Pratik Dholakiya / / Posted on

Technical SEO, content, & link acquisition checklist for ecommerce businesses

Maintaining SEO for an e-commerce site is quite the task, and while innovative marketing and strategy is a crucial part of making SEO work, it’s equally important to make sure you are staying on top of the basics.

I’ve compiled the following checklist so that you can continue revisiting it to make sure each of these elements of SEO maintenance don’t fall into neglect. The checklist includes some important recurring technical SEO tasks, content strategy notes, and link earning tactics that you shouldn’t allow to fall by the wayside.

Technical SEO

  • Packet loss:  Regularly test your site to see if any packet loss is occurring and take this up with your hosting provider if you have any issues. Here is one method for testing packet loss. You may also use a monitoring tool like Paessler’s PRTG Network Monitor.

  • Healthy DNS: You need to make sure that your DNS is completely healthy in order to avoid important hosting issues. Use a tool like the MxToolBox DNS check to verify that all of your name servers respond, that they have good performance, and that they are following best practices.

  • Uptime: Google has verified that excessive downtime can negatively impact rankings, and downtime is bad for the user experience for obvious reasons. You can monitor uptime using a tool such as the free version of Pingdom or any of TechRadar’s recommendations if you are looking for something more involved.

  • SSL: Sitewide SSL gives a small rankings boost and prevents Google warnings that your site may be unsafe. You should already have SSL in place if you host your own cart system, so extending this to your full site is a relatively simple process. You should also run the SSL Labs test to ensure your SSL is healthy.

  • Consistent http vs https, www vs non-www, and redirects: Ideally every page on your site should employ https, and all http addresses should redirect to https. Either www or non-www is fine, but they should be used consistently and if the wrong version is used it should redirect. There should be no internal links that use the wrong format, and if any are in place a search and replace operation should be used to correct this.

  • Malware free: Use Google’s malware scanner to verify that your site is malware free, and correct this immediately if there are any issues. Malware is terrible for users for obvious reasons, and browsers create scary warnings when malware is detected that could scare off potential customers for life.

  • IP neighborhood: If you are using shared hosting, see who your IP neighbors are to ensure that you aren’t in close proximity to spammers and link schemes. You want to avoid sharing vhosts and subnets with sites likely to get penalized by Google, since you could potentially be affected.

  • No links to 5xx pages: Scan your site with a crawler like ScreamingFrog and verify that none of your internal links point to pages with server errors or server code errors. If you discover any, these need to be corrected as quickly as possible.

  • No links to 4xx pages: 4xx error codes indicate that a page is missing. You should never link to a missing page, so any links that point to 4xx URLs should be removed or changed to a suitable replacement. If a suitable replacement exists, you should also set up a redirect from the 4xx page to the replacement (don’t succumb to the temptation to only redirect). Do not set up a sitewide rule to redirect all 4xx pages to the homepage. These are “soft” 404s and Google does not like them.

  • No links to 3xx pages: Links to redirected URLs create unnecessary server load and leak SEO authority. Update all links to the appropriate page.

  • No “soft” 404s: A soft 404 is a missing page that does not return a 4xx error code. This occurs when either the user is shown a “missing page” result that does not return a 404, or when the user is redirected from the missing page to an irrelevant page. You can find soft 404s in the Google Search Console. If a suitable replacement exists, set up a 301 redirect and update any internal links to point to the replacement. If there is no suitable replacement, allow missing pages to return a true 404 error code, but do not ever point internal links to them.

  • External backlinks to 4xx pages are addressed: The Google Search Console will also show you a list of missing pages which may include additional pages from the ones you would find in a site crawl. These are typically old pages that have been removed but that you have removed internal links to, or URL typos people made when they linked to you. If a suitable replacement exists, set up a 301, otherwise simply allow the 404 to persist.

  • Logo links to homepage: Verify that your brand name logo links back to the homepage in the main navigation in the shopping portion of your site. If you also run a blog, you may wish to include a logo link to the homepage of your blog on these pages instead. If so, make sure that an easily identifiable “home” button or link exists to return to the shopping homepage.

  • Navigation aligns with keywords: Don’t get too cute with your product category names. Make sure that they are clear and include your primary “head” keywords.

  • Navigation links avoid repetitive language: Do not repeat words or phrases in your navigation like “cotton t-shirts,” “graphic t-shirts,” “casual t-shirts,” etc. Instead, for example, the primary dropdown category should be “t-shirts” and the subcategories should just use the anchor text “cotton,” “graphic,” and “casual.” Repetitive language can be read as keyword stuffing.

  • Canonicalized pagination: If product listings are paginated, canonicalize them to a “view all” page.

  • Canonicalized duplicates: If a product page is accessible from multiple categories or can be non-meaningfully altered by URL parameters and session IDs, canonicalize to a single official URL.

  • Noindexed inappropriate pages: Redundant deep category pages that earn no search traffic, member areas, carts, internal site search results, and dynamically generated URLs should generally be noindexed.

  • Outbound links in navigation are addressed: Outbound links in your main navigation to anything other than your social media profiles and one or two sister sites should generally be avoided.

  • No redundant pages: Do not attempt to target minor keyword variations with separate pages, like “white cotton t-shirts” and “cotton white tees.” Pages like these should be consolidated.

  • Robots.txt: Your robots.txt page should be up and functional, it should not block Googlebot, and it should reference your XML sitemap.

  • Valid XML sitemap submitted to Google: Your XML sitemap should be dynamically updated when new products are added. Validate your XML code, and make sure your sitemap is submitted to your Google Search Console.

Content

  • Head” keyword for every page included in title tag: Your product pages should include general, widely searched keywords in the title tag, not just the product name.

  • Long tail” keywords for every page addressed in title tag or subheadings: At the same time, the title tag should include the detailed brand and product name for longer tail search queries. Use keyword.io to identify any related searches, and check reviews and brand mentions for questions people have asked outside of the search engines. Address these in your product page content where possible to strongly differentiate your content from competitors.

  • No duplicate title tags: Verify with a site crawl that none of your pages are using identical title tags.

  • Appropriate length title tags: Keep your title tag lengths between 50 and 60 characters, or at least recognize that the most important information should be contained within the first 60 characters, since the remainder won’t be visible in the search results. (Longer title tags may sometimes be appropriate because the keywords can still influence rankings, but this should be weighed against the negative impact of users seeing that the title is cut off.)

  • H1 tags: Every page should have a heading wrapped in H1 tags. Your head keyword and most important long tail keywords should be present here as well. Product page H1 tags don’t necessarily need to match the title tag exactly, since the title tag acts as a call to action in the search results, while the heading acts as a heading on the page itself. The H1 should, however, make it clear that the searcher is in the right place.

  • Meta descriptions for every product page: While long form informational content pages designed to target long tail sometimes perform better without a meta description, since the automatic snippets are more likely to contain unanticipated long tail keywords, this approach does not work for product pages. Product pages should have meta descriptions that entice the user to visit the page by appealing to their needs. Keep meta descriptions between 100 and 300 characters.

  • Unique product page content: For at least your most promising product pages, you should edit the product descriptions to anticipate and address long tail queries, to encourage conversions, and to differentiate your content from your competitors, many of which will be using identical product descriptions provided by the manufacturer.

  • User objections defined and addressed: Anticipate sales objections and address them with your product page copy.

  • User reviews: User reviews are trusted more by visitors than brand content and virtually always increase sales, even if the reviews aren’t perfect.

  • Schema markup: Markup your reviews and products to get rich results in Google that will make your pages stand out.

  • Clearly defined content marketing goals: Aside from your product pages, you should have a clearly defined content marketing strategy to capture market demand, create demand, capture search traffic, expand your contact list, and achieve other identifiable goals.

  • Top of funnel content: Consider creating informational or entertaining content designed to capture interest and build trust and awareness with audiences that are not yet ready to make a purchase.

  • Bottom of funnel content: Consider creating content addressing specific problems that directly relate to problems solved by specific products on your site, which you can easily include a call to action within.

  • Lead magnets: Consider producing content resources that will act as enticements to encourage your target audience to provide you with their email address or contact information, so that they can later be notified about deals or otherwise nurtured into customers.

  • Email campaigns: In addition to notifying previous buyers about products that they may be interested in, consider launching email campaigns that help build trust with your existing contacts, particularly for leads which have opted into this kind of messaging.

  • Social media content: Associate your long form content or your products with bite-size content that is easily shareable on social media. Bear in mind that social media content is most shareable when it is visual, incites an emotion, or affirms an identity.

  • Visual content: For your most promising products, use professional photography to create more creative visual representations of the product that are more likely to be shared on social media. Creating your own visual content, rather than using what is provided by the manufacturer, also increases your uniqueness score with the search engines, and is more likely to earn you traffic from image searches.

  • Video content: Video content that very clearly demonstrates how the product can be used to solve the problem it is designed for does a lot to incite trust in your visitors. Emotionally appealing stories involving the product can also accomplish this.

  • Interactive content: Interactive tools and similar content on your site can generate buzz on social media and in the press, leading to more referral traffic and likely search engine traffic as well.

  • Linkable assets: Content that goes above and beyond, surpassing what would be expected of a blog post, and more likely to be seen and used like a product itself, is considered a linkable asset. This is content that is easy to share with influencers and to earn attention in the press. Linkable assets are a must if you want your brand to show up in search results next to big name brands.

Link Acquisition

  • Influencer target list: Identifying which influencers matter the most to your target audiences is crucial. This list should be expanding continuously, and influencers that you have success with should become recurring contacts where possible. Bear in mind that influencers don’t strictly need to be in the same industry as the products you are promoting, and that in addition to reaching out to them directly, you can also reach them indirectly by appealing to their interests or by mentioning them.

  • Guest editorials: Producing guest content on other sites should play a part in any e-commerce site’s link acquisition strategy, as long as this is done in a way that also earns real press, brand recognition, and referral traffic. Guest posts that earn only a link without accomplishing anything else sacrifice marketing opportunities, and are the most likely to get ignored by search engines or even get you penalized in extreme circumstances.

  • Product manufacturers: Contact your product manufacturers to see if they would be willing to link to you as one of the retailers where they can purchase their product.

  • Link out and followup: Linking to an influencer in your blog content can be a good way to earn their attention, especially if you reach out to them afterward to let them know about it. While this in and of itself won’t necessarily earn a link in response immediately, it can start a business relationship that results in link-earning collaborative projects down the road.

  • Contests: Launch a contest that encourages users to generate their own content. This is likely to result in them producing content that links to your site.

  • Expert opinion collections: Posting content on your blog that is a collection of answers or opinions from experts that you reached out to is likely to earn a lot of attention in the communities surround those experts, and the influencers are often willing to link to your post since it emboldens their status as an expert.

  • Ego bait: Creating content that genuinely praises an influencer is likely to earn their attention and some links, or at least social media shares, in response. Be sure to @ them on twitter or even email them directly so that they know about the flattering content.

  • Profile links: Make sure that any profiles you and other staff members create on other sites include a link back to your e-commerce site. While these links are often no-followed, this isn’t always the case, and they generate referral traffic regardless.

  • Image credit: If you took our advice above and are creating your own visual content for your products and perhaps your blog as well, make it easy for users to embed your image with a link back to your site, and don’t be afraid to search for copies of the image and ask for an image credit link if one isn’t included.

  • Journalist queries: Identify search queries that journalists are more likely to search for than typical searchers are, and target those queries. This is more likely to get you cited in an article than typical blog content.

  • Reporters: Likewise, don’t be ashamed to use your expertise running an e-commerce site, and any other expertise you have at your disposal personally or on your staff, to contact reporters and offer yourself up as an expert to cite. Reporters are often hungry for commentary from experts to give their articles a more authoritative edge.

  • Interviews: Offer to interview others as well as take part in interviews such as podcasts, text interviews, and YouTube screencasts.

  • Competitor’s out of stock products: When a competitor stops selling a product, take a look at the backlinks to that product and contact the sites that were previously linking to it. Let them know that the product is no longer available there but that you are offering it and ask if they’d like to update the URL.

  • Original research: Use your store’s proprietary data or conduct a study of some kind that will allow you to publish original research for the industry. This content attracts a lot of attention and can earn a ton of links.

  • Site acquisition: While you shouldn’t acquire sites just for the links, any time you acquire a site you can capture SEO authority with redirects or links from the acquired site.

  • Embeds: Make your content embeddable so that people can easily share it with links back to your site.

  • Video sites: Don’t just host video on your own site. Take advantage of YouTube (and a few remaining viable alternatives) and include links back to your site in the video descriptions.

  • Tangent niches: Do not limit your outreach and your targeting to your own industry. Focus on psychographics and find your target audience wherever else they may go.

  • Design galleries: If your store has a solid, relatively unique design, submit it to design galleries.

  • Reviewers: Send your products to bloggers, YouTubers, and other influencers who review products. (Always follow legal disclosure guidelines).

Conclusion

SEO is part innovative strategy, part recurring maintenance processes. Use this checklist and expand upon it to create your own, and ensure that your process continues to invest in the tactics and elements that are already working for you.

Pratik Dholakiya is the Founder of The 20 Media, a content marketing agency specializing in content and data-driven SEO.