site optimisationHaving spent the last 6 years Client side as Head of eCommerce and agency side managing digital marketing teams, one constant has been confusion in new platform builds over what a “search engine friendly” website actually is. 

eCommerce solution providers advertise optimised platforms and Clients demand search engine friendly sites; do both mean the same thing? Rarely. Client side eCommerce managers can confuse technical and content optimisation, leading to miss-matches between expectation and delivery. A technically optimised web platform does not necessarily mean that keyword planning and meta content optimisation have been carried out.

This blog provides a tick list of the core elements that you should specify in any RFP or ITT when scoping a new eCommerce platform. They act as a starting point for SEO dialogue, enabling you to push vendors on specific areas of optimisation expertise. Please note the list is not in any order of priority.

  1. 301 redirects to preserve search engine rankings 
  2. Avoiding duplicate content and use of the canonical tag where relevant
  3. Dynamically generate search engine friendly URLs for product and content pages e.g. www.yoursite.com/category-name/product-name instead of www.yoursite.com/productdetails.aspx?pid=037012&cid=144&language=en-GB
  4. Ability to specify / edit URLs for individual pages via CMS – important for campaign landing pages and microsites
  5. Support for linking of product pages and content pages to improve internal linking – should be delivered via the Catalogue Management tool or CMS
  6. CSS absolute positioning for text links on product list pages to ensure the first link for each product is keyword rich
  7. Dynamic XML sitemap that is submitted on a regular basis
  8. HTML sitemap that is auto generated based on your catalogue and site structure
  9. Support for rich snippets within platform – encoding of data in RDF format e.g. customer ratings & reviews
  10. Custom 404 error page and automated report to flag error pages so your internal team can take action (you can achieve this through a separate monitoring tool such as Indiabook)
  11. Robots.txt file is provided and you can access and edit when required
  12. Core provision for meta content (title, description, keywords) that is auto generated when you load new products and content pages and can also be edited easily from within the CMS
  13. Text links in navigation not images; if coders are using sIFR (flash replacements) push them for clarification on how this is being done to ensure it complies with accessibility standards
  14. Keyword optimised H tags within html for headings – structure for use of H1 to H6 to provide a relevant hierarchy of content
  15. Ensuring flash objects are search engine friendly
  16. Ensuring pdf content is readable e.g. captions for images, document meta data
  17. Graceful degradation – when elements like JavaScript are disabled in the browser, key content is still visible to search engine spiders/bots as well as to visitors
  18. RSS feeds to support product and news announcements e.g. deal of the day
  19. Page load time to meet agreed threshold but make sure you define how load speed is measured e.g. after all page elements have loaded – this factor will be included in Google’s algorithm in 2010
  20. Social media content such as blogs are hosted on your primary website domain using an SEO friendly blog engine (e.g. WordPress is better than Blogger) – blogs usually sit on a sub-domain such as blog.yoursite.com to ensure you benefit from the search engine juice.

It is essential that your site specific SEO requirements are accurately documented during your project scoping phase to ensure you evaluate the relative optimisation strengths of potential vendors.

Please note that this checklist does not attempt to tackle bespoke areas of website optimisation that relate to business specific commercial goals. You may have more detailed needs for elements such as Google Sitemap (e.g. separate news sitemap) that will need thorough mapping. My recommendation is to make sure you have the essentials covered and then work with an SEO specialist (in-house or outsourced) to overlay the detail.

I would welcome comments and recommendations based on your own experience. Is there anything you think missing from this list?