Why eCommerce Systems Suck at SEO

Listening to whiners and disappointed site owners across the boards I guess in a few weeks we’ll discuss Google’s brand new e-commerce penalties in instances of -30, -900 and -supphell. NOT! A recent algo tweak may have figured out how to identify more crap, but I doubt Google has launched an anti-eCommerce campaign.

One don’t need an award-winning mid-range e-commerce shopping cart like Erol to gain the Google death penalty. Thanks to this award winning software sold as “search engine friendly” on the home page, respectively its crappy architecture (sneaky JS redirects as per Google’s Webmaster guidelines), many innocent shopping sites from Erol’s client list have vanished, or will be deindexed soon. Unbelievable when you read more about their so-called SEO Services. Oh well, so far an actual example. The following comments do not address Erol shopping carts, but e-commerce systems in general.

My usual question when asked to optimize eCommerce sites is “are you willing to dump everything except the core shopping cart module?”. Unfortunately, that’s the best as well as the cheapest solution in most cases. The technical crux with eCommerce software is, that it’s developed by programmers, not Web developers, and software shops don’t bother asking for SEO advice. The result is often fancy crap.

Another common problem is, that the UI is optimized for shoppers (that’s a subclass of ’surfers’, the latter is decently emulated by search engine crawlers). Navigation is mostly shortcut- and search driven (POST created results not crawlable) and relies on variables stored in cookies and whereever (invisible to spiders). All the navigational goodies which make the surfing experience are implemented with client sided technologies, or -if put server sided- served by ugly URLs with nasty session-IDs (ignored by crawlers or at least heavily downranked for various reasons). What’s left for the engines? Deep hierarchical structures of thin pages plastered with duplicated text and buy-now links. That’s not the sort of spider food Ms. Googlebot and her colleagues love to eat.

Guess why Google doesn’t crawl search results. Because search results are an inedible spider fodder not worth indexing. The same goes for badly linked conglomerates of thin product pages. Think of a different approach. Instead of trying to shove thin product pages into search indexes write informative pages on product lines/groups/… and link to the product pages within the text. When these well linked info pages provide enough product details they’ll rank for product related search queries. And you’ll generate linkworthy content. Don’t forget to disallow /shop, /search and /products in your robots.txt.

Disclaimer: I’ve checked essentialaids.com, Erol’s software does JavaScript redirects obfuscating the linked URLs to deliver the content client sided. I’ve followed this case over a few days watching Google deindexing the whole site page by page. This kind of redirects is considered “sneaky” by Google and Google’s spam filters detect it automatically. Although there is no bad intent, Google bans all sites using this technique. Since this is a key feature of the software, how can they advertise it as “search engine friendly”? From their testimonials (most are affiliates) I’ve looked at irishmusicmail.com and found that Google has indexed only 250 pages from well over 800, it looks like the Erol shopping system was removed. The other non-affiliated testimonial is from heroesforkids.co.uk, a badly framed site which is also not viewable without JavaScript. Due to SE-unfriendliness Google has indexed only 50 out of 190 pages (deindexing the site a few days later). Another reference brambleandwillow.com didn’t load at all, Google has no references but I found Erol-styled URLs in Yahoo’s index. Next pensdirect.co.uk suffers from the same flawed architecture as heroesforkids.co.uk, although the pages/indexed-URLs ratio is slightly better (15 of 40+). From a quick look at the Erol JS source all pages will get removed from Google’s search index. I didn’t write that to slander Erol and its inventor Dreamteam UK, however these guys would deserve it. It’s just a warning that good looking software which might perfectly support all related business processes can be extremely destructive from a SEO perspective.

Update: Probably it’s possible to make Erol driven shops compliant to Google’s quality guidelines by creating the pages without a software functionality called “page loading messages”. More information is provided by several posts in Erol’s support forums.

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7 Comments to "Why eCommerce Systems Suck at SEO"

  1. dee-q on 14 March, 2007  #link

    Thank you for sharing those info with us!

    Search Engine Optimization should be considered during the planning of any web site. And the best time for implementing good SEO is during the initial design stage.

    There are companies online that outsource webmaster service that could sure help other people who are thinking of setting up their own business web sites.

    I hope this helps!

  2. Sebastian on 14 March, 2007  #link

    Thanks. If blogger would allow me to edit comments I would have removed the promotional link.

  3. Steve on 24 March, 2007  #link

    Hi Sebastian,

    Great post and it’s been good reading your posts in the Google groups.

    I was already in the process of changing ecommerce software (from EROL), but reading your info confirmed in my own mind that it was the software that was at fault.

    I’ve also taken on board your other comments and set up our own blog (www.temptationsdirect.com/sextoyblog) which hopefully will be adding more content.


  4. Anonymous on 25 March, 2007  #link

    Hi Sebastian

    Can I start by saying thay your talking complete garbage, and if I owned Erol I would sue you.

    The Google change is across the board and not restricted to Erol, people reading this may assume you know what your talking about you frankly have no idea.

    I manage various erol stores, one of themm is a £1.4m a year site, Googles change didnt effect us one bit.

    what you find is that people who think they can buy a piece of software and become ecommerce store owners are in for a shock, its not that easy, you do need to know what your doing.

    So get your fact right before putting fingers on the keyboard.

  5. Sebastian on 26 March, 2007  #link

    Anonymous, if you don’t use the Erol styled pages you don’t get banned. If you just use the core shopping cart from whatever ecommerce software, designing everything else yourself, you’re smart. Smart people OTOH don’t post anonymously. Smart people do know that the great unwashed don’t deserve deprecatory comments just because they lack Web design/programming skills or particular experiences.

    All pages generated by Erol software, maybe except the TOC, perform sneaky JS redirects. Cloaking as well as sneaky redirects results in deindexing, regardless the intent. So if you buy an Erol shop and use it as is, your stuff gets penalized by Google. It’s that simple.

  6. Anonymous on 27 March, 2007  #link

    So anon, is this wrong then

    “All pages generated by Erol software, maybe except the TOC, perform sneaky JS redirects.”


  7. […] and content duplication remains. Unfortunately there are eCommerce systems out there which have a build-in guarantee to get a eCommerce site banned by Google. Optimizing e-commerce sites for search engine traffic is a tough task. So what can a site owner do […]

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