Don't Trust Your Ecommerce Platform’s Basic SEO Settings!
Updated: May 11, 2020
Platforms like Shopify and Magento are purpose-built for ecommerce websites and make the job of developing an effective online store much easier than they would be otherwise.
However, how well do these platforms help the stores promote their products?
Specifically, how well do the they work for SEO?
The issue isn’t necessarily with the platform itself, but with the way the platform is configured and leveraged by the marketing teams of the stores. Many companies rely on the basic SEO settings to help push their site upwards in the SERPs, and trust that within a few months, they’ll be ranking highly on Google.
If only it was this easy. Most ecommerce CMS platforms only offer limited SEO options, and they aren’t terribly effective if not used correctly. To make matters trickier, some of the systems have some challenges ‘built in’.
Shopify has a lot going for it. It’s comparatively easy to use compared to other platforms, and its extensive range of apps is impressive. However, the SEO settings are occasionally problematic. For example:
· Duplication issues with filtering
Filtering is an important function to have on an ecommerce site. Customers rely on filters to narrow down their search and discover the right product for their needs.
While the basic ‘sort’ functionality is fine on Shopify, there’s a real issue when product filters are added to collections that have product tags. The site’s tagging system automatically generates ‘filter link’ URLs which can’t be altered. This results in a lot of duplication (keyword and metadata) as soon as filters are added – something which adversely affects search engine rankings.
This is a particularly big problem for ecommerce sites that sell hundreds (or thousands) of products.
· Structured URLs
Shopify automatically generates URL structures for each page. This isn’t such a major problem, but it means you’re not able to fully optimise them. It also means that if your migrating from another platform, most of your URLs will change, which is a big issue from an SEO point of view – all of the past SEO history and value of your pages is lost. Even with effective redirects, the value takes weeks (if not months) to transfer.
· No custom fields
Custom fields can’t be added, which is yet another limitation. To fully customise your pages, you’ll need to spend money on a custom theme that permits modifications.
· No image optimisation
Shopify doesn’t let users optimise their image URLs and filenames, which is a missed opportunity. You can change the alt=tags, but that’s as far as the optimisation goes.
· No access to Robots.txt
Users have no other option but to work with Shopify’s robots.txt setup. This isn’t great for online retailers who are selling lots of different types of products, as they have no control over what the search engines crawl through or index.
· No control over hierarchical structure
Shopify doesn’t let users make any changes to the hierarchical structure. You can’t create sub-categories leading from the main collection, which is extremely limiting, not to mention less than ideal for SEO purposes.
- A word of warning
The site’s range of apps is a real plus. Be warned though, some can negatively impact your SEO results, especially from point of view of speed, which is very important for SEO, especially on mobile. Make sure you have full understanding of how they’ll effect your optimisation efforts before you add them to your site.
Magento 2 requires a little more technical know-how to work with than other platforms, and the backend is more complicated. However, it is capable of producing a high-quality ecommerce store. Like Shopify, its SEO settings aren’t perfect, and here are a few ways that it under-performs:
- Slow loading speeds
- Default titles, descriptions and header tags
Magento 2 has a lot of default settings, and users often forget to change them. For example, the settings default to calling the home page ‘home page’, which isn’t great for SEO. Be careful when filling in the description box – if you don’t create a unique description for each page, the site will duplicate the meta-description.
- Alt-tags for images
Unless you add an alt-tag for each image, Magento will automatically assign one. These are usually generic and are a missed opportunity for optimisation. However, if you’ve got thousands of images, adding alt-tags for each one is a daunting prospect (SEO Extension Magento 2 can help).
This is one of the site’s biggest issues. It occurs during product filtering, sorting, and when there are variations of the same product.
- No optimisation for HTML sitemap
There’s no option to auto-create HTML Sitemap. This problem can be resolved by adding an extension like Dynamic HTML Sitemap for Magento 2, but requires a level of technical expertise.
Big Commerce isn’t quite as popular as Shopify or Magento, but it’s still a commonly used eCommerce platform. It’s extremely user-friendly, but like many of the others, has some SEO drawbacks. These include:
- Difficulty adding a blog
It’s difficult to add a blog to a Big Commerce-powered site, which is frustrating, given that blogging is one of the most effective ways of adding fresh content (something Google appreciates). You can install a blog as a subdomain, but the search engines regard these as separate from the ecommerce site, which means it won’t do much for your SERPs.
- Slow loading speeds
Like other platforms, Big Commerce can be painfully slow and clunky. A developer is required to make the necessary tweaks to improve this.
- Difficult to set canonical URLs
This is usually easy, but Big Commerce seems to have made this process needlessly complicated. You’ll need to edit theme files, which is tricky for beginners. If you don’t resolve this issue, it can result in a lot of duplicate content, which affects search engine ranking.
- Lack of SEO support
This is perhaps the biggest complaint levelled at the platform. Users have been asking for more SEO support for some time, but as yet, this hasn’t transpired.
Other ecommerce platforms
Most CMS ecommerce platforms are designed to be user-friendly. They focus on making it easy to create, add and delete content – and there’s less emphasis on helping sites to climb up the SERPs.
The issues aren’t limited to Big Commerce, Shopify and Magento 2. WooCommerce also has SEO problems, as do other popular platforms like PrestaShop. Rather than relying on the basic SEO that they offer, consider working with an expert, who can optimise your ecommerce site properly, and develop a longer-term SEO strategy. Ultimately, that’s the most effective way to improve online visibility and boost sales.