Search engine optimization (SEO) increases your website’s visibility on organic searches. An SEO audit can help you identify opportunities to improve your search performance, which is key to unlocking higher sales and profits from your online store.
This guide will walk you through how to conduct an ecommerce SEO audit. I’ll cover some actionable tips that will help you improve your search rankings.
Let’s briefly get our definitions in order before jumping into this guide.
What is an SEO audit?
An SEO audit is a checklist of factors that will help you review your site to optimize performance. Completing the steps in the checklist will help you identify and resolve issues so you can improve your website's ranking on organic searches. A comprehensive SEO audit addresses the needs of both search engine algorithms and visitors.
Have you heard of Maslow's hierarchy of needs? It is a motivational theory in psychology that classifies human needs on a five-tier pyramid of hierarchy.
Image source: Psychology Today
At the bottom of this hierarchy are our basic physiological needs, while the apex is our self-actualization. Since the needs are hierarchical, we won’t achieve our psychological needs till we meet our basic needs. The takeaway is, we have to look at our needs holistically and fulfill the needs of one level before moving to the next.
How is this relevant to your SEO audit? Like Maslow’s hierarchy, an SEO audit also has a well-defined hierarchy. To optimize your SEO gains, you have to look at its elements holistically and ensure that your website meets the SEO requirement at each level.
Image source: Moz
The SEO hierarchy is a comprehensive listing of the elements that make up an effective SEO audit.
We’ll take a look at some of the common issues that an audit can uncover for your ecommerce store, as well as ways to resolve these issues.
1. Fixing crawl errors
Search engines display the most relevant results for a search query. Essentially, a search engine crawls the internet searching for content, then indexes the content before ranking it for various keywords.
Google and other search engines need to crawl your site easily. As part of your ecommerce SEO audit, you need to identify and fix crawl issues on your website. I recommend using Google Search Console (GSC) to identify and fix crawl errors.
How to check
From your Google Search Console main dashboard, click on Coverage. You can then review any crawl errors. You can also find errors under page performance.
Google divides crawl errors into two basic categories: site errors and URL errors.
Site errors are high-level errors that prevent your entire website from being crawled, so these are priority errors that need to be fixed first. URL errors indicate page-specific issues.
Alongside Search Console, you can use a tool like Screaming Frog to crawl your website and search for errors.
Common crawl errors
A. DNS errors: Domain name system errors are indications that Googlebot is having issues accessing your website. Google recommends using the “Fetch as Googlebot” within Google Search Console to identify DNS errors.
Check with your DNS provider to see where the issue is and get it resolved. If the issue is with your server, you will see a 404 (not found) or 500 (server error) code.
B. Server errors: The most common server errors are related to timeouts because your website takes too long to respond. The reason for slow load times could be because your server is temporarily overloaded. If you’re regularly getting these errors you should consider switching hosting, to one with better uptime guarantees.
The most common URL errors are broken links. Over time, pages get deleted, the URL name gets changed, and this causes the original link to break. Broken links show up as 404 pages and affect site rankings and user experience.
Validating your fix
After taking the necessary steps to fix your indexing errors click on the “validate fix” button to ensure you have resolved the issue.
2. XML sitemap errors
An XML sitemap is a list of relevant pages on your website. The map provides a crawler with an overview of your site structure. A well-organized website is easy to index and navigate.
According to Google, e-commerce websites with a large page count and rich media content benefit most from an XML map.
How to check
There are various ways to check your sitemap. For example, you can type one of the following common locations into your search bar:
The easiest approach, though, is just to check your sitemap on Search Console.
Simply click on the Sitemaps dashboard.
The sitemap dashboard tells you if Google can see your sitemap. If there is nothing here you should double check the site has one and then you can add it here.
How to fix
Sitemaps are navigational documents that give Google and other search engines a list of URLs to crawl and show the site’s structure. You can generate these using a variety of automatic tools and Google has a great walkthrough of the whole process:
3. No HTTPS security
HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) websites encrypt data during transfer and prevent it from being modified or “hacked.” That is especially important for ecommerce stores, as your customers won’t purchase via an insecure connection.
How to check
Check the URL of your website. If your site has HTTPS enabled, there will be a padlock on your browser. The start of your URL will also begin with HTTPS.
Google has long been encouraging sites to switch to the more secure HTTPS. Its Chrome browser marks sites using HTTP rather than HTTPS 'Not secure'.
How to fix
Enabling HTTPS on your site is straightforward. If you don’t have HTTPS on your site, you need to first purchase an SSL certificate, and then implement HTTPS.
Enabling HTTPS involves setting up redirects for all your URLs. For example, you would need to set up a 301 redirect from http://mysite.com to https://mysite.com.
It is very easy to set up mass redirects on most Content Management Systems. For example, on WordPress, you can install Really Simple SSL.
For a free SSL certificate and more information check out Let’s Encrypt. Many companies use them and they are a great, free, service.
There's a full guide on how to migrate your website to HTTPS in this article.
4. Content SEO issues
Ask any digital marketer about content strategy, and chances are, most of them will talk about a strategy built around keywords. Your content should have a keyword focus and be engaging and relevant.
The two common issues you are likely to encounter during a site audit are thin content and duplicate content. This is especially problematic for ecommerce companies as they tend to have lots of dynamically generated product pages which can be very similar or lack good copy.
How to fix
For ecommerce sites and others which have lots of product pages, services such as similar.ai allow you to automatically generate SEO friendly copy for them.
Make sure you also identify the most popular pages on your website so you can properly craft dedicated content for these.
Head over to Google Search Console and review the top-performing pages on your website. I recommend you start with the top 20 pages on your site. Review the pages and see which keywords your content is ranking for. You can then do the following:
- Compare your content against other content in the SERPS
- Ensure that each page of your content is targeting a specific term
- Make sure that each of your top pages has compelling and unique content
Once you’ve made the updates, and can see which of your changes were most effective, you can focus on the 20 next most important pages, and so on. As you make the updates, make sure to include relevant internal links between content.
Duplicate content is another issue you might face. It's a common problem for ecommerce websites due to multiple variants of the same product. Some issues you might need to fix include:
- Proper formatting of rel=Canonical
- Correct implementation of Hreflang tags
You can read more about fixing duplicate content issues in this article.
5. Schema markup
While your meta description is datacentric, schema markup gives context to the data. Adding schema markup to your on-page HTML can improve the way search engines read and present your data.
You can see how sites have added schema markup to make their reviews stand out in the example below. The review stars can impact which resource a person clicks.
How to Fix
Schema is recognized by all major search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex.
6. User experience SEO
User experience is a strong ranking signal for search engines, Google is pushing its Core Web Vitals update out in mid June and it’s something we should all be working on.
A slow-loading website ruins user experience, leading to cart abandonment and higher bounce rates. In SEO terms, your website might rank lower than faster-loading competitor's sites.
How to check
Google has a suite of tools you can use to start identifying any issues, such as the PageSpeed Insights tool:
This will review your site speed and point out fixes you need to implement.
How to Fix
Some page speed issues are easy to fix. For example, you can use lazy loading to defer image loading and host your images on a Content Delivery Network. That is straightforward if you’re on a platform like WordPress, which has a Lazy Load plugin for this purpose.
Some of the issues you’ll need to implement will require a degree of technical knowledge. For example, optimizing server response times requires expert knowledge and you may need to hire external support for this. However, those fixes should be one-time costs.
An SEO audit is a health check of your website, and like all health checks, it should be comprehensive and periodic. An audit enables you to identify issues, and you can focus on the areas that help your ecommerce site increase traffic and conversions.
For best results, conduct an SEO audit at least once a year. Good luck with the SEO audit for your e-commerce website!