Put a product on a webpage and people will come, right? While this thinking was predominant as ecommerce emerged, now in 2017, most companies know that it’s not that easy. While having a product and a dedicated webpage for it is the first step in attracting customers, companies also need to take search engine optimization (SEO) and conversion rate optimization (CRO) into consideration. It can be a little overwhelming. Across two posts today and tomorrow, we’ll dig into the SEO angle, and discuss CRO in a later post.
SEO should be your top priority–after all, if search engines are unable to find products, neither will customers. Let’s explore what makes a good product page from a SEO perspective, using the following Modcloth page as an example. Please note that owing to its market dominance, we’ll refer to Google as the default search engine.
At the heart of SEO, Google must be able to understand what a page is about. You can easily tell Google this through your HTML tags. Why HTML tags? Because unlike human beings, Google doesn’t see your web page as it appears; it reads the source code instead. Your page can be the prettiest thing in the world, but without the proper tags, Google simply sees it as a blob of text with some formatting code. If you’re not using tags, you’re missing your first big SEO opportunity.
The most important tags are <title> and <h1>, as Google looks to these two to understand what a page is about. Due to the importance of these tags, there should only be one of each on a page. <h2> and <h3> are used to reinforce the <title> and <h1> and are often used stylistically to make a page more readable. Note that the <title> tag will also be the title of the browser tab, so you want to make it human-readable.
When you look at the source code of our Modcloth example (to do this in Chrome, right-click on the page and select “View Source”), you’ll see that there is only one title tag: <title>Take Mentor Stage Sheath Dress | ModCloth</title>. It clearly tells Google that the page is about a sheath dress named “Take Mentor Stage,” which is supported by the <h1>. Make sure that your product pages, at the very least, have <title> and <h1> tags.
To dominate search results, your page needs to be keyword-optimized so that people can find the product either through exact or related searches. Google takes the similarity of keywords in the HTML tags that we spoke about into consideration when deciding what pages to surface for a specific search. I won’t go into keyword research methodology here, but whatever keywords you decide to target should found in the <title>, <h1>, product description, and alt text of the product image. Be as descriptive as possible.
Modcloth does a fairly good job of this. The dress page <title>, <h1>, and image alt text are all optimized for “Take Mentor Stage Sheath Dress,” which is why this Modcloth page appears in search results when someone searches for the dress by its name. However, searching by “Take Mentor Stage” assumes that people already know about the dress, which does not account for top-of-the-funnel searches. People who may be looking for a black and white Adrianna Papell dress are unlikely to find this product, as that information is not included in the important tags Google uses in its ranking considerations.
In order to be found through more diverse searches, they should put color, designer, or other relevant information into the key tags. The page title might then read as “Take Mentor Stage| Adrianna Papell Sheath Dress | Modcloth.” It’s important to be as detailed as possible so that you’re accounting for top-of-the-funnel searches and allowing for better product discovery.
The URL is another tool you can use to optimize your product pages. While not as strong of an indicator as having the product name in the <title>, having the targeted keywords in the URL does help strengthen search engines’ association with the keyword. Beyond that, URL structure can be used to indicate hierarchy and better help Google understand a product.
Take the Modcloth URL (https://www.modcloth.com/shop/spring-dresses/take-mentor-stage-sheath-dress/10062399.html) for example. Not only does it have the product name, but it also has a spring dresses folder. This gives Google additional information about the product. It is a sheath dress, and a spring dress, giving it a chance to show up in search results for “spring dresses.” If you organize your products into categories, make sure they show up in the URL.
You may be wondering what happens when your product falls under multiple categories. How do you choose where you put it? You don’t have to choose. Look at Modcloth. You can find this dress in both spring dresses and cocktail dresses. (https://www.modcloth.com/shop/cocktail-dresses/take-mentor-stage-sheath-dress/10062399.html) That’s right. This dress can be found through multiple URLs.
This could potentially cause a problem. When two pages have the same content, they start competing against one another in search results. Sometimes the spring URL might show up for some searches while the cocktail dress URL might show up for others. As people start to link to these pages, both pages gain strength, but they’d be competing against one another.
It would be nice to consolidate the page strengths so they started competing against competitors rather than themselves, wouldn’t it? The canonical tag does just that, and Modcloth uses it appropriately. They have chosen the page that they want to compete in search results–the cocktail URL variation–and put canonical tags on both pages pointing to the cocktail URL variation:
This tells Google that the cocktail page is the one that should show up in search results, and that if the spring URL gets links, the link equity should be attributed to the cocktail page instead of the spring page. If you have the same product on multiple pages, use canonical tags to make sure you’re giving the product its best chance to appear in search results.
Tomorrow, we’ll run through the rest of the checklist for robust product page SEO. Stay tuned!
Also published on Medium.