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Google's Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide and ProductCart

Google Search Engine Optmization Guide and ProductCart

About Google's SEO Starter Guide

First released to the public in November of 2008 and updated in 2010, Google's Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide is a must read for anyone that wants to rank well on Google. That means pretty much everyone we can think of :-)

The Guide goes through a series of topics, making recommendations on what Web site owners should do to make sure that their pages can be properly and effectively indexed. Below we are going to indicate, for each of the topics discussed in the Guide, how ProductCart can help you implement those suggestions. As a reference we are using the edition of the Guide that was updated by Google in 2010. You can get it here.

How ProductCart can help

Your customers first

Google stresses the fact that your store visitors come first. We all agree that happy users buy more and come back more often. The interesting thing is that - in terms of store design - decisions that you make with usability as your first priority often translate into optimal decisions under a search engine point of view as well. If you're ever in doubt of going one way or the other, do what's best for your customers. It will likely work well under an SEO point of view too!

For example, think of navigation. Well thought out, easy to access, extensive Web store navigation clearly is key for a pleasant user experience for your site visitors, and it is equally important for search engine optimization. Having an updated store map (Marketing > Generate Store Map) that is easy to reach from any page, for instance, is a great tool for your Web site visitors, and helps search engines index your store. The same goes for useful links in the footer of the store design, which has been a strong, recent trend in Web design. Here is an example:

Example of a good Web site footer

On the other side, whether your store pages are in the root directory or two levels down, really does not matter to your site visitors at all, and it does not matter to search engines either.

Let's focus on what matters most, and get started with the first section of the Guide, which talks about the TITLE meta tag.

Create unique and accurate page titles

ProductCart tools to implement this recommendation: Meta Tags generating tools.

Specifically, in ProductCart v4 and above you can specify a Title Meta Tag for:

  • Products (by editing or importing products)
  • Categories (by editing or importing categories)
  • Content Pages (by editing content pages)

If you don't specify a Title Meta Tag, ProductCart tries to create it automatically. Learn more.

Make sure to read the Good Practices section for tips on creating good titles for your products, categories, and content pages. The TITLE is typically one sentence. It does not have to be the same as the title shown onto the page itself. For example, the TITLE can contain a product name and a bit about what it does, whereas the title shown in the body of the product page is just the name of the product.

NOTE: there are pages for which ProductCart does not create a unique TITLE, but rather use your store's default title. For example: the pages shown in the checkout process. This does not matter: they are not pages that are typically indexed by a search engine as they require the customer to log in or create an account.

Make use of the description meta tag

ProductCart tools to implement this recommendation: Meta Tags generating tools.

  • As far as what to do in ProductCart: same as above. Learn more.
  • As for how to write a good Description Meta Tag: see the Best Practices section of the Google SEO Guide (page 7).

You can import META tags for both products and categories. You don't have to manually enter them in the ProductCart Control Panel, although you can certainly do so.

Improve the structure of your URLs

ProductCart tools to implement this recommendation: Keyword-rich, static URLs.

This feature is built into ProductCart v4 and above. Read that section of the WIKI carefully to learn more.

One of the implementation guidelines is “Provide one version of a URL to reach a document”. To do this, ProductCart automatically creates a Canonical URL.

Is Google fine with re-writing dynamic URLs? Yes, and it makes sense they are. Re-writing URLs - when done correctly - does not do any harm and helps users (not just rankings), who see better-looking page names in their browser address field. Google specifically says in the Guide: “Google is fine with this. We'd like to note that this is an advanced procedure and if done incorrectly, could cause crawling issues with your site.” You can rest assured that this is done correctly in ProductCart, returning 404 errors when a page does not exist, and a “success”, 200 code, when a product, category, or content page matches the URL information.

Make your site easier to navigate

ProductCart tools to implement this recommendation:

One of the recommendations is “Use breadcrumb navigation”: ProductCart automatically generates breadcrumb navigation for both products and categories. Another recommendation is to “Prepare two sitemaps: one for users, one for search engines”: that's what a Store Map and an XML Sitemap are for, respectively.

Offer quality content and services

ProductCart tools to implement this recommendation: Content Pages + Good product and category descriptions.

Writing good, engaging content for your store really is important.

  • It will make customers come back regularly for more (e.g. more “tips & tricks” on a certain topic)
  • It will makes the point that you are an expert in the field, increasing the overall confidence level, which may lead to a better conversion rate
  • It will increase the overall search engine friendliness of your Web site as the text that exist on your pages is clearly the most search engine friendly content you can provide to a search engine spider.

ProductCart v4 contains much improve Content Management tools that help you create a hierarchy of content pages and do things like creating drafts that you can later edit and publish. You can also have different level of permissions, with some users able to write, but not publish a page, for example.

Write better anchor text

ProductCart tools to implement this recommendation: built-in.

Specifically:

  • ProductCart automatically links to other products using the same Custom Search Fields, from the product details page
  • ProductCart automatically links to other products belonging to the same brand, from the product details page
  • Category names in a breadcrumb are links to those categories
  • … and more.

Read and use Google's recommendations on anchor text to write your own, correct links in your content pages and product/category descriptions.

See the comment at the beginning of this article about creating a good footer for your Web site: place several, useful, well-written links to key pages (if those pages don't exist, create them using Content Pages). For example, if your Web store sells baking tools, your footer could contain a link with anchor text ”Create the best apple pie” that links to a Content Page that talks about how to bake the best apple pie, and then links to products and categories in the store catalog that could be purchased for that purpose. Repeat this strategy

Technical Note: Google does not seem to say anything about using or not using the “Title” tag within the <a> tag. Therefore, it's probably something you don't need to spend time on.

Optimize your use of images

ProductCart tools to implement this recommendation: built-in.

Specifically:

  • ProductCart automatically adds an ALT tag to images used in the storefront. Sometimes the text used for the ALT tag is automatically extracted from the page (e.g. product name for the ALT text on the product image), and in other cases it is controlled via the language file.
  • ProductCart automatically saves all images in the “catalog” folder (Google says “consider consolidating your images into a single directory”)

Use heading tags appropriately

ProductCart tools to implement this recommendation: built-in.

ProductCart uses the H1 heading tag for the page title in the body of the page (different from the TITLE meta tag). It also uses sub-headings in some cases. You can control the look of these headings using Cascading Style Sheets.

For example, the H1 tag is automatically used for things like:

  • The product name on the product details page
  • The category name on the category details page
  • The page title on a content page

Make effective use of robots.txt

This is outside of ProductCart. See Google's recommendations.

In ProductCart this syntax is used in some cases to avoid the risk of duplicate content (same page with different names). As for using “nofollow” in your own links, see Google's recommendations.

Notify Google of mobile sites

We just recently released the Mobile Commerce Add-on for ProductCart: we are reviewing Google's recommendations to make sure that you have all the tools you need so that your mobile storefront is correctly handled by Google.

Guide mobile users accurately

When you add the Mobile Commerce Add-on to your ProductCart-powered storefront, mobile devices are automatically redirected to the mobile storefront. Mobile devices that use a larger screen, however, can click on a link to be taken back to the full Web site, if they wish to (e.g. Apple iPad).

Promote your website in the right ways

This is outside of ProductCart. See Google's recommendations.

Make use of free webmaster tools

This is outside of ProductCart. See Google's recommendations.

One of the things you can do here is point your Google Base account to the Google Base export file that you can create in ProductCart, so you don't have to upload it manually.

You can also take advantage of the integration with Google Analytics

SEO and the ProductCart directory structure

Should all ProductCart-driven pages should be in the root of Web site? In our experience (and in the feedback we have received from many ProductCart users) the default directory structure used by ProductCart does not negatively affect your search engine optimization efforts. If anything, it can do the opposite.

Specifically, one of Google's recommendations is to ”Create a simple directory structure: Use a directory structure that organizes your content well and is easy for visitors to know where they're at on your site. Try using your directory structure to indicate the type of content found at that URL.”

To implement this recommendation, rename the "productcart" folder with a name that makes sense to your store visitors. For example, assume “mystore.com” sells skiing equipment. The “productcart” folder could be renamed “ski-store”, which makes sense and is also search engine friendly.

Since many times the store URL does not say anything about what's sold there, renaming the productcart folder with your number 1 keyword (or short keyword phrase) will very likely increase the relevance of your store pages in searches that use that keyword or keyword phrase.


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