OPTIMIZING MAGENTO FOR SEO
Generally, any e-commerce SEO strategy should attempt to balance two efforts: optimizing content relevance on key page types and crafting that content such that it effectively drives traffic and conversions.
Specifically, Magento is built taking many SEO factors into consideration, but there are areas where administrators, marketers and developers can make significant improvements. Achieving a fully SEO optimized Magento store can be challenging, in part because of the complexity of Magento’s codebase and URL rewrite engine.
There are some levers that any Magento site administrator can pull to affect immediate improvements. These tools empower owners to best optimize their stores in the specific context of their catalogs, campaigns and customer bases, but are sometimes overlooked. Some of these include:
- Change the default “head” value from “Magento Commerce” to your store name.
- Leave the default description blank to avoid the potential for duplicate content.
- Change the logo alt tag to your store’s name.
- Change the default robots value to “index,follow”.
- Auto-direct to the base url to remove “index.php” from the URL.
In SEO, high quality content is the primary driver in most campaigns. In the context of Magento, this generally means optimizing PDPs in a manner that conveys relevance. Much of this work requires an understanding of the features and benefits of given product offerings, paired with a communication strategy that speaks to the target audience.
- Produce keyword rich content that is grammatically correct.
- Include images and videos in product content.
- Override product title tags to include (attribute) data beyond the product name.
- Avoid blanket content blocks on product and category pages (delivery data, for example).
- Keep the page title to 50-70 chars.
- Limit the meta description to 160 chars.
- Age matters: older documents can convey “authoritative” value in product related queries, whereas newer pages (such as blog posts) can convey “timeliness” in news related queries.
- Stopword Frequency. Stopwords (common non-noun or descriptive words such as the, it, can, been, where, how, up, etc.) are measured by search engines to determine the style of writing the content of a document is using. A high frequency can mean a lengthier, article style of writing, while very low frequency typically indicates more bullet points and promotional writing (non-paragraph form). This would most likely be a query dependent factor – affecting those searches where one type of writing was clearly preferable to another.
The HTML that is used in presenting content to the page can signify both quality and relevance to search engines. This is the factor that varies most significantly across templates, and deserves attention:
- Implement “product schema” markup, to enable search engines to return “rich snippets” in their own results pages.
- Use alt tags in images to convey relevance in image searches.
- Paragraph Headings. Paragraph headings, either through Hx tags or simply through formatting give detailed on-page emphasis.
- Use of In-Document Links & Anchors. Search engines use named anchor data, particularly in longer documents or those carrying a consistent structure to help with classification and ranking.
- W3C Validation. The W3C organization of web standards issues requirements for validation. These standards are used by many websites to construct “proper” markup in the HTML document type of their choice.
UGC is a great means to serving up unique content on product pages. Whether leveraging the baked-in review system or implementing a third-party solution, some general considerations apply:
- Attempt to present reviews that are both relevant and numerous on the PDP.
- Apply “noindex” to the secondary “non-pdp” page where Magento displays reviews.
- If using an external vendor, ensure SEO-friendly content delivery (no iframes, js onLoads).
URL structure is a primary means of communicating keyword relevancy to search engines. The URL content, format and hierarchical structure are all factors that are balanced when determining broad versus specific relevance.
- Enable SEO-friendly urls (leveraging mod_rewrite).
- Append URLS with “.html”, still the gold standard when establishing permanence.
- If using ajax navigation, review the URL structure to ensure uniqueness.
- Review URL rewrites to avoid common errors, such as reversion to “/catalog” urls or appendage of “-N” suffixes.
Linking is another key way to signal page keyword relevance and general site authority. Generally, page popularity versus keywords is calculated from inbound, outbound and internal links, paired with link content. There are a few improvements here that can help improve link relevance:
- If it is absolutely necessary to include Session IDs in multi-store links, noindex them with robots.txt. Otherwise, don’t use them, as they create multiple URLS for single pages.
- Reduce pagination, as relevancy is demoted incrementally. Where necessary, use rel=“prev”, rel=“next” to convey the pagination function.
- Force https to convey security, an important factor for Google, in e-commerce sites.
- Location of link on page. A link that is visually closer to the top of a long page may be ascribed greater value depending on the format of the page and the visual presence of other links.
- Outbound and inbound links from a site can positively or negatively impact SEO, depending on the external site’s perceived relevancy and authority.
- Link popularity of site in topical community. Topical communities are measured by the search engines as groups of websites who interlink to and with one another frequently and carry a similar topic or theme. Since topical communities are relevant and “on-topic”, the links from them carry great weight. A site that is included in a topical community by way of links from many other members may be considered more relevant and authoritative on the community’s subject matter.
- Global link popularity of site. Global link popularity simply measures the importance of all the links to a unique domain, with more links from more important sites (relative to their own link popularity) typically having stronger influence.
- Rate of new incoming links to site. The links pointing to a document over time may be measured and have data extrapolated by the search engines to help to determine the legitimacy and value of new links. This may in turn affect the rankings of any documents hosted at the site, whether they are directly receiving external, inbound links or not.
- Rate of expiring/ removed links to site. As links are found by the search engines pointing to a site and others that are removed disappear from the cached pages, data about link fluctuation, generation and dissipation can be stored in the search engines’ repositories. This data may then be used to analyze future activity, make predictions, compare against other sites and find abnormalities. Sites that receive very few permanent links may be ranked lower than those whose links remain. Other websites where link stagnation is fast may be compared against others in the industry to see if this phenomenon is normal. All of these factors of link gain and loss over time may result in higher or lower rankings for hosted documents.
- Keyword use in domain name. Search engine consider the value of a keyword or related term/phrase in the actual domain name of the site. Relevant terms/phrases would thereby benefit sites with those terms/phrases in their name.
- URL Length. The overall length of a URL may be used as a component in trust or value – exceptionally long URLs might be viewed as unusable and more likely to be spam.
Serving multiple URLs with roughly identical content became a demoting factor with Google’s “Panda” release. This is one of the more challenging efforts when optimizing Magento.
- Use configurable products for slight product variants (or supply significantly different descriptions), thereby presenting roughly identical products on a single PDP.
- Use top-level product URLs (rather than including the category name).
- If is is absolutely necessary to include category names in product URLS, leverage the canonicalization feature and redirect to the canonical URL.
- Force a canonical top-level URL with redirects (i.e. www versus the naked domain).
- Redirect trailing slash URLs.
- When URLs are changed, redirect to the new URL.
- When redirecting, always use “301” (permanent) versus “302” (temporary).
Serving up relatively few highly dense pages is preferable to exposing many low-density pages, as the overall site relevancy is incrementally diluted. There are a few areas in a Magento site that are poor candidates for high keyword density, and should be removed from the robots.txt file.
- Generally, hide faceted navigation pages in robots.txt, as the application of facets will by their nature generate pages that are roughly duplicates to their non-faceted parents. The caveat, here, is that there is a benefit to indexing pages that are revealed to be desirable, either through analysis of organic traffic or through marketing efforts. In these cases, overriding the faceted page with CMS content and revealing it to the index can have positive effects.
- Hide search results (likewise taking into consideration the above caveat).
- Hide sort/order filter pages.
- Hide account, checkout, image pages.
Sitemaps are a preferred channel for communicating site structure and content freshness to search engines. Consider making some changes to the out-of-the-box sitemap configuration.
- Break the product feed apart from the “other” feed (categories, content pages) to ensure that products are surfaced more quickly.
- For larger catalogs, consider breaking product feeds apart by brand and/or attribute.
- Submit the feeds via GWT.
For stores that expose content in multiple languages, there are a few special considerations.
- Set up localizations on separate storefront URLs.
- Provide high quality translated content for every field that is being rendered to the page… mixed content is an inverse marker of quality.
- Include “hreflang” tags in the internal link structure and in the sitemaps to communicate the linguistic relationship among pages to search engines (allowing them to surface local language content where relevant)
Generally, a variety of factors outside of Magento in the system stack can affect SEO:
- Hosting Uptime. If a site’s hosting is inconsistent and frequently not returning pages, the search engines may devalue the rankings of documents at the site, or worse, may not spider many pages. Reliable uptime could have the opposite effect, engendering the site to search engines via its accessibility.
- Geographic Hosting Location. Geography of hosting may play a small role in determining language or country specific targeting and relevancy at the search engines. CDNs can do a good job of serving up content from geographically appropriate locations.
- Domain Registration Information. The domain registration information may be used by search engines to identify spammers or violators of guidelines and reduce or penalize the value of their sites.
Performance matters, not only as a primary lever in conversions but also in SEO. This demands an analysis unto itself, but suffice to say it needs to be considered in a holistic SEO strategy.
Likewise, mobile matters, particularly since Google’s early-2015 update that has demoted sites that do not present in a mobile-friendly format. This is another subject area that requires it’s own analysis, but must be considered not only for usability, but also for SEO.
If leveraging third party retailers or affiliates, consider exposing a separate data set than the one that is implemented on your store to avoid a duplicate content downgrade.
The development process itself can sometimes have negative impacts on SEO, for various reasons. When maintaining a store that is under active upgrades, abiding by a few best practices can help avoid some SEO pitfalls:
- Hide your staging websites, either behind a firewall, .htaccess authentication or private IPs. If indexed, these can create customer confusion and duplicate content issues.
- When migrating from another system, ensure maintenance of legacy URL integrity by redirecting to new URLs.
- Likewise, when migrating, minimize on-page changes to avoid a “dip”.