E-Commerce and Search Engine Optimization

About the author: Dan Cannon is the Lead Web Applications Developer for Nicasio Design and Development. Nicasio provides web based solutions for both individuals and businesses. Nicasio owns and operates the E-Commerce solution NicE-Comm.

With so many E-Commerce solutions on the market today how do you know what factors you should use to decide which solution is right for you?

While there are many things to be considered when deciding on an E-Commerce solution (see Nicasio’s 2008 E-Commerce Reviews), there is one common factor that should always be first and foremost in your mind: Search Engine Optimization.

What is Search Engine Optimization? According to Wikipedia, Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural” (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results.

OK what does that mean? It means that in order for you to have a successful online store you must get traffic to your store, and not just traffic, quality traffic. Quality traffic are users that come to your site that are actually interested in your products. Some firms will claim that they can increase your traffic by thousands of hits of a day (and they might), but if this traffic does not result in any additional sales then you are not getting ‘quality traffic’. Getting 5 users to your site that are actually interested in your products is always going to be better than 500 users that just happened upon your site and then immediately leave.

So, how do you get ‘quality traffic’ to your new online store?
While there are a variety of services that allow users to find the websites they want most web users utilize search engines to find what they are looking for online (currently Google enjoys a 60% market share. Yahoo and others make up the remaining 40%). This means that when you are setting up your new online E-Commerce website you need to take into account certain actions that will make your E-Commerce website ‘desirable’ to search engines. There are several different factors you will need to be aware of to make it easy for your potential customers to find your E-Commerce website.

Content is king when it comes to how search engines determine what your site is about. Your product categories, product names, descriptions, and any static pages should reflect exactly what is being offered on that page. Try to be as descriptive as possible. While images may be great for users that are actually viewing your site, you should not rely on them to raise your E-Commerce website’s search ranking. Any images that you are using need to have descriptive file names, titles, and alt tags. There is a plethora of information on writing good content available on the web.

URL Structure
Behind content it is my opinion that URL structure is the next most important factor in making your site ‘findable’ (Note: A URL is a website address, such as https://nicasiodesign.com). Now you may have visited some sites that have a URL such as http://www.some-site.com/?articleid=1&user=2&order=4 and this may be the URL for some article title Search Engine Optimization written by a particular user. Some search engines will have trouble even indexing this page. Those that are able to get to the content of the page will get little to no help deciphering the page’s content based on the URL. A much better URL structure would be http://www.some-site.com/search-engine-optimization. The search engine is immediately able to tell that this is an article on some-site.com about search engine optimization. A good URL structure can help make great content even more ‘findable’.

Meta Fields
Each page on your website will need to have meta fields that help both search engines and web browsers identify your site. The most obvious meta field is the page title. This is what you see at the top of your browser window while you are viewing a page. The next most important field is the meta description. This is a short description about the page. Search engines use this description to determine the subject of this page and it is also displayed in the search results of many search engines. So you should not only try to grab the search engine’s attention, but also the potential customer’s attention. One of the older fields that is now less important, and not even used by many of the large search engines is the meta keywords. This is where you can list keywords that should be associated with your website. Due to abuse and improvements in search engine ranking algorithms, this field is largely deprecated and rarely used. However, it may still be a good idea to spend a few (and just a few) minutes adding a couple of keywords to your pages to help accomodate any older search engines that may run across your e-commerce website.

Keep Learning
Sadly, the issues addressed in this article are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to search engine optimization. Fortunately, some E-Commerce solutions have all of these SEO features (and more). Nicasio Design and Development utilizes NicE-Comm for search engine friendly E-Commerce websites. Nicasio Design and Development can also consult with you to help optimize your current website.

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