In our last edition of the SEO Expert Series, we interviewed Rand Fishkin of Moz. Today, we have the pleasure of meeting with with Jon Henshaw, Co-Founder & CMO of Raven Internet Marketing Tools. You might have seen him speaking at the largest online marketing conferences such as PubCon, SMX, SearchFest, SES and others. He teamed up with PrestaShop Moderator, Lesley Paone of dh42 to give you his insights into how SEO, PrestaShop and ecommerce work together.
What would be your first steps in starting SEO for a newly launched e-commerce site?
Most new e-commerce sites suffer from big problems that can be fixed easily. So the very first thing I would do is crawl and analyze it using our Site Auditor. My initial focus would be on identifying and fixing visibility issues. For example, I would want to know if any of my pages are accidently being blocked by robots.txt. I would follow that with fixing any blocked pages, broken links and/or broken images. Once you fix the search engine visibility, navigation and coding errors, you can then focus your energy on optimizing the META data and content of the site.
Do you think every e-commerce site needs a blog?
A blog can be quite valuable for an e-commerce site. If done well, an e-commerce blog can funnel significant traffic to product pages and assist in converting that traffic. A few examples of blog posts that work well include new product reviews, announcements, top 10 lists and personal interest stories that tie in relevant products and services. Blogs also provide a casual medium for communicating changes to the site that users might find interesting. So, the short answer is yes. E-commerce sites need a blog.
What do you think are the most important factors in getting product pages to rank high in search engines?
Many e-commerce pages suffer from duplicate content. So, the first factor I would focus on is uniqueness. The goal should be to make a product page hyper-focused on the actual product. That means possibly having longer, unique product descriptions and including additional collateral like original videos, reviews and other content that can’t be found anywhere else. The perfect product page would be one that gives people a reason to share and link to, versus a page that simply exists for a shopper to add to a cart.
Do you have any suggestions for drop shippers that use a product feed with no unique descriptions?
If you’re using content that everyone else is using for their product pages, then getting your product pages to rank will be very difficult. Similar to my previous answer, drop shippers need to find a way to make their product pages unique and present value to both the visitor and search engines.
How would you go about link building for an e-commerce site?
I would find and reach out to sites that are relevant to my site’s focus and products. I would then explore both advertising and editorial options with them. I would be less interested in whether or not the link uses the nofollow and more interested in whether or not the site has a sizable audience that will drive targeted traffic to my site. Not only is that more effective, both in the short and long term, it also provides me with more options to present to site owners. For example, it may be worth it to get a “sponsored” review if there’s a good chance it will still provide exposure to my brand and product(s).
The truth is, there are many tactics that work well for e-commerce sites. One tactic I like in particular is creating special destination pages that are altruistic in nature and/or provide interesting tools or statistics that visitors will want to share and discuss on blogs and social media. After a successful campaign with that page, the e-commerce site can then promote their product(s) on it or redirect it to a relevant category or product page while still maintaining some of the original content.
What are “local citations”? Do you think they are important for e-commerce sites that sell to a whole country, several countries, or even worldwide?
Local Citations are when other sites mention your business name, address and other contact details. If done well, they can help boost search engine visibility in both local and personalized results. Their importance to e-commerce sites that aren’t based in a particular city is marginal.
However, it’s possible that e-commerce sites could take advantage of local citations from a worldwide perspective. For example, you could create country specific e-commerce sites that use a related Top Level Domain (TLD) for each country and are written in that country’s primary language. It’s key to make sure each country’s specific site is not a direct copy of the other. Instead, the home page and supporting pages should take into account cultural norms and find other ways to make their product pages unique. You would essentially be making variants of each site; any link building, content marketing and local citations would be specific to that country.
When an e-commerce website has product pages for products that will never be in stock again, how would you handle them for SEO? Remove the page? Leave the pages up with an Out of Stock message? Redirect the page to other products or something else?
It depends on search engine visibility and traffic, the backlink profile and related referral traffic, and whether or not the e-commerce site has other products that are good replacements. With that being said, my general inclination is to do a 301 redirect to a relevant category or product page. I don’t like the negative message it sends to users when you have a product page for something that no longer exists. If you keep that live, the user is more likely to bounce and try to find the product somewhere else, so you might as well try to capture them with a more positive experience.
Do you have any suggestions on how category pages should be handled in relation to duplicate content and thin content?
E-commerce sites should treat category pages similar to how blogs should be handling category pages. If you want a category page to perform well, make the percentage of unique content higher than the list of short and duplicated titles and short descriptions. Turn the category page into a true destination page where product listing aren’t the sole focus of the page.
What are some tips you can give online merchants looking to hire an SEO firm to handle their e-commerce website?
A good SEO firm should be heavily focused on Information Architecture (IA). The starting place for good search engine visibility is optimized IA. The second thing is a solid content strategy. That includes content for category and product pages and also general content marketing initiatives. Aside from effective strategies and techniques, they should be focused on reporting performance. And by performance, I don’t mean where the site ranks. I mean reports that can show an increase in organic traffic and goal conversions from that traffic.
Can you explain how Raven Tools would help PrestaShop merchants?
I think Raven could help PrestaShop merchants in several ways. The first thing I would recommend is that they use the Site Auditor to automatically diagnose and quickly fix any issues they might have on their site. The next thing would be to connect their Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools accounts with Raven. That would allow them to monitor and report on their site performance, including the ability to know which keywords drive the most traffic to their site. Then I would have them connect their social network accounts, like Twitter and Facebook, and use Raven to schedule posts throughout the week that share the type of content I’ve described in this interview. There’s a lot more they could do with Raven, but those are some of the bigger things that come to mind.
Thanks for reading, leave your comments below and stay tuned for more great tips from SEO Experts next week!