Breaking Down Barriers: Understanding eCommerce Website Challenges

About the author

Based in Manchester, UK, Nikki Halliwell is a freelance Technical SEO Consultant and Technical SEO Specialist for Journey Further. Nikki enjoys working with eCommerce websites and ensuring that websites are easy to find, load quickly and work efficiently.

Make sure you connect with Nikki on Twitter.

The way @NikkiRHalliwell breaks down the common technical SEO challenges for ecommerce sites makes it so easy to understand Share the love

eCommerce websites are more prevalent than ever, especially in a post-covid world; almost everything is available online, and most websites have an online storefront. As a result, the competition is higher than ever, so businesses need to ensure that their stores are optimised to attract more traffic and increase sales. 

Technical SEO is a crucial component of this optimisation process, ensuring that the website meets the technical requirements of search engines. However, eCommerce websites often face unique challenges. 

Here, we will explore the top technical SEO challenges that eCommerce websites commonly encounter and provide insights on how to address these issues.

Technical SEO for eCommerce Websites

But first, as SEOs, we must understand why eCommerce sites typically encounter so many tech issues and how this compares to other websites. 

It all comes down to some clear but significant differences; they tend to have a much greater number of pages and have intricate site architectures. This sheer amount of pages can lead to issues with similar or duplicate content that is only further enhanced by the addition of shopping carts and payment gateways.

Common eCommerce Issues

As SEOs, we’re much more likely to encounter these problems, and some are more problematic than others. Some may be more straightforward to resolve, whereas others will have you scratching your head for days. 

These barriers are why we have assembled this list of common eCommerce SEO challenges here at Summer of SEO so you can understand how to avoid them on your own websites.  

Duplicate Content: What it is and How to Avoid it

Duplicate content on an eCommerce website happens when content appears in multiple locations across the site or is the same as content on other websites. This duplication can happen when manufacturers provide the same product information to all retailers or when eCommerce sites copy descriptions from each other.

Another cause is listing the same product in multiple categories or with different variations, such as colour or size. This creates duplicate content because the product description and images will likely be the same across multiple pages.

In addition, eCommerce websites that use filters or various sorting options can also create duplicate content. For example, if a filter lists products by price or popularity, the resulting pages may have similar or identical content.

All of this is a problem for organic performance as it can confuse search engines about which page they should display in search results, leading to lower rankings for all associated pages. In the case of widespread issues, you may even encounter a penalty. 

To avoid issues with duplicate content, eCommerce websites can use canonical tags to indicate to search engines which page is the preferred version (which can work when the same product is available in multiple categories) or create unique and valuable content for each product and category page.

Page Load Speed: Why it Matters and How to Improve it

Page load speed is critical for eCommerce websites because slow loading times can significantly impact the user experience, resulting in lower conversion rates and, ultimately, decreased revenue. 

Even though Google recently announced that they would be retiring page speed (among others) as a ranking system, this does not diminish the importance of fast-loading websites. Users are impatient and will continue shopping elsewhere if a page loads slowly. A fast-loading website is crucial for ensuring customers have a positive shopping experience and can easily navigate the site. 

When auditing website performance, some common issues slow down page loading speeds. 

One cause is large image files. Images are essential for showcasing products, but they can slow down page loading times if they are not optimised or do not have a fixed height and width. Unoptimised images, especially high-resolution photos, can take a long time to load, frustrating users.

Another challenge is the excessive use of JavaScript and CSS code. These programming languages can add engaging and valuable interactivity and visual elements to a website; however, they can also add to the time it takes for a page to load in the browser. Large, unoptimised JavaScript and CSS files can cause delays, which can be particularly problematic on eCommerce sites with numerous pages and sections.

Third-party scripts and plugins can also impact site speed. While third-party scripts and plugins, such as social media sharing buttons or live chat widgets, can add beneficial functionality to a website, they can also slow it down if not optimised.

Finally, eCommerce websites rely on databases to store and retrieve product information, order history, and customer data. Poorly optimised databases add to the time it takes to retrieve these queries and can therefore cause delays in page loading times, especially when dealing with large amounts of data.

As SEOs, we can work on optimisation strategies such as compressing images and using content delivery networks (CDNs). Time should also be spent on improving the use and reliance on code and database queries. We also suggest reducing the number of third-party scripts and plugins as they include many additional features that are not needed or even used by most websites.

Site Architecture: How to Build a Search Engine-Friendly eCommerce Site

Website architecture refers to how a website is structured and organised, and it can impact the user experience and search engine optimisation. eCommerce websites can have complex site architectures due to multiple categories, subcategories, and the volume of product pages. 

If eCommerce websites don’t take the time to understand how their users interact with the site and their expectations, they may end up with a site architecture that doesn’t meet their users’ needs. Moreover, if URLs are too long or complicated, they can negatively impact crawling and make it difficult for users to remember or share them.

A lack of internal linking can make it difficult for users and search engines to navigate a website and find related content. By not providing clear and consistent links between pages, users may have difficulty finding related products or information, which can negatively impact their experience.

Confusing category structures are also a common cause of architectural issues. A website with categories can make it difficult for users to find the products they’re looking for and be challenging for search engine crawlers to navigate and index the site.

To address these issues, eCommerce websites should prioritise user research and testing, provide clear and consistent internal linking, and structure categories logically and intuitively.

Metadata: Optimising Title Tags, Meta Descriptions, and Other Elements

Metadata is an essential part of on-page optimisation for eCommerce websites. Title tags, meta descriptions, and other elements provide information about the content of a webpage to search engines and users.

Missing or duplicate title tags can negatively impact SEO and make it difficult to understand the content of a webpage. Poorly written or missing meta descriptions can also reduce click-through rates from SERPs. 

Third-party plugins and tools may cause metadata issues if they overwrite or modify existing information, leading to incorrect or incomplete details displayed on search engine results pages.

To avoid metadata issues, eCommerce website owners should ensure each page has a unique, descriptive, and accurate title tag, meta description and headers. 

Link Issues: Fixing Broken Links and Non-Existent Pages

Link issues are common on eCommerce storefronts and can negatively impact user experience and search engines. Broken links or links to non-existent pages (404 errors) can reduce user experience and hinder search engine bots from effectively crawling the site. It’s essential to check for broken links and fix them regularly.

Broken links are a problem as they create frustration for users and negatively impact rankings, as search engines may interpret them as a sign of poor website quality. 

A common reason behind link issues is when websites are updated or undergo redesigns. This is because it is common for pages to be deleted without links being updated, leading to broken links.

We can avoid link issues by prioritising regular link maintenance and stopping or reducing the accumulation of broken or irrelevant links over time.

Mobile Friendliness: How to Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly

Mobile-friendliness is critical for eCommerce websites to ensure a seamless experience across different devices. While it is true that mobile-friendliness is another of the ranking signals being retired, it continues to be essential to have a responsive website that works well on different devices.

If a design isn’t responsive, the website may not display correctly on different devices, leading to poor UX on mobile. 

Another common issue is one that may also be seen in Google Search Console under “text too small to read”. If the buttons are not sized appropriately to be tapped by mobile users, this will lead to fewer conversions. 

To avoid mobile-friendliness issues, eCommerce websites should start with a responsive design in mind and use large enough text and buttons to be easily used and understood on mobile. Additionally, regularly testing eCommerce websites on various mobile devices and screen sizes (especially before any changes are deployed) can help identify and address mobile-friendliness issues before they become a significant problem.

URL Structure: Creating Search Engine-Friendly URLs

URL structure is a substantial aspect of eCommerce website optimisation. Common URL structure issues can include long, complex, and confusing URLs that make it difficult for users to navigate and search engines to understand. 

Inconsistent URL structures, dynamic parameters, and session IDs in URLs can also negatively impact SEO by creating duplicate content issues. Poor URL structures can also make it difficult for users to share links to specific products or pages on social media or other platforms.

eCommerce website owners should implement clear and concise URL structures that include relevant keywords. Using hyphens (-) to separate words instead of underscore (_) is recommended. URLs should also avoid dynamic parameters and session IDs to ensure consistency in URL structures across the website.

Additionally, we should prioritise URL structure during the website development to ensure the site has a good URL structure from the beginning that can scale with the site as it grows.

Content Quality: Creating High-Quality Content for eCommerce Sites

Content quality is vital to eCommerce website optimisation and includes:

  • Thin, duplicate, or low-quality content.
  • Lack of product descriptions.
  • Poor product images or videos. 

Thin content, or content with little or no value to the user, can negatively impact CTR and conversions. Duplicate content can also negatively impact SEO by reducing the website’s authority and creating competition for the same keywords.

When eCommerce websites do not provide enough information, a lack of product descriptions or poor product images or videos can make it difficult for users to make informed purchase decisions. It may lead to decreased sales and a negative impact on user experience.

To avoid content quality issues, we should prioritise high-quality, original content that is valuable to users. Optimising product descriptions and images and providing as much unique content as possible is also essential. Try to answer all possible questions about products and show various use cases of the product. Regularly updating and refreshing content once a year can improve overall content quality and increase optimisation.

Schema Markup: What it is and How to Implement it Correctly

Schema markup is a form of structured data that helps search engines understand the content on a website. It also allows the website to take up additional real estate in SERPs through Rich Snippets. Common schema issues for eCommerce include missing or incorrect markup, inconsistencies, and even misusing markup. 

When schema markup is missing or incorrect, search engines may be unable to fully understand the content on the website. 

Inconsistent markups can also confuse search engines and users and lead to decreased organic rankings. 

Misusing irrelevant or spammy schema markup, such as marking up content that is not a product as a product, can lead to penalties from search engines (in extreme cases). 

To avoid schema markup issues, eCommerce website owners should implement accurate and consistent schema markup across the pages on their website. Take care to only use relevant and appropriate schema markup for each page and product, and regularly review and update structured data as needed. This is especially true for products and can be immensely useful for utilising product reviews and during sale seasons.

Conclusion: Prioritising Technical SEO for Your eCommerce Website.

It is incredibly valuable for eCommerce websites to understand how to prioritise technical SEO challenges. There is no one set way to do this, but SEOs should always consider the impact and relevance of the issues to the overall goals and user experience. A holistic approach typically works well. 

Take the time to continuously monitor the website or typical issues and take proactive measures to address them. Doing so should ensure consistent and positive performance, improved UX, and ultimately more online sales for their storefronts. 

The way @NikkiRHalliwell breaks down the common technical SEO challenges for ecommerce sites makes it so easy to understand Share the love

About the author

Based in Manchester, UK, Nikki Halliwell is a freelance Technical SEO Consultant and Technical SEO Specialist for Journey Further. Nikki enjoys working with eCommerce websites and ensuring that websites are easy to find, load quickly and work efficiently.

Make sure you connect with Nikki on Twitter.

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