Search Descriptions Version
 
 
This article applies to: E-Commerce Basics

What is SEO & How Can We Help?


What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the study of ways to increase search engine traffic to a site in order to increase that site's search engine rank(how high it appears in search results). Most people find sites through search engines, so high search engine rank is vitally important to ecommerce sites.

SEO experts generally focus their efforts on increasing ranking on Google and Yahoo search results, as those 2 search engines account for the vast majority of Internet searches - around 75% of all searches between them (with Google making up around 50% on its own).

When a person performs a search on one of these (or other) search engines, the search is not actually looking through live websites in real-time. Instead, the search engine checks its internal indexes, which contain a list of keywords they have found on the Internet, and where they found them.

How are Sites Indexed?

How, then, are these lists created? Search engines use programs called web crawlers (also called bots, worms, spiders, etc) to browse the web in a methodical, automated manner. Each crawler starts with a list of URLs to visit, called "seeds'. As the crawler visits these seed sites, it identifies all of the links leading from those pages to other pages, and adds them to the list of sites to visit. Those new URLs are then visited and the new link there are added to the list, and so on.

The sites that these crawlers visit are indexed, according to complex internal algorithms. Each search engine has its own proprietary algorithm that is not known precisely by the public, but there are some methods of increasing page rank that are well-established and reliable. Information on some of those concepts andhow AspDotNetStorefront software assists with them is found below.

Note: There are many SEO concepts that have no bearing on the software being used, and the concepts discussed below can be much more complex than described herein. This guide covers these ideas at a basic level and only as they relate to the software.

URLs

A page's URL has a relatively minor effect on how well that page will rank, but it can have an effect on whether or not the page gets indexed at all. There are 2 basic types of URLs - static, and dynamic. Static URLs are simpler, usually shorter, and do not change. Dynamic URLs are often very long and can contain special characters/sequences like %, ?, and 'cgi'. Dynamic URLs usually represent pages whose contents are created programmatically or by reading from a database, rather than simple flat HTML files. The contents of these pages can change frequently and even vary within a single visit based on customer input, page referrer, etc. Dynamic URLs are often worse for SEO for several reasons:

- It is difficult to accurately index a page whose contents may be different 5 minutes later, or can vary by visitor.

- Search engines only want to list pages in their index that are unique. This means they often cut off URLs after a specific number of variable strings (eg ?=, &, etc). For example, the following 3 URLs may be cut off before the question mark:

http://www.someforumsite.com/thread.php?threadid1234
http://www.someforumsite.com/thread.php?threadid2387
http://www.someforumsite.com/thread.php?threadid8736

So you are left with:

http://www.someforumsite.com/thread.php
http://www.someforumsite.com/thread.php
http://www.someforumsite.com/thread.php

Now you have duplicate URLs which will be thrown out, and your pages aren't indexed. Dynamic URLs don't generally contain any keywords. This is important, as visitors often try to get an idea of whether or not a page in search results contains what they want by looking at the URL.

How Does AspDotNetStorefront Help?
While most pages on an AspDotNetStorefront site are dynamically generated, the application uses a set of URL rewrite rules to make those URLs appear static. Each page gets a unique URL that contains the product name. This helps increase the chances that the page will be indexed, and puts human-readable keywords right in the URL For example, instead of:

http://www.yourstore.com/showproduct.aspx?productid=4

Customers (and web crawlers) will see:

http://www.yourstore.com/p-4-your-product-name.aspx

Meta Tags

Meta tags are information inserted into the 'head' section of web pages. With the exception of the Title tag (see below), these tags contain information that site visitors don't see and probably aren't interested in - such as what character set to use, whether a page is self-rated as containing adult content, etc.

Description and Keywords
These tags can also be used for a page description and to list page keywords. Historically these 2 tags were very important in boosting page rank. Because of overuse, search engines do not rely on these tags very much anymore, but they are still important as the contents of those tags are often displayed on search engine results pages:


Title
The title tag isn't really a meta tag, but it functions like one. The contents of that tag are seen by customers at the top of the browser and are used for the default name given to a page when adding it to the browser bookmarks. That tile is also displayed on search engine results pages:

How Does AspDotNetStorefront Help?
Every page in the AspDotNetStorefront software can be given a title, meta description, and keywords. Product, entity, and topic pages can each be given unique information, while pages like the shopping card, the home page, and checkout pages share the same (customizable) information. See here for more information on defining Meta Tags.

Image Alt Text

Alt text is text that can be set on images which will be displayed when the images cannot be viewed for whatever reason - a broken link, missing file, browser error, etc. Alt text can also tell search engines what an image is about, since web crawlers cannot see images.

An added non-SEO benefit is that alt text is often used by software designed to assist handicapped visitors (such as software that can read a website's content aloud), so it benefits potential customers.

How Does AspDotNetStorefront Help?
New in version 8.0!

Every product and entity image can be given its own unique alt text.

Duplicate Content

When a search engine finds multiple copies of the same content, it will attempt to pick the "best" page from the bunch and then down-rank the other copies. If a site has too much duplicate content, the entire site may be penalized in search rank.

How Does AspDotNetStorefront Help?
Many CMS/ecommerce applications have a tendency to create multiple URLs that contain the same content, especially on sites with a lot of dynamically generated content. AspDotNetStorefront's URL rewrite rules ensure that each product, entity and topic page has a single unique URL regardless of how the page is reached.

Site Depth and Unreachable Pages

Site Depth
Site depth is a measure of how many 'clicks' it can take to get from your home page to any one page on your site. Search engines do not always 'dig deep'. If a page is more than 2 or 3 links from your home page, search engines may not index that page.

Unreachable Pages
Large sites can sometimes end up with pages that are not linked to from anywhere else on the site by mistake. Because there are no links for web crawlers to go through to reach them, those pages will never be indexed, and your site visitors may miss out on important information.

How Does AspDotNetStorefront Help?
The sitemap feature can prevent both of these issues from becoming a problem on your site. The sitemap contains links to every page on the site - products, entities, topics, etc. The default storefront skin places a link to the sitemap in the footer of every page on the site (and this is easily done in custom skins as well). With a link to the sitemap on every page, a web crawler is never more than 2 clicks away from any page and no page is unreachable.

The AspDotNetStorefront software also has the ability to generate XML sitemaps. These XML files can be submitted to the larger search engines (through special pages they maintain) to keep them updated of changes on your site. These sitemaps can help get your site indexed more frequently, and ensure that search engines are aware of all the pages on your site.