Search Engine Optimisation for eCommerce
eCommerce software optimised for search engine recognition
The importance of having your site featured prominently in the results of the major search engines cannot be stressed enough. Unless you rely purely on printed advertising or word of mouth, your search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy will be a major component of your overall marketing plan.
Bluepark's ecommerce software takes this subject very seriously, taking care of many on-page factors automatically. These are detailed below, along with several other considerations that you should also take into account when writing your content. Off-page factors are slightly more difficult to affect, though equally important. A degree of patience will be essential as it is virtually impossible to achieve the very best listings overnight. Realistically, it will take weeks or months.
A search engine optimisation strategy is just that - an ongoing strategy which must be reviewed and refined on a regular basis. There is no quick and easy solution. Companies offering SEO services and guaranteeing top 10 results should NOT be trusted. No such guarantees can be made in the complex and ever-changing world of SEO. A structured development plan will pay dividends.
Title and Meta tags
Perhaps the easiest factors to affect are on-page factors, those under your direct control. An HTML page can be broken into two separate sections, the <HEAD> and the <BODY>. Directly after the <HEAD> section begins, the <TITLE> tag follows. This tag is very important and should contain keywords relevant to the subject of the page. There is a strong argument that the most important keywords should appear at the beginning of the tag, which is why our software allows recurring words, such as the company name, to be appended to every page title. This tag is featured in the title bar of your browser and in search engine results.
Also within the <HEAD> section, the <META> tags relating to the page DESCRIPTION and KEYWORDS carry varying weight with some search engines. The page DESCRIPTION, particularly, is typically used in search engine results, displayed directly following the page title. The use of KEYWORDS is significantly less influential with today's search engines due to an historical abuse by means of spamming techniques. However, it is still worth adding them to your pages.
Bluepark's system automatically generates unique page titles, but also allows the default page title, description and keywords to be specified individually for every page on the site. The system also automatically assigns ALT values to images, another way of featuring keywords within your content. The ALT value was designed to provide a description of the image, should the browser be incapable of displaying it, and is required for valid HTML code.
Page structure and keyword positioning
Search engines explore the Internet by sending out search 'robots' (bots) to known URLs. A search engine may find your site either by following a link from another site or as a result of the manual submission of your URL, and will almost certainly not view your site in the same way that your customers will. Search bots can only view a site's HTML source code, the same code the browser uses to render the page. Select Source from the View menu of your browser to have a look at your site's HTML source code.
"Content is King", as the saying goes. Not only should you have keyword-rich page content, but your most important content should be placed as close as possible to the top of the page, ideally underneath the <BODY> tag. There is strong evidence and a general consensus that search engines pay particular attention to the first 250 words on a page. The problem is that most modern sites feature header graphics at the top of the page, followed by a navigation bar, and perhaps a search bar, and most likely also a left-hand column complete with further menus and advertising.
Bluepark provides a unique and elegant solution, using sophisticated CSS and HTML techniques, to ensure your page content rises above both your header and left-hand column. View the HTML source of this very page for a working example. The first viewable content on the page is the <H1> tag, the page heading, followed by an <H2> tag, a sub-heading, and several <P> tags (paragraphs). This is a logically structured page. Furthermore, all of the code generated by our ecommerce software is clean and valid HTML.
Static URLs for dynamic sites
It is widely accepted that search engines find it easier to index static URLs than dynamic URLs. A static URL is one which is not modified by the ? character:
Static URL: http://www.bluepark.co.uk/ecommerce/retail-park.html
Dynamic URL: http://www.bluepark.co.uk/product.php?sku=retail-park
All of Bluepark's dynamic pages are automatically assigned static URLs with either the .html extension or a logical directory structure. The dreaded ? character never makes an appearance.
And finally ... off-page factors
Unfortunately, off-page factors influencing the placement of your site are impossible for Bluepark to control. Google, the most popular search engine, applies a 'sandbox' effect to brand new sites, meaning that search results can be less than desirable until the site has existed for a number of months, probably in order to prove its viability over time. This 'probationary' status has been observed to last for between 90 and 120 days, on average. Patience is necessary in the early stages of launching your site. Resist the urge to tweak your content before it has been indexed.
Incoming or reciprocal links are a huge factor in Google's ranking algorithm, known as PageRank. To view the PageRank (a mark out of 10) of any page on the Internet, simply download and install the Google Toolbar. The principle is that a site with a high PageRank score linking to your site will increase your PageRank. An incoming link from a site with little or no PageRank will have little effect on your score. Another related factor is the 'anchor' text of the link itself, the text between the <A> tags. Links should ideally contain keyword-rich text, not just a company name. If you have a reciprocal link agreement with another company, make sure you specify the anchor text to be used for the link itself.
It is also worth mentioning that although Google is currently the leader in the search engine industry, you should not disregard either Bing or Yahoo! results. It can often be easier to gain desirable listings with these two search engines much sooner than with Google, providing you with a perfectly adequate launch pad for your new online business.