Online marketers near and far resolved in January to get to the top of search results this year. If you're still stumped, here are a five simple yet effective tactics to employ during the rest of 2013.
1. Eliminate category, subcategory, and product pages that don't have descriptions
The launch of Google Panda in February of 2011 changed the game for e-commerce SEO. Throughout the rest of the year and into 2012, Google Panda significantly hurt websites (including the e-commerce sites) that had "thin" content. By now, we should all know that content isn't only for fueling rankings but also for encouraging the coveted macro conversion that we all salivate over: "buy now."
A lack of category and subcategory descriptions might work for brands like Ralph Lauren and retailers like Macy's and Overstock, but the typical e-commerce site doesn't have a domain authority of 90 like those e-tailers. When developing your SEO strategy, don't just rely on competition and "best-practice"; rather, focus on what your users want.
Impact on visibility: Having category, subcategory, and product pages that lack descriptions leaves you susceptible to future Panda updates, and it's a missed opportunity to explain that mysterious "product grid" (display of available products in a grid format) and to warm up visitors with compelling sales copy.
2. Dance with the devil and accept paid product listings
Well, Google may not be the devil, but it sure as hell seems like it. Even Bing says so. A lot of us were taken aback when Google commercialized product listings, but it is what it is. We had quite a few clients that were using it for years and now it's a commercialized product that favors mega sites with money to burn (pardon the pun).
The fact of the matter is, if you are have a large paid media budget, then this is a power play. With these changes, a hefty chunk of advertisers will go away, giving you more opportunity to increase visibility and, in turn, sales.
Impact on visibility: Participating in paid Google product listings makes you a sell-out. But not listing your products limits your visibility and forces you to be over-reliant on secondary traffic mediums.
3. Stop putting products in multiple categories
Time and time again, search engine marketers act in a reactionary manner when optimizing e-commerce websites. It's not because clients don't know what they're doing—it's because they know what they're doing. Sometimes, a product belongs in more than one category—simple as that. BUT, if sites are built from the ground up with these considerations in mind, then the information architecture or category nomenclature would make it nearly impossible.
Impact on visibility: Listing products in multiple categories leads to duplicate content. Duplicate content leads you straight to Google Hell. If you have an authoritative site and aren't willing to take the risk of restructuring your information architecture, consider using the rel=canonical (AKA Google's gift to man) to differentiate product pages.
4. Eliminate "Google Junk" once and for all
I once had a client tell me that I was wrong for scolding them for having "too many" pages indexed in Google. After launching GoToMeeting and showing a bit of data from Google's historical index tool, illustrating a 0.8% crawl-to-indexation ratio, the client quickly recanted.
The common misconception is that the more pages you have indexed, the more likely you are to have your pages rank. That's just not true; rather, that only makes it harder for Google to crawl and index pages on your site. Some of the biggest propagators of "SERP junk" are internal search results, duplicate product listings, and query parameters/category attributes.
Use the robots.txt file to weed out internal search results, and use the rel=canonical tag to eliminate duplicate product listings and filterable attribute "junk."
Impact on visibility: Having dynamic or duplicate pages indexed in search engines makes it harder for them to distinguish what's real and what isn't. Let's be honest, search engine spiders are machines—sometimes they lack common sense. Let's make it easy for them by telling them what they can and cannot index.
5. Embrace Schema.org and microformats—they work!
Some say that to keep the audience attentive, writers should save the best for last. We sure did. Last June, the big three search engines announced universal support for Microformats documented on schema.org.
Not sure what Microformats are? Do a search for "chocolate chip cookie recipe," "Leo Tolstoy books," or "Italian restaurant reviews." Notice those stars, ratings, author names, and votes? Behold the power of semantic search.
Marking up your product, contact, location, review, or service pages with Microformats will increase the probability that search engines will display your result with rich snippets. Rich snippets (i.e. those stars and ratings data) have been shown to give an unprecedented 30% increase in click-through rate.
Impact on visibility: As of now, the only thing that we've noticed Microformats have proven to be good for is an increase in CTR. That's not to say, however, that they aren't used as a ranking signal. We position it as a competitive advantage to our clients and have seen some big wins as a result.