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Why Thin Content is Hurting Your Ecommerce Site & How to Fix It

Amanda Massello
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By now, everyone in the ecommerce search engine world – including digital marketers and content writers – knows about the Google Panda update or, worse, has been directly affected by it. Many businesses were taken off guard when it first hit and have paid search engine optimization (SEO) consultants a large sum to recover prior search performance levels.

However, what if an ecommerce site was never “hit”? What if Panda is still hurting businesses, but they don’t even realize it?

This undiagnosed pain is a missed opportunity and one that hurts branded manufacturers the most.

When a brand is successful, it doesn’t need to worry about SEO, or so they say. But what if a brand is competing with large retail partners online (not to mention Amazon) for its own brand terms, or for generic searches on its key product lines?

What Does Thin Content Have to do With It?

thin-content-definition

As ecommerce continues to grow, a larger percentage of shopping takes place exclusively online. Search engines are the virtual malls where searchers window shop for their next purchase, from whichever device is most convenient.

While many brands with loyal customers can trust in continued business for their core offering – say, premium down parkas – how does a business lure in new customers online for this successful product line? Search is an obvious, but not always easy choice. Now it’s time to either pay for or make a play for premium organic real estate for “down parkas” in the search engine results.

With Panda, it’s not enough to sprinkle a couple keywords on a page and call it a day. Panda changed the rules – prioritizing text content over other attributes, effectively punishing brands whose digital worlds exist only in images. ecommerce businesses are now forced to think like traditional websites and focus on content.

2012 was the year of content strategy; in 2013, it’s paramount that ecommerce businesses include SEO as part of their content strategy, as well as their overall digital strategy. It all begins with an understanding that yes, thin content is a problem and it needs a solution.

How to Identify 'Thin Content' Category Pages

What you see…

vampire-category-google-cache-example

Is not what Google gets…

what-google-gets-vampires

As opposed to a typical web page – say, an article on the popularity of vampire books – an ecommerce category page has to squeeze more out of every attribute to signal to Google why the page is really, truly, about vampire books.

To understand what Google sees, you can type cache:http://www.example.com/thisisyourcategoryurl in Google and then select “Text-Only Version.” This will resemble the Barnes & Noble vampire category above.

Here’s what is most likely to be found missing in action on a typical eCommerce site:

  • A paragraph of text copy describing the category. Three to five sentences is sufficient; best practice is to include a couple keyword variations. For example:

vampire-paragraph-copy-example

  • Links within the paragraph copy, rich with anchor text linking out to subcategories. Internal links help Google understand content relationships. Building these out between associated categories is ideal. For example:

Browse our entire vampire book collection – vampire novels, historical reference books, and teen vampire fiction.

  • Alt attributes for the category image banner to describe what it is, as Google can’t interpret images. The image alt attribute helps to indicate the image “content” and is one of Google’s 200+ ranking factors. For example:

< img src=“vampire-books-category.jpg” alt="vampire books">

  • Breadcrumb navigation, which helps search engines understand site architecture and crawl the site with ease.
  • A text heading for the category name, tagged with an H1 heading to indicate it is the theme of the page. Where content doesn’t exist, an H1 heading helps Google understand the meaning of the page. A text heading is much preferred over an image banner; where necessary, it’s best to implement both in tandem. For example:

vampire-category-heading-h1-example

  • A title tag which includes the category name (or related primary keyword “vampire books”), listed first as an exact match before the brand, as Google reads title tags from left to right, placing more importance on the first term.
  • A short, friendly URL that includes the category name (or related primary keyword “vampire twilight books”). The ideal would be to have the keyword right after the domain, though a category parent or folder structure should not impact the URL strength. For example:

vampire-title-tag-url-serp-example

Summary

It might seem simple and surprising why this doesn’t exist on all ecommerce category pages. That would be ignoring the reality of the many, diverse hands – merchants, marketers, copywriters, front-end developers, agencies – who ultimately shape the user experience (and architecture) of a category page.

Ecommerce sites are designed to be shopped, not read; text is a useless distraction in the path to purchase. The challenge is that Google’s algorithm doesn’t always note the difference.

Balancing the need to drive traffic to and revenue from a category page is unfortunately not simple science. However, a solid mix of the above elements, leveraging the right keywords, will push a site further along the path to success.

When in doubt, emulate the dominant SEO players in your business niche. An eye to the competition is far more insightful than a checklist could ever dream to be.


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