This is a follow up to my post on building lots of links to ecommerce product pages. Someone commented on that post something like:
Since no one is linking to these FFA pages they will have a “low” page rank value with a small page rank voting share to distribute.
Because I don’t get many comments here I have the luxury of being able to answer this in great depth!
To understand why the link building techniques for product pages I discussed in that post do help your product pages rank you first need an understanding of the challenges of ecommerce SEO.
For many owners of online shops the following is true:
- Many products are buried deep in the sites architecture, meaning they get no ‘PageRank’ passed from high value pages like the homepage and top level categories- pages which don’t look important to the site might end up in the supplemental index and are unlikely to be returned in SERPs
- Product pages are unlikely to attract links from external sources naturally
- Product pages might use manufacturers descriptions or have no textual description at all meaning they are light on content at best or duplicated on other sites at worst.
- Lots of products will have near identical descriptions, names, prices and attributes meaning they look like internal duplicates of other products making it likely they’ll be treated as supplemental results
In this post I’ll share some ideas for optimising your product pages to eradicate some or all of the problems above. I want this blog to actually add value and not just recite best practice so some of the stuff I talk about here might not be what your agency recommends, but it will work if you know how to do it properly.
Step 1: Making your product pages (look) unique
There’s a few techniques you can use here. As a general rule (this is true with most stuff in SEO, and life in general I tend to find) the more time and money you invest in your product pages and producing content the better these pages will perform.
Writing unique thick content product pages
The best thing you can do to optimise your product pages is to write your own, unique descriptions of each and every product. Now if you’ve got hundreds or even thousands of products this is the route I’d go down. You don’t need to launch your site with this content, you can release it after launch and add it in order of product priority (your most important/ profitable products get unique copy first).
You could outsource this job but it’s better managed by your product teams or someone with actual product knowledge- if you’ve got a bricks and mortar store your shop floor sales people are best placed for this as they talk about your products all day so try and work out a way to put them on the job.
You can treat this exercise in a number of ways:
- do it just for the basic SEO benefit of having unique content on the page. If this is the case you might want to display the content further down the page where your visitors are less likely to dwell on it. You can then keep the manufacturer description at the top of the page, selling the product.
- use the copy to introduce new keyword variations for the product. Aim to get as many words of unique content on the page as possible without negatively impacting conversion rates. Crude as it sounds the more words you have on product pages the more likely they are to drive long tail search traffic.
- use the copy as a sales device and write really useful product descriptions which not only talk about the product but actually sell it’s benefits. Like a sales person would on the shop floor.
Needless to say I’d advocate the last approach as its by far the best from an SEO, usability, conversion rate and general ‘making a good website’ point of view. For example check out the awesome thick content product page on Firebox for the musucbag.
Like I said adopting unique content production for each product is the best tactic, but it doesn’t scale up well if you have tens or hundreds of thousands of products and variations. While it’s still worth adding sales copy to your key products some of the following methods will help you to dynamically create ‘uniqueness’ on other pages which are either in the queue for the copywriting treatment or which you don’t see as important enough to invest time in (i.e low profit margin/ loss-leading products)
It you can get users to review products on your site they are doing you a massive favour because they’re adding unique content to your product pages. Amazon do an amazing job of this, have a look at the detail added to this product page on Amazon by the user generated reviews. Having review options on every page of your site and no actual reviews looks pretty crap though so don’t just add the functionality and hope people will bother to take the time to add their reviews. I would always recommend incentivising a review with reward points, a money off coupon or a prize draw. Email your customers a few days after the product has arrived offering the incentive in exchange for the review.
Dynamically adding links and text snippets from related products or ‘customers who brought this also brought’ type widgets doesn’t really create unique content because the snippets are taken from other product descriptions but when the content is mashed together the % of duplication between similar product pages should be reduced (assuming the same related products aren’t displayed on each product page).
Boilerplate or macro content
I don’t really recommend this but it does work. You create a generic description and dynamically insert the unique attributes for each product into it to create some semi unique copy. You can use synonyms to randomise the copy further as well. So your macro template might look like this:
The [product name] is available from [store name] at the [bargain|low|cheap|great] price of [product price]. You can buy the [product name] in [colour options]. Select the quantity of [product name] you require and add to basket to [checkout|pay|purchase] securely online.
I.e. for a tv you might have you might have:
The Sony Bravia plasma is available from cheaptvs.co.uk at the bargain price of £499.95. You can buy the Sony Bravia plasma in black, White or grey. Select the quantity of Sony Bravia plasma’s you require and add to basket to purchase securely online.
Obviously the more product attributes you have the more you can personalise each piece of text. You probably wouldn’t want to use this on high value products like TV’s but for something low value where you’ve got stacks of products (like TV cables) it could work. Seatwave use templated copy like this at the bottom of their event pages (just after the table of tickets).
Love Never Dies market information on 05 July 2010
Seatwave has 50 Love Never Dies performances with 2664 tickets in 1 cities across 1 countries.
At present you can buy or sell Love Never Dies tickets for performances in London.
There are currently dates set at the following venues: Adelphi Theatre.
The current lowest priced tickets are £34.42 for the performance on 07 July 2010 at Adelphi Theatre in London, UK.
The performance with the most tickets available is Adelphi Theatre on 31 July 2010.
The performance with the least tickets currently available is Adelphi Theatre on 05 July 2010.
The orange stuff is dynamic content, unique on each page- the rest is boilerplate
Make use of those meta keywords
Think meta keywords are defunct? Well you’re right. However we might be able to find a use for them… I had a client who had spent quite a bit of time and money writing meta keywords for each product in their catalogue (this was a few years ago but still probably pointless lol). They’d done a good job of it though, researching keyword variations for each product. Sitting in the meta data of the page they were doing nothing so we moved them into the page itself and output them under a ‘tags’ section at the bottom of the page. This is a cheap tactic but I have to say it worked great.
Homebase do something remarkably similar at the bottom of their category pages:
The cool thing about images is they’re free from duplicate content issues so if you’ve got 10 photos of a product it doesn’t matter they’re the same photos every other shop has. Make the file names unique on each page (even if you’re using the same images on different pages) and dynamically build unique alt text using the product name so for example:
Image 1 - file: images/[product name]-1.jpg, alt: “[product name] main view”
Image 2- file: images/[product name]-2.jpg, alt: “close up of [product name]
Now from a conversion marketing point of view linking off site probably isn’t a great idea but this is worth mentioning for SEO. One way to distinguish similar pages from each other is to feed in content from external sources. This of course can lead to a different and potentially more serious type of duplication but if it’s implemented correctly it can work.
The idea here is to start by gathering a bunch of open data sources which you can (legally) scrape into an RSS feed. These could be blogs, tweets, news results, yahoo answers, forums, where-ever the products which you’re selling will be mentioned.
Next you’ll need to feed in relevant items to the product name onto the page. You’ll only want to publish an excerpt of the article to avoid being seen as a content scraper. What this might actually look like on your page would be something like a sidebar module with latest news about your product so on your Sony Bravia page you’d have an excerpt from the latest news stories, blogs or forum posts which have mentioned Sony Bravia tv’s.
If you think about those twitter plugins you see on blogs which pull the latest tweets with a certain hashtag onto the blog its the same principle.
Step 2: increasing internal link weight to product pages
Ok so if you followed one or more of the content optimisation recommendations your product pages should be looking more like the kind of unique, content rich documents which Google likes to return in search results. However the pages are still buried deep in your site so they don’t look particularly important. If a product page is a long way from the homepage and doesn’t have any external links pointing to it it’s unlikely to rank well unless you have a really strong site.
For small sites sculpting your PageRank with internal linking is easy, you just link to your important deep pages from your homepage. With ecommerce it’s different. You can’t list 50,000 product page links on your homepage and if you did it wouldn’t help your rankings much anyway. This is a problem best tackled at the sites IA planning stage but there’s a few modifications and quick fixes you can make on live sites too.
Flattening the information architecture
If you have a big site with lots of products chances are your IA is a few levels deep like:
Home > Electronics > TV’s > Plasma TV’s > Sony Bravia 32″
At best this product page is going to be buried 5 levels deep, that’s assuming there’s no pagination of the category pages.
The quickest win for your most important products is featuring them on the homepage or section homepage like in the example above the Sony Bravia would be a featured product on the ‘electronics’ homepage.
But that only takes care of a few individual products. To make site wide improvements to your product pages you need to raise the deep categories up the IA so plasma TV’s can be reached from a number of places like:
Home > Plasma TV’s > Sony Bravia 32″
Home > Electronics > Plasma TV’s > Sony Bravia 32″
Doing this your Sony bravia’s now only a couple of levels from the homepage, so are all the other products in the plasma TV category.
It might mean listing more bottom category levels on your homepage than you’d like but this is usually the quickest fix for big ecommerce sites. Conventional wisdom may disagree here but realistically a trusted site can get away with 200-300 links on your homepage before you start really diluting things so it’s just up to your designer to make all those links fit onto the page in a user friendly way. Have a look at how Asos manage this with their drop down navigation listing lots of deep categories.
Another quick way to flatten the IA is to create brand category pages (if you haven’t already got them) so:
Home > Shop by brand > Sony > Sony Bravia 32″
Home > Sony > Sony Bravia 32″
This is an additional internal link to each of your product pages which is good news in theory. However be careful creating new category pages because the more you have the more you dilute the others so you’ll need to be building external links directly into the brand category pages in the example above in order to keep things balanced.
These were already discussed in the content optimisation section but if you missed it there, these are the product links at the bottom of product pages which take you to related products. They’re useful for spreading link equity horizontally across the site architecture (where as the category page examples spread link equity from the top down). For this to be effective though you really also need to be building external links to product pages, else you’re just batting around worthless links between your products.
If your sites got a blog, ‘how to’ or other ‘thick content’ area you can add deep links to product pages from within these content pages, either embedded into the text or using a related content widget in the sidebar. Nice example of this on the topshop blog:
This borders between internal and external link building. It also borders on ‘don’t try it unless you’re sure you know what you’re doing’. I’m assuming you do…
One way to flatten your site is to use subdomains for categories or sub-categories so you might have a homepage either in addition to your plasmatvs.mysite.commysite.com/plasmatvs category or instead of it.
My personal preference would be to host category and product pages as normal on the main domain so:
- Plasma tvs category at mysite.com/plasmatvs
- Product page at mysite.com/plasmatvs/sony-bravia-32
- Host a category microsite at plasmatvs.mysite.com which links back to the product page on the root domain.
You obviously make more work for yourself by doing this because you need to promote the subdomain with external links but if you have the resources I think it’s worth exploring. You could also create brand subdomains like sony.mysite.com.
Step 3: building external links
This is the final and also hardest part of the process. Internal linking relies on your homepage having some authority in the first place but you also need external links to category and sub-categories as well as direct to product pages to ensure there’s enough link equity in your site to spread around all your product pages.
Link building to category pages
I’ll usually look to link build to deep categories first as these have the closest proximity to my product pages so backing up to the example in the last section I’d favour link building to the plasma TV’s sub-category than to the electronics category page. Not only will these links pass more weight direct to the products, they should also be easier to source because the more niche you go the more link building opportunities there are. For example you could link to your plasma’s category page from specialist forums, geek blogs, tv show fan pages, sports sites, home improvement magazines etc etc
I’ll give a few practical tips for link building to category pages, because I’m nice like that!
- Botw accepts deep page links in it’s directory- a quality link you can buy, permanently, and within guidelines- snap that mother up for as many categories as you can afford
- Ditto many other shopping directories who’ll let you submit category level pages
- Place some advertorial with the authority magazine for each of your categories so for your laptops category take an ad on laptopmag.com
- Guest post on niche blogs for each of your subcategories or if these are hard to find search for blogs with an audience/ customer overlap so you could write a post on a gaming blog about the best plasma’s for multi-player mario kart on the Wii then link to your plasma’s category in your byline.
- Buy up niche sites and keyword rich domains and 301 them to your category page
- Try for links from manufacturers, suppliers or support contract providers within each category
- Mine the links of specialists in each category so look at the backlinks of www.directtvs.co.uk and try to replicate these for your category page at www.mysite.com/plasmatvs
- Run a giveaway/ voucher code promo through niche blogs. So for example contact bloggers who write about BBQ’ing and give their readers a 10% off code for anything in the BBQ’s category.
Unlike product pages the game with category pages is about getting some decent links, not volume. Most stores have few category page links so a few go a long way. As old school as it seems I think good old fashioned PageRank is as a guide as any when assessing link prospects for category pages.
Building links to product pages
Not going to cover this again here. If you’ve reached the end of this post (sorry, I know it’s long) and haven’t read my big post on building links to product pages that will be another 10 minutes of your life spent on this blog. Hopefully it will be worth it though.
That’s a wrap. Just a reminder at the end that some of the tactics I’ve discussed here might not fall into the best practice handbook. Make sure you know what you’re doing before embarking on any of the more advanced stuff- if you’ve got questions, just ask…