When managing a constantly-evolving eCommerce site, it can be easy to overlook small SEO optimizations that can have a significant impact on organic performance. Check out these three areas of your site to ensure that Google focuses on your most important pages and doesn’t waste time on pages you do not want to be ranked:
- Setting URL Parameters for Crawlers to Ignore
When Google crawls your website, it can spider in any direction, meaning it can miss regularly crawling your most important pages if there are too many URLs to crawl. Using the URL Parameters tool in Google Search Console, you can directly specify to Google which types of URLs should be crawled and what each of your URL parameters represents, which can result in much more efficient crawling.
The first type of parameter to pay special attention to are URL parameters that have no bearing on the on-page content—these types of URLs do not offer any unique content and include parameters like session IDs or tracking parameters. Specifying to Google that these parameters do not affect the page content will allow Google to only crawl one representative URL and not waste time looking for other iterations that do not exist.
URL parameters that do affect on-page content have more crawling options available and should be approached with great care, as it can be easy to unintentionally block Google from crawling important pages. Parameterized URLs that affect page content most commonly include left-hand navigation filters that sort products by things like price, brand, color, etc. You can choose from the following settings for URL parameters:
Let Googlebot decide: This is the default option for URL Parameters that Google Search Console has detected. With this setting, Google will take its best guess as to how the filter works. If you aren’t sure how Google should handle a certain parameter, it is best to leave it set to “Let Googlebot decide.” In this case, you can later check some parameterized URLs in Google Search Console’s URL Inspection Tool to see how Google handled the parameter.
Every URL: If the parameter in question generates unique content that you would like exposed to search engines, use this setting to ensure Google crawls each iteration of the URL. This setting should be applied to any filter parameter that is configured to generate a self-referencing canonical tag. An example of this would include shopping filters that identify key characteristics users search for, like material (i.e. filtering down to “leather shoes”) or product compatibility (i.e. filtering down to “Samsung phone cases”)
Only URLs with specified value: Less commonly used than the other crawl settings, this setting allows you to specify a singular value of the filter for Google to crawl. A scenario for this case would be selecting a preferred sorting parameter for Google to crawl, like specifically requesting only URLs with the parameter “sortby=bestsellers” (displaying best sellers first) be crawled rather than URLs with “sortby=new”(displaying new products first).
No URLs: Setting Google to not crawl any URLs with a given parameter can significantly reduce Google’s crawling of unnecessary pages, such as blocking Google from crawling hundreds of individual brand filters or price range filters. Only use this setting if you are certain that Google does not need to crawl the URLs in question.
While Google continues to improve the efficiency of its crawlers, restricting the crawl of unimportant URLs can benefit your site by pointing Google towards your important pages.
- Properly Tagging Paginated Content
If your site has categories with multiple pages of products, it’s imperative to configure your paginated content so that it can be properly crawled and processed. If not properly configured, Google’s crawlers may not be able to crawl all of your category pages and the products on them, potentially hindering the site’s ability to rank.
In addition to configuring your pagination URL parameter in Search Console, you can make sure Google fully crawls your category pages using one of two options:
Tag each page with “rel=next” and “rel=prev” in the code: these tags indicate to Google the page’s position in relation to the rest of the series. On page two of a series, the “next” tag would indicate the URL for page three and the “prev” tag would indicate the page one URL (if the page is at beginning or end of a series, there will only be a “next” or “prev” tag, depending on whether or not the page is at the beginning of the end). Additionally, each paginated URL should have a self-referencing canonical tag rather than a canonical tag that references the base category URL. With these context clues in place, Google will be able to understand the paginated structure and crawl each page in the series (as well as the items on those pages).
Canonicalize a “View All” page: if your categories feature a “view all” option, you can canonicalize your category page and its paginated segments to reference the “view all” version of the page that places all of your products on one page. This approach may be easier to implement, but should only be used if the “view all” page isn’t too overwhelming for the user to navigate.
- Duplicate Products
If your product catalog includes very similar products or products that come in multiple variants, it is important to organize them for both users and search engines alike.
Say your website sells a shirt that comes in three different colorways. If these variants are merchandised as separate items rather than a configurable product, your website likely has separate pages titled something like this:
“Men’s Example Long Sleeve Shirt – Grey”
“Men’s Example Long Sleeve Shirt – Blue”
“Men’s Example Long Sleeve Shirt – Green”
When Google crawls these three different product detail pages, which one of the three should it serve on search results pages when a user searches for “Men’s Example Long Sleeve Shirt?” Not sure? Google will not be either, and may even decide not to rank any of the pages. Conversely, if your site had one PDP called “Men’s Example Long Sleeve Shirt” that included a selection of all four colors, there would be no question of what page would rank for that term.
While it is straightforward to understand why Google would likely not rank the three separate but very similar pages, the real reasoning behind this lies within satisfying user intent. When evaluating websites, Google is more than anything looking for which website will serve the user best. A website with all of the color variants of the shirt organized onto one page is a much better experience than asking a user to navigate back and forth to view all the different colors.
Beyond the SEO benefit of consolidating identical products, conversion rates for these products could likely improve as well. Generally speaking, optimizing your shopping experience with conversion in mind will benefit SEO in parallel.
While these three areas can be easily overlooked, small misconfigurations (or the lack of configuration at all) can easily result in large amounts of duplicate content or prevent important pages from being crawled. These areas require little to no development work, so identifying and correcting these issues can be done relatively quickly and could result in a large impact on your site’s organic visibility.
About Chris Brown
Chris Brown has nearly 20 years of retail leadership while driving impressive results in a diverse range of retail business models including, pure play ecommerce, brick and mortar, omnichannel (with substantial mobile expertise) and merchandising. As Vice President of Omni-channel and eCommerce Strategy, Chris connects with clients to help drive their digital strategy, combining his experience in high-growth retail environments with software solutions to build revenue, increase conversion and drive retention. Connect with Chris on Linkedin: