SEO for Ecommerce Sites: Summary of Episode 84
The fantastic Nik Ranger joins the podcast to discuss what goes into doing SEO for eCommerce sites:
- From technical elements to content – what should eCommerce SEO focus on?
- How changes in online shopping impact SEO for eCommerce
- A look at structured data and Featured Snippets for eCommerce
Plus, we dive into the entity sites Google shows inside the Knowledge Panel!
Google Entity Website Preferences In the Knowledge Panel [00:04:18 – 00:21:42]
Diving Into SEO for eCommerce [00:21:42 – 00:57:30]
SEO News [00:57:56 – 01:01:40]
Google’s Entity Site Preferences in the Knowledge Panel [00:04:18 – 00:21:42]
Baseball. Truly the best way to study how Google deals with entities. Sports players and teams are the best. They’re dynamic (new players, new games), they’re seasonal, they’re multi-layered, and they’re just filled with tons of info. So today, we’re focusing on the entity sites Google shows in the Knowledge Panel by using sports players as an example.
In many Knowledge Panels, Google shows a site related to the entity. For example, Tom Cruise has a Knowledge Panel that lists the site tomcruise.com. But it’s not as simple as that. It’s not as simple as showing Shaq.com for Shaquille O’Neal. Sometimes social media profiles show up or pages related to the entity from other sites show up. So let’s get into what Google can show and what it prefers.
Firstly, clearly, Google would prefer a site focusing on the entity. For example, Shaq.com is the chosen site over any sort of Shaq social media profile or whatnot. So let’s take a look at situations where there is no page to the specific entity.
It all began when Mordy saw Aaron Judge’s Knowledge Panel (he’s a baseball player of great notoriety). He has a Twitter account that ranks on page one of desktop but the URL used in the panel was: https://www.mlb.com/player/aaron-judge-592450. It’s a page from the league’s website that represents a profile of that player.
A few points of interest here:
- Google chose this league profile page over Aaron Judge’s own Twitter page.
- There are a ton of profile pages related to this player from various sites that all rank on page 1 with some above the MLB’s page. But Google knows where this entity “lives.” It knows he’s a part of the MLB so it chose a profile page. And it only chose the profile page when the site the page was found on is a part of that entity. In this case, the MLB is the genus and Aaron Judge is the species.
It’s interesting to see this because the Twitter page belongs to the entity (Aaron Judge), but the league’s site doesn’t belong to Aaron. He’s not in control nor has no input of what goes up on his MLB profile page.
Mike Trout (another player), on the other hand, who also has a bio on MLB’s site, does have his Twitter account as the site Google uses in his Knowledge Panel. Or take another player, Justin Verlander. Like Judge, he also has a Twitter account that ranks on page one for his name, but Google again uses the MLB’s profile page! Do you know what the common denominator here is? Trout is active on Twitter (at least when Mordy ran these searches), while Judge and Verlander Tweet very infrequently!
This matters because it shows you how Google’s “bidding” here. Google wants to show a page that the entity owns like Shaq.com. If that doesn’t exist, it wants a social profile owned by the entity, but it will forgo that desire and use another page (or show none) when that social profile is not very active. Meaning, it prefers a social profile over something like the MLB player page but not if it’s not active. It’s great when the entity owns their Twitter profile but it offers you nothing if it’s not active.
Quick side point, Google generally shows a Twitter box when the account is active and tweets often over the past few days. But for major entities, i.e., famous people, Google will show a single Twitter card, not a carousel, that shows one single Tweet even though that Tweet could have been posted days ago!
But Google doesn’t do this with everyone. From what Mordy saw, not only do you need to be “well known” or famous, you need to be super well-known or super famous. So in sports, only the top players in a given league and even then, Mordy checked some NFL players who are way more popular than these baseball players and they didn’t have the Twitter card. Mordy wonders if it’s a matter of popularity, seasonality /relevance (this search was done in baseball season and not football season).
Diving Into SEO for eCommerce: A Conversation with Nik Ranger [00:21:42 – 00:57:30]
Mordy: You’re listening to another In Search SEO podcast interview. Today we have a rising star. She is one of the fastest rising SEO influencers on the planet. She comes from the land down under. She’s a woman hard at work as the senior SEO specialist at Australia Studio Hawk. Please welcome Nik Ranger here on Rank Ranger.
Nik: Thank you so much for having me. I am absolutely thrilled to be here. I’m a huge fan of Rank Ranger. And my last name is Ranger and I promise that’s real. I didn’t just change it so I can get on here.
M: You should be our brand spokesperson.
N: Hey, if it’s on offer, I’m not going to say no.
M: So we have something in common. We were both teachers. I taught in Baltimore City for two and a half years and you were a music teacher in Cambodia?
N: Yes, I was for about a year of my life. Full disclosure. I’m a professional violinist. I’ve been playing violin for about 23-24 years. I started off as a classical musician. I finished my teaching degree in violin musicianship. And then after that, while orchestras are great, I kind of wanted more. So I went down the route of electric violin, did a whole bunch with bands, and I just found myself in Cambodia needing something to do. So I decided to volunteer my time and become a music teacher for a year.
M: First off, that’s amazing. Secondly, how do you end up in Cambodia?
N: I’m the kind of person that likes to say yes and then figure out the details later.
M: Who’s your favorite violinist?
N: Ray Chen. Classically, he’s absolutely incredible. I’ve seen him quite a few times and if you can get the opportunity to see him, I highly recommend it. Nigel Kennedy is also fantastic. He took a Stradivarius cello which is one of the rarest cellos on the planet and he swapped it out for this cheap cello and when everyone was sitting down he just went over and smashed it in front of the whole audience. It was pure punk.
M: Wow. I did not know there was a Pete Townsend of violinists. Definitely check that out if you’re into the violin, but today we are talking about e-commerce and SEO. I have a very bad timeline of events. I believe it was about five or six months ago when Search Engine Land came out with a whole periodic table around e-commerce. It sort of feels like e-commerce has taken on a whole new life. Why all of the sudden now has e-commerce come into its own when it’s been around for what seems like forever?
N: I think a lot of people, especially now, during COVID, are taking a real hard look at how people search and how people buy. Of course, right now it’s taken off because a lot of these sales are going online. A lot of people are looking for a long term strategy for their business. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good idea to solely rely on brick and mortar stores for the rest of your career. More and more people are looking at what they can do with selling products online.
There’s a lot of stuff that’s happening that’s really exciting in SEO definitely on the horizon. You have unpaid shopping tab listings, core web vitals rolling out, and an insane complexity with some Featured Snippets has rolled out as well. Just in terms of being able to take up so much more real estate in the SERP is becoming a lot more competitive. E-commerce is just one of those beasts. Search is maturing as more people are understanding how to find products and how to find information. It’s just getting even more and more interesting.
M: How do Featured Snippets play into an e-commerce strategy? Because they were designed to be an informational tool.
N: Yeah. As updates happen, Google came and said that if you get a Featured Snippet then you won’t get an organic listing so in theory, they became organic listings. So a lot of people are now thinking that structured data is going to play a lot more of a role in the way they map out their content, their frameworks, and things like that. I think Featured Snippets really do play an interesting part in how people find things.
But I don’t necessarily think that it’s always the best solution. I say this purely because it’s not always the thing that gives you the best clickthrough rate. The same with anything in SEO, it really does depend on what kind of result is appearing in there for a Featured Snippet. Have a look at whether that’s actually been meaningful for you, whether there are competitors fighting for that space, and really consider, at the end of the day, what’s the end goal. What’s the ROI for that?
If you’re lucky to get a Featured Snippet, that’s awesome. Evaluate whether that works for you. But otherwise, if that’s not something that works for you and an organic listing will be better, then there’s always the no-snippet tags or the max-snippet tags that limit the character limits. There are a lot of things that you can do with 1) getting them, 2) managing them, and 3) deciding that maybe they’re not the best solution for you.
M: Is there something you use? Do you limit the characters in this snippet or do you use the no-snippet tag?
N: Yeah, we’ve done that. I’ve more used the max snippets because I don’t really like limiting opportunities for rich snippets. If we’re going to get a rich snippet for a page, I’d rather that we use a max snippet to limit the maximum to 50 characters which wouldn’t qualify it for a Featured Snippet, but it might be able to appear somewhere else. It’s really about being quite stubborn on the vision, but flexible on the details.
M: How much time of your day is spent dealing with structured data?
N: Well, it depends. Largely speaking, it’s what I will plan a little bit further down the track. The first thing is that I want to make sure that with any new campaign we do a full technical audit. I want to see everything that is under the hood. What’s broken, what could be optimized, or what is blocking results. Basically, we’re mapping out how we can facilitate and get that better. Then I want to have a look at the content. I want to have a look at whether they’ve been able to match the user intent to their pages or in the case if it’s a YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) which has E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trust), whether or not that’s going to play into how the content will be perceived by web crawls. That’s where I would look at it. Once that’s done, that’s where we look at building opportunities to take up real estate in the SERPs.
M: Shopify has an okay reputation within the SEO industry when really there are a lot of problems with Shopify. Why is that? I know the SEO industry likes to clobber everything but for some reason, Shopify escapes this wrath and I’m confused.
N: It’s so funny that you mention Shopify, SEO, and Twitter. I love Twitter. It’s a funny little beast. You can grab some popcorn, sit back, and just let the riots ensue or you can roll up your sleeves and get into it. Right now, the CEO of Shopify was basically saying that nine out of ten SEOs are essentially selling snake oil.
M: How did I miss that?
N: I’ve got heaps of clients that use Shopify with really great results. I’ve got a couple of my enterprise-level clients that are running Shopify that I would pretty much consider market leaders. There’s a lot of things out of the box that Shopify does really well but you really need to be taught and make it your own. For example, there are things you have control of and things you don’t have control over. The obvious ones are robots.txt, sitemaps, etc. In your sitemap, image and video sitemaps aren’t really considered. I haven’t actually done this with robots.txt, but I heard somewhere, I think through Ross Tavendale, who was saying that someone can through robots.txt hosted externally be able to utilize that. I haven’t tested that so I don’t know whether it works. But what I have tested and what I know that works is parsing your sitemap on a subdomain. There are things that you can do for that which is really awesome.
The second thing is that you don’t have control over the servers because essentially it’s Shopify hosted. You don’t really have an ability to do any log file analysis which can really shine the light on some really complex issues that are dragging the site down. So that’s not great.
Of course, you mentioned with canonicalization, Shopify makes all their sites essentially have a flat informational structure. Essentially, what that means is everything is forced into collections. So everything is canonicalized at the product level. With normal sites, you might have the category, subcategory, and then the product, whereas on Shopify, you’ve got the category and maybe the subcategory, but then that will go to the product on a separate URL. That is essentially decentralizing and making it quite a flat structure.
And of course, when you want to use structured data to be able to give a bit more context to that, you’ll have your breadcrumbs where once you get to the product you can’t actually go back to the products category page or the subcategory page. You need to go back to the home and then find it again. If you use breadcrumbs, which I know I certainly do and I know a lot of my friends who are SEOs definitely do, then this makes it a little bit difficult.
M: It just goes to show you, by the way, that there are a lot of technical issues with Shopify, but you’re saying that it works for your enterprise clients. There’s never a linear equation. It all depends on the situation. So the positives of Shopify outweigh the negatives.
N: I feel having a really good understanding of the positives and negatives of any CMS is important. I mean, no CMS is perfect. It’s just about knowing what you can do on a particular site and trying to do that to the best of your ability. To use a Jeff Bezos quote, “I’m stubborn on vision but flexible on the details.” I think that definitely applies here.
M: Let’s talk about blogging for a second. I was talking to Orit Mutznik about blogging for e-commerce sites and one of the things that I don’t read is blogs on e-commerce sites. However, I did dive into a bunch of different ones before talking to her and they all sucked. I see a lot of blogs that can’t resist pushing their products. Here’s a blog post about scarves. These are the best scarves and of course, we just happen to sell these scarves. I don’t find that it works, at least for me. But since you actually do e-commerce, does pushing your product through a blog post on an e-commerce site work?
N: I think it’s really important to consider who the target audience is. So for you personally, you would be a B2C type customer. Maybe seeing the ‘best of’ list might not be applicable when it comes to scarves. But if you’re a B2B business owner and you’re wanting to buy bulk scarves for your business, then having research around what are the best scarves that consumers are willing to buy is actually a really important type of blog post to have. Because then that means they can be able to see the research that has gone behind the types of scarves, the material, the make, or if there’s an ethical choice with consumers who want to buy more environmentally friendly scarves.
For the B2B type of audience, that would be really beneficial to them because, typically, they’re in their beds at night being told off by their partners to just go to bed and worry about this stuff tomorrow. But for business owners, they love their business and want to make sure that they’re giving you the best products that they can to their customers. So of course, they want a good stock that they know the ‘best scarves’ are going to be able to sell.
Again, it’s considering who the target audience is. Maybe for a B2C kind of audience who is comparing washing machines they might want to know the difference between a top loader and a front loader. But for someone who wants more qualified information or to be able to answer the niggling question of what is the difference, those blog posts are essential in giving people better choices around their purchases.
Having those kinds of blog pages, having internal links that point to the product page, to the category page, and even to similar, relevant blog posts are amazing to get people clicking through your site and actually converting to customers. Which, at the end of the day, is what a well-designed blog is said to do.
M: It makes a lot of sense when you say that because it’s very informational content. But what I find is these bloggers end up not thinking about what content users need to walk away with. Instead, they’re trying to sell their product through the blog. You’re really meant to offer information, which backhandedly helps you sell the product through the blog.
N: Absolutely. What I do with a lot of my clients is content pruning. This is where I do a crawl of the entire blog section. I’ll look it up with a site audit tool, Google Analytics, and Search Console and it’s a really good way to be able to see the last 12 months or however long of what’s actually the performance of each one of those pages. Then we can pick out which ones are really successful and see potentially why.
One blog might be doing a really good job of giving users the correct information, like how to install pendant lights in your kitchen countertop. Whereas, another one is showing what’s trending in the fall of 2014 where it’s just a couple of lines of content.
It’s making sure that every single page that you have on your website is one that you want to represent your business. Otherwise, if you don’t want users to see that, what’s the point?
M: I think about 99.99% of this is about mindset. I think these bad blog creators are not bad people. I think it’s more about being anxious about selling their product. They’re so hung up on selling the product and the anxiety that comes with it that they can’t take a step back and see how they can actually offer information that helps. It’s about controlling your emotions.
I have a lot of connections with the technical writing industry and I speak to a couple of people here and there about this. One of the things that I find is that the way people expect content to sound and what they expect out of their content is rapidly changing. I’m wondering on the e-commerce side, whether it be product descriptions or whether it be blog posts, do you see that the way consumers are searching in terms of tone, how they want to buy, what they want to buy, what they want to see, and what they want to read is changing? I know it’s always changing, but is it really changing now?
N: Yeah, I think it is absolutely changing and a lot of the natural language processing that is going through and understanding the content on a page is maturing. It’s not anywhere near full maturity. I believe years down the track the way that results are populated will be a lot more qualified. So with Google’s BERT, it looks at things from left to right and from right to left. It’s trying to understand the intent in a much more qualified way.
Take Related Search, and let’s use mascara as an example because that’s a good one that one of my clients had an issue with. A lot of users are looking at the quality of the mascara. Keywords that care about clumping or if the color leaks over time. So here, they’re focusing more on the quality of the product and trying to find those keywords on the page to see whether they added that context for the user. So with that particular page, it was pulling out a weird bit of HTML from a review that someone had written on the product page saying, “This product wasn’t great.” And that was pulling into the meta description of that product. That was insane.
We then made sure that when optimizing content for mascara and things like that, that we’ve got all of those extra searches considered for the page and that we give users that extra context to help make them make better-qualified choices. When we did that, magically, the meta description that we wanted to change has changed. That was an interesting one to watch where it was directly attributed to Related Search which I’ve never seen happen too often.
M: I see a lot of interesting things being pulled onto the SERP, into Featured Snippets, and in snippets in general because of BERT. I see BERT able to understand pages without the structure of the page or without the H2 or H3 being there.
We were talking about quality and I very much think that for some reason people are starting to think of online shopping as being much more. Back in the day, if you wanted to search for something you typed in something like ‘cheap shoes.’ You didn’t need to find the latest AirJordan shoes. That’s how you found what you wanted. you’re looking for a bargain. I don’t really want to use the internet to buy something and I think that sort of stopped. It seems now you need a much more fuller analysis that the people are looking for.
N: I think that’s just because it’s constantly maturing. I think site owners, SEOs, and in-house teams need to mature along with that. Things that maybe in the past seemed a little bit trivial to add to a page like things around warranty, shipping, or opt-to-pay, if your industry is widely doing those kinds of things for the customers, customers expect that now. If they’re making choices or you may even catch yourself doing it where you’ll have different tabs open with products from different companies. You’re basically trying to see what you like aesthetically the most that is going to fit into your home and is it going to work with your current state in the home.
Next, is it something that is a reasonable price for what I’m expecting to get for that product? What’s the shipping information? Am I going to be waiting for two months for the delivery? That might actually influence the way that I make my decisions. Is there a warranty for this product? I might make a concession if I get a 10-year warranty on this because I feel like I might pay a little bit more for that peace of mind. Again, you need to be a little more aware of what your competitors are doing, just in terms of being able to benchmark what your customers are expecting.
Optimize It Or Disavow It
M: Would you create comparisons on your commerce site between your product and your competitors’ products, so that your potential consumer doesn’t have to go to another site to get that comparison that they’re going to get anyway or would you write a how-to guide just about your product alone?
N: Why not both?
M: Well that’s the whole point.
N: Yeah, I know. For the first option, not a lot of businesses are happy to have a supercritical look at their own products when comparing it to others. If you’re going to have a comparison that is going to burn off your competitors, you’ve got to be super real about the limitations of their products because at the end of the day, you want to be able to give the best-qualified advice to help users decide a product and if you’re not it, then maybe that’s not for you.
But how-to guides around your product are awesome. Consider someone buying a pendant light. They might have so many questions. How do we set up a pendant light by ourselves? Do we need an electrician? That might be useful.
M: My advice is not to do that at home. I’ve actually seen that go wrong, pretty bad. Thank you, Nik so much for coming on.
N: Thank you so much for having me.
SEO News [00:57:56 – 01:01:40]
Massive Google Update Reversed: There was what appeared to be a massive unconfirmed algorithm update early last week. All signs point to most of the changes Google made being reversed.
Google Updates Activity Cards: Google has updated activity cards in a big way. Instead of just showing you where you left off, the new format will show you options for products, recipes, and job listings related to what you are searching for.
No New News Sites Enter Google News in 2020?: Chatter seems to point to no new news sites being allowed into Google News thus far in 2020.
Bing Shopping to Show Free Product Listings: Bing is opening up its shopping to free products. Microsoft Merchant Center owners can now have their products automatically shown for free. So far this only applies to certain markets including the US, Canada, etc.