The purpose of any business website is to promote a product or
service online. The purpose of an ecommerce website is to take
it one step further and to allow your visitors to purchase your
products or services directly from your website. This model has
many great advantages over the non-ecommerce website in that it
allows for the generation of revenue with little-or-no time
spent in selling past the cost to have the website designed and
maintained, and it does not require the visitor to call you
during business hours thus helping secure the sale to an impulse
buyer. If your website provides all the information that the
buyer would want, you can save significant money in sales time
spent in that the visitor can find all the information they need
to decide to buy from you without taking up your time or that of
one of your sales staff. But ecommerce sites have a serious
drawback as well; very few of them can be properly indexed by
search engine spiders and thus will fail to rank highly.
A non-ecommerce website may have the disadvantage on not being
able to take the visitor’s money the second they want to spend
it, however if it can be found on the first page of the search
engines while your beautifully designed ecommerce site sits on
page eight, the advantage is theirs. The vast majority of
visitors will never get to see your site, let alone buy from
you, whereas a non-ecommerce site may lose sales because they
don’t sell online but at least they’re able to deliver their
message to an audience to begin with. So what can be done? The
key is in the shopping cart you select.
SEO & Shopping Carts
The biggest problem with many SEO-friendly ecommerce solutions
is that they are created after the initial product. Shopping
cart systems such as Miva Merchant and OS Commerce are not
designed with the primary goal of creating pages that will be
well-received by the search engine spiders. Most shopping cart
systems out there today are not in-and-of-themselves even
spiderable and require 3rd party add-ons to facilitate even the
lowest form of SEO-friendliness. The money you may have saved in
choosing an inexpensive shopping cart may very well end up
costing you your business in the long run, especially if you are
using your shopping cart as the entire site, which we have seen
may times in the past.
What Can Be Done?
There are essentially two solutions to this problem. The first
is to create a front-end site separate from the shopping cart.
What this will effectively do is create a number of pages that
can be easily spidered (assuming that they’re well designed).
The drawback to this course of action is that your website will
forever be limited to the size of the front-end site. Which
brings us to the second option: choose a search engine friendly
shopping cart system.
Finding an SEO-friendly shopping cart system is far easier said
than done. There are many factors that have to be taken into
account including the spiderability of the pages themselves, the
customization capacity of the individual pages, the ease of
adding products and changing the pages down the road, etc. While
I’ve worked with many shopping cart and ecommerce systems, to
date there has been only one that has truly impressed me in that
it is extremely simple to use, it allows for full customization
of individual pages and the product pages get fully spidered to
the point where they have PageRank assigned. A rarity in the
shopping cart world.
Easy As Apple Pie
Mr. Lee Roberts, President of Rose Rock Design and creator of
the Apple Pie Shopping
Cart, was kind enough to take the time to speak with me
regarding how he developed his system. Trying to get an
understanding of how this system was born I inquired as to what
differentiated their system from others. Without “giving away
the farm”, Lee pointed out that his system was unique in that
the search engines were a consideration from the birth of this
project. Rather than trying to jerry-rig a system that was
already in place, he initiated the development of a system whose
first task was to allow for easily spidered and customized
pages. A significant advantage to be sure.
In further discussions he pointed out a few key factors that
should be considered by all when choosing a shopping cart
system. While more advance shopping cart systems that provide
for SEO-friendly pages may seem more expensive, they save you
the cost of developing a front-end site, maintaining the pricing
on a static page if one goes that route, and of course – if
all your site’s pages are easily spidered and
you can then have hundreds of additional relevant pages added to
your site’s overall strength and relevancy you have a serious
advantage in the SEO “game”. If a shopping cart system costs you
an extra $100 per month to maintain but it’s use provides you
with an additional $5000 in sales that month did it really
“cost” you $100?
What Lee has effectively done is to provide a shopping cart
system that enables search engines to fully read and index every
page. Additionally (and perhaps because of his history as an
accessibility expert) the system is extremely easy to work with
as a user and as an SEO. And of course that’s our primary
concern at Beanstalk.
It is not to say that the Apple Pie Shopping Cart is
end-all-be-all of SEO for an ecommerce site, if it was Lee
wouldn’t be in the process of building a new version that will
include many new features for Internet marketing and tracking,
and we would be out of work. That said, if you’ve got an
e-commerce site or are looking to have one built, one must
consider what type of marketing strategy will be taken with the
site and if SEO is one of those, insure to find a system that
provides the same advantages as this one.
It may cost a bit
more up front but doing it right the first time is far less
costly than building a site that can’t be marketed properly and
to it’s maximum potential.