Why is SEO imperative for Ecommerce? Well, 44% of every online buying starts with an online search (IPSOS 2012). Determining that your products and services can be discovered effortlessly on search engines such as Google can be the characteristic between an ecommerce business that fails or succeeds. Colossal part of effective Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is to ensure that the pages of your site appear as relevant as possible to a search engine for the search terms (keywords) that your prospective customers are using.

Numerous business owners may be uninformed that their Ecommerce platform might not be equipped with the features required to make their online shop search-engine-friendly. Some ecommerce software offers only the most basic SEO features, some only at a premium cost while others do not offer them at all.

For Example:

Let’s conceptualize that you are a retailer of men’s vintage-style clothing. One of your products is a 70’s-style, blue velvet jacket that you have named “Bradley”. You list the product in your ecommerce store as a “Bradley Jacket”.

Considering the constraints of your store-builder software, this name might automatically become the title of the product page, the page URL and the name of the product in your site’s navigation.

Your expected customers however are not searching for a “Bradley Jacket”. They are far more likely to be searching for “70’s style velvet jackets”.  Realising this, you now want to modify the page title to read “70s Style Velvet Jacket – Bradley | yourstorename.com”.

With some ecommerce platforms you have no way to over-ride this or are compelled to pay extra to have this feature.

Sadly, many business owners don’t become aware of this limitation until long after they have INVESTED significant time uploading product images, product descriptions and stock information.

With that in mind, we conducted an opinion of the most popular shopping cart platforms assessed purely on the basis of their SEO capabilities.

THE FIRST STEP WAS TO CREATE A LIST OF MAJORLY USED SHOPPING CART PLATFORMS

Platform SEO Score Platform SEO Score
Magento 100 Volusion 88
Shopify 98 PrestaShop 28
WooCommerce 98 3DCart 88
BigCommerce 91 ZenCart 12
osCommerce 10 GoDaddy 78
Wix 68 MoonFruit 51
Weebly 72 1&1 40
SquareSpace 91 BigCartel 33

List Of SEO Ranking Factors

Independant Navigation Links

The navigation link is the text that appears for your products and product categories in the navigation menu of your site.

Some ecommerce platforms will automatically generate the navigation links in your menus using the same names as the products and product categories in your online store. For SEO purposes it would be preferable to have independent control of the navigation links.

All but three of the ecommerce platforms included in the study permit the use of independent navigation links. However, three of the platforms only provide this functionality with additional customisation.

Independant Page Titles

The Page Title is the text that appears in the tab section at the top of the browser. It is also shown when a user bookmarks the page or saves it as a shortcut to their desktop. There is a  strong correlation for Page Titles that include a key search term, particularly when the search term is placed at the beginning of the Page Title.

Some ecommerce platforms will automatically generate page titles using the same names as the products and product categories in your online store.

Two of the platforms included in the study (3DCart & BigCartel) do not offer this feature at all. Three other platforms offer this feature only with additional customisation that may require support from a developer.

Independant Page URLs

The Page URL is the location of the page as shown in the address bar of the browser. There is good correlation for Page URLs that includes a key search term.

Some ecommerce platforms will automatically generate page URLs using the same names as the products and product categories in your online store. For SEO purposes it would be preferable to have independent control of the page URLs.

Two of the platforms included in the study (Wix & BigCartel) do not offer this feature at all. Four other platforms offer this feature only with additional customisation that may require support from a developer.

Independant Meta Description

The Meta Description is the text that appears with your listing on the results page of Google. While the description does not directly impact your position in the search results, it can have a considerable impact on whether search visitors will click on your listing as opposed to one of your competitors.

Some ecommerce platforms will automatically use the description shown on the page to create a default Meta description without giving you the option to independently control the text that appears with your Google listing.

The type of information that would be most suitable for a visitor comparing your site on Google will be quite different from the text you want to display on the page once they have arrived on your website.

Two of the platforms included in the study (ZenCart & BigCartel) do not offer this feature at all. OsCommerce offers this feature but only as an additional add-on.

Independant Image ALT Tag

An ALT tag is text added to a product image to describe the image to search engines and users who are unable to view images in their browser. While the ALT tag does not have a particularly strong correlation to your ranking in the main Google search results, it may have a strong impact on the image’s appearance in Google’s Image Search results.

Three of the platforms included in the study GODADDY, BigCartel and PrestaShop) do not offer this feature at all. ZenCart and OsCommerce offer this feature only with additional customisation or as an add-on.

Independant H1 Headings

The H1 heading is typically designated as the main heading that appears on your product and category pages. There is good correlation for H1 headings that show relevance to a search term used on Google.

Most of the platforms scored quite poorly on this factor. Four of the platforms do not offer this feature at all, while five others offer it only as an add-on or with additional customisation.

Integrated Blogging Platform

Apart from having pages on your site that look relevant for the search terms used by your prospective customers, the single most important factor that affects how prominently your site appears in Google’s search results is the number – and quality of – external links pointing to your site.

Few sites have products that are so unique and newsworthy that other sites will want to link directly to your commercial pages. You are far more likely to attract external links by having a blog that contains topical, engaging and shareable editorial-style content.

Some of the ecommerce platforms do not include a blog as a standard feature. You are forced to either pay an additional premium or use an external blogging platform which may not replicate the exact branding or navigation of your online shop.

If your blog is not listed under the same domain name as your online store any external links pointing to your blog will be of little or no benefit to the ranking of your products in Google’s search results.

For this reason, I consider it essential that your ecommerce store includes a fully-integrated blog available on the same domain name as your main website.

Social Sharing Buttons

Social sharing buttons are comprised of easily-recognisable icons that allow your visitors to share your site, products and blog posts on the most popular social networks.

Some ecommerce platforms only provide this feature at an additional premium. Others offer it only for Facebook, or not at all.

Auto XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap is a file located on your web server to help search engines find and index your content. 

Note that the XML sitemap differs from an HTML sitemap which is designed to help human visitors find the content on your website.

While most platforms do offer automated XML sitemaps, others only offer this as a premium add-on at additional cost.

Use Of Own Domain Name

A domain name is the unique name by which your website is found on the internet. Your domain name will typically be the same as your business name e.g. asos.com

Having your own domain name is – without doubt – the single most important factor to consider when setting up an online store.

While most ecommerce platforms will allow you to use your own domain name, some only offer this as a premium feature and others only at an additional cost.  This can result in some business owners making the error of accepting a free branded subdomain when launching their online store. e.g.  www.yourbusinessname.moonfruit.com where Moonfruit is the name of the ecommerce platform provider.

Not only could this make your business appear less professional, it also means that any external links pointing to your website will primarily benefit the platform provider, and not you!

In addition, should you ever decide to move from your current provider in the future (as you inevitably will), you will not be able to transfer the domain name and will therefore lose any link authority that you may have earned. You will also be unable to redirect visitors from the old domain to the new location of your website.

I would strongly urge you to never consider using a domain name that is not exclusive to your business and registered in your own name. I would even go one step further and suggest that you REGISTER YOUR DOMAIN name with a third party domain registrar and not with the same company that host your shopping cart. It is never a good idea to place all of your eggs in one shopping basket!

Robots NoIndex

A robotx.txt file is a file located on your web server that informs a search engine which pages or sections of your website it should, or should not, index.

The depth to which a search engine will index your website is largely based on the authority your site has earned as a result of the number and quality of external links pointing to your site. As a general rule, the higher your Domain Authority, the more of your pages the search engine will crawl.

Most of the ecommerce platforms automatically generate a robots.txt file based on a set of standard assumptions about which folders you would prefer not be crawled. Some platforms also allow you to have manual control of this file while others charge an additional premium to access this feature. Notably, Weebly & 1&1 do not provide this feature at all.

Internal Site Search

Having an internal search facility by which visitors can search within your site for products that match their keywords is often viewed favourably by consumers.

Using a tool such as GOOGLE ANALYTICS you could then analyse the most popular search terms used within your site. This can help you determine how to best name your products and product categories and even influence the type of products that you may wish to stock in the future.

Non SEO Related Features

SEO features are not the only factors to consider when choosing an ecommerce platform for your business.  You should also consider:

  • Cost (monthly ongoing platform costs, premium add-ons and transaction charges)
  • Ease of use (Complex platforms might require additional staff training costs)
  • Customer Support (If your site goes down at 3am on the Sunday before Christmas will someone be there to help you?)
  • Choice of Payment Gateways (e.g. PayPal, WorldPay etc.)
  • Integration with your existing EPOS and accounting software
  • Scalability (will the platform be able to grow with your business?)
  • Mobile Friendly (an increasing number of consumers are now shopping on mobile devices)
  • Security (Will your customers’ payment and contact details be secure?)
  • Risk of Service Termination (Magento, for example, recently terminated their ‘Magento Go’ service forcing all users to either leave or migrate to another service)

Choosing an ecommerce platform for your ONLINE BUSINESS is not a decision to be taken lightly. While you might be tempted to use the most well-known provider offering you the cheapest and easiest solution, this is a decision you could come to regret.

If you later find that your inability to attract and convert visitors is restricted – not by the appeal of your products – but by the limited features of your ecommerce platform, you might wish you had spent more time researching the best solution before you invested time and MONEY in a second-rate platform.