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If you try to keep up-to-date on SEO techniques, almost every expert says the same thing: create great content that a searcher will find valuable. Because of this focus on content creation, most search optimization tends to happen on blog posts (like this one) or topic-specific pages. This is great, and these tactics work, but for a company that is looking for more online transactions, there is usually little attention paid to the content that appears on product pages.

Because product pages tend to outnumber content pages on an eCommerce website, it’s silly not to also apply SEO to product listings. Besides, you want to drive your visitors to the products that they’re looking for, and not a landing page that requires them to make another click or on-page search. With that in mind, here are a few tips for optimizing your product pages:

1.  Specify a Canonical URL

First of all, what is a canonical URL? Essentially, Google refers to “canonicalization” as defining the preferred URL for a piece of content. So, a canoncial URL is the URL that should receive credit for the content on the page, regardless of what the actual URL is in the address bar.

Many eCommerce platforms allow users to search and navigate to products via categories, navigational groupings, product callouts, and more. This means that there can be multiple URLs for the same product (think www.AcmeCompany.com/road-runner-traps/ trap123.aspx and www.AcmeCompany.com/featured-items/trap123.aspx).

Because it’s the exact same product on all these URLs, it will be the exact same descriptions, pricing, and details, even though they are distinct URLs. There will be enough similarity on the pages that the search engines (especially Google) will deem them identical and not know which one to index. Using a canonical URL definition will tell search engines that no matter how they arrive at the product, always give credit to your defined URL.

2.  Avoid Duplicate Content

Because duplicate content can kill the ability for a page to rank, it’s critical to avoid falling into the easy trap of simply posting a manufacturer’s product description. Because guess who else uses that description? The manufacturer, and probably a large number of other vendors.

Take the time to spice up the product description and be original. Make your product listing stand-out, and avoid any terms or phrases that are very specific. If someone is searching for “safety helmet” it doesn’t make sense to use the stock “cranial protection device” description that the manufacturer sends you. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience.

3.  Pay Attention to Your Images

Even on non-commerce websites, too many content editors ignore their images. Make sure to name your images with a relevant name, e.g. “road-runner-trap.jpg” vs. “img0123.jpg”. Also, because search engines can’t “see” images yet, make sure to apply quality alt-text and titles to your images. 

4.  Pay Attention to the Meta Description

Before you SEO purists jump on me: I know the meta description doesn’t help with search rankings, but the description will be used on the results page (Don’t believe me? Listen to Matt Cutts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtSzi2MUegs), so it will help the click-thru rate.

By putting effort into your meta-description and having that description appear on the search results page, you will start see better conversions from search, even if your result isn’t the top. The more information that is presented to the searcher, the more likely they are going to click on the result that most closely matches their intent.

As you put thought into eCommerce, it’s important to not only think about the transactional aspects of your commerce platform, but also how it will help you attract new customers. After all, it’s all about customers finding your products, adding them to the cart, and then completing the transaction. The best eCommerce solutions will help you with all aspects of the sales cycle, and won’t simply be a way to list products online.

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