7 On-Site SEO Problems That Hold Back E-commerce Sites

When the possibility for businesses to manage their operations online first came across, it was hard to predict the magnitude it will take.

Practically, the Internet has changed the retail industry to the point where e-commerce sites are now a prerequisite for both new businesses and experienced ones seeking to expand their operations – be it locally or globally.

A few trends shaping up the online business world would be:

  • ensuring an optimal cross-platform experience;
  • better big data absorption;
  • more proficient use of analytics;
  • optimal user experience;
  • clean, crisp and uncluttered design;
  • ease of use for the buying decision and shopping cart experience;
  • using the social media platforms to maximize the buying potential.

Does it look like a whole lot of work to put in? It sure does. And with a lot of work come many issues holding online retailers back. Among these issues, the SEO-related ones are reflected in low SERP (Search Engine Result Page) positions.

So, to help you maximize your website’s potential, I’m going to explore 7 SEO aspects a commerce-oriented website might stumble upon.

e-commerce sites

1. Sub-par Product Descriptions

Lack of time and preoccupation for thoroughly crafted content across the whole website results in poor sales.

It’s about the attention you pay to the smallest bits of content on your e-commerce sites. And these include product descriptions – which, most often, would be:

  • short
  • automated
  • manufacturer-provided.

It happens especially with big retailers who don’t have time to nibble at thousands of product descriptions. Which, to be honest, is a pity because they’re missing a lot of opportunities in the SEO department.

Sure, it could be a bit time-consuming to manage all those descriptions. But when e-commerce owners do this, they stand to avoid SEO pitfalls like:

  • not providing enough content for search engine bots to work with – longer content created for each product is more likely to propel product pages in Google SERPs.
  • ‘automated’ content – indeed, it’s more convenient to take the manufacturer description, change a few words and keep the same structure across all product information pages. Except, this practice is penalized by Google that interprets it as duplicate content. You don’t want something as small as product descriptions to hold your site back from getting among the top search engine listings.
  • lack of unique content – manufacturer descriptions can cause another problem: they can be used by other online retailers in almost the same form. Which means you won’t give search engine bots unique content they can index your site for.

So then, what would the solution be? Spending dozens of hours on this kind of content? Creating a dedicated job opening to have all the product descriptions in check?

There’s something else you can do:

  1. Tweak the product descriptions.
  2. Turn these product pages into high-converting landing pages with plenty of unique and conversion-oriented content.

That this practice works fairly well is proved by a lot of e-commerce sites that understood the value of quality product information. For instance, The Motor Bookstore company used this ‘in-depth content’ tactic to fix pages that were affected by Google’s Panda update.

e-commerce sites

2. Lack of Unbranded Keyword Optimization

We stay in product page territory and point out to another SEO issue e-tailers might not be aware of: the lack of keywords that are not related to the brand.

Most business owners build their e-commerce sites without extremely thorough planning.

They only think of optimizing for generic keywords containing the brand name. Best case scenario, they focus only on brand-related keywords and maybe one generic, high-competition keyword, in the hopes of standing out from competitors.

Why is this a faulty practice?

Because it does not take users’ search behavior into consideration.

People don’t generally search by brand name – unless they’re loyal to certain brands (but these people are in the minority). The overwhelming majority just surf the net, compare a few offers for the product they have in mind and then make a decision based on their budget and preferences.

e-commerce sites

So, in order for buyers to land on your site and explore your offer, you need to anticipate the search query they’re most likely to use. Here’s where a keyword research tool is a life-saver.

Note: not all keyword research tools are SEO-driven (here’s a more technical explanation). Google’s popular Keyword Planner is aimed at keywords for Ads – which are indexed differently, making it unreliable for search queries.

This being the case, the right research tool that also helps your SEO efforts can be provided by an SEO plugin. A great option would be Squirrly SEO Plugin’s keyword research tool – fast, price-effective and providing in-depth results.

3. Site Redesigns

Site redesigns are a lot of work and imply lots of money invested in making your products appeal to even more prospective buyers.

But most often than not, these e-commerce sites redesigns are implemented without having SEO in mind. Which is a pity, given that this could lead to something as serious as a loss of high-ranking pages.

Simply put, the URL structure changes, generating issues like:

  • a dramatic drop in traffic and PageRank;
  • 404 errors;
  • a loss in site authority due to links landing on pages that are non-existent after the redesign;
  • a significant number of pages being copied and thus generating duplicate content Google penalizes sites for.

The solution? Always have an SEO professional’s input when redesigning your site if you don’t want to weaken your budget with fixes that could have been avoided.

4. Switching from One E-commerce Platform to Another

The rise of third-party platforms for e-commerce sites is a natural effect of retailers switching to the online business environment.

Few of them have enough resources to cover the web development part of going online, so they employ these e-commerce platforms to manage their operations.

A common phenomenon is that, sooner or later, businesses outgrow one platform, so they need to switch to another that can accommodate their new status better.

And here’s where trouble can ensue.

A frequently encountered problem is the loss of content, which leads to traffic drops, which further lead to drops in transaction figures.

If the transition is handled by SEO experts, the code issues can be foreseen and handled in time, while content trimming is given enough attention as well.

5. Informational vs. Transactional Content

Here, it’s about content. And keywords. Again :).

It’s because the whole content strategy of e-commerce sites has to revolve around a diverse lot of keywords. Ideally, e-tailers would need to focus on different kinds of keywords at once:

  • commercial: these are related to the business niche you’re in.
  • transactional: those containing transactional/salesy buzzwords like “for sale”, “free” or “buy” and “subscribe”.
  • informational: long-tail keywords that cater in-depth to a business’s offer, they often contain question words (‘where’, ‘how to’, ‘what’) that aim at specific needs searchers have in regard to a type of product.
  • navigational: they are brand-related and are useful for customers who already know what brand they want to make the purchase from. These are used to offer a bit of guidance to navigate the site.

These 4 types of keywords cover pretty much everything an e-commerce needs to have in terms of basic on-site content. So, naturally, you’d think online business owners do take care of building their sites around all of these types.

But not all website owners are aware of the importance on-site SEO has from the get-go.

So they tend to go for only one or two types which they think would help them edge out competitors. Not rare are the cases where transactional keywords are used much more than the informational ones. 

This happens due to the false impression that ‘salesy’ is what people are always looking for.

e-commerce sites

Truth is, transactional keywords might be great short-term and when used on campaign landing pages. But in the long run, an e-commerce can build authority only when it also offers informational value.

6. Ineffective Showcasing of User Reviews

Another on-site SEO aspect that could go under the radar is the lack of user reviews.

What online business people may not be aware of is that user reviews – both positive and negative – can have great SEO value, if displayed accordingly.

What are the benefits?

  • They constitute fresh, relevant and constantly-delivered content. This is the type of content Google loves and rewards. Having customer-generated content might spare businesses the headache of building and keeping a highly active blog section that pleases search engines.
  • In their reviews, users will use their natural search language, which is an SEO goldmine you could use for keyword research and link building.
  • Reviews ensure your pages have relevant long-tail keywords which keep a site among top SERPs.
  • User-generated content is also the foundation of a solid social media optimization (SMO) strategy. Social networks have internal search engines that favor unique content provided by users within their comments and reviews.

Plus, the good news is that even negative reviews have great SEO value as long as they’re not super brief. After all, Google penalizes sites for shady or sub-par SEO, not for a little bit of imperfection.

e-commerce sites

7. Keywords with Potential Are not Explored Enough

This part refers to a technique called the ‘low-hanging fruit’ technique.

In the SEO world, it means there are some keywords some of your pages rank really well for, even though the page has not been (fully) optimized for them.

This is something e-commerce businesses can take advantage of by:

  • performing a website audit to see which URLs present the kind of resourceful keywords they need.
  • using Google Search Console or SEMrush to get their website’s keywords ranking.
  • picking the high-performing keywords the site has not been optimized for and tweaking the title, description, headings, and content accordingly.

E-commerce Sites, Get Your On-Page SEO Right!

Having read this article, I hope you can now identify more on-page SEO issues you can fix. To recap, they generally refer to:

  • not maximizing the potential keywords have;
  • external content with SEO value – like user reviews;
  • massive updates (shifts to other e-commerce platforms, redesigns) that are not planned with SEO at their core;
  • poor management of on-site content – especially product descriptions.

In a way, it can be said that all the above come as a result of the fact that retailers don’t quite realize the importance of anticipating their prospects’ needs. Or, in other words, they haven’t heard of expectation marketing and the SEO it requires.

By the way, have you encountered any particularly stingy SEO issue that really hurt your e-commerce sales? We (and our readers) would be grateful if you shared your experience in the comments section.

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When I don't edit articles and make them look good for ChiefContent, I do a lot of graphic design. Loving my Wacom tablet.

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