SEO in Magento
Optimising Magento e-commerce websites for search engines.
What’s the most popular application on the Web? Search engines. What’s the most popular search engine? Google, by a country mile at over two thirds plus market share. Google’s database is currently used by lots of other search engines so applying the 80:20 rule, doing well in Google is a basic minimum requirement for getting new customers online. To perform well in Google, you simply follow three mantras: visibility, relevance and popularity.
Visibility is about basic mechanics; getting your site seen and indexed. Google works by sending out little “robots” that spider around the Internet, examining pages, titles, headers, links, file names, content and the HTML underneath it. Everything those robots can read gets indexed. Many e-commerce websites cannot be read at all, because products and their descriptions are hidden deep inside databases. Any information located in images, Flash and frames is also almost always invisible to search engines. Magento websites are particularly well built for being read:
- the URLS are flat (i.e. don’t have odd characters and are succinct)
- the pages are made of well structured HTML
- Magento users have detailed control over SEO assets such as Page Titles and meta data
- Google sitemaps are automatically generated
In addition, you can set the page title and meta data (and URL) on a page-by-page basis, again via the Admin Panel on the individual category and product pages in the catalog.
Next, all this must be relevant. Relevance is about all the elements of your site pointing in the same direction, with the same context and keywords. Simply put, if all your pages talk about “power tools” all over the place, then Google will regard your site as relevant to power tools. The relevance check is designed to weed out cynical and cheap masquerading.
The thorniest aspect to relevance is getting those all important generic propositions (keywords) right. Keywords should be used to identify your generic proposition. For example, “tesco” would be specific, and “supermarket” would be generic. Doing well in generic searches is obviously harder and you could be up against some tough competition in a saturated market, especially for popular search terms, such as “computer”, “clothes”, “jewellery” etc.
Choosing the right keywords is, of course, an entirely different matter. Inputs to this include your overall brand strategy and values, what customers are likely to enter in searches, what space your competition is after, what is achievable. Keyword strategy is quantitative and qualitative, creative and analytical. Ultimately, however, this is the virtual market sector you will occupy. We suggest the use of the Google Adwords estimation tool to quantify demand and saturation (https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner).
Final tweaks can be made to your pages by customising the URLs to make them short and to the point, as well as relative to the content that they hold. By default, Magento uses product and category names to make these, but you should override those that are too long or contain redundant and irrelevant words. You can do this in the Admin Panel for each product and category.
A further suggestion to increase the number of relevant pages is to create additional pages containing relevant content: articles, lifestyle content, “how to” material, guides etc. Google will read and store these. These (and other content areas on your site – called “content blocks” in Magento are under your control through the Admin Panel).
Google can be assisted by the provision of signposts, in the form of a “sitemap”. This is a data listing of all your pages and their links which the Google robots will read with gusto. This can be set up in the Admin Panel (System/Configuration/Google Sitemap) and enabled in (Catalog/Sitemap). You will need to upload this to Google Webmaster Tools once you have “verified” your website – this is straightforward using the verification tag that Webmaster Tools issues and copying it into the same HTML Heads section.
When you have got this mixture of visibility and relevance right, your site will be well-armed for those Google robots. All the above points are under your control on your website, through the Magento Admin Panel.
Next, you need to become popular – one expert says it’s up to 80% of the battle. The Google Algorythm will give each page on your site a page rank. This page rank will affect how often Google visits you. For a mail order company, anything north of 6/10 will you give real competitive advantage in securing good rankings for your keywords and products. A more precise measure, together with a list of these links, can be obtained from Google Webmaster Tools.
The challenge is getting people to link to you. Webmasters do not exactly volunteer to give free links, especially to commercial organisations. There has to be a “what’s in it for me.” Bona fide affiliates are a great way of doing this: they provide a link, generating traffic and you offer them a modest commission. I don’t mean the type brought by affiliate marketing organisations: this brings traffic, but does not enhance your link popularity as Google ignores such links. People will link to your site voluntarily if it has meaningful, beneficial, informative content – especially where it is valued by a specific community of interest. Alternatively, get people to want to link to you for other reasons: you’ve got a good game, a survey or a vote, or perhaps even a weblog of personal or customer experiences. Send out press releases online with explicit links to your site. Or simply go round adding your site to directories (such as Yahoo! or DMOZ) and paying for the more respectable sources.
Nowadays the link-building landscape is crowded with the advent of social media and it becomes about quality, not quantity. Great content is king here and will generate the best links from other sites, personal or commercial. Like anything else, you simply need a plan and you must track performance.
All these “link building” devices, if well designed, will encourage web users to link to your site, which will boost your popularity and, in turn, get your site better and more frequently indexed. There’s a big caveat here: the content must, of course, be relevant in Google’s eyes.
My final point is about measurability. The web has unprecedented levels of accountability, making it easy for marketers to analyse, track and monitor the return on investment. You can see how you’re doing; just type in your products and keywords and see where you are. Looking at your website data (visible in packages like Google Analytics), you can track the number of visitors, where the referrals come from, and which search terms are bringing in those valuable customers.
Google Webmaster Tools can show the number of websites linking to you, as well as the search terms that work. In Google Analytics, you can view which generic search terms bring you traffic, by excluding all the brand-related searches (you should be top for that in any event) – this is the ultimate measure of success. Drilling down into the sales conversions of this traffic, you can assess the profitability of your SEO activity.
Page Titles (Title tags)
Title tags are the most important of the head elements for optimisation purposes (you can tell this as they form the first line of Google’s listing). There are a few basic rules that need to be followed when writing them:
- They should not have more than 70 characters as search engines do not give weight past this number & they don’t display beyond this in many browsers
- All pages should have unique titles that are relevant to the topic of the content
- The title should open with the most important phrase for that individual page. The sentence is unique and also contains the important phrases for this page
Meta Description tags
The Meta description tag is important as all major search engines read and give weight to it. Google pays particular attention to what is said in this tag. Again, Google displays this material in its search results. The rules are as follows:
- The tag should ideally have 160 characters or less.
- It is important to include 3 or 4 of the pages top keywords – using phrases that appear in the title tag is also thought to give more weight to this tag.
- Any keywords that are deemed to be core to this page should appear close to the start of the tag – this should give them more weight in ranking of the page.
Meta Keyword tags
The Meta keyword tag was once thought to be the holy grail of optimisation, until spammers abused it. Now Google pays no attention to the tag at all, Yahoo and MSN both do but it is thought to be minimal in its effectiveness for ranking. The rules for this tag are as follows:
- You should only use phrases that appear in the actual copy of the page – you would not be able to rank for a phrase in the Meta keyword tag if it is not mentioned anywhere on the page or has a links pointing to it with similar anchor text.
- Think key phrases not keywords!
- No more than 500 characters for this tag, but it is better not to use more than 200 because it may dilute the effectiveness of the tag.
- This is a safe place to put misspellings as only the search engines look at it so the many people who have spelling difficulties can be targeted.
Magento has a habit of spawning multiple URLs for product pages and categories, especially via onsite search and filters. Remember to enable Canonical Tags for products and categories, in System/Configuration/Catalog/Search Engine Optimisations.
Image alt-tags (image labels)
Images with descriptive alt text are very important for ranking. Search engines cannot read images but do read and give weight to alt tags associated with images. The alt tags may contain targeted keywords in relevant cases. Screen Pages’ Magento implementations use product names as default Alt Tags for product images. Content block images are under your control, so can be tagged appropriately.
Search engines place weight on any text that stands out on the page and because of this it is a good idea to put important phrases in h1 and h2… tags, and bold or italic text – typically product or category names. Screen Pages’ Magento implementations follow “best practice” by default.
In general, all copy is under your control through the Magento Admin Panel.
For best results we recommend that each page has at least 300 words of copy on it. There are some cases where this much text can be difficult to place on a page but as the search engines really love relevant copy, you should do your best to increase the amount of words where you can.
- This text should include your most important keyword phrases, but should remain logical & readable.
- Be sure to use those phrases that you have used in your other tags (i.e. Meta tags, title tags etc).
- Add additional copy filled pages to your site. For example, how-to articles, tips or tutorials. These types of content pages not only help you in the search engines, but many other sites will link to them too.
- It is always advisable to use the page’s main target key-phrase within the first paragraph. This typically happens naturally, though it is worth ensuring so. Given that there will be around 300 words per page it would be advisable to have a keyword density of between 2 and 5%.
- Whilst it is advisable to include the target key phrase in its exact form, it is also worthwhile using the individual component words separately. It’s also advisable to include keywords relating to the main topic of the page.
Link text (anchor text)
Both internal, as well as inbound links from other sites should contain the main keyword / phrase within the link text. This will inform the search engine what the target page is about, and help the page rank better for the term. Dynamic catalogue-related links are generated automatically. Other internal site links (such as footers or SEO-specific internal site links are under your control).
For a search engine to be able to index all the content, the site must have a good internal link structure. No page should be more than three clicks away. It’s advisable to have a sitemap of the main navigation structure of the website.
If you work on the visibility, relevance and popularity of your website, the number of visitors to your site will increase exponentially. Over time, you will develop a presence for your brand that is unassailable by your competitors and keeps you at the top of the pile and increases sales.