By Ian McCue, commerce and retail reporter
⏰ 4-minute read
Technical SEO -- which refers to a search engine’s ability to crawl and index your website, schema markup and more -- plays a critical role in your site’s ranking in search results.
Google Search Console is a helpful tool for improving technical SEO, as it breaks down your site pages into four categories and helps identify SEO problems that need to be addressed.
Use performance and product reports within Google Search Console to optimize product content and drive conversions on your e-commerce site.
This is part two in a three-part series on e-commerce SEO. Read part one, on the difference between transactional and informational keywords and how to rank for each. Stay tuned for part three, looking at the biggest changes to SEO in 2019.
Search engine optimization has become such a complicated equation that it can be tough for e-commerce businesses to figure out where to start. Technical SEO is the foundation for a successful strategy and a wise place to kick off your journey.
Before any other ranking factors come into play, search engines must be able to crawl and index your site.
In other words, a search engine must be able to read your site to determine whether one of your pages should be a top result for a certain query. The indexability and crawlability of a site, as well as factors like site speed, lack of duplicate content, schema markup and user-friendliness are all part of technical SEO.
As far as which search engines to optimize for, Google should be your primary concern, because it accounts for at least 70% of searches worldwide. However, it should not be your sole focus, as Bing draws billions of searches every month and also powers Yahoo!, the third-most popular search engine in the U.S. Many of the fundamentals of what you'll do to optimize your efforts for Google will also apply to Bing, so keep that in mind.
When optimizing for Google, it provides a handy tool called Google Search Console that will show you how the leading search engine indexes your e-commerce site.
Per the Console, pages fit into four categories:
Valid with warnings
Know from the start that the end goal is not for every page to be labeled “valid,” said SEO expert Diego Gallo, who helps companies optimize their search engine strategies.
Google Search Console will analyze your site, grouping pages into four categories.
👉 Pages with “errors” should be the first thing you address, because Google cannot index these pages.
Google Search Console will tell you what the “errors” are – often it’s 404 error pages triggered by an outdated sitemap, out-of-stock items or a server error, which is usually temporary. The good news is those errors generally have a simple fix, according to Gallo.
👉 “Valid with warnings” means Google is indexing the pages but found small problems like HTML errors, missing tags or missing meta titles and descriptions.
However, the issue may be even more minor than that. For example, the search engine will mark a product detail page as “valid with warnings” if there are no customer reviews, which will fix itself as long as your site allows visitors to leave reviews.
👉 “Valid” means Google is finding and indexing the page without any issues.
👉 “Excluded” means the search engine is not indexing a page because of noindex tags in the code or robots.txt files tell the crawler to skip it.
There are certain pages, like thank you pages for form submissions and employee log-in pages, that you don’t want to show up in search results, because they lack SEO value. Ensure these are the only ones “excluded” via these tags and files.
Once you resolve any issues, it’s time to evaluate your keyword targeting and see which pages rank for those keywords.
Google Search Console can run performance reports that show your e-commerce website’s total clicks, total impressions, average click-through rate (CTR) and average ranking position for a certain keyword. This may reveal that multiple pages are ranking for the same keyword, in which case you’re essentially competing against yourself and should diversify the keywords you’re targeting. It may also indicate that you’re targeting the wrong type of keywords or need to focus on moving onto the first page of search results to improve click-through rate.
A performance report can suggest which areas of your site to improve in terms of technical SEO.
Particularly relevant for e-commerce is Google Search Console’s products report.
This tool (found under “Enhancements”) provides insight into how Google indexes the products on your website, rather than its pages. This report is especially valuable if you use schema markup, a chunk of HTML tags that allows Google to display your product’s price, star rating, availability and more directly on the search results page.
Adding schema markup to a product page allows Google to display info like ratings, price and availability (red box) on its results page.
Schema markup is easy to add to your pages. It’s critical to do so, because many pages for products, concerts, hotels and the like now use it, making them more attractive on the first page of results and in Google’s Shopping tab.
Concert venues use schema markup to display event dates directly in Google’s search results.
Whenever you add new content or make other significant changes to your site, you should run reports in Google Search Console to see if anything changed on the SEO front -- it’s easy to break things. Maintaining technical SEO will be an ongoing effort, Gallo said.
After you optimize technical SEO, you can move on to other aspects of the ranking equation.
This may include ensuring the right pages are targeting transactional and informational keywords or asking influential blogs or YouTube channels to review your product. But those additional steps will be all the more effective once your technical SEO is in good shape.
🌱 The bottom line
The more queries for which your e-commerce site shows up on the first page of results, the more sales your business will make. And that all starts with technical SEO.