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E-Commerce SEO

E-Commerce SEO Playbook: Overcome 5 Common Roadblocks to Success

 min read
May 10, 2023
The Botify Team

Search is at the forefront of how today's consumers discover, research, and decide what and when to buy online.

In 2022, U.S. e-commerce sales will cross the $1 trillion mark -- and the global e-commerce market is expected to reach $6.3 trillion in 2023.

To continue growing in an increasingly crowded online space, e-commerce businesses must find ways to capture and convert more organic traffic and do so with more profitable and sustainable methods.

However, optimizing for organic traffic can be a daunting task. Most e-commerce websites have millions of URLs requiring individual optimization, not to mention the challenges presented by constant inventory updates, dynamic Javascript, and limited crawl budgets.

Furthermore, e-commerce websites are extremely complex, slow to load, and difficult to navigate, leading to poor customer experience. Over half of users abandon their cart if a page takes more than 6 seconds to load, with 32% unlikely to return at all.

Despite these challenges, SEO remains one of the most effective ways to boost e-commerce revenue and profits.

In the following article, we'll show you how to overcome 5 common roadblocks to e-commerce SEO success, so you can help your business grow with the power of organic traffic.

5 common roadblocks to e-commerce SEO success

  1. Managing complex site structure
  2. Lack of visibility into site issues
  3. Optimizing a limited crawl budget
  4. Navigating the need for dynamic content
  5. Reliance on manual labor

Obstacle #1: Managing complex site structure

To capture market share and build brand authority, e-commerce businesses must be able to respond to ever-growing demand. The result is a never-ending stream of new product pages and URLs that need to be organized and optimized for SEO.

When e-commerce product pages aren't properly optimized, this maze of pages can confuse search engine crawlers and prevent them from indexing all of the website's content. If the problem isn't addressed, over half the pages within an e-commerce website can become invisible to search engines -- meaning thousands of potential customers won't be able to find or purchase their products.

Here are some of the most common complex site structure problems that SEO teams face in this area and solutions they can utilize to solve them.

Deep links

Though product pages are the most important pages on an e-commerce site, often they are buried behind the greatest number of clicks from the homepage. Watch out for these "deep links" -- the greater the clicks required to navigate to a page, the longer it may take for Google to discover, index, and cache. Internal linking, careful management of product category pages, and search parameters can help ensure a site's most valuable pages are seen.

Inventory changes and sitemap updates

Many e-commerce websites use XML sitemaps to manage internal linking challenges. However, when inventory is constantly changing, sitemaps can be difficult to keep up to date. Automated visibility into inventory and sitemaps by product category can save time and ensure coverage and management, getting all those crucial pages indexed.

Faceted navigation issues

By getting to know your site's faceted navigation, you'll gain a better understanding of the scope of the SEO issues it may be causing. Determine first if facets exist on just your category pages or go deeper into your site-and if there's an order to which they are appended to your URLs. Then you can evaluate the traffic and demand to faceted pages and check to see where you can make improvements to the content on these pages.

Obstacle #2: Lack of visibility into web performance

Most e-commerce websites have thousands of product pages. Unfortunately, as much as 32% of those pages aren't even being crawled by Google, much less ranking on the results pages.

To ensure that your most important pages are being crawled and indexed correctly -- and that you're not missing any SEO opportunities -- you need full visibility into and complete data about your website's performance.

When Bukalapak, one of the largest eCommerce players in Southeast Asia saw a sharp decline in product description pages getting indexed by Google, they sought a scalable solution to audit those millions of pages to identify problem areas they could focus on to reduce the negative trend.

If organic traffic isn't trending in the direction you desire or other issues keep happening, and you can't pinpoint why, you may need automation that can help discover the root cause.

Obstacle #3: Optimizing crawl budget

Search engines don't have an infinite crawl budget to ensure every page of a website is reviewed and indexed. So, if they spend most of their crawl budget on non-essential pages, they likely won't have enough resources left to review the most important pages on your site.

The result? Important category pages and high-value product pages could suffer from poor rankings, less organic traffic, and ultimately, fewer conversions.

Here are some common obstacles that SEO teams face when dealing with this issue.

Faceted navigation complications

Faceted navigation can be problematic for e-commerce websites' SEO because when users filter or sort products, they generate new URLs that may have the same or similar content as other pages on the site, confusing search engines and making it difficult for them to determine which pages to index and rank. The main risk here is that faceted navigation can eat up a website's crawl budget.

These will dilute the value of the higher-priority pages and create "crawl traps" for searchbots -- places where the bot is crawling tons of relatively low-quality pages that aren't significantly different from one another.

The solution to faceted navigation is a delicate mix of content strategy and technical execution through canonicalization to tell search engines which version of a page is the primary or master version.

Inventory changes and low-value pages

When products are frequently added or removed from an e-commerce website, it can create a lot of pages that may be seen as low-value or duplicate content by search engines. This can lead to issues with indexing and ranking, as search engines may struggle to determine which pages are most important and relevant to users (similar to the faceted navigation issues mentioned above).

On a site with millions of pages, it can be difficult to ensure that your most important pages are getting crawled (and thus getting to the indexing phase of organic search). By using segmentation, you can break your site up into groups of pages you want to pay attention to and understand crawl behavior for those strategic pages.

To optimize crawl budget and get around these challenges, SEO teams need to be able to serve content to search engine bots more efficiently while also prioritizing the content they see in the first place. This will ensure that, regardless of inventory changes, all critical pages can be found and more content will be discovered and indexed, so it can drive sustainable revenue growth through organic search.

Obstacle #4: Optimizing Javascript for UX and SEO

E-commerce websites use dynamic content and Javascript (JS) to display personalized content based on visitors' behavior, interests, location, or other criteria. This can result in a better user experience, increased engagement, and higher conversions.

Unfortunately, dynamic content and the JS that supports it can create a range of SEO problems for e-commerce websites. For starters, search engines may not be able to crawl and index dynamic content as effectively as static content, leading to reduced visibility in search results. In fact, one study found that it takes search engines 9x longer to crawl Javascript than HTML.

This happens because JS execution is resource-intensive. Searchbots can see this information but may store the data until it has a reason to render the page more fully. The text-only, mobile-only bot is likely to be skimming the page (unless it sees big changes from the last render). When JS rendering causes page speed to slow down, searchbots are even less likely to allocate the resources required to wait for a page to load.

Dynamic content can also create duplicate content issues if it generates multiple URLs with similar content. This can result in a dilution of SEO authority and lower rankings for the affected pages. On top of all of this, if dynamic content is not implemented correctly, it can lead to slow page load times, damaging the user experience and leading to high bounce rates.

For e-commerce success, SEOs need to know which elements on their website's product and category pages are crawled less frequently due to JS implementations, including:

-> Third party reviews

Many product pages include JS elements -- including very important customer review information. These aggregate reviews and star ratings are tricky to show on the page, so it's crucial to report them accurately in the structured markup. When this information is loaded dynamically, there's always a chance that the unique, rich, relevant content found in the reviews won't be surfaced to searchbots.

-> Automatically generated internal links

Internal links to recommended products or product categories are often generated automatically in a JS module and dynamically personalized for users. While this can improve UX and conversion, these links don't provide much SEO value. SEOs may need to take a hybrid approach to internal links -- remember that links in the body copy (in the HTML) are of higher SEO value.

-> JS and faceted navigation

Implementing JS into faceted navigation can reduce the creation of new URLs. By using the dynamic elements of JS to meet the user needs without creating multiple different pages, the challenges of faceted navigation can be managed more efficiently.

Just as your site has a crawl budget, it also has a render budget - meaning search engines don't have unlimited resources to render your pages. Google renders your site's JavaScript during a "second wave" of indexing. That means it's important to also show your content within the HTML so that Google doesn't miss a thing. Check to make sure your content is loaded properly. If you go to "inspect element" on your pages, search for some text you know is on the page, and can't find it there, search engines may have trouble accessing it,

Obstacle #5: Reliance on manual tasks

Relying on manual tasks is problematic for many reasons -- but especially when it comes to implementing SEO at scale.

As an e-commerce business grows, the number of products, categories, and pages on its website will increase. Over time, manual SEO tasks such as keyword research and content optimization will become even more time-consuming and challenging to manage. This can limit a team's ability to scale SEO efforts -- and ultimately, limit the business's ability to increase organic traffic, revenue, and visibility.

Some examples of common manual tasks in SEO include:

  • Submitting sitemaps to search engines to ensure that all pages are discovered and indexed.
  • Identifying crawl errors such as broken links, duplicate content, and missing pages, and fixing them
  • Optimizing metadata, such as titles, descriptions, and header tags, to ensure search engines understand the content of each page.
  • Building internal links between pages to help search engines discover and crawl all pages.
  • Removing duplicate content to avoid confusion for search engines and improve crawlability.
  • Implementing structured data, such as schema markup, to help search engines understand the content and structure of the website.

Many of these time-consuming tasks can be automated, which can help e-commerce businesses eliminate wasted valuable time, resources, and money to get these tasks done.

The Botify platform, which includes Botify Analytics, Botify Intelligence, and Botify Activation, enables SEOs to automate these and other common SEO tasks. Additionally, Botify Assist uses a ChatGPT integration that enables SEOs to use natural language processing to more quickly get access to their organic search data and recommendations.

The path to e-commerce SEO success

If e-commerce businesses don't use prioritize automation to solve these SEO challenges, they'll miss out on a massive opportunity to attract new buyers and recapture past customers. Additionally, they risk putting more on internal teams and lose the agility to quickly make changes that matter.

So how can e-commerce SEOs start to optimize their websites?

1. Get Informed

Information is power. SEO audits tend to be a long list of things that need to be improved on a website, without the additional context of how much work each optimization takes, or how much return the company will see on the investment of time.

Before priorities can be set, the SEO team must be able to see what is going on across the site and assess potential problem areas.

There are dozens of different ways to get more insights into your website's performance, from tracking page rankings to using analytics tools. For massive, enterprise e-commerce sites, however, the data can get overwhelming fast.

This is an area where Botify Analytics allows e-commerce teams to cut through complexity, save hours of time, and make more informed decisions.

2. Prioritize tasks

The key to SEO prioritization is having visibility into potential issues, what actions to take first, and which growth ideas are "nice to have" instead of "must have."

This approach will help you know which SEO efforts matter the most right now, in relation to your business's overall goals. This is important because typically, the design, engineering, and editorial resources that are required to improve the SEO on a site are shared across multiple business teams are thing and have competing (and sometimes conflicting) goals.

AI solutions can take the guesswork out of this by calculating the likelihood of crawl improvements by optimization.

PRODUCT CALLOUT: Botify Intelligence was built to help teams make more informed decisions by drawing from their Botify Analytics data, and automatically surfacing and prioritizing which actions will help them grow it.

3. Embrace automation

The benefits of SEO automation can help teams reduce their dependency on developers, automate manual tasks, and implement urgent fixes and high-priority updates more quickly. In an increasingly competitive industry, this is crucial.

Many of the obstacles we discussed above, such as optimizing crawl budget, can be minimized or totally eliminated with the help of automation. For example, Botify's SpeedWorkers serves fully-rendered pages to search engines, eliminating the time-intensive process that searchbots typically go through. Fully-rendered pages are faster to read, meaning more of your content (yes, even dynamic Javascript content) can be crawled, indexed, and ultimately drive value for your business.

The faster e-commerce businesses can implement automation and make SEO improvements, the faster they'll see results -- and we've seen firsthand how incredible the results can be when e-commerce brands implement automation: One Botify client in the global athletic retail space saw a 58% increase in non-branded traffic following the implementation of SpeedWorkers - equating to $9 million in incremental revenue gain.

4. Cross-functional collaboration

Anyone that impacts the content, display, or function of the e-commerce website is "doing SEO" whether they realize it or not.

Cross-functional collaboration is crucial to successful SEO -- UX, Marketing, Sales, Editorial, Design, and Engineering teams all play a large part in the larger ecosystem of the website.

Here are a few ways to foster greater collaboration and SEO understanding between departments:

  • Host cross-functional and cross-departmental SEO trainings or educational events
  • Give key stakeholders access to tools and reporting, including custom reports, bookmarks, and charts
  • Provide reports showing the success metrics for cross-team projects
  • Make it easy for the social media, paid media, and email marketing teams to promote SEO content across other channels

Training and evangelizing SEO best practices across multiple teams and subgroups within a large organization is a crucial requirement for long-term success. Take the time to do it early on, and you'll be able to get the support needed for major SEO initiatives later.

When SEO is done right, e-commerce businesses can find themselves with an extremely cost-effective, sustainable channel for acquiring customers, and staying ahead in a crowded marketplace.

Find out how Botify has helped numerous e-Commerce businesses better understand and improve their website visibility and performance.

Want to learn more? Connect with our team for a Botify demo!
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