eCommerce SEO: An Interview with Suganthan MohanadasanReading Time: 12 minutes
eCommerce SEO is one of the most critical marketing strategies because of the following reasons-
- Transactions happen on your site
- Your site has more pages that you see
- Media and other files make your website heavy in size resulting in a slow-loading website
- If Google misses out on crawling/indexing your pages, you lose traffic from the same
- Any technical gaps can affect the user experience of your site, which ultimately affects your site rankings on the search engines
- Regular Google updates taking place for which your eCommerce site needs to be safe to continue having healthy site traffic and conversions
- And, so much more
The first priority of your eCommerce SEO team is to ensure nothing goes wrong.
And, that’s the reason why we have come up with an exclusive interview with one of the world’s top SEO consultants, Suganthan Mohanadasan.
Suganthan Mohanadasan is a freelance digital marketing consultant with over eight years of experience helping medium and large companies around the world. His expertise includes SEO, paid search, social and native advertising.
He is the industry’s highly knowledgeable expert who believes in sharing his experiences and expertise with everyone. If you follow him on Twitter, you’ll learn a lot.
Before we begin, let us tell you what you’re going to get after reading this entire interview,
- eCommerce SEO trends to look for in 2020 – 21
- Everything you need to know about Google Updates for eCommerce – Getting hurt and how eCommerce sites can be safe
- Technical SEO errors most eCommerce sites have and how you can prevent them building your eCommerce site
- Crawl budget for eCommerce sites and tips to optimize the same
- SEO best practices for niche eCommerce sites
- eCommerce SEO tools to utilize
- How to choose the right eCommerce agency?
- Having a team Vs. Not having a team
- Golden rules for eCommerce sites to become successful
We are sure you’re not only going to get in-depth answers to most of your queries but also going to learn something that you can straightaway implement.
1. How is SEO changing for the eCommerce domain in 2020 – 21? How shall one company be ready for these changes?
Ecommerce is evolving fast as more and more people are moving online to buy products. Though the best practices somewhat remain the same as always, there are a few things you should consider if you want to succeed now and in the future.
Shift in search intent – We all know what search intent is nowadays. But, not many know about the search intent shift. Google often changes the entire SERP of results when there is something “newsworthy”.
It has been observed by many, and I have certainly seen this. It’s suspected that a large scale behaviour change could impact the search results. You can also observe this pattern during a seasonal event such as easter.
If you search ‘Easter’ now the SERPs will be full of ‘when is easter, history of easter, facts about easter’ related results. But, if you search closer to easter the SERPs will be full of easter cards and eggs.
As an eCommerce SEO, it’s your job to predict the change in intent and proactively create necessary content.
Mobile-first indexing – It’s not entirely new, but you must always make sure your mobile site has all the vital content as Google will not crawl your desktop unless that’s the only version you have available.
Changes to the SERP layout – If you look at the current SERP layout, a lot has changed since last year. Google is testing and pushing out new features all the time. Google shopping was made free this year, SERP features are more prominent than before, and Local SEO changed quite a bit.
Rank tracking is dead (Almost) – The current rank tracking method is hugely flawed and my personal prediction is it will be dead in the coming years. It’s all about real estate in SERPs.
You might rank #1 for “Face masks”, and your tool will report this as #1 position. But, you might get only a few clicks. If you look at the actual SERPs you might see other sites capturing a featured snippet, Local map pack and People also asked box above you. So, it’s important to track the pixels.
It’s not limited to eCommerce sites, but eCommerce sites will suffer the most. This concept is fairly new and you can use something like Serpsketch.
Image SEO – Image SEO is an under-utilized yet most essential strategy for eCommerce SEO. When you’re selling a product, a visual of the product is important. A searcher will be more likely to click on an image of a shirt than a link to your eCommerce product page.
Considering Google showing image carousels in the global search and sometimes image packs are taking over a lot of pixels on the SERPs. It’s also a known fact Google uses their vision system to detect and extract elements in an image.
They still use ALT text and any other contextual elements such as keywords around a picture, but in the future, I can see them relying mainly on the vision for image SEO. In that case, you need to avoid using stock images and come up with excellent original product photography.
Google has some patents about extracting entities from pictures and even combining them to understand the context behind the images. As I mentioned above having a good schema can also play into Image SEO as Google images show stock status now.
Visual search – Closely related to image search, the visual search is a machine learning-based technology and one of the top eCommerce conversion hacks. Using your phone camera, you can take a picture of a product.
For example, a shoe and Google will instantly recognize the image and show you similar images. Bing, Snapchat, Pinterest and many other major players are investing in this space. I have written an article about how to optimize for visual search here.
Google Discover – I have covered Google discover in several places. Discover feed is a way for Google to proactively show related content to users on their mobile devices (Google App on iPhones and natively on Android).
Optimizing for Discover is challenging as I have run numerous experiments and spoken to many people in this field. First of all, you should follow Google’s guidelines and meet the criteria.
The rest is handled by the algorithm so the idea is to produce great content. Aymen Loukil wrote this fantastic piece about optimizing for Discover.
As an SEO, you should look at everything and adjust your strategy. You can’t win by following a playbook. I have written an article about SEO trends in 2020 and I cover some of the tactics mentioned above in more detail.
2. According to the SEMrush Sensor data, the shopping category is seen in the winning as well as losing categories during Google’s May 2020 update. According to you, which industries are winning and losing? Any specific reasons?
I do not follow google updates as much. I find it a bit of a waste of time. I pay attention to whatever the site I’m working on and only look at updates if it can have a significant impact on my sites.
I’m not saying it’s a bad practice. But it doesn’t work for me. I recommend you keep an eye on core updates as they tend to shuffle the SERPs a bit.
3. Now that we are discussing Google Updates, What are the chances of eCommerce sites getting hurt?
No site is 100% safe from Google updates. We have seen giants in this space get hit by Google updates. If you’re actively engaged in SEO activities that go against Google’s webmaster guidelines, you run a risk of getting caught sooner or later.
Some sites do manage to fly under the radar, and that’s the reality. It all comes down to risk vs reward. My advice would be not to break the guidelines if you want to last long.
It’s also important to keep an eye on the changes to the guidelines as Google updates them from time to time. Your last year’s strategy might not be a good thing now. So it would help if you stayed up to date.
4. How can they try to be safe during frequent Google updates?
Follow the Google webmaster guidelines. Do not be afraid to take a few risks cause you won’t always get hit for a bit of misbehaviour. (That’s my personal opinion).
If you’re operating a YMYL site then it’s essential you pay close attention to EAT. I’ve seen a lot of sites getting hit lately, and recovery is often long and difficult.
5. What are the technical SEO glitches most eCommerce sites have? Which ones can be taken care of while building the website?
Some common technical issues;
URL Parameters – These can cause enormous problems for SEO. Most common scenarios are the use of product filtering and pagination. You will have the product URL with so many different attributes.
When you have a site with thousands of products, this can produce so many URL variations. It can cause duplicate content issues, and when these variations are crawled, it can take up a lot of crawl budget.
Even though you shouldn’t worry too much about the crawl budget for smaller sites, it can still bloat the website. You want the search engine bots to crawl your relevant pages efficiently and frequently.
Not paying attention to discontinued products – It’s quite common, especially on large eCommerce sites where products are often discontinued and replaced with newer models. There are many techniques you can use to solve this problem. Here is an excellent article about this exact issue and some good solutions.
Missing or incorrect Schema data implementations – I’m not going to explain this in detail as it’s already been covered by many people. But, in a nutshell, it’s important to implement schema correctly as it can impact how your site is seen in the SERPs.
Check out this video by Aleyda Solis discussing main concepts, criteria and tools to implement and validate structured data execution with minimized errors and improved results-
Poor Information Architecture (IA) – Overall information architecture of a website is vital for SEO. When it comes to eCommerce, it’s even more important due to having a large number of pages and products, and you want the customers to find the products as well as make life easy for search engines.
Part of the IA is the navigation and especially the URLs structure. You need to pay close attention to having good and clear URL structures. If you have seasonal offers, you need to make sure the URL doesn’t contain a year or something that changes every year.
For an example: Black Friday page: yoursite.com/black-friday-2020/ if you go with this format you won’t be able to re-use this page next year without creating a redirect.
On top, I often see pages with messy or long URLs. It can confuse your users as well as search engines. Don’t flatten your site architecture as it can confuse search engines to which page is more important.
Having a proper internal search is vital – I’d go as far as saying it’s one of the essential things for an eCommerce site. Having just a search box is not enough. It would be best if you made it functional and user friendly.
When a potential customer searches for a product, you want to show suggestions quickly and accurately. There are loads of ways to do this. On top, make sure you track your internal search queries.
These terms can tell you a lot about your users and what they’re actively searching for you on your website. I have seen sites without having a search query parameter inside Google Analytics. It’s a simple job and often overlooked.
While you’re at it, make sure to check if you have your internal search results indexed by search engines. It’s never a good thing cause most search results are automatically generated.
Pagination – We all know Google stopped supporting rel=next/prev markup. (Forgot to tell us about it for a few years :p) It’s recommended to focus on putting content into the first page of a category. Lots of people are doing pagination wrong.
Here is a fantastic webinar by Orit Mutznik‘s on this subject, and she lays out the best practises and how she is winning by doing pagination right. She managed to index 99% of a large eCommerce site indexed by getting pagination right.
6. Why do crawl budget matters for eCommerce sites? What are your tips to optimize the same?
First of all, the crawl budget mainly matters if you have a large e-com site: around 500k pages or more. Google repeatedly said they have the capacity to crawl a large number of pages.
I think I explained above about why it’s crucial. You can do several things to optimize for crawl budgets. You can block thin and unnecessary pages from being crawled, Remove duplicate content and URL parameters.
7. What are the SEO best practices any niche eCommerce brand should follow?
The strategy doesn’t change a lot for niche sites. You’re mainly dealing with a very specific product instead of thousands of products. It’s easier to optimize but might be difficult to scale. All the technical optimizations will be the same more or less.
8. Which are your favourite tools for everything from keyword research, competitive analysis, strategy planning to measuring the results?
I’m a tool junkie, and there is a chance I have used every tool in SEO. Some of my current favourites in no particular order.
Seobrowser – This is an excellent tool that lets you quickly see how the SERP looks like for different countries/cities/languages. A must-have tool.
Contentking – It’s a must-have site monitoring tool. The tool can detect changes to your site in real-time and send you alerts. Giving you plenty of time to fix the issues.
Marketmuse – This is an AI-driven content tool. It can do topic research, content brief generation and even content creation. All done automatically using machine learning.
Bigmetrics – This tool taps into Google search console and gives you a clear picture of your organic performance and opportunities.
Inlinks – I use it for the topic and thematic analysis and they also have a clever internal linking optimization module.
WordLift – If you’re working with entities and semantic web then WordLift is the tool of choice.
Sitebulb – It’s a fantastic web crawler, and they always add new features.
Screaming frog – Running SF in the cloud is one of the best ways to crawl large sites.
Keyword everywhere – I’m sure a lot of people know about this tool. I use their API to pull in keyword data.
Mangools suite – An excellent suite for doing keyword research, rank tracking and link building.
Sistrix – A fantastic tool that I use for traffic drop analysis. The tool can do a lot more. Their visibility index is ace.
It’s important to note that you don’t need all the tools to do good SEO. I use these tools at various capacities.
On top of these tools, I have a whole bunch of custom made tools (Mostly built-in Python and Google sheets) that I use for various tasks.
9. As an entrepreneur, what shall be the selection criteria, one should follow, for choosing the right agency?
Look at the case studies and talk to the agency’s previous clients. More importantly, look at the performance of the case study websites.
Look for proposals that show the agency has done its homework when presenting a project proposal. See if they picked up issues that you are already aware of or any sign of their eagerness to work with you.
Google search the agency name and look at various reviews and feedback. You shouldn’t trust any information online as they can be manipulated. But, look for anything that seems out of place.
Ask technical questions. Test their responses. Ask whether they outsource work or doing everything in-house.
Any awards? – Winning lots of awards is a good thing. But, don’t make decisions based on how many awards an agency won.
Your goal is to qualify the right people to do the job so look beyond shiny things.
10. At what level, one eCommerce owner should own a team?
It totally depends—quite an obvious answer. If you’ve reached a point where it’s taking too long for you to manage everything then it’s time to hire someone, you should check your revenue and work out your finances. Having a team is all about scaling your business.
11. If you want to give golden rules to eCommerce sites to be successful, what would that be?
Innovate – Don’t sit and hope everything will be ok when things are going great and according to your plan. Have a backup plan and always be on the lookout for what’s the next big thing and adopt.
Even be the early bird and you might catch the worm. For example, if you’re a retailer, you should look into AR (Augmented reality), one of the top eCommerce trends, seriously as there are strong indications that Apple may launch smart glasses and there could be a way you can take advantage of it.
Even if they don’t end up launching the glasses they’ve added a Lidar sensor to this year’s iPads and will likely follow up with the next line of iPhones. Think outside the box and look for new opportunities.
Invest in smart people – Always work with the best people. (if you can afford it of course) They might be a bit expensive, but in the long run, you will reap the benefits. It could be eCommerce consultants, SEO, Developer or a content writer.
Find the best people and work with them. (Depending on the size of your business) Also, don’t take shortcuts as some of these may work in the short term but fail in the long term. Train your in-house staff and get them up to speed.
Own your assets – If you’re going to run your eCommerce store from one of the 3rd party CMS systems that you don’t own you’re going to have problems with scaling. I see this all the time.
For small business owners, it makes sense to use something like this, but you should move to a self-hosted site as soon as your business picks up and you can afford to invest.
Fix your technical issues – Large eCommerce sites struggle to fix the most prominent errors because their systems are legacy/outdated and these businesses have a lot of stakeholders and politics.
As an SEO, one way to approach this problem is to build a case study and show the impact and try to convince the developers and upper management.
eCommerce SEO: Learn, Implement & Grow
Being a critical yet most efficient channel to bring your customers, eCommerce SEO needs the most attention because everything from reaching to your target audience to delivering them the flawless experience is dependent on the same.
Learn and implement the best practices shared by Suganthan and enhance the search engine presence of your eCommerce stores.
We would like to thank him for agreeing to this interview blog instantly and helping our audience with such detailed insights on how eCommerce businesses can strengthen their SEO.
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