user experience (UX) wizards and I’m in love with their on-stage content.

James Gurd (opens in a new tab) is a force too with the great ecomChat Twitter clan. Last but not least, I’ve a lot of love for JP Sherman (opens in a new tab) for his wizardry and onsite search know-how.

How is eCommerce SEO different from optimizing a “normal” website?

How long have we got!? In a nutshell, the sheer granularity of eCommerce makes it a SEO subculture of its own.

For example, successfully managing faceted navigation, internal search performance/optimisation and indexing (or lack of). Successfully managing discontinued lines (opens in a new tab), dual-siting products in categories without generating duplicate URLs…

The list goes on..

Although, not all of the above points are necessarily critical for all eCommerce environments (for a multitude of reasons I won’t go into now), larger and more established eCommerce setups should absolutely be considering and implementing robust and elastic SEO approaches.

What’s the one SEO issue you come across in most eCommerce stores?

With the biggest commercial impact? It has to be neglecting internal search. Both from an organic landing page perspective and from a findability (is that even a word?) / UX perspective.

From a pure-play SEO point of view? Faceted navigation has to be up there. So many eCommerce setups swing one way or another entirely; locking away all traces of URL parameter driven facets from bots or opening the floodgates to everything.

As with many things, there’s often a sweet spot somewhere towards the middle (again depending on the specific setup) that allows businesses to leverage low volume, high converting longtail purchase-intent nuggets.

How do you prevent wasting of crawl budget?

First thing’s first here. Whether you believe crawl budget is a real-world metric to be concerned about, why waste time arguing about it, when you could instead just make it efficient for bots because that’s the right thing to do?

Disclaimer out of the way - rel=”nofollow” and canonicals are essential here. Faceted navigation (especially if an eCommerce site allows multiple facets to be selected simultaneously) can be a huge black hole of URLs for bots.

However, if your eCommerce setup is leveraging a 3rd party internal search such as SLI or Nextopia for example, you could be unknowingly cranking up the cost of internal search if bots are requesting thousands of search URLs whilst crawling. Often these services charge based on the number of search queries per annum. This could get costly!

Note: For those of you that have concerns with how Google is responding to rel=”nofollow” as of Mar 2020, the good news is, these changes have little to no impact on internal nofollow declarations (opens in a new tab). Mr Mueller said so himself!

What’s your favourite eCommerce platform and why?

Move along WordPress haters! WooCommerce is awesome. If a platform can dramatically bring down the barrier of entry to eCommerce tech for micro businesses / start ups and make it super-slick in doing so, that has to be a good thing in my book.

However, SEO isn’t baked in to WooCommerce out of the box, so be sure to do your research and implement foundation eCommerce SEO where necessary.

cough faceted navigation and internal search cough.

For larger/enterprise storefronts, I really like Sylius on the ever-growing Symfony framework. It’s lightweight, mega flexible and emerging. However if it were my money, you can’t go far wrong with Magento, although it isn’t cheap.

With Magento, specialists are plentiful and it’s very well supported.

I’m also often asked about Shopify. I was lucky enough to speak to an absolute Shopify guru at MozCon who’s name escapes me.

In summary, the base Shopify product can be a SEO nightmare mainly due to the inability to amend robots.txt. However I’m told SEO is taken more seriously when stepping up to Shopify Plus, but again, it ain’t cheap…

How do you make sure you don’t spend weeks doing keyword research for large sites?

Oh wow, huge question.. Internal search can reveal many super keyword secrets. Not only that, it’s often quick to get conversion data for those respective keywords too. I personally find this a good place to start.

This way, you’re proactively making sure you’re organically visible for the keywords that customers are using once they’re on your site.

In terms of tools, I personally adore Sistrix to help me to identify historical and fresh keyword performance from a site-wide and single page perspective.

How do you approach defining search intent for interesting keywords at scale?

Analysing direct and indirect competitors really helps you to mine insights and opportunities when it comes to purchase intent discovery, but that’s nothing new.

Thinking outside of the box a little more, if you’re working with a store that resells products from other brands, there can be real pots of gold to be had when digging through their organic keywords, especially longtail ones.

So, as an example - let’s say Sennheiser headphones is one of the brand’s lines an eCommerce website sells. By going to the Sennheiser website and identifying their main headphone specific keywords.

This collection of keywords can be matched/narrowed to the site’s inventory and then you have a great pool of product-specific keywords that can be quickly be tuned to have a purchase intent with adding ‘buy’, ‘order’ etc.

What’s your approach to making product detail pages have unique, relevant content?

Honestly? I don’t spend a lot of time here because in my experience it's not proven to be hugely effective when you consider the amount of time needed to generate quality content for potentially thousands of lines.

Then when you think about fashion and apparel, product page content rarely comes into play here; the visuals do the talking. So I don't really work on or have an effective go to strategy here…

Typically eCommerce websites only come into play right at the end of the purchase funnel, especially with premeditated purchases like tech.

As a result, the unique and relevant content as it were, is digested and reviewed before now, the final transactional level of the purchase funnel.

So, let me reshape this question to: “What content is important when it comes to eCommerce sites?

My answer: important content is content that inspires consumer trust and alleviates concerns. So a transparent, well-marketed and generous returns policy. (Chain Reaction Cycles is a go to great example as they offer a 365-day return window.)

Content around who you are and why you’re the best reseller, content that sings about your happy customers and plentiful 4+ star reviews etc.

This is the sort of content that really helps an eCommerce website stand out and impacts CRO / market share.

What Schema types are important for eCommerce SEO besides “product” and “review”?

Breadcrumbs are underrated! They help to add context and scope for the user. Especially where two categories with the same name exists in two separate hierarchies.

For example:

  • Mobile Phones > Apple iPhone > Cases
  • Laptops > Laptop Accessories > Cases

Two categories with the same name, very different products contained in each of them.

Offers and discount code pages are great for this. Not only are they great for attracting links, but they help to improve conversion rates too.

We’ve all been there, got to the checkout of a website, locked eyes on the discount code box and then furiously search online to find a code that works

Having a discount code page on your own website keeps affiliate commissions at bay, reduces basket abandonment and attracts links too.

What’s a healthy percentage for SEO traffic out of all the traffic for an eCommerce store?

Brand recognition / size of brand, vertical and whether the storefront sits in the B2B or B2C space all play a part of a website’s traffic makeup.

But ultimately the two key pillars of both revenue and traffic should be email and organic with organic driving around a 40-50% share.

Email is usually the most valuable channel in regards to revenue, sales and conversion rate, whilst organic is typically a channel best suited to end of purchase funnel discovery.

However, in impulse-buy or Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) environments, social traffic can be a valuable sales channel too. It all boils down to brand and audience.

What will the eCommerce SEO field look like in 5 years from now?

When we think about the progression of search as a whole, it’s all about giving users the information they need with as little input and action as possible. Zero position SERPS etc.

I feel this approach and mindset will eventually trickle down to eCommerce too.

For example, being able to purchase items with a single click directly from the Google SERPS from cards configured in ApplePay or Google Wallet etc. Think Amazon’s ‘Buy now with 1-click’ function but available from Google.

Instagram has already experimented with shopping capabilities and is continually pushing harder with eCommerce functionality across the platform too. This means you can purchase items from a business without ever visiting their site, without ever leaving these platforms.

In summary, I think the future of eCommerce is enabling the consumption of products from brands and businesses without ever having to visit their websites/marketplaces. We’ve zero click results, soon we’ll be saying hello to one-click purchases from Google, Instagram and more.

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Steven is ContentKing's VP of Community. This means he's involved in everything community and content marketing related. Right where he wants to be. He gets a huge kick out of letting websites rank and loves to talk SEO, content marketing and growth.