Online traffic and sales not where you hoped? It’s time to learn the art of the ecommerce SEO audit. Here’s your guide.
Here, you’ll find:
- What an ecommerce search engine optimization (SEO) audit is
- The benefits of ecommerce SEO audits
- What’s included in an ecommerce SEO audit
- How to audit your ecommerce website’s SEO
Fact: 43% of consumers search online when looking for products and brands. So having a position on the first page of search results = higher odds your product will be seen and purchased.
Easier said than done — we know.
That’s why your ecommerce website’s SEO should be a top priority. If you launched your online store and ignored updating and improving your online presence for maximum sales and a top-notch user experience, then you’re leaving money on the virtual table.
The good news: it’s not too late to improve your efforts — and an SEO audit is a great place to start. Here’s an overview of how to perform a proper ecommerce SEO audit — and why it’s worth your time.
What is an ecommerce SEO audit?
An ecommerce SEO audit is an in-depth analysis of your web page content, images, metadata, and other elements to improve your ecommerce company’s SEO efforts.
Similar to a traditional SEO audit, the purpose of this audit is to determine why your site isn’t ranking, driving traffic, or converting as well as it could be, and to provide an actionable path forward.
Tools and resources exist to make this process easier (including working with a digital marketing agency like HawkSEM), which we’ll cover below. These tools can come in handy particularly if your ecommerce website has hundreds or even thousands of product pages.
“The audit process is similar to traditional SEO — it uses the same tools, procedure, and analyzes the same SEO elements,” explains Veronica Baas, a lead strategist at HawkSEM. “But what you focus on is the differentiator.”
She adds that, with ecommerce sites, the main content focus is often category content pages first, followed by product pages and blog posts.
Other elements that are critical to ecommerce SEO audits include:
- URL structure
- User experience, including website load time (which also impacts PPC)
- Security (adding an SSL certificate) to protect customer’s personal and financial data
These all directly correlate to the company’s revenue stream.
Why is an ecommerce SEO audit important?
Conducting an ecommerce SEO audit identifies optimization issues that can hinder your site’s position in Google search results. Even if your site is performing well now, it’s still ideal to run an SEO audit regularly to keep it that way.
Search engine algorithms are always changing, so staying on top of your site’s SEO health is key. Otherwise, you risk losing your position to a competitor.
By keeping the ball in your court, you can:
- Boost organic website traffic
- Increase conversions and revenue
- Identify technical issues before they hurt your rankings
- Analyze your keyword strategy
- Enhance the user experience so they enjoy their shopping experience
- Examine competitor performance to find areas to improve
- Improve your brand visibility and reputation
But it’s not always easy, especially if you’re doing this for the first time or for a large site.
“One of the biggest challenges with ecommerce SEO audits is crawling the site,” says Baas. “I’ve run into blocked crawlers on the client’s side that we needed to get permission for and had our crawler’s IP addresses whitelisted by the client-server.”
The good news: You can sidestep many of these and other SEO issues when you work with an ecommerce SEO agency to manage the audit process.
How to perform an ecommerce SEO audit
Auditing an ecommerce site’s search engine optimization involves multiple steps. Skipping a step or focusing on the wrong action items could leave your site’s SEO ranking worse than before.
“For instance, not knowing which items to prioritize in an audit that’s impacting website performance vs. what’s more of a ‘nice to have’ in Google’s eyes,” says Baas.
Some business owners hear or read false information about Google’s ranking factors. Then they use this “intel” to direct their SEO audit.
An example: Fixing your missing meta descriptions when Google replaces 80% of them anyway (using whatever content on the page it deems worthy), when you should be focusing on page speed impacts and mobile friendliness.
But you won’t know what to zone in on without a proper look.
There are two key areas you check when performing an ecommerce SEO audit: technical SEO and on-page SEO.
Technical SEO audit
Technical SEO is the foundation of ecommerce SEO audits. It ensures that Google can crawl the site and understand your content so it can be indexed properly.
To start, review your website structure and navigation. Is everything organized logically? Does it make sense for visitors to find what they’re looking for quickly? If not, you may need to rewrite or restructure the navigation and URLs.
Other elements of your site to check out include:
- Indexing and crawlability to ensure Google can find all your pages
- Schema markup (and other structured data) to add context about each page and help search engine bots understand your site
- Page titles and title tags (metadata) to ensure they exist and are optimized
- Broken and missing links can disrupt the visitor’s experience and search engine crawlability, so find and update them
- Canonical and Hreflang tags to avoid duplicate content issues (e.g., having a mobile-friendly and printer-friendly version of page)
On-page SEO audit
On-page SEO is the process of optimizing individual web pages to improve their ranking in search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
When done right, on-page SEO can help your website rank higher for relevant searches and increase traffic from organic search.
Start by improving the following elements:
- Keyword usage to ensure product pages appear for relevant search terms
- User experience (UX) to ensure your site is easy to navigate, loads quickly, has a mobile-friendly design
- Image optimization, such as using descriptive file names, optimized alt tags, and compression to reduce size (too many large files slows down your website)
- Internal linking to help visitors and search engine crawlers find relevant content and pages
- Content quality to ensure quality and value for visitors (search engines demand this)
- Heading tags (H1, H2, H3) to make your content easier for readers to skim and crawlers to analyze
Let’s highlight some of the important factors in your audit.
1. Crawlability and indexing
By performing these checks, you can ensure search engines can crawl your site so it can properly index it in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Things you want to analyze include:
- Crawl errors like 404 errors, 302 redirects, and missing page titles and descriptions
- Pages that don’t appear in search results
- XML sitemap to help search engine bots browse through all of your pages faster/easier
- Robots.txt file to block/allow certain pages and folders to be crawled by search engines (e.g., you may want to block duplicate product pages or categories)
- Broken links to ensure pages are linking to correct content and to improve user experience (check internal and external links to other sites)
Have categories with hundreds of product pages? Then it’s ideal to split them up into smaller chunks. This will prevent shoppers and crawlers from scrolling through long winding pages or too many pages (and leaving before they can find what they’re looking for).
For example, you can have a category with 1,000 products split into 10 pages with 100 products per page. Not only will this make your site easier to navigate, but it’ll also improve your site’s speed.
BuyBuy Baby chops its pages into 48 products per page. Users can reduce it to 24 to make the pages load faster and to have fewer products to browse at once (some have slower internet):
Also, check for pagination blunders like 404 errors and 301 redirects. And avoid having “noindex” tags or canonical tags that point to your main category page. This will cause search engines to crawl the pages without indexing them.
3. Page speed and performance
Search engines want to ensure searchers have a pleasant experience. If your website takes too long to load, search engines will send visitors to competitors with faster web pages.
In other words, your product pages will sink into the abyss, while your competitors’s sites rise to the top.
To improve your website’s speed and performance, you can:
- Compress images and videos to reduce their file size
- Reduce the number of redirects (301, 302, etc.)
- Enable browser caching to store frequently used files in visitors’ browsers rather than loading them from your server each time they visit
4. Keyword targeting and cannibalization
Using the right target keywords will attract the right people to your website: prospective buyers. But don’t just focus on selecting keywords your audience use. If you have two or more pages targeting similar keywords, then they’ll compete with one another for the number one spot.
This is what we call keyword cannibalization.
To avoid this, you can:
- Conduct thorough research to ensure your keywords aren’t pulling up the same search results (a sign they’re too alike)
- Build an SEO strategy to ensure all of your pages are well-researched before creation (vs. creating as you go with no direction and research)
- Monitor your search engine rankings to ensure your pages aren’t fighting each other for the number one spot (sometimes keyword intent changes)
5. Site search
Adding a site search function to your website improves the customer’s experience. But it can also hurt your search engine optimization.
This happens when the search generates unique URLs with the shopper’s keyword (e.g., www.yourstore.com/search/keyword).
Amazon’s site search does this — here’s an example of a search page appearing on the SERP for the “house fan” term:
Then here’s where the link leads (notice the URL):
It has a unique URL with the keyword in it.
When these unique URLs are indexed in the search engines, it cuts into your crawl budget (the amount of crawl budget is divided up among the number of pages indexed in Google).
When you have too many irrelevant URLs for Google to crawl, it could stop its bots from going deeper into your site to find the content you want them to index.
To avoid this, you can:
- Enable a site search function on your website that doesn’t create unique URLs
- Set robots.txt to block bots from crawling your site search pages
- Implement “noindex” tags on your site search pages
- Use a separate subdomain or subdirectory for site search, then instruct search engines to only crawl your main domain
Backlinks are a part of off-page SEO. When you have a lot of high-quality sites linking back to your product pages and home page, it tells search engines your content is relevant and high-value (a ranking boost!).
Unfortunately, the opposite can happen when you have too many spammy sites linking back to your website. Sounds like a tough problem to overcome, since you can’t control who links back to you.
Luckily, there’s a way to overcome poor quality links pointing to your web pages by disavowing those links.
But it’s not just external sites linking to you that matter. Including internal links to other relevant pages and products gives them SEO some helpful credibility juice. It’s ideal for every product page to have links pointing to and from it, to create a healthy backlink system.
To encourage external sites to link to your site, you can offer to guest post for their blog that includes your product links, or ask them to write reviews of your products.
For example, if you sell beauty products, you can partner with a beauty blogger or beauty influencer on social media to try and review a line of your products.
While you’re looking at your backlinks, make sure internal and external links point to working URLs. If not, set up 301 redirects to prevent negative pings from search engines. Or update the link if it’s an external link that no longer works.
7. Duplicate product pages
It happens to most ecommerce sites with lots of products, especially if you sell items that have a lot of variations (e.g., different colors or sizes).
Rather than writing a unique product description for every variation, you may copy and paste the details onto each product page.
There are three ways around this:
- Create a main product page that has an options menu to choose which variation you want
- Create unique content for each product page variation
- Use canonical and “noindex” tags to tell search engines to disregard duplicate pages
Aside from product pages, you may find duplicate content issues in other areas like customer reviews, FAQs, and shopping guides.
8. Meta tags
Meta titles and descriptions appear in search results and tell people what your page is about.
Years of experience tells us the most effective meta titles are enticing without being clickbait.
The meta description should be short and descriptive so people know what to expect when they click on your link. It’s also ideal to include relevant keywords.
Here’s an example of an ideal meta title and description:
The title is straightforward (girls baby blankets) and the description explains what the product is (the quantity, the print style, fabric, and price).
Although Google sometimes selects content to place in the meta description, it’s still good practice to write one that’s informative, as Google may use yours instead of pulling random content from the page, like in this example:
Your meta title should be no longer than 55 characters, and your meta description should be 160 characters or less. Any text outside of that range won’t appear, like in this truncated example:
Pro tip: Don’t forget about including ALT text for your images. This makes your site more accessible and helps your product photos appear in image searches, so optimize them with your target keywords.
Recommended tools for ecommerce website audits
Having the right tools makes auditing ecommerce websites easier and faster.
Baas also recommends breaking up enterprise-level ecommerce sites into sub-sections prioritized based on your ecommerce business goals. This will prevent developers from being over-burdened with implementing fixes.
It’s ideal to justify your fix requests to stakeholders using case studies or industry journals that support the shift. Major audits require a heavier lift for some teams, pulling them away from other activities and campaigns.
“You have to use resources wisely, so I’d lean on Google Search Console and Google Analytics data in those cases,” advises Baas.
Here are the tools she recommends using:
- Screaming Frog: Perfect for auditing the SEO for larger ecommerce websites
- Lumar: Ideal if you have over 1 million rows in your experts and can’t use Excel to manipulate the data (cloud crawler, so it’s faster and costlier)
- Oncrawl: An alternative to Lumar you can use for big ecommerce site audits (also a cloud crawler)
- PageSpeed Insights: Determines your web page speed to ensure it’s fast enough, plus offers reports identifying why your site is running slower
- Keyword research tools: Platforms like Ahrefs, Semrush, and Surfer SEO, are useful for finding and analyzing keywords and on-page optimization suggestions
- Google Search Console (GSC): Monitor your organic traffic rate, click-through rate (CTR), bounce rate, conversion rate, traffic sources, and keyword ranking
Pro tip: During the audit indexing report, use the following in GSC: Core Web Vitals report, mobile usability report, and sitemaps report. Also, check for Schema errors, the notifications bell, and manual actions.
Ecommerce SEO audit checklist
Technical SEO audit
Review website structure and navigation
Check indexing and crawlability to ensure Google can find all your pages
Include Schema markup (and other structured data) on pages to add context about each page for search engine bots
Ensure page titles and title tags (metadata) and present and optimized
Find and update any broken and missing links
Check for canonical and Hreflang tags to avoid duplicate content issues
On-page SEO audit
Review keyword usage to ensure product pages appear for relevant search terms
Analyze UX to ensure your site is easy to navigate, loads quickly, has a mobile-friendly design
Ensure all images are optimized
Check that you’re leveraging internal linking opportunities
Review content quality to ensure quality and value for visitors
Make sure you’re using heading tags (H1, H2, H3)
You spent a lot of time and resources building your ecommerce business and site. Now, it’s time to ensure you receive consistent traffic from the right audience.
To do so, you need to run regular SEO audits to determine what needs improvement (even if you’re already happy with your site performance).
Keeping an eye on your site’s SEO health ensures it continues to perform well. With these proven SEO insights, you can build a plan and execute it using the best tools and resources for the job.
Don’t have the time to manage an ecommerce SEO audit internally? We can help.