The purpose of any business website is to promote a product
or service online. The purpose of an ecommerce website is
to take it one step further and to allow your visitors to
purchase your products or services directly from your website.
This model has many great advantages over the non-ecommerce
website in that it allows for the generation of revenue with
little-or-no time spent in selling past the cost to have the
website designed and maintained, and it does not require the
visitor to call you during business hours thus helping secure
the sale to an impulse buyer. If your website provides all
the information that the buyer would want, you can save significant
money in sales time spent in that the visitor can find all
the information they need to decide to buy from you without
taking up your time or that of one of your sales staff. But
ecommerce sites have a serious drawback as well; very few
of them can be properly indexed by search engine spiders and
thus will fail to rank highly.
A non-ecommerce website may have the disadvantage on not being
able to take the visitor's money the second they want to spend
it, however if it can be found on the first page of the search
engines while your beautifully designed ecommerce site sits
on page eight, the advantage is theirs. The vast majority
of visitors will never get to see your site, let alone buy
from you, whereas a non-ecommerce site may lose sales because
they don't sell online but at least they're able to deliver
their message to an audience to begin with. So what can be
done? The key is in the shopping cart you select.
SEO & Shopping Carts
The biggest problem with many SEO-friendly ecommerce solutions
is that they are created after the initial product. Shopping
cart systems such as Miva Merchant and OS Commerce are not
designed with the primary goal of creating pages that will
be well-received by the search engine spiders. Most shopping
cart systems out there today are not in-and-of-themselves
even spiderable and require 3rd party add-ons to facilitate
even the lowest form of SEO-friendliness. The money you may
have saved in choosing an inexpensive shopping cart may very
well end up costing you your business in the long run, especially
if you are using your shopping cart as the entire site, which
we have seen may times in the past.
What Can Be Done?
There are essentially two solutions to this problem. The first
is to create a front-end site separate from the shopping cart.
What this will effectively do is create a number of pages
that can be easily spidered (assuming that they're well designed).
The drawback to this course of action is that your website
will forever be limited to the size of the front-end site.
Which brings us to the second option: choose a search engine
friendly shopping cart system.
Finding an SEO-friendly shopping cart system is far easier
said than done. There are many factors that have to be taken
into account including the spiderability of the pages themselves,
the customization capacity of the individual pages, the ease
of adding products and changing the pages down the road, etc.
While I've worked with many shopping cart and ecommerce systems,
to date there has been only one that has truly impressed me
in that it is extremely simple to use, it allows for full
customization of individual pages and the product pages get
fully spidered to the point where they have PageRank assigned.
A rarity in the shopping cart world.
Easy As Apple Pie
Mr. Lee Roberts, President of Rose Rock Design and creator
of the Apple Pie Shopping Cart, was kind enough to take the
time to speak with me regarding how he developed his system.
Trying to get an understanding of how this system was born
I inquired as to what differentiated their system from others.
Without "giving away the farm", Lee pointed out that his system
was unique in that the search engines were a consideration
from the birth of this project. Rather than trying to jerry-rig
a system that was already in place, he initiated the development
of a system whose first task was to allow for easily spidered
and customized pages. A significant advantage to be sure.
In further discussions he pointed out a few key factors that
should be considered by all when choosing a shopping cart
system. While more advance shopping cart systems that provide
for SEO-friendly pages may seem more expensive, they save
you the cost of developing a front-end site, maintaining the
pricing on a static page if one goes that route, and of course
- if all your site's pages are easily spidered and you can
then have hundreds of additional relevant pages added to your
site's overall strength and relevancy you have a serious advantage
in the SEO "game". If a shopping cart system costs you an
extra $100 per month to maintain but it's use provides you
with an additional $5000 in sales that month did it really
"cost" you $100?
What Lee has effectively done is to provide a shopping cart
system that enables search engines to fully read and index
every page. Additionally (and perhaps because of his history
as an accessibility expert) the system is extremely easy to
work with as a user and as an SEO. And of course that's our
primary concern at Beanstalk.
It is not to say that the Apple Pie Shopping Cart is end-all-be-all
of SEO for an ecommerce site, if it was Lee wouldn't be in
the process of building a new version that will include many
new features for Internet marketing and tracking, and we would
be out of work. That said, if you've got an e-commerce site
or are looking to have one built, one must consider what type
of marketing strategy will be taken with the site and if SEO
is one of those, insure to find a system that provides the
same advantages as this one. It may cost a bit more up front
but doing it right the first time is far less costly than
building a site that can't be marketed properly and to it's