A thoughful and intelligent article from Shannon Watters at Digital Web this week, How to Choose an eCommerce Package, offers some great suggestions on what to look for when choosing software for an online shop offering goods or services or both.
Shannon writes about what she calls the “top eleven things to consider when choosing an eCommerce package,” and it’s difficult to argue with her selections, but I was hoping for an even dozen things to consider – with an addition of how the ecommerce software might interact with search engines.
Of course, an ecommerce system should be easy to use for both shopper and site owner. Updating the software, and adding functionality from third party toolmakers should be a breeze. The software should be able to scale with growth, and it should be easy to use with an analytics package, so that you can measure your traffic and see how visitors use the site.
Shannon’s suggestions regarding promotions and discounts and the ability to offer customer service are spot on. Security is essential, and an intuitive checkout process will be a major determinent as to whether visitors become customers. Her opinions on open source options, and on the community and company behind a software are filled with thoughtful suggestions.
Shannon also tells us of the importance of a content managment system:
Content management is something many take for granted, but itâ€™s one of the most important elements of a comprehensive eCommerce package
By all means, follow Shannon’s suggestions. But keep in mind that finding a search engine friendly ecommerce package should also be on your list of benefits to look for.
Visit the developer or vendor’s website and see if they even mention SEO. Send them an email or call them, and ask about search engine friendly features of the system. Look to see if they have a community forum or support forum, and see if there is discussion of search engine optimization. If you’re planning on working with an SEO for the site, check with them to see what they think of the ecommerce package.
Of course, you can use paid search to get visitors to your site, or television and radio advertisements, or celebritiy endorsements. It’s really nice though when your online shop has the potential to rank well for what you offer, in search engine organic listings.
What kinds of things might you want in an ecommerce package that make it search engine friendly? Here are ten things worth thinking about when choosing an ecommerce package:
1. The ability to write to the robots.txt file, and disallow search engine robots from visiting some files or folders as necessary.
2. Being able to have unique page titles for each page that can describe the content of those pages.
3. The chance to create a unique meta element with a description attribute for each page that can be used to describe the content of that page in a persuasive manner.
4. The opportunity to use search friendly URLs, which don’t contain multiple data variables. You don’t want something that looks like this:
A better alternative might look like this:
http://www. example. com/mens/shirts/prodid/12345
5. The ability to create an HTML based sitemap for the goods or services that the site offers.
6. The ability to create a feed or a text file that can be used for product search engines.
7. The chance to make changes to the HTML of templates, so that you can use heading elements to emphasize product names and other words and phrases that may head content on pages, and use keywords that you may expect your audience to be using.
8. The use of search friendly anchor text in links, in addition to image links if you want them, to point to other pages on the site using trigger words and keyword phrases as the anchor text.
9. Being able to use text in alt elements that provide meaningful alternative text for the images presented (with keyword terms as appropriate.)
10. Avoid using session variables in URLs – a simple text based browser should be able to visit all of the pages of the site. As the Google Webmaster Guidelines note:
Allow search bots to crawl your sites without session IDs or arguments that track their path through the site. These techniques are useful for tracking individual user behavior, but the access pattern of bots is entirely different. Using these techniques may result in incomplete indexing of your site, as bots may not be able to eliminate URLs that look different but actually point to the same page.
Many visitors to ecommerce sites arrive at those sites on pages other than the home page, following links from search engine result pages that describe what they are looking for. That’s something that you want to happen with your online shop, so remember the search engines.