Getting SEO right for ecommerce is definitely not an easy task; especially in our post panda world. Whilst I 100% agree with what Google are doing to clean up the SERPS, the downside is that many legitimate ecommerce sites got caught up in the mix. With the panda update, the may day update and almost certainly the next major update, websites now have to work harder to gain new traffic and keep their existing levels of traffic. Your website simply wont survive with duplicate content or pages with little or no useful content. In effect, the lazy way of building sites is no longer working.
Making sure that your website is built in such a way that gives you the best possible chance of ranking is difficult and requires careful planning. In an attempt to help owners of ecommerce websites refrain from making some deadly mistakes, Ive listed some of the most common errors I come across with potential remedies for each issue.
Poor Site Architecture
The issue with having poor site architecture is that the search engine spiders may have difficulty crawling and finding your content, and your deeper pages may also struggle to rank due to a lack of authority coming from the top end of the site. A good rule of thumb is to try and ensure that each page can be accessed within 3 clicks of any other page on your site. If you and your users can reach them quickly, search engines will too.
Potential Fix: Make sure you categorize your products correctly and make use of sub categories if needed. Plan a map of your site before making any changes to get an idea of how effective they might be.
Pagination is one of the hardest things to work out when planning an ecommerce site. If you have lets say 200 products in a category, you will definitely need to have multiple pages of products. The issue is that page 2 and onwards will be extremely similar to page one of the category, and probably feature the same keywords in the title and content. On a large site this can be a huge cause of duplication and really damage your rankings.
Potential Fix: Add the meta robots no-index tag to page two and onwards of each category; leaving only the first page of each category to appear in the SERPs. Make use of your sub-categories to ensure each product gets a chance to appear on page one of at least one category/sub category.
Duplicate Product Urls
Once you start to build your ecommerce site across multiple categories, youll inevitably find that some products feature in more than one category. This alone is not a problem; in fact its a good thing! However, if youve organized your URL structure in such a way that the product name sits on the end of the category string (example: http://www.mysite.com/shoes/blue-shoes/product-name/) youll end up with that same product having several different URLs. Suddenly youve got a nasty duplication issue!
Potential Fix: Make sure that your URL structure allows for products to sit at the beginning of the string for example: http://www.mysite.com/product-name. That way the product can sit in multiple categories with only one URL.
This is something I see all the time. A few years ago you could rank quite well by simply copying the manufacturer product descriptions; not anymore! Unfortunately many webmasters think that adding a few sentences for a product description or category information is enough. This can lead to a big drop in long tail traffic, and as such content is often the first thing I recommend investing in.
Potential Fix: Very, very hard if you have 100,000 pages to fill! Id recommend attacking the problem with an all hands to deck attitude. Hire content writers, write some yourself; get that unique content any way you can. It would also be very worthwhile looking into encouraging user generated content such as product reviews.