Free, continuous traffic that buys what you have to offer. It’s a dream come true for every eCommerce store owner, and it’s what SEO can offer you. If you’ve tried to optimize your site in the past, though, you may be frustrated with the results. SEO isn’t an exact science. Instead, there are many trouble spots to avoid, and if you hit one, it could affect your SEO results. What are you doing wrong? it’s worth it to check these three potential problem areas.
For a potential customer, there’s nothing more frustrating than a site error. For a search engine crawler, though, it’s even worse. Site errors are quite serious in the eyes of a search engine. Not quite sure what a site error even means? If you have a lot of 404 pages, 302 redirects, or duplicate content issues, you have site errors. Let’s break each problem down and take a look at how it could be hurting your SEO efforts.
- 404 errors happen when the server your site is hosted on can’t find a matching URL. Essentially, the server is telling the browser your potential customer is using that there’s no content on that page, so it loads a 404 error page instead. Search engines like Google say they don’t count 404s against your website, but the problem comes with the fact that the algorithms themselves are looking for great user experiences. It’s how they reward a site and put it at the top of the rankings. If customers are hitting 404 errors, they’re not having a great user experience, and so while they don’t directly impact your SEO, they certainly don’t help it. If the search engines can’t crawl your pages, you’re obviously not going to hit those top spots on Google.
- 302 redirects are temporary tools. It’s what you should be using when you want to redesign a particular page, so you need to send potential customers to another area for a short period of time, like over the course of a few days so you can handle that redesign. The problem here is that many stores like yours use 302 redirects on a more permanent basis, and they should be using 301 redirects. Some hope to avoid the Google aging delay. Others are simply uninformed. The reality, though, is that 301 redirects don’t make your site lose any of its SEO power. Using 302 redirects for too long, though, creates some real confusion for search engine bots, and that may hurt your visibility.
- Duplicate content is anything substantial amount of content within a domain that matches other content. Imagine, for a moment, that you sell two identical fleece blankets. One is red and one is blue. If you haven’t properly organized your site, you might have a listing for both blankets that read identically. That could mean you have a duplicate content problem on site. In terms of SEO, what might happen here is that you may end up with a less desirable version of that page popping up in a users search engine results, and that could mean they don’t find your site in time to make a purchase.
So, what can your shop do? E-commerce SEO best practices say to engage in more site maintenance. Look for these site errors on a regular basis, and fix them when necessary. Sites like Screaming Frog are dedicated to finding website errors, often for free. They will crawl your website just like a search engine might then offer you a summary of errors that may be creating problems for you in terms of SEO. It’s a fast way to deal with a problem that could affect how potential customers see your site when they query your keywords.
Many studies show you have about three seconds to ensure your site is loaded and ready for customers to shop. That means load time really counts to customers. What you may not know, however, is that load time counts just as much to search engines. Google compares e-commerce sites to competitor sites, then offers bonus points to the site that is the fastest. Wondering why it even matters? Part of it is the fact that Google’s statistics suggest that the chance of a bounce rate increases as the load time does. The other major factor here is the user experience (as mentioned above). If users are continually unhappy with a site, it matters to search engines.
What can you do to change those load times on product pages? Start with simplicity. Remember, the more simplistic your design, the more likely you are to get faster load times, and frankly, more results from our customers. Heavier product images mean slower load times. Additional widgets may also hurt. There are some tools you can use to improve page speed if you’re not sure what to do. Pingdom, for example, takes a look at individual URLs, then analyzes each one to decide where the slowdown might be for potential customers (or search engines). Once you understand what’s really going on with your site, you can change those elements and help increase your speed.
Missing Alt Tags and Broken Images
A SEMRush study found that 45% of all sites have images with missing ALT tags. Nearly 10% of sites have broken internal images. Images are absolutely essential in the world of e-commerce, but they are a huge headache when you’re trying to optimize your site. Wondering why? ALT tags are the first issue. They give search engines a bit of information about the image involved. It’s like a text description of the product’s image, and that means a search engine can categorize it. Without it, the search engine simply has to make a guess, and that alone could impact your rankings.
Broken images are the other real problem for many store owners. They look a bit like broken links, and to potential customers, they just look unprofessional. As with broken links, they cause a dead end for search engines trying to crawl your site, and the sooner you can eliminate those dead ends, the better your site will be in the rankings.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about both of these issues is that you’ll have to go back and fix each one by hand. The good news is that as you upload new products, your CMS will likely prompt you on those ALT tags. The bad news, though, is that now you have to go back and check all of the images you’ve uploaded previously to decide where you added ALT tags and where you may have skipped that step.
You could be damaging your store’s SEO issues right now if you’re not paying attention to these potential mistakes. It’s possible you just have a few at the moment, but allow them to multiply, and they will push your store’s rankings down drastically.