What keywords should I optimise my homepage for?

If you’re doing SEO for a big ecommerce site which sells everything including the kitchen sink – department stores, catalogues that sort of thing this is a question which will undoubtedly come up…

We’ve got 1,000,000 products in 5,000 categories – what keywords should we optimise our homepage for?

Usually the homepage’s of these mahusive shops will have a load of link equity i.e. Argos have got about 3,500 linking root domains. But in almost all the cases I can find these shops are failing to make good use of that homepage power in their keyword strategy.

What you often find in these big ecommerce organisations is there’s warring factions at play internally, all competing for homepage exposure for their category of products which can make this a bit more difficult but lets cast that aside and focus on the SEO…

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How to optimise ecommerce product pages

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.

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Building lots of links to ecommerce product pages

If it’s your first time here you might want to read this post on link building for ecommerce sites first.

I recently started reading the Hobo web blog (which is really good for practical SEO advice by the way) and this post caught my attention. Shaun’s advice on using article marketing to build links with keywords which you’re already ranking for is similar to the way I use articles to boost up the rankings of product pages (or any deep page on a big site really). So I wanted to share this tip and some others for how ecommerce site owners can effectively build lots of links to lots of pages, ideally without lots of work.

To understand how and why this works you first need to accept 2 of the less spoken about but absolutely fundamental underlying principles of SEO.

  1. Not every link you build has to be grade A, 100% clean, natural link building gold like many SEO’s would have you believe. Bulk links still play a quite significant part, in fact I’d go so far as to say the majority of links on the web are pretty crappy. Also while I don’t buy into the ‘bad links can’t hurt a good site’ idea because they definitely can, the stuff I’m discussing here won’t have any negative side effects.
  2. The majority of product pages on ecommerce sites have no external links, they’re ranked on the basis of, predominantly,  domain authority instead. It’s usually only after a product page is ranked at number 1 it acquires natural links as anyone talking about that product online in forums or on blogs will just paste the top result in Google into their posts as a reference. For this reason, provided you’re doing the other stuff right, have built a domain with some trust from decent links to top level pages, you’ve got your technical stuff right so there’s no duplication issues etc and your internal linking makes product pages easy to spider then a few links even of low quality to product pages usually has excellent effects on rankings.

OK if you’re down with those ideas, here’s how we go about building these deep links. In no particular order…
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Link building for online shops

This is another post which I know has been done before, haven’t they all?! But I still think its worth revisiting. A couple of other good posts on ecommerce link building which I think are worth a read are here on Blogstorm and this interview with Aaron Wall. If you’ve come across any other good posts on the subject feel free to let me know and I’ll link to them here as well.

OK so why is ecommerce link building different?

I think really there’s 2 challenges with most shop sites:

Lots and lots of pages- big sites presents a challenge for link builders because it is usually impossible (and unnecessary) to build links to every product page, although in an ideal world you would want to.

Unlink-able content- actually to a good link builder there’s no such thing but its harder to differentiate the content of an online shop. Often content isn’t even unique let alone link worthy.

Depending on what you’re selling you might also be in a tough market- which makes these problems worse still.

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