To recap our series so far, we introduced the topic of SEO for ecommerce sites and suggested some ways to improve your rankings by enhancing the overall reputation of your ecomm site. Last time, we talked about some specific priorities relative to moving your site visitors from a casual visitor to “sold”.
Now that you’ve thought lots about your customer base and come to know/understand them thoroughly, you’re probably ready to take action on the site itself. This we will be considering, in some detail, in this post and the next.
First of All, Mobile-First — And Check Your Navigation
As you are probably well-aware, Google has not been hiding their intent to move to a mobile-first SERP’s world. And so one of the most important things you can co, from an ecomm SEO perspective, is to make sure that you are developing a site that is mobile-friendly.
The easiest way to deal with this issue is to make sure that you are developing a site with responsive mobile design.
Once the site has been prototyped out, there is no substitute for actually visiting the site (perhaps in its alpha or beta form) and actually trying to use it. In particular, there can be navigation issues with ecomm sites when being viewed on a mobile device. Be especially careful to make sure that navigation is easy to understand, and that the links can be clicked easily and without making mistakes (which will land the user on the wrong page). Don’t — especially in a mobile environment — require the user to click too “deep” into the site to find what they are looking for, as on a mobile device it’s real easy to lose track of where you are and how to get back to the home page.
A fundamental rule of ecomm SEO is that overly-complex site design or navigation requirements result in lost sales, as people will get frustrated and abandon the site altogether.
Payment Methods & The Checkout Process: This is Not Rocket Science!
99% of the ecomm websites we see that have “shopping cart abandonment” issues are sites that have too much complexity or hassle in the payment methods or shopping cart area. The following are some important considerations:
Editing Saved Credit Cards: Have you ever started the process of checkout on an ecomm site only to realize that you need to stop everything and go back to your account profile and edit your payment details? This can result in abandoned shopping carts!
Instead, get your devs to code your checkout process so that your site users can edit — or even delete a payment method — within the process of checking out. Not having to abandon that process keeps it front-of-mind for the customer, and you stand a much greater chance of getting them to actually finalize their purchase.
How can you do this? Very simply, by creating small “edit payment details” and even “delete payment method” links on your checkout area page. Clicking those, the details can pop up in a modal, and after clicking a “save” button, the modal disappears, and the customer is left to continue the checkout process.
Give Them a Roadmap: When the customer starts checkout, across the top of the page you are displaying, show some breadcrumbs or a progress bar, which will visually reinforce to the customer where they are in the overall checkout process — what has been taken care of, as well as what still needs to happen.
Sites will vary, but it is standard ecomm SEO to use something like the following checkout flow:
- Verify/edit the items selected and currently in the shopping cart – can change quantities, or delete items no longer wanted. It is nice to display thumbnail (reduced) images of the items next to each, to remind the customer of what they decided to order. This area should show a subtotal for the merchandise, not including tax, handling and shipping or other fees. This area can also display options for personalization (like monogram initials), or to indicate that the item is a gift (to include a note to the recipient and to not include a packing list with the price). Also, if you offer coupon/promo codes, this is a good place to allow the customer to input them, and then you can display the changed price(s) on the fly, so that the customer will know they are getting the appropriate discount. If you can, it is a great plus to offer save for later buttons, which will allow items to be removed from the shopping cart but placed on a list associated with a customer account, that they can look at later.
- Shipping address and special instructions – Allow the customer to input their ship-to address. Some sites will ask for billing information and include a “ship to same address” checkbox so that the customer will not have to do more data-entry. A place for customers to indicate notes should also be included on the shipping page to allow the customer to give you additional instructions.
- Payment info – If the customer has previously set up an account you can retrieve stored payment information and ask for confirmation. If not, or if the customer needs to edit their payment method or details, allow them to do that in the least intrusive way.
- Shipping method/charges – Display all options open to them, along with costs and estimated arrival times. Please allow the customer to try more than one shipping option to see how it changes what they will pay!
- Final review page – When all information has been inputted, give the customer a page where they can review everything – and ways that this information can be changed (via modal popups) and they then can submit the order for CC processing. By the way, when you display the final price for everything, make sure that you are breaking down all the costs – base cost for the items, plus any additional charges for sales tax and shipping/handling fees.
Confidence and Trust at the Checkout Stage: It should go without saying, but some still have not gotten the message, unfortunately, that customers who do not trust your site with their financial and personal information will probably not buy from you!
So you should – at a minimum – make the whole domain HTTPS and make sure that it is really easy for someone to tell that your checkout process is totally secure, as well as in the area where they would give personal details when creating a customer account.
Displaying images that state that your site is “verified,” “trusted,” “safe” – from some recognized entity – is absolutely critical. And make sure that these trust/verification/credential/ratings badges are very prominent.
Also, give careful thought to requiring customers to create an account. If you do need customer accounts, don’t go overboard in the information you ask the customer to turn over to you (like phone numbers – if there are delivery or order-fulfillment issues, an email works just as well).
If you are looking to maximize sales, an important ecomm SEO principle is to allow your customers to check out as a “guest” — and even better, to structure your ecomm site so that you don’t need customers to create a customer account at all. There are tradeoffs here though. For example, no created customer account will not allow your customers to move items from their shopping cart to a “save for later” list, and they will need to enter payment details each time they order.
After-Checkout Strategies: What Happens Now?
If you look at a well-designed ecomm site (and one of the best, if not the best, is Amazon.com), you will notice that they have given lots of thought (and lines of code!) to handling the post-payment situation. There are two areas to consider here, at a minimum – What information do you want to leave with the customer once the checkout has been completed? And What further actions do you want the customer to take?
What information is to be left with them? Perhaps you want them to have a printable receipt or confirmation page. Perhaps also, information on what will happen next (a confirmation email will be sent out with a tracking link, delivery method and ETA for the package) as well as important customer service contact information – phone number, physical address, general email for order inquiries (orders@…. Or customerservice@…).
What further actions do you want the customer to take? If the customer has ordered as a “guest” perhaps you want to direct them to a page that talks about the benefits of creating an account. Perhaps you want them to share on social media with items that they have just purchased (they’ll need to be presented with share buttons/icons, of course). Perhaps you’ll want them to visit your blog site or look at your company history page. Or maybe you just want them to “continue shopping.” Whatever, make sure that these “next steps” are not left to chance!
Ecomm SEO and Technical Site Issues
Items Out-Of-Stock: One of the most challenging issues to tackle, from an SEO perspective, is the handling of situations where you have items that are presently out-of-stock. Keep in mind that some out-of-stock situations are temporary (new items will arrive later) and some out-of-stocks are permanent (the item is gone forever from your inventory).
A simple solution would just be to take the product page(s) offline if they are no longer available and are gone forever. Just make sure — before you take it offline — that you look for any incoming links to that page — and get those links taken down, or point them to another page. Because if you take the page down and people click those links, they are going to get 404’ed.
Dealing with temporary out-of-stock conditions is more problematic. If you take the page offline, and a searcher clicks a link to that page, they will get a 404 server response code. You could lose a shopper completely at that point. But even more significantly, this is poor ecomm SEO because if you put the page back online (once the new shipment of items comes in) then the search engines are going to have to re-spider that page, and in some cases the search algo’s will “adjust” the ranking of that page, perhaps downward, compared to where it formerly ranked.
A better solution is to keep the page online and simply post some text there saying when the new items are due to be received. You could even offer a signup box on that page to allow the customer to receive an email notification when the item is back-in-stock. And for goodness sakes, if you have a landing page directing people to an out-of-stock item, or some form of online advertising, stop those ad campaigns and promos until the item is back in stock.
Page URL Structure + Avoiding Duplicate Content: As I’m sure you’re aware, a basic SEO principle is to avoid duplicate content, both externally (not duplicating content on other sites) and internally (pages within your own site). And it is also important to look at the overall structure of your page URL’s.
First of all, it is a bad ecomm SEO practice to list the same item under too many categories. The best procedure is to use main categories in your URL structure, as then you can set up more than one landing page for the item – but you will still need to make sure that the content (wording) on each of these pages are not duplicate to each other, even if they have different URL’s.
If your site URL structure does not include using main categories, but only the product name or stock number, then you should only have one listing page (landing page) for it.
Here is an excellent summary and examples of this critical issue, and it is very worth spending some time with!
Page Titles and Descriptions: Yes, I know, making these unique and “clickable” is a mind-numbing exercise that will test the patience (and creativity) of anyone — but think about it: title and meta-descriptions are key bits of information which are displayed in the SERP’s. This means that you should NOT rely on your ecomm site software to auto-generate them or pull information from a common source (like Amazon product descriptions) as that will result in less effective, and even duplicate, information being shown. Disclaimer: Before making any changes to site or URL wording, make use of the services of web developer, one with plenty of experience in working with ecomm sites.
Important note for those with affiliates and partners — If you are enlisting others as “partners” who will be allowed to sell your inventory on their site, don’t allow them to use your product descriptions (again, the duplicate content problem will rear its ugly head). Instead, you can provide them with alternate text and encourage them (strongly) to rewrite it — and make sure they do!
We’ll continue our discussion on ecomm SEO next month, so look for the next installment soon!
Since 2007 Rob Andrews has worked in the SEO and Content Marketing fields and is an established writer and trusted provider of thought-leadership for hundreds of SEO, advertising and marketing agencies worldwide. Read More