Monday, November 14, 2005

Is Your eCommerce Platform Bad for Your SEO?

Moving to a new eCommerce platform can come with many hidden SEO issues which can seriously jeopardize your search engine optimization efforts. You need to ask the right questions to determine if a particular platform can support your SEO program.

  1. Are the URLs static, simple dynamic or complex dynamic URLs?
    • Static URLs (http://www.site.com/page.aspx) are the optimal choice as there shouldn’t be any issue with the URL being crawled as there are no long variables or session id’s for the search engines to choke on.

    • Simple dynamic URLs (http://www.site.com/page.aspx?category=487) have one variable. While search engines have shown that they have the capabilities to crawl and index these URLs, care needs to be taken in assigning the variable names. For example, Google has specified that they have a direct issue with variables named “id”.

    • Complex dynamic URLs (http://www.site.com/page.aspx?category=487&id=7821564565&xtr=jhy76) have multiple variables and will most likely not be crawled, cached or properly indexed.

  2. Does the platform use cloaking or a “search appliance”?
    Great care needs to be taken when going this route. Either solution serves the search engines one thing and a user something else, although it may be only slightly different. It would be best to contact the engines directly and get written approval of the use of such technologies. Typically I have only heard of larger corporations having this type of access; however these solutions present a degree of risk that some may find unacceptable.

    These solutions are typically used to solve the problem of the complex dynamic URLs that these platforms usually use. As an alternative suggestion, a URL rewrite module/application would eliminate the risk involved with the other technologies and accomplish the same thing – the use of static URLs.

  3. Does the platform have a “built-in” SEO feature?
    Often times a “built-in” feature means that the title tag and meta data are created from the content of each individual page, or worse, one title tag and set of meta data is used for all pages within a category. The problem is for proper optimization you need to order your keywords and text in your title tag a specific way and in a specific order. In addition, more than likely you will need a custom meta description tag that is a couple of sentences to summarize the page. You probably will find that there are many pages where you don’t want the meta description pulled from the page’s body of content.

  4. How are redirects and 404 “Page Not Found” errors handled?
    Keeping a clean house can become an overwhelming task with an ever evolving online store. Promotions, as well as products, routinely come and go. How does the platform support these changes? Some examples of bad house cleaning are:
    • 302 redirects that leave old pages indexed in the search engines and don’t pass on their “credit” (back links, etc.) to newer pages

    • A typical black and white default 404 page that is a dead end to users with nowhere to go

    • Old pages, that instead of redirecting properly, simply shows the new pages content (or a default page’s content) under the old page’s URL.
  5. Are DHTML drop down menus hiding navigational links?
    Depending on how drop down navigational menus are coded, it’s possible to completely hide navigational links from search engines as most DHTML drop down menus are generated with JavaScript. Since search engines cannot execute JavaScript, HREF links that are embedded in JavaScript (no physical HREF tag exists with the URLs) are not displayed to the search engine bot.


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