Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is all about marketing your site on the Internet’s most popular Search Engines, such as Google, Yahoo Search, or Microsoft Bing. Having a good SEO strategy for your e-commerce website can make a huge difference in the success of your site. The primary focus and goal of SEO is to naturally gain traffic to your website from searches on the internet for keywords that are relevant to your target market.

A good site has content that is carefully crafted, rich with relevant content, and structured well to be easily read and indexed by search engines. Shopp is tooled to achieve the last objective, which is to make it easier to get your content well indexed by search engines.

What SEO is Not

SEO is not a method of forcing internet users to your site, who would otherwise be uninterested. Many companies attempt to sell services that actively try to “game” search engines, which is to say, they try to use gimmicks to trick popular search providers into thinking that your site has good and relevant content, when in reality it does not. The best SEO strategies takes a good site, and makes it easier for search engines to see why it is relevant. SEO strategies can enhance search results for a good site, but will never give your site more credit than it has earned.

Keyword Phrase Strategy

The keyword phrase strategy is about selecting longer keyword-rich phrases to uniquely position your content with search engines. Think of it as niche marketing. Unfortunately, when it comes to common, single keyword searches, what you will find is that the market leader in your industry will have that keyword “locked up”, or monopolized. For instance, if your Pennsylvania company sells Amish-made beds, you have little hope of being found on a popular search engine if someone searches only for “beds”, unless you really are the most well-known company in your market.

Instead, most successful sites find a unique keyword phrase (multiple keywords) that identifies your business niche. If your company doesn’t have a good niche, no amount of technical SEO strategy will help, as your market will be dominated by larger players.
Find a unique keyword phrase niche and become dominant by using the keyword phrase in key areas of your page markup. For instance, “Pennsylvania Amish Beds” is much more likely to help people find the above example, than “beds” ever would.

The days of using repetitive keywords (so-called “keyword stuffing”) are long gone. The practice of keyword stuffing isn’t just irrelevant, it is actually harmful to your site’s ranking. To find out more about keyword phrase strategies, search for topics related to long-tail keyword approaches.

How Shopp Helps with Keyword Phrase Strategy

Shopp can’t magically determine the best keyword phrase strategy for you, so that part is all up to you. Shopp does, however, use content from your product catalog to provide rich keywords to search engines. For example using product tagging you automatically set up the page’s keywords meta tag. Likewise, the product summary is used for the page’s description meta tag.

Semantic & Standards Compliant Markup

Every web site contains writing that is coded for machines to read. Because much of the web has been written by individuals that do not have a technical background, often web pages contain code that is less than ideal for automated analysis. Code that is carefully tailored for another computer to read is called standards-compliant markup. Think of standards-compliant markup like grammar. Computers are very particular about this sort of grammar, and will often misunderstand what you are trying to say if the grammar is wrong.

In recent times, many web developers have begun to follow the practice of writing semantic markup. The goal of semantic markup is to simplify the expression of content on your site, and divorce your content from much of the technical, functional, and stylistic/layout coding, whenever possible. For instance, the excessive use of tables in a web site is no longer used for page layout, because table markup is intended to represent sets of facts or figures in columns and rows.

This is important for SEO because when the code surrounding your content is overly complex, or misused, it has a tendency to obscure the meaning and context (semantics) of your content. The less your content is hidden by this excessive, unnecessary, or incorrect code, the easier it is for search engines to understand the intended purpose of your content.

In contrast, when used properly, semantic markup can add useful meaning that would otherwise be difficult for a machine to recognize. For instance, your content might contain an address with a postal code. Without clear markup, the postal code may be interpreted as just a sequence of numbers in your content. By surrounding the content with an <address> tag, it suddenly takes on a clearer meaning and intent. A search engine may even be able to associate its mapping features with your organization.

While most search engine companies have very clever programmers that can overcome many of the less carefully written web pages, ensuring that your site conforms to strict standards and clear semantic markup can help ensure that your content will be interpreted as intended, and may give your site beneficial relevance and meaning.

How Shopp Helps with Semantic Markup

Because Shopp inherits your theme, it can also inherit poorly written markup in your theme.

All of Shopp’s theme templates are designed to validate with the XHTML 1.0 standards.
While Shopp is designed to target strict validation, there are some areas where Shopp may fail standard validation in the face of better SEO priorities (such as the canonical link elements, see below).

Shopp is also designed to use simple semantically correct markup where ever possible.

Title Tags

Considering all the other SEO priorities, the title of each page on your website is of the utmost importance. The <title> tag is the number one tool in your keyword phrase strategy in your page markup. The title tag is used to define the title of the page content: in your web browser, for search engines, and in browser bookmarks/favorites.

It is often used by others when linking to the page and therefore also becomes an integral influence on keyword rich inbound links. It should be noted, that approximately the first 64 characters of the title tag (including spaces) are used by search engines results. Putting the most important information in the first 64 characters of your title is highly recommended.

How Shopp Helps with Title Tags

Shopp automatically rewrites page titles for your product and category pages to put the product name or the product collection name at the beginning of the title tag. This way, the most specific and useful information will be sure to appear in inbound links.

Headings

Like the page title, headings on your page are also of great importance to establishing keyword relevance with Search Engines. The content found in heading tags, especially <h1>, <h2>, and <h3> are given higher importance and relevance than regular body content when keywords for your site are determined by a search engine. <h1> is the most important, and <h6> is the least.

Shopp content templates are designed to highlight your product content, by default using the <h2> tag, as <h1> is used by your theme. Consider having your web developer customize your theme to take best advantage of the <h1> tag on your Shopp storefront pages.

Onsite Links & Inbound Links

“Link juice” is the currency of relevance in the world of search engines today. Both the links on your site that link to your content and the links from other sites have an impact on each page’s relevance and authority on search engines. In turn, this affects where your pages show up in search results.

When linking to content, it is important to use contextually relevant keyword phrases when possible and to avoid generic link labels such as “click here for more information”. All content is indexed and ranked based on link relevance and authority. Getting indexed with “click here” means the content is indexed in a very crowded phrase that lots of other pages are using making of. This makes it all but impossible to get your content to the top of the pile. This is why a well thought out keyword phrase strategy is so important.

For onsite links, it is helpful to include links to your most important content on your home page. These links might be for bestselling or featured products, or other content such as you most popular blog posts.

For inbound links, links coming from other websites, it is important to try to get others to link to your site using some of your keyword phrase strategy when possible. Once you have search engine optimized pages on your site, getting links from other websites is the most efficient way to improve your content’s relevance and authority on the web. Link baiting is a one way to build those links naturally. Link baiting is a marketing strategy that encourages other sites to create high quality incoming links to your site. There are a number of sites that cover link baiting strategies in ways beyond the scope of this document, so look them up if you want to learn more.

How Shopp Helps with Links

All inbound product links and product collections links that are found on the storefront use appropriate canonical URLs. See Canonical URLs below. Beyond that, it is up to you to develop a good keyword phrase strategy to use for naming your products and categories.

Site Maps

A sitemap is a document that provides a complete “map”, or table of contents, of all the pages that make up your site. Sitemaps can be a useful tool to help search engines get the big picture of your site, but do not play a role in determining the authority and relevance of the information on your site.

While sitemaps are not required for good SEO, sitemaps can still be useful, however, because many search engines will begin indexing your site by using your sitemap.

Built-in tools like custom menus, category widgets, and tag clouds in Shopp already assist web browsers in “crawling” through your site pages and products, looking for content.

Meta Tags

Meta tags related to SEO usually include the description and keyword meta elements of your pages. Modern search engines no longer provide any real help in your site’s SEO. As keyword stuffing became a popular practice to boost a site’s relevance against keywords that may have nothing to do with the content, search engines no longer trust the contents of these tags.

Meta tag strategies are obsolete. Beware of SEO “experts” who claim otherwise.

The only usefulness of these elements comes from the meta description element which can sometimes be used by search engines as the description shown under the page title in search results. While this has no affect on relevance, it might be used to draw the attention of the reader and invite more clickthroughs.

Shopp does add content to these tags for completeness, however you should not rely on advice that focuses on these elements of your page.

Canonical URLs

A URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is a technical name for a web site address. Each page on your site has a URL. In modern search engine indexing, having multiple addresses (URLs) for one page of content might have the effect of diluting the “power” of the content. This is because the search engine has to make some decisions about what URLs to your site are most relevant. When you have multiple addresses for the same content, it is possible that the total “power” (authority and relevancy) of the content is being distributed across each link, giving you less impact in search results for both URLs.

In WordPress, and in Shopp, it is possible to have multiple different URLs that will all serve the same site content. This is normal, and common to most web applications, which means it isn’t inherently bad, but it can diminish search results to your site, if not handled properly. Tools are available to help prevent this problem.

Never attempt to use a canonical link tag to refer to entirely different content. The tag will be ignored.

One modern tool used by popular search engines is to look for Canonical URL link
tags in your page markup. A Canonical URL is a declared “preferred” address which represents the official location of the content. That way, even if you have 100 different URLs that all point to the same product, the search engine knows there is only one official address for the product, and will associate the indexing of that page with the preferred address.

Modern search engines are smart enough to work out a fair amount of this problem on their own, but this tool paves the way to accurate indexing of your site.

How Shopp Helps with Canonical URLs

Shopp helps by automatically generating an appropriate canonical link element for all Shopp storefront pages. This way, no matter how the search engine gets to your products, it will know the official address of the content.

Accessibility

Accessibility in website design refers to making websites that can be used by anyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. This has bearing on SEO because making a site accessible, typically for blind or sight-impaired users, follows the practice of including alternate text-based content for multimedia elements.

In order for a site that is rich in design, images, or Flash-based content to be made accessible, additional text-based content must be provided to supplement meaningful content that screen reader programs can use. In doing so, it adds the twofold benefit of making the site more content rich and thus more easily readable by machines such as search engine indexers.

To add accessibility content to your products:

Shopp allows you to enter alternative text for all of your product images in the Product Editor.

Image Details editor

  1. Login to the WordPress Admin and navigate to the Product Manager, located at ShoppCatalogProducts.
  2. Click the Edit link for the product you wish to edit.
  3. Locate the Product Images panel, and for each image, double-click to open the Image Details editor.
  4. Give each image a title, and alternative text.
  5. Click the Save Product button to commit the alternative text for your product images.

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