SEO friendliness – An overview

Developing or owning an eCommerce site involves more than just producing a final product. Equally essential are SEO for eCommerce site development and other online marketing strategies, such as social media promotions. Often, individuals aiming to establish an eCommerce site overlook the importance of incorporating SEO readiness into their initial plans. However, it’s crucial to understand that preparing for SEO is as vital as developing the eCommerce site’s functionalities.

Unlike content-driven sites, eCommerce platforms often face unique challenges due to their database-driven nature and frequent product changes. These factors might negatively affect their search result rankings. However, the promising news is that optimizing an eCommerce site can be as straightforward as adding related keywords to a content site. By addressing the key issues that often keep dynamic sites from achieving favorable search results, we can elevate your eCommerce site to better positions on search result pages.

Creating static pages:

One approach involves constructing a front-end site that is distinct from the shopping cart. This method allows for the creation of numerous pages, which, assuming they’re well-structured and optimized, can be easily indexed by search engines. However, this strategy has a significant drawback. The size of your website will be indefinitely confined to that of the front-end site, making the management of such sites a challenge, especially when dealing with a large assortment of products.

Off-the-self Shopping carts:

The mentioned limitation introduces us to a second option: opting for a search engine friendly shopping cart system. Identifying such a system is easier said than done, given the variety of factors to consider. These include the indexability of the pages, the customization potential of individual pages, and the ease of product addition and page modification down the line.

The realm of eCommerce is set to witness exponential growth in the coming years, with online sales already heading towards billions. Numerous businesses are capitalizing on this evolving sales channel, with several retailers establishing significant online sales platforms. These have seen substantial success, particularly within the technology and business-to-business sectors.

A standard eCommerce homepage typically features the company logo and specific information at the top, sidebar navigation on the left, more prominent navigation in the center, and highlighted products and sales on the right. To achieve optimal online business targets and ROI, it’s crucial to develop search engine friendly eCommerce sites.

The header, generally an included file on each page, contains the company logo and top bar navigation. The logo should serve as a link to the homepage, include an alt tag, and possibly have a title attribute in the link tag. The remaining top navigation can consist of neatly formatted text links. There is no significant benefit in using graphic buttons for top navigation links, as many eCommerce sites currently do. Instead, employ simple text links and style them with cascading style sheets for a cleaner look. A useful tip is to dynamically alter the alt text tag for the company logo on each page to mirror the text on the title of the page. This tactic ensures that when conducting a site: www.yourdomain.com search on Google, all pages of the site will display without the frustrating message of omitted results due to perceived duplication. For usability and credibility, prominently display the store’s phone number on each page. Many sites conveniently include this information in the header file.

How to develop an ECommerce catalog considering search engine optimization?

To Do 1: Dynamic Title & Meta Tags:

If you’re on a category page, the page title should include the category name, and likewise, if you’re on a subcategory page, the title should reflect the subcategory name. Let’s consider a website that sells compact discs as an example. If you’re on the audio compact disc page within the compact disc section, it would be beneficial to target the keyword phrase “audio compact disc” for that page’s title. This information can be incorporated into the Meta tags as well.

The Meta description syntax could be structured as “Discover [sub-category name] at [product store name].” For the Meta keywords, the following syntax can be used for category and sub-category pages; “[category name in plural and singular forms, common category name misspellings, sub-category name in plural and singular forms, common sub-category name misspellings].

A control panel application on the backend can be instrumental in generating dynamic titles and tags for product category pages. This application could be designed with options for creating new product pages, adding a title, and incorporating Meta tag and alt tag features. This allows each product page to possess a unique title, Meta tag, and alt tag relevant to the product. Implementing this approach enables major search engines to index your page based on category titles and tags.

To do 2: Logo and Image alt tags:

The Search Engine (SE) friendly logo can be either text-based or graphic. In most cases, the logo will be a graphic. When it is, dynamically insert the alternative text to read “[category name from store name]” using alt tags. The reason behind this is that when checking if the pages are indexed in search engines, they usually pull the topmost content. If the topmost content is the logo and if the logo has the same alternative text on every page, the results will typically be filtered.

Every category and subcategory product page features product images, and these images should have alt tags related to product names. A backend control panel can be established to manage these logos and images. The control panel application can be designed with the functionality to create new product page images with alt tags that correspond to product names. Consequently, each product page image possesses a unique name based on the product. By employing this strategy, your product image alt tag page can be indexed by major search engines according to category and subcategory.

To do 3: Header tags and dynamic breadcrumb trail:

The repetition of the category or subcategory name in the header tags (<h1> and <h2>) towards the top of the page is highly recommended. Each category and subcategory product page carries its distinct product name, which should be incorporated into the h1 and h2 tags. The creation of a backend control panel can facilitate the management of these h1 and h2 tags for product pages. The control panel application can be designed to create new product page h1 and h2 tags corresponding to the product name, ensuring each product page’s h1 and h2 tags are unique and relevant to the product. By following this method, your product names alongside h1 and h2 tags can be indexed by major search engines based on category and subcategory.

Moreover, at the top of the page, it can be beneficial to include a “breadcrumb trail”. A breadcrumb trail is a concise, text-based guide that displays the click path taken to arrive at the current page. For instance, if you navigate from the homepage to the compact disc page and then to the audio compact disc page, the breadcrumb would read “home -> compact disc -> audio compact disc“. Each segment of the breadcrumb should be a text link to the corresponding page. The “compact disc” part of the breadcrumb trail, for example, would link back to that specific page. Not only does this improve user experience, but it’s also favored by search engines as it integrates keywords with links as internal links.

A dynamic breadcrumb code written in PHP could look as follows:

Breadcrumb Code:

/* ---------------------------------------------- */
/* ------------ BEGIN PHP SNIPPET ----------------*/
/* ---------------------------------------------- */

// $this_cat_id: the current category id number
// $flarn: just a counter, call it as 0 in your
// function call and forget about it
// $keep_cat_id: the cat id number again - so that
// it can decide whether to make a
// category a link at the top while you're in the
// "product" page

function get_crumbs($this_cat_id, $flarn, $keep_cat_id) {

$link_to_page=$_SERVER['PHP_SELF'];


if (!isset($this_cat_id)) {
// if we are already "home", dont make home a link
$this_cat_id ="0";
echo "Home >> ";
}


// get the info and parent id for whatever category
// we're currently in
$sql = "SELECT id, parent_id, name from categories ";
$sql .="where id = $this_cat_id";
$show_crumb_<font class="highlight"><font class="highlight">trail</font></font> = mysql_query($sql);
$num_crumbs = mysql_num_rows($show_crumb_<font class="highlight"><font class="highlight">trail</font></font>);
// if we actually have some results....
if ($num_crumbs > 0) {
list($cat_id, $cat_parent, $cat_name) =
mysql_fetch_row($show_crumb_<font class="highlight"><font class="highlight">trail</font></font>);
$cat_id_array[$flarn] = $cat_id;
$cat_parent_id_array[$flarn] = $cat_parent;
$cat_name_array[$flarn] = $cat_name;
if ($cat_id_array[$flarn] > 0) {
mysql_free_result($show_crumb_<font class="highlight"><font class="highlight">trail</font></font>);
// increment $next by one
$next = $flarn+1;
if ($flarn == 0 ) {
echo "<a href="/">Home</a> >> ";
}
// now lets call the function again to loop through
// the other categories
// until we're left with none
get_crumbs($cat_parent_id_array[$flarn], $next, $keep_cat_id);
// Since $keep_cat_id is the id number of original
// category we're in,
// now we check to see whether or not we have to
// make the real category
// name a link or not
// (If we're looking at the main category display,
// we wouldn't have to,
// since we're already *in* the category. This is
// more useful for when you have a product
// display page, that way the link back to the
// category that item or product lives in
// will be created

if ($keep_cat_id==$cat_id_array[$flarn]) {
echo $cat_name_array[$flarn];
} else {
echo "<a href="/">";
echo "$cat_name_array[$flarn]</a> >> ";

}
}
}
}

You would call the function using something like this:
get_crumbs($_REQUEST[‘cat_id’], “0”, $_REQUEST[‘cat_id’];
For more detail click the below link

To do 4: Top, Side, and Footer Navigations:

Throughout your site, users should easily find consistent site navigation, always located in the same spot on all pages. Uniform navigation not only improves the user experience but also increases the likelihood of purchases, as satisfied visitors are often more inclined to buy. Many eCommerce stores strategically remove side navigation from checkout pages to keep customers focused on the buying process. This sidebar navigation should be HTML-based, serving as a mini site map on every page, which is both user and search-engine friendly.

Footer text links provide an opportunity to incorporate optimized text throughout your site, aiding search engines in better understanding the context of different pages. This optimized text can include your product category and subcategory names.

To do 5: Left Side Navigation:

The left-hand side navigation uniquely addresses two prevalent eCommerce challenges.

Firstly, it enhances usability. A well-structured left-hand side navigation bar lends clarity to your website. As long as the navigation remains consistent across all pages, visitors will have no trouble navigating your site.

Secondly, it improves search engine visibility. When a mini site map is present on the left side of each page, it becomes effortless for search engines to crawl and subsequently index your web pages.

Search engine crawlers require a mechanism to discover your pages. Numerous sites today make it challenging for crawlers to find these pages. If your left-hand side navigation is designed in Flash, most search engines will struggle to find the links to Flash files, rendering the pages behind the Flash files unreachable. A text-based sidebar is a solution that not only aids crawlers in navigating your site but also streamlines the shopping process for your customers.

To do 6: Homepage Content Area

Having content on the homepage will have an impact on your search engine rankings on the eCommerce sites. It is the content that the search engines look for while determining a page. The content should read well and contain your targeted keywords. Google will normally use the content on the page for your description in the results page when your homepage is being ranked for a specific keyword. Try to have an easy to read and catchy content.
A “footer” remains an important final touch to the site. At the bottom of the homepage and on every page throughout the site is the site’s footer.

Remember search engines have to click on links in order to find your pages. The right-hand side products and specials are there to increase those products’ visibility for search engines and your customer.

To do 7: Dynamic URLs in Search Engine Address Bar

Dynamic server-side Web technologies such as Hypertext PreProcessor (.php), Java Server Pages (.jsp), Active Server Pages (.asp), ColdFusion (.cfm), and Perl are used to develop websites with a large number of pages. These technologies provide programmers with the tools to build sites so that adding products or pages does not require extensive HTML work. In reality, all high-volume sites must use one of these technologies in order to maximize efficiency and stay profitable.

However, the issues that are to be addressed in regard to the way search engines crawl a dynamically driven Web site. These issues do not have to do with the pages that are generated, but with the URLs these technologies generate.

In order to have a better understanding of what a search engine looks for, let us take a sample URL and discover it.

A simple standard URL would look something like:

http://www.yourdomain.com/yourproduct.html

A complex URL would look something like: http://www.Yourdomain.com/catalog.php?formid=4&id=8&bookrate=&bookno=§ion=book

The first thing you notice is the .php extension, and you might think that the .php extension is causing the issue. That is not the case. Next, you will notice the question marks, equal signs, and ampersands within the URL. These question marks, equal signs, and ampersands are what are commonly referred to as “stop characters” in search engine optimization terminology. They are named stop characters because they signal search engines to stop crawling past a certain point, limiting the number of pages crawled on your site.

The search engine would like to index pages that are unique. Search engines decide to combat this issue by “pruning off” the URLs after a specific number of variable strings (i.e. ?. =. &).

For example, the URL http://www.yourdomain.com/client_portfolio_list.php?company=10
Might be pruned down to http://www.yourdomain.com/client_portfolio_list.php by the search engine in order to limit the number of repeated content.

For this case, there are numerous methods of finding the same product and with an unlimited number of pages, how do we get the search engine to find each product and each method of finding that product? Search engines want to keep the number of pages that a site contains to a minimum in order to (1) eliminate duplicate search results with the same content and (2) make the crawling of the pages efficient.

The solution for PHP is the program called Mod_Rewrite on the URLs to remove the stop characters from the URLs.

A URL that once looked like

http://www.Yourdomain.com/catalog.php?formid=4&id=8&bookrate=&bookno=§ion=book
to something like
http://www.Yourdomain.com/catalog_section_book_id_6.html
All stop characters could be replaced with underscores and more friendly URL characters and names.

For more information on Mod_Rewrite please visit the Apache module mod_rewrite page at: http://httpd.apache.org/docs/mod/mod_rewrite.html

The solution for ASP.NET support for URL Rewriting
Void HttpContext.RewritePath(string path)
Which should be called during the Application_BeginRequest() event in the Global.asax file. This is fine as long as the number of URLs to rewrite is a small, finite, manageable number. However most ASP sites are in some way dynamic, passing parameters in the Query String, so it requires a much more configurable approach.
The storage location for all ASP.NET Configuration information is the web.config file, so we’d really like to specify the rewrites in there. Additionally, .Net has a fast regular expression processor, giving free and fast search and replacement of URLs.

The solution for ASP support for URL Rewriting
( i) The ISAPI filter rewrites/replaces defined parts of the URL from the browser. It enables URL to scripts (.asp, .cgi, .idc) with parameters that look like static html pages or specifies the exact download filename generated by the script. You can also create a simple proxy server with IIS and any scripting engine (.asp,. aspx, …) using URL replacer.
For more information on ASP URL Rewriting please visit
http://www.motobit.com/help/url-replacer-rewriter/iis-mod-rewrite.asp
(ii) You built an eCommerce Web site that is entirely dynamic, but you don’t show up in the major search engines’ results,
Take a look at the following URL from a Web store:
http://www.yourwebstore.com/products.asp?pid=1000
The above URL is ignored by search engines if found in a referring page. However, the URL generated by PortalPageFilter isn’t:
http://www.yourwebstore.com/PPF/pid/1000/products.asp
All you have to do is call a function provided below to generate the URL on the referring page, but the calling page does not need to be modified. Refer to PortalPageFilter URL below
http://www.alfasierrapapa.com/Products/PortalPageFilter/

To do 8: The Category or Sub-Category Pages

Category and sub-category landing pages are not only a must-have for usability purposes but a necessity for search engine visibility. The category pages are a way to break down your product offerings into a logical and meaningful classifications. By classifying or grouping your products into categories, you will be able to help your user better locate the product they are looking for and help the searcher land directly on the page he or she is searching for.

For example, let’s take some Web site that sells compact discs. The company can break down its products into three main categories. The main categories can be Video compact discs, software compact discs, And Audio Compact Discs. Your goal, as an SEO, is to target the keyword phrases ” Video compact discs “, ” software compact discs and ” Audio Compact Discs ” respectively. Within these three main categories, you will most probably want to break down into several deeper subcategories. For example, Audio Compact Discs can contain the following subcategories; pop, rocks, classical, western, and so on. By now you can see why category and subcategory pages are a necessity for both the customers and search engines.

To do 9: Product display/Subcategory display:

In the middle portion of the page, you should list out the products within that category or subcategory. You can also have a breakdown of more filter options. So when you are on the category page, it is a good idea to have text links in that middle portion to the subcategory pages. It is also important to have products on those pages, for those consumers who are not sure what they want. The product information should contain simple text-based links to the product detail page. The link should contain the product name, a short product description underneath, and then an eye-catching “buy now” or “more info” button. The product image should be clear, attractive, and large enough to entice a user’s action. The product image should contain alternative text with the product name and link to the product detail page. Filters for the category or subcategory pages can work to your benefit. Filtering by brand, price, size, or any other product attribute will give you a better shot at ranking well for more keyword phrases.

To do 10: The Brand Landing Pages

The brand landing pages work much like the category landing pages. They provide an extra level of product navigation that is useful for your consumer and great for your keyword rankings. With a brand landing page, you can target keyword phrases that are searched for daily. For example, I am looking for compact disc products, and I might search on ” audio compact disc “. Your goal is to rank somewhere under the official audio compact disc. But you can target phrases even deeper than that, such as English audio songs, and Engish pop songs. The on-page construction works exactly the same way as the category or sub-category pages but you should substitute the proper keywords in the relevant places. I have provided a mock-up of a brand page that is targeting a specific subcategory of a brand below.

To do 11: The Product Page

Product pages are the easiest pages to rank well because they target the most specific keywords. It is thus important to properly name the product by keeping your Web visitors and search engines in mind. Your product pages are constructed similarly to the category or brand pages but they are focused around the keyword phrases that match that specific product. Let’s start from the top of the product page and discuss what elements are important to include.

Other techniques and solutions to convert eCommerce sites into search engine friendly

Why is a shopping cart not search-engine friendly?

It is extremely imperative that you set up your eCommerce site to use search engine-friendly URLs and if you can help it, meaningful identifiers. Most eCommerce sites are database driven and by default, most shopping carts are not search engine friendly. This presents a very large problem because search engines may have trouble navigating to your product pages. Letting a search engine index your home page is not enough because people often search for exact products. For instance, if you run a golf store you would find that while some people do search for “golf clubs” they usually search for a specific brand or model club.

What do Session Ids do?

This goes along with search engine-friendly URLs but it is so important it deserves its own section. Most shopping carts end up putting session IDs in the URL in order to track visitors, something that is required for shopping carts to function. You’d be much better off storing the information in cookies if you can so that if someone wants to link to one of your products they won’t end up linking to a URL with a session ID in it. However, that doesn’t address the issue of search engines because even if you use cookies by default in most cases you’ll still end up putting the ID in the URL for a search engine because search engines do not accept cookies.

There are three ways you can handle this situation. One way is to detect search engines by accessing the HTTP_USER_AGENT variable and turning to track off for them. This is technically cloaking, however, it is benign as you’re using it to show the search engines what your visitors can see. Of course, malicious cloaking is showing search engines something your visitors do not see.

The other way to handle this is to detect if cookies are turned on. You do this by writing a cookie and then immediately trying to read from it. If you cannot read from it then the client does not have cookies turned on and you can then turn tracking off. This has the benefit of working for all search engines, regardless if you know their user agent or not. However, this also means that if a real person doesn’t have cookies turned on they won’t be tracked either.

The third way to handle this is to simply turn to track off for everyone until someone logs in, tries to view their cart, and or adds a product to their cart. Since you will make it impossible for a search engine to do any one of those things this means that users will all have the functionality they need when they need it, and search engines will not be hindered.

Why Don’t Some Ecom Pages Need PageRank?

PageRank is passed from page to page via links and the more links on a page the less each link gets. So if you have 5 links on a page and 4 go to pages that you want to have PageRank and one goes to a page that you don’t want to have PageRank then you’re sending 20% of the possible PR from that page to a place that doesn’t need it. This is a problem.
For an eCommerce site, you have quite a few pages that don’t need PageRank. For instance, every single “My Account” “Your Cart” and or “Add to Cart” link is potentially draining PageRank from your product pages. This is bad. There is no reason that a search engine needs to see these pages. A search engine isn’t a shopper after all. The solution is to make sure the search engines do not see these pages. You can do this by using form or JavaScript-based navigation to access these pages (which a search engine cannot follow) but by far the easiest way to do this is to simply use robots.txt to deny them access. Doing this will stem any potential PR loss, which will, in turn, raise the PR of the rest of the pages on your site.

Dynamic tags for product pages by a control panel

In eCommerce sites, dynamic tags for product pages can be generated with the help of a control panel application at the backend. Control panel application can be built with the option to create new product pages and to add title, Meta tag, and alt tag features for created product pages so that each and every product pages have its individual title, Meta tag, and alt tag according to products. With this idea, your page can be indexed to major search engines according to tags and link names with product IDs. Moreover, title, Meta, and alt tags for product pages with IDs can be created dynamically with the help of a control panel.

Now Finalizing!

These issues are not unique to eCommerce sites. Once you address these issues you can work on SEO that is common for any type of site, such as increasing link popularity, using meaningful text links wherever possible for your internal navigation, adding keywords to your title and heading tags, and other things of that nature.

For more details click bellow link

I-Search Engine-Friendly URLs
http://www.sitepoint.com/article/search-engine-friendly-urls
II-Search Engine-Friendly catalog
http://www.nexternal.com/seocatalog
III-Search engine friendly eCommerce / shopping cart
http://www.zwebcommurce.com/index.html