Enter Rand Fishkin, world renowned SEO expert and co-author/co-founder of the Art of SEO, Inbound.org, and Moz. Rand’s an addict of all things content, search, & social on the web. He teamed up with PrestaShop Moderator, Lesley Paone of dh42 to give you expert insights into how SEO, PrestaShop and ecommerce work together.
What would be your first steps in starting SEO for a newly launched e-commerce site?
I would first want to think about my overall marketing and unique value proposition. The days when SEO could be achieved by a business or website without something unique that made them truly stand out to the web are over. Today, if you want to perform well in search rankings over the long haul, you need to be remarkable in a way that makes those who see your shop want to share, write about you, and recommend you to others. Establishing that true uniqueness is incredibly challenging, but with billions of people performing billions of searches and only a few top ranking positions for any given set of keywords, competition is naturally going to be intense.
Do you think every e-commerce site needs a blog?
No, certainly not. Unless your passion is writing and you can create a remarkable blog that people will want to read and share, I'd do something else. Find that area of contribution to your site (and your business) where your skills can shine and you can be better than 99% of your competitors and do that. It could be photography or design or video or interactive elements. Perhaps it's in-depth guides or how-tos. Maybe you can produce animations or illustrations that perfectly capture your products' value. Blogs are a popular way to share content, but not every piece of content that you might be uniquely good at is best suited to a blog.
What do you think are the most important factors in getting product pages to rank high in search engines.
--- A powerful domain that many people are linking to and using
---Individual pages that have lots of editorially-given links and usage data associated with them
---Keyword targeting that matches what the searcher has typed in
--- A page experience that not only fulfills the searcher's needs, but goes beyond utility to provide enjoyment, surprise, and delight as well (this is what the few stores that are able to outrank giants like Amazon have been able to do)
---A bot-friendly internal link/crawl structure and URL system - every unique item/category/piece of content has only a single, static, readable, canonical URL
---Schema markup is a good way to stand out in the SERPs - there are a ton of options listed here.
Do you have any suggestions for drop shippers that use a product feed with no unique descriptions?
If you offer no unique value beyond the availability of the same product many others are offering, you don't deserve to rank well. Historically, you could be in an undeserving position and still leverage SEO to rank, but those days are over. My suggestion would be not to expect to rank well for pages where you're not providing an experience dramatically better than everyone else in the top 20 results - that includes unique descriptions (although that's the most basic of the required elements).
How would you go about link building for an e-commerce site?
I've seen a lot of success from e-commerce stores that are very press-worthy and get the attention of media and blogs. My focus would be on designing an experience, a collection of products, and a style that's unique and media-worthy. Some good places to get inspiration are the sites showing off unique ecommerce designs. Check out, for example: Awwwards, Smashing Magazine and Synecore.
Once you have that media-worthiness in your design and focus, I'd seek to produce content that helps show off what makes the site unique. Betabrand, for example, focuses on sharing how their dress yoga pants can provide comfort in professional settings
What are "local citations"? Do you think they are important for e-commerce sites that sell to a whole country, several countries, or even worldwide?
Local citations are generally more geared toward the local listings (those that show up in Google's "maps" style results). If you're marketing nationally or globally and don't have physical storefronts, these are less important (though anyone mentioning or talking about you online is a good thing).
When an e-commerce website has product pages for products that will never be in stock again, how would you handle them for SEO? Remove the page? Leave the pages up with an Out of Stock message? Redirect the page to other products or something else?
I like to do one of two things - either redirect the page using a 301 to the most similar item or the category/subcategory level page above it. Or, I'd leave the page up with a message that it's no longer in stock, but here's several items that are good substitutes. In the second case, it really becomes a landing page to drive search traffic that may still exist for the item to places where you can help satisfy those searchers.
Do you have any suggestions on how category pages should be handled in relation to duplicate content and thin content?
Google doesn't worry too much about duplicate content on category pages - they expect that many of the words and photos are going to be similar to what's found on product pages. The issue is when you have lots of versions of a single category page with little unique value to searchers. For example, having a category page for women's pants is a good idea. Having 28 separate category pages for women's pants where the only variations are size and color is probably not a great idea. In faceted navigation scenarios like that, I'd make the color and size filtered pages use a rel=canonical back to the non-faceted women's pants page.
What are some tips you can give online merchants looking to hire an SEO firm to handle their e-commerce website?
I really like this short quiz Ian Lurie of Portent Interactive put together on How to Hire an SEO Company. If you follow those guidelines, you'll be in good shape. Just don't be afraid to ask dumb questions and to follow up by asking "why" and "how do you know that" - SEOs aren't following any mystical forms of knowledge and should be able to clearly explain why search engines work the way they do.
Can you explain how Moz would help PrestaShop merchants?
As far as our software goes, it's great for professional web marketers, so if you're deep into the worlds of SEO, social media, and content marketing, definitely check it out. But if you're planning to hire a marketer or a consultant, they're probably the right folks to determine whether a Moz subscription is right for you.