Optimization & Best Practices within eCommerce
By Craig Smith, Founder
As an online retailer, your primary focus should be providing a user experience that exceeds consumer expectations. A crucial factor to supplying a great experience from a technology standpoint is the on-site search functionality that is presented to your users. By including attribute-based navigation that allows users to customize results by parameters that are important within their purchase process, your business is taking the right steps in helping users find what they are looking for as fast as possible.
Attribute navigation allows users to sort their category and sub-category results by a number of varied factors. Aspects like color, price, material, size, and brand are all vital refining options for the user experience. While attribute navigation can help your users, this functionality can hurt your organic search performance unless properly planned for.
The reason is that the infinite URL permutations that are constructed dynamically by the on-site search system cause search robots to crawl repetitive pages with little differentiating content and many times cause “spider traps”. A spider trap is an infinite loop in which a search crawler has to abandon a crawl due to being stuck in a loop of crawling similar or broken pages. Because of this, many eCommerce businesses have site indexation levels that dramatically exceed the numbers of products and skus that are offered.
As a rule of thumb, do not assume that the higher your indexed pages go within search engines the higher your search revenue will rise. Many of these pages can be called “index bloat” – pages that do not rank well and are duplicates of other pages in a search index.
So where should a retailer begin if looking to fix this type of issue?
First thing to assess is your URL structures as it relates to your product attributes. For example, do multiple product parameters always render in the order for which the user clicked them? Say a user is looking for a couch and clicks first on black as his color choice and then leather as his material choice. Does the site render both www.example.com/couches/color=black:material=leather and www.example.com/couches/material=leather:color=black. As you can see both URL’s are different, but provide the same data to Google. Now think of this across hundreds of product categories and thousands of product attributes. You can see why Google rewards websites for making their job easier in terms of crawling.
On enterprise eCommerce sites where the “Canonical Tag” is not a viable option, a retailer needs to construct solutions at the platform level. The goal is to provide a URL deployment within your site that is constructed to assist search spiders, not hinder them. One approach is to always present product parameters in a consistent order within a URL string. By doing this, you limit the permutations for a long-tail product search. Another option is to use the power of your Robots.txt file to exclude pages from being indexed by Google. On instances for which a user’s click path has created a duplicate URL, integrate some sort of exclude call in the URL so that a search engine knows not to index this page.
By taking these steps to reduce duplicate content and URL’s within your domain, you are leveraging an intelligent approach to an organic search partnership with Google. Crafting your eCommerce catalog in a manner that allows search spiders to be more productive in indexing, your search rankings and traffic are highly likely to improve.
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