A beautiful ecommerce site won’t help you sell if no one knows about it. Gorgeous photos and imagery may provide best-in-class UX, but they can also introduce serious technical SEO roadblocks.
Ecommerce sites are often extremely complex and technical SEO errors might make it difficult for search engines to crawl, index and rank a site.
If your traffic numbers are below expectations or have sharply declined after a site migration or redesign, an SEO audit is the best first step to identify problems. And not just an audit, but the ultimate Ecommerce SEO Audit.
Do you want a steady stream of customers? Then read on!
How to Perform an Ecommerce SEO Audit
In this post you will find an outline of a comprehensive ecommerce SEO audit, which can be applied to small and large retail sites alike. We have included all checkpoints that really matter, based on years of experience performing such audits.
A complete audit of any ecommerce site has three components:
1. Technical SEO Audit
2. Keyword Mapping and Content Audit
3. Competitor and Backlink Audit
These three components are not always performed sequentially, but often more or less simultaneously. Some keyword mapping, for example, might already be beneficial during the technical audit to better evaluate the optimization of title tags and meta descriptions.
If you have tools like BrightEdge or SEMRush at your disposal, you may want to get an overall impression of a site’s search engine visibility by putting its main URL into the DataCube (BrightEdge) or Domain Analytics Tool (SEMRush). Additionally, a look into a site’s Google Search Console profile will give you a general impression of its organic search performance and help you identify some low-hanging fruit right away.
Ecommerce Technical SEO Audit
The technical audit is the foundation of all your SEO efforts. This audit ensures that search engines can crawl and index your site in the most efficient way, which is a prerequisite for good rankings.
You need to check the following:
Check to see if the site exists solely on HTTP or HTTPS. Often, after a site migration to HTTPS, sites exist in both versions. HTTP pages need to be 301 redirected to their HTTPS equivalents to avoid duplication and to preserve backlink value.
Example: Let’s use Jane’s Gadgets, a fictional site to demonstrate: Jane’s site was formerly only available at http://www.janesgadgets.com, but following Google’s directives switched to secure hosting on https://www.janesgadgets.com. Without a 301 redirect from the http site version to the https version, Jane technically has two separate sites. Links coming into the http site don’t help the https site, and vice versa. That means https://www.janesgadgets.com doesn’t benefit from the 1000+ backlinks of the http version and has a harder time ranking for terms.
Google Search Console Set-up
Has the site’s profile in Google Search Console (GSC) been set up correctly? (If the site has recently migrated to HTTPS, a new profile should have been set up.) What is the site’s indexation status? Are there any warnings or red flags?
Example: Did Jane’s site lose rankings or visibility when switching to https? GSC doesn’t consolidate information for http and https sites, so the only way to know for sure is to create profiles for both the http and https sites, even if redirects are in place.
Does the site have subdomains that should be included when looking at rankings, traffic and other metrics?
Example: https://blog.janeswidgets.com and https://store.janesgadgets.com may require separate crawls to ensure their links and rankings are included in any report. While there was once thought to be some benefit to creating subdomains for internal linking purposes (Google views subdomains as separate sites), a folder structure like https://www.janesgadgets.com/blog is now thought to be more beneficial since any incoming links benefit a single site as a whole. A stronger site can generally rank for more competitive terms than several smaller sites.
Does the site have a valid robots.txt file? Is the XML sitemap referenced in the file?
Example: https://www.janeswgadgets/robots.txt should include a sitemap link like Sitemap: https://ww.janesgadgets/sitemap.xml which can link to other sitemaps. For retailers with large product catalogs, multiple sitemaps may be necessary to align with sitemap size limits. While the limit has been increased from 10MB or 50,000 URLs to 50MB, smaller sitemaps may still be easier to maintain.
There are a number of questions that need to be answered, especially if you want to optimize an international ecommerce site:
- Does the site have an up-to-date XML sitemap?
- If the site exists in several languages, has hreflang been implemented in the sitemap, if hreflang is not present at the individual URL level in the page head?
- If there is a sitemap index file, are all sitemaps listed in it?
- Do the sitemaps only contain canonical URLs and do all URLs return a 200 status?
- Have the sitemaps been submitted in Google Search Console and what is their status there?
Is the site responsive? If a separate mobile or AMP site exists, make sure to audit it as well. This will also ensure a flawless transition to the mobile-first index that Google is rolling out over the course of 2018.
Looking at your crawl file, you should be able to tell if there are any major problems with canonicalization. Do identical or very similar pages exist on a number of URLs and do they canonicalize to one page? Even if there is no duplication issue, you need to make sure that all pages have a canonical link. After a migration to HTTPS, make sure that the canonical links are also HTTPS.
Internal links pointing to 404 and 410 pages
Ideally, no links should point to pages that don’t exist. Use the 410 status code if the page is gone for good and needs to be deindexed. However, a 301 redirect might be better since it will preserve backlink value, if there is any. If a product is temporarily out of stock, keep the page alive and provide the user the option to sign up for an email alert that informs them when the product is back.
Always use a 301 redirect, since it will pass on backlink value. 302 redirects are often easier to implement, but they do not pass on link value.
Does each URL contain the page’s primary keyword phrase (see “Keyword Mapping” below), separated by hyphens?
Title tags are one of the most important ranking factors (if their content is supported by the actual text on the page.) Therefore, take your time to answer these questions:
- Does every page have a unique title tag?
- Is it less than 56 characters (including spaces)?
- Is the page’s primary keyword phrase placed at the beginning of the title?
Meta descriptions affect click-through-rate, which is rumored to be a ranking factor. Check the following:
- Does every page have a unique meta description?
- Is it less than 320 characters (including spaces)?
- Does it contain the page’s primary keyword phrase?
Does every page have a unique headline formatted as H1? Does it contain the page’s primary keyword phrase?
Does every page, including the homepage, have unique text content? Does it contain the page’s primary keyword phrase? Is there a minimum of 300 words of content written in sentences?
Navigation links help Google to crawl the site, but links from within paragraphs of text can be beneficial for pages outside the primary navigation structure. How are internal links currently utilized on the site? Are there opportunities for improvement?
Example: Jane’s Gadgets offers kitchen gadgets, car gadgets, office gadgets and children’s gadgets. While those 4 gadget categories are linked to prominently throughout the site in a navigation menu, green kitchen gadgets are not. Including a link to the green kitchen gadgets page from text on the main kitchen gadgets page is a good way to help Google understand the structure of Jane’s site, and the fact that there are pages that may be more relevant to specific searches.
Do product pages contain Product and Aggregate Rating Schema markups? These reinforce to Google what the page is about (which will help the search engine to match it with the user’s search intent) and it may also enhance search results listings with additional information (such as star ratings), which affects click-through-rate.
OpenGraph and Twitter Card Markup
Is OpenGraph and Twitter Card Markup present and has it been implemented correctly?
Toolbox: We recommend performing a complete site crawl with DeepCrawl (for very large sites) or Screaming Frog (for small and mid-sized sites).
Ecommerce Keyword Mapping and Content Audit
When it comes to ecommerce, your catalog of products is your primary content. However, a manufacturer’s product name is only one way customers might discover your products and your website.
Consider Jane’s site, which sells gadgets. Every gadget has a numerical part number, which is useful for inventory, but not necessarily customer-friendly. Consider the purpose of the product, and defining characteristics when identifying keywords. Just imagine a customer looking for kitchen gadgets. If they’re mixed in on a page with car gadgets and gardening gadgets, it would be difficult for a customer – and a search engine – to know which page and which product to go to for kitchen gadgets.
Let’s say Jane gets it, and has a dedicated page of kitchen gadgets. We can now begin looking at all of the products that relate to this category and incorporate them into the overall keyword strategy for the site. Countertop kitchen gadgets, blue kitchen gadgets, and stainless steel kitchen gadgets may have enough products to warrant their own pages, but at a minimum, incorporating them into a dedicated kitchen gadgets page provides a good keyword foundation to build on.
The purpose of keyword mapping is to identify a primary keyword phrase for each page based on the content of the page and the search volume of the keyword phrase.
After the keyword phrase is identified, make sure that it is used in the title tag, meta description, H1 and on-page text. Ideally, it is also used in the URL, image file names and image alt tags. However, changing existing URLs and image file names might not always be doable.
Toolbox: Google AdWords Keyword Planner, SEMrush, Moz Keyword Explorer
Ecommerce SEO Competitor Audit
The competitor audit needs to answer two questions: Who is outranking you for your primary keywords and why?
Search competitors aren’t always the same as brand competitors. Don’t focus on brand competitors; rather, focus on who is outranking you in search engines. It doesn’t really matter if you’re ranked on top of page 2 in Google and your main competitor ranks at the bottom of the same page – to most potential customers searching online, you’re both as good as invisible.
Also, don’t focus on backlinks alone. Rather, start by looking at the amount of text on pages that outrank your site. Often, you’ll find that they have significantly more and better-optimized text.
Always ask yourself: does your site deserve to be top-ranked for the specific keyword phrase? Do you have better content than anyone else? If you answer these questions honestly, you’ll often find that you need to significantly improve your on-page content.
As always, start with your most important pages or with low-hanging fruit, i.e. keywords and pages in striking distance to top rankings.
Toolbox: Moz, SEMrush, Majestic, Ahrefs, SimilarWeb
Where do you go from here?
You are done with your ecommerce SEO audit, you’ve found all issues regarding technical SEO, looked into keyword mapping and optimization, and you’ve performed a competitor and backlink audit. Now what?
1. Prioritize Your Ecommerce Site Optimization
We recommend prioritizing all findings in terms of how they affect rankings and by the level of effort it takes to fix them.
For example, changing title tags is easy to do and will significantly affect rankings. If you want to see results quickly, this is an excellent place to start. In fact, if your time and budget is limited, this should be your top priority, in addition to fixing any technical issues that actually prevent crawling and indexing. Expanding on-page content, including keyword optimization, will also lead to better rankings.
On the other hand, improving site speed might take a lot of effort and the results might not be game changing.
Improving your backlink profile will also take time and effort, but will make a noticable and lasting difference.
2. Focus on the Right Keywords
Optimizing a large ecommerce site can be overwhelming. Therefore, it is best to start with keywords for which the site currently ranks #2 to #5 in Google and which have significant search volume. Getting the site from #2 to #1 will double the click-through-rate!
Next, try to move the site from the lower part of page 1 search results into the top 5. Again, focus on keywords that have high search volume and/or convert well.
As a third step, work on moving the site from page 2 to page 1 in Google for additional keywords with high search volume.
Of course, if the site has no page 1 rankings to begin with, you start with step three.
3. Monitor Site Performance
Keep track of how the changes you make affect rankings and sales. Stay focused on getting the site into top rankings for selected keywords. If needed, add more text to pages and increase link building.
Remember that SEO is a long-term investment and that it often takes months to achieve top rankings. If you want SEO to positively affect Black Friday or holiday sales, it is best to start optimizing your site in January or February.
4. Audit again
Repeat your ecommerce SEO audit every 3-6 months to be up to date on the state of optimization and to discover any new issues.