SMX Sydney – Ecommerce SEO; Avoiding Common Pitfalls

It was an absolute pleasure to be a part of SMX Sydney last week, and I was fortunate enough to present on three topics one of which was ‘E-commerce SEO; Avoiding Common Pitfalls’. It’s a topic that I was really looking forward to presenting on because, being in a position where I get to see a lot of E-commerce sites many of them make a selection of very similar mistakes that could quite easily be avoided. The premise of this presentation was to move away from ‘best practice’ advice and instead run through the mistakes I see being commonly made and explain how these can be avoided.

I’ve put the slides from the session at the bottom of this post; but ended up writing a full summary of the presentation in-between J Feel free to skip to the slides at the end of take a read through the post for a more in-depth run through.

Ghosts of Link Building Past

It’s no news to anyone that the past 12 months has seen a lot of E-commerce sites lose traffic in the aftermath of the penguin update. Being able to analyse your backlink profile and gain an understanding of how safe (or otherwise!) your link profile might be is now just as important as understanding what keywords you need to target. It’s a big part of SEO, and a crucial step that site owners need to make. As some easy first steps, I ran through a few techniques such as mapping out the quality of linking domains, distribution of linking C-blocks and quick checks on anchor text; all aimed at identifying red flags and areas to investigate further.

I believe the route your link analysis takes should be determined by the data you find. First look for patterns, footprints and more importantly, the balance between various factors. You can then extend out from there diving into the areas that matter the most to your particular link profile.  Of course, cleaning up a nasty profile is a lot of hard work and requires a solid amount of commitment from all involved.

Diversifying Traffic

It sounds so simple, but so many sites ignore this important step. If your business relies heavily on organic search traffic then you’re opening yourself up to an unnecessary amount of risk. Every site will at some stage experience fluctuations in rankings, but how much this impacts your bottom line will largely depend on how much traffic you have coming from other sources. This risk increases even more and can start to look quite scary if the majority of your organic traffic is coming from just a small selection of big keywords.

If you drop 2 or three spots across the board, but only 50% of your converting traffic comes via organic; it will probably hurt a bit but not nearly as much as it would if organic search makes up 90% of your converting traffic. My suggestion is that any ecommerce site with a heavy reliance on organic traffic should start to explore other channels.

Ecommerce Video

The example I used in my presentation was Net-A-Porter’s use of social media and in particular their extremely successful Facebook page; taking a look at a tool called BirdSongTT to dig into what content is working particularly well for them. I really like the way this tool breaks down content types to see what generates the most interaction. Clearly imagery is working great for Net-A-Porter. Also, I’d suggest its well worth looking at the video section of their site (note the interviews with fashion bloggers!) –pure genius in my opinion J

Ignoring Customers at Your Peril

We’ve all seen examples of sites where dissatisfied customers have left a trail of angry reviews, seemingly with the sole aim of stopping as many people as possible from making the same mistake as they did. Sure, there’s always going to be a small selection of people you can’t please but when you see search results littered with negative reviews, you do have to question how much that business really cares about their customers. Not only is this clearly bad for business, I think they’re missing a trick.

Using as an example; I believe great ecommerce sites know how to make the most of their customer relationships – not only for repeat business but also as a weapons grade marketing asset. VivoBareFoot’s community section is a fantastic place to look should you want some inspiration on how you could put some ideas into action for your site.

Not Making Use of Data

As SEO’s we’ve got so much useful data at our finger tips. So much so, it’s always surprising to me how little of it gets used in the wider context of an ecommerce business. As an example, a great piece of keyword research should also be a source of useful information for the buying team. Want to know what products are hot and may require additional stock soon? Internal search is the perfect place to find out!

Compare Traffic with Revenue

Another example I put into the deck was making use of Custom variables or event tracking to help monitor out of stock items. Using this method to dynamically add event tracking / custom variables for any of stock products, you can start to gather information on which products have lost demand and which ones should be prioritised in terms of buying in new stock.

Letting Opportunities Pass You By

Not understanding seasonality, missing out on in demand categories, or using internal language instead of appealing to the masses can all cost you dear when it comes to attracting as much traffic as possible. If you’re doing things properly, you’ll understand how people search for your products. One example I used here was search terms surrounding motorcycle helmets. As you’ll see, a lot of the search traffic reflects people looking for brands. If you’re selling motorcycle helmets and don’t have brand pages to capture this traffic then you’re missing a big trick.

 Identifying Keyword Opportunities

On a similar note, the natural step following keyword research is to identify what relevant content your site is missing. To do this on scale is actually quite straight forward; the premise being matching your keyword research data with onsite crawl data in order to find broad matches of keywords that aren’t currently being catered for. It’s probably a full on blog post to explain this properly, but by using some wildcards and COUNTIF functionality you end up with a list of relevant terms (sub-categories etc) not yet featured on your site. Awesome!

Losing Out to Technical Nightmares

Of course, in many cases it can be a lot easier to talk about technical issues that it is to get them fixed – especially if SEO is being implemented as an afterthought rather than an integral part of the build process. However, there are usually a very common set of issues that seem to crop up time and time again. One of the first things we’ll look at when conducting a site audit is identifying how efficiently crawl budget is being spent. A good place to start is the ‘Index status’ report in Webmaster Tools. The shot below is for an ecommerce website with around 2,000 products. However, webmaster tools is reporting nearly 200,000 discovered URLs. So there’s clearly a problem.

 Webmaster Tools Index Status

The best way by far to dive into this and find out what’s going on is a good look at some log-file data. The issue with most off the shelf SEO tools (most of which are fantastic!) is that they might tell you a problem exists, but they won’t truly explain the root cause. Looking at a sample of GoogleBot requests from your log-files should back up your findings from other tools and should give you a much better insight into how GoogleBot is crawling your site.

Content = Your Character

Time after time, we’ll see an ecommerce site where they’ve stuck a chunk of ‘SEO Copy’ right at the bottom of each page in an attempt to rank without disrupting the user journey or flow of the site. As with some of the above, this might not be harming your site but you’re certainly missing out on an opportunity. In my opinion, content should be used to form and shape the character of a business. Unlike a physical location, one of the problems with doing business online is that you have very little time, and few tools with which you can reflect your personality. Surely every chance to do this should be grabbed by the horns?

In my opinion, if your content is good enough then put it in a place where people can read it. If it’s not, then rewrite it and then put it somewhere people can read it! If you want to know what good looks like, then I’d highly recommend checking out experience days.

Weapons of Choice

Some of the tools used throughout this presentation:

Screaming Frog

SEO Tools for Excel

Majestic SEO

Open Site Explorer


If you’re interested in other presentations from SMX Sydney and would like to check out what the other speakers presented on; our good friend Jason Mun was pumping out an impressive amount of live blogging throughout the conference. Check out all his SMX Sydney posts here.


E-Commerce SEO – Avoiding Pitfalls from MRJonQ

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5 thoughts on “SMX Sydney – Ecommerce SEO; Avoiding Common Pitfalls

  1. Tom Conte says:

    Hey Jon,

    Thanks for the recap!

    Often times, we see Googlebot requesting a “what it think to be a URL” in a JavaScript file that results in a 404 error. We would not have known that unless we checked the server log files. Unfortunately, we can not do much it since Google has come out and said not to block JS files in the robots.txt file.

    By the way, the link to the Vivo Bare Foot is broken.

    Thanks, Tom

  2. Jamie Riddell says:

    Hi John, Thanks for including us in your presentation.

  3. Jon says:

    Hi Jamie – pleasure mate; it’s an awesome tool :)

  4. Bryant Jaquez says:

    I like to keep things as simple as possible. #1 Build something amazing, #2 find out how people interact with it, #3 use your “finding” to make that amazing thing even more amazing. If you do those three things (while doing all he proper technical SEO) you’ll be fine.

  5. Alex says:

    I am just about to start an ecommerce site, complete newbie so little bit overwhelming, reading a lot right know trying to learn as much as possible, thanks for great info.

    Rgds, Alex

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