ZenCart, Magento and poor SEO – solving the issues

Pixel Ovenmitts from JustMustard.com

Pixel Ovenmitts from JustMustard.com

We’ve been working with JustMustard.com on a very special project involving ZenCart eCommerce software. JustMustard is an online retailer and wholesaler of a variety of very strange and very awesome gifts and presents. We really enjoy working with them. Plus we really want some Pixel Oven-gloves.

However, ZenCart is viewed with both praise and disdain from programmers. It is an excellent off-the-shelf system for an online shopping experience, very secure, and very customisable. However, like most off-the-shelf systems, it does require a lot of work to give the results wanted.

As an aside, if you are looking for a new shopping system, we do recommend looking into both off-the-shelf systems such as osCommerce and Magento against having a custom solution being built. A custom solution can mean better SEO and should be more in needs with your business, and although the costs may appear high and a require a good long-term development team, on the other hand, a generic site needing custom changes later can be expensive or impossible, and is more likely to be attacked and spammed. In JustMustard’s case, we’re finding that ZenCart (after some work) is working very well; but in other sites using a generic site could be a costly mistake..

ZenCart, along with many other eCommerce sites are not set out for great SEO opportunities. ZenCart’s biggest mistake is having duplicate content, since a product can be accessed by many URLs (via the cPath); and often different URLs for the same product is used across the site. ZenCart also doesn’t make any use of the URL for keywords, often making the common mistake of using the querystring for page navigation.

We’ve been able to work with the ZenCart system and rewrite all the necessary URLs, and also automatically use the product title (and optional description) as part of the keywords in the URL. This is simply done using some fairly logical PHP techniques alongside some custom htaccess rules and regular expression matching.

It means a URL which previously looked like this:

/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1_4&products_id=39

Is now redirected, alongside any similar-looking URL, to the much neater and unambiguous;

/product-39/cactooph-toothpick/

The same technique has been applied to product categories, and has been to static product pages too.

If the URL visited isn’t exactly the right one, the script tries to find the product, category or static page, and redirects the customer to the correct URL. The URL includes the latest keywords via the product title; ensuring customers have an informative URL, and search engines have valuable keywords and non-duplicate content.

Scripts like this can really clean up a working website, and really help to achieve both better keyword position and make it easier for your customers to navigate your site; without requiring a complete re-write. Our version will work just as easily for any future product; and doesn’t require any additional effort from product administration.

list of shortcodes on derp.co.uk that come from rewriterules

derp.co.uk: we love rewrite rules!

We’ve done this on every site we’ve set up, and found it helps bundles. Often this is just a few pages, but we’ve integrated this same system on far more advanced websites too – including a complex laptop, battery and power browser system on the laptopshop.co.uk website – a total of over 300,000 pages. We’ve also used rewrite rules to a ridiculous degree on the image site, derp.co.uk

Certainly ensuring non-duplicate content and keywords are important to SEO. Changing all the URLs on your site can be a lot of work to achieve, and it should never be taken lightly, it can sometimes be better to improve slowly and carefully. At the very least, it is essential to ensure all old URLs redirect to the new address and include a sitemap. For a number of reasons, this was a good time for JustMustard.com, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on it and tuning accordingly..

Despite our technique being relatively simple, it requires quite some work before it will automatically with all ZenCart installs, and static pages have had to be arranged using some of our other tools. JustMustard.com was a perfect candidate for this work, but every site we’ve seen has different needs and requirements.

For this reason, we’re not able to provide source code, though we may provide some of our techniques if there’s demand; and we’re always happy to help if you contact us. We hope this is useful and motivating to get those site issues fixed!

Instead, we are happy to discuss similar installations and assistance with SEO and eCommerce.

Good Marketing Strategies and Techniques vs the Bad

All websites aim for a high conversion ratio; and if you have a high number of visitors but a low take-up rate or high bounce rate; it may be time to review your marketing techniques.

The wiki site, Dark Patterns, discusses the different techniques used in marketing – focusing on the bad, but also giving some great examples of good marketing strategies.

Most companies will be guilty of at least one of these poor marketing strategies, and it is a likely cause of low conversion. We’ve had clients that are guilty of some of these techniques, and seen the poor effect is has; however convincing those in charge that it could be a disaster can be a struggle.

Some of these are simple issues, such as long-winded registration processes – which may be a sign of poor navigation structure.

However, many of these tricks are ploys and scams – charging customers continuously after a ‘free period’, having content behind a pay-wall, or indelible products that cannot be removed from shopping baskets.

These can have a very strong negative impact on your brand that you may never recover from.

Of course, there are plenty of companies that have avoided these dark patterns too, and embraced honesty and clear marketing – such as Google and Play.com – and found it very successful.

The site can be found at darkpatterns.org, I highly recommend watching the 25 minute video/audio slideshow, as it has some fantastic examples and a brilliant style.

Google Offline Shopping Experience

While not wishing to start a trend of video blog posts, this video from Google Shopping simply says it all;

Don’t let your shopping experience turn into something like this.

Best Practice for Next/Previous Pagination in Search Engines

Most developers will come across a need for paged content; perhaps for products on a website, or for long articles; but how is this best done for search?

Google have recently announced more support for previous/next pages, and have offered two options;

  • Using the <link> tag in the <head> container, to ‘Canonicalise‘ the individual pages to a ‘View All’ page.
  • Use the same <link> tag in <head>, with the ‘rel’ attribute to point to the previous and next pages.

 

The decision of which method to choose depends on your needs – if you’d prefer visitors to arrive at your ‘View All’ page, or perhaps you use a ‘Configurator’, such as one for choosing the make and model of your laptop; you may wish your customers to land there.

Although; you may prefer also customers to land on the page the search keywords the user arrived on; rather than having to look through tens of products.

However, there’s a few other points to consider. With a view-all page, particularly one with a simple list of all products; this may not be the best experience for your visitors. It may also mean a higher latency and page load time, causing visitors to get bored – and also isn’t best for search engine ranking.

But, if customers land on a particular page number, the spidered content may be outdated, and mean the customer lands on the wrong page; and has to search for their product. This commonly happens on forums, but may equally indicate slow spidering.

It should be noted that these only act as ‘hints’ to Google; but particularly if your site is struggling with many paginated pages, especially with outdated content, it may be worth considering these alternatives.

We’re always happy to help anyone who would like some assistance; and Google have also put together some information on both the ‘Rel=Next’ and ‘Rel=Prev’ attributes, and well as using a ‘View All’ page.

How to work with an SEO agency

Finding a good SEO agency is hard. But even once you’ve found your SEO company (even if it might not be frag.co.uk!), there are a few important points to remember.

1. Keep Informed!
Remember your SEO agency is on your side! They want you success as much as you do. Many clients feel uncomfortable letting an outside agency handle their content and keywords; but to maximise their efforts, you have to let them do the work you’ve hired them to do.

Naturally there is another side; the SEO agency should be keeping you well informed of the benefits of changes and suggestions, and ensuring they’re within budget. Regular communication is key to ensuring both sides are working the best way they can.

2. Content, Content, Interesting Content
The worst, and most common error that I’ve seen is for a company to launch a blog, and then rarely update it. I could argue for hours over the benefits of regular blogging, but unless it’s updated regularly, then it’s often best to concentrate elsewhere.

Alternatively, most SEO agencies will be more than willing to help you write more articles and content that are relevant to your business and interesting to your customers.

A recent book review on BoingBoing, of John Briggs (the editor of TechCrunch Gadgets) latest book says;

Want to be a successful blogger? Every new endeavor requires a period of ascetic dedication. You must write a minimum of 1,000 words a day.

Some bloggers make this their ceiling, but many make it their floor. Either way, you must produce on a daily basis. How do you do this? You can crank out, perhaps, three posts of a few hundred words each in the morning and three in the evening. Or you can write one big post. Either way, do the word count. Why is this important?

You won’t always make 1,000 posts, but it’s important to have a goal. Even we don’t always achieve 1,000 words per day; but we’d recommend a minimum of 500 words – updated at least once a week for a blog to be beneficial.

3. Involvement
Although your SEO agency may need uncomfortable access to your business, it’s important not to give too much free reign – your business is constantly changing, and your SEO agency should be asking questions.

If your agency aren’t aware of what your goals are and who your target audience is, they’ll be hard pressed to help improve your business.

4. Regular updates
Social networks transfer billions of links and content each day, and search engines are constantly crawling websites to determine importance. Great content is the key to a successful conversions, and this builds your online reputation. Without regular updates and content, your SEO and company aren’t going anywhere.

Most sites and companies do make regular changes to the business, and this should be reflected online and in SEO. Don’t let your site become unmanageable – there should be regular guidance along with the regular updates – from both sides.

No-one knows your company better than you. You provide the direction, and your SEO partner will provide the assistance to achieve it.

Any further tips? Leave us a comment!

eMail: web@frag.co.uk
Phone: 07739 315821

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