Google has recently announced changes to their search algorithms which will see a difference in the way it ranks many pages, including eCommerce product pages, in 2021.
SEO is always a challenge, often even more so for your product listings on your online store.
Below, we will take a specific look at what Google has revealed about the coming changes, but first, let’s remind ourselves of the basics which we should already be doing, including:
- The page basics.
- Titles and meta description – keywords.
- Product descriptions, including tone of voice.
- Customer contributions.
- Mobile optimisation.
Google does not usually announce algorithm changes in advance, so when they do, it’s great to have some time to prepare. So don’t sit back and wait – start checking your existing mages now and make sure that by the end of this year that you have your product page SEO for 2021 already done.
The essentials of SEO
The page basics – especially landing pages
These all go without saying, but just for clarity, let’s remind ourselves of the foundations of any good landing page.
- Security – your site should be HTTPS, ie. have a valid security certificate and not compromised by any malicious software.
- Page loading speed – your pages should load in around 2 seconds or less.
- Mobile friendly – your pages should automatically adapt to mobile devices and various screen sizes and orientations.
- Use of appropriate headers.
- Unique alt attributes on all your images.
- Internal links to your important pages.
If you’re not even getting these right, then you need to start work on your site ASAP.
Titles, meta descriptions and keywords.
Titles and meta descriptions of a page are very important – often the first thing a user sees about your website.
These need to be well planned and written and include long-tail keywords.
Do your keyword research and use them well – don’t worry so much about keyword density; most important is to make sure you are using them in a natural way that makes sense.
The golden rule here is not to use product descriptions from the manufacturer’s website!
Take time to write your own product descriptions and it will pay dividends in terms of positive SEO. Copying, meanwhile, will impact your site negatively.
Apply this to your alt descriptions to your product images as well. Make sure that every image has one and that you have written it.
For more detail on writing product descriptions, check out product description tips for your eCommerce store.
All your product pages should have customer reviews and you should be encouraging all your customers to contribute after they have made a purchase. Reviews not only encourage other people to purchase, but they keep your pages topped up with fresh material, which Google finds very attractive.
And reviews which mention a keyword, or a location really can make a big impact (location mentions in reviews seem to be a strong positive attribute for local SEO).
No question, your website needs to be mobile-device friendly.
As the world shifts online, especially in the first half of 2020, it is doing so at an unprecedented rate on mobile devices.
Websites that do not automatically adjust to a variety of sizes and screen resolutions are going to be left behind – in fact, they already are.
Your products need to look great on any screen – and so does your shopping cart and checkout too.
If they are not mobile-friendly, then they are not Google friendly.
The 2021 Google update
It’s unusual for Google to announce algorithms in advance, but this they did at the end of May. This was done, they explained, to allow site owners to continue to focus on responding to current global circumstances and to give them time to prepare.
They add that these updates will not happen before 2021 and that they will give at least 6 months notice before they are.
So what is it about?
In a word (or two) – customer experience.
Google says that “a good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search.”
In a recent interview (June 3rd) John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, had this to say about the relevant content on eCommerce product pages:
” The one thing that I notice in talking with the mobile indexing folks is that when the e-commerce category pages don’t have any other content at all other than links to the products then it’s really hard for us to rank those pages. So I’m not saying all of that text at the bottom of your page is bad but maybe 90%, 95% of that text is unnecessary but some amount of text is useful to have on a page so that we can understand what this page is about. And at that point, you are probably with the amount of text that a user will probably be able to read as well, be able to understand as well. So that’s kind of where I would head in that regard. The other thing where I could imagine that our algorithms sometimes get confused is when they have a list of products on top and essentially a giant article on the bottom when our algorithms have to figure out the intent of this page. Is this something that is meant for commercial intent or is this an informational page? What is kind of the primary reason for this page to exist and I could imagine that our algorithms sometimes get confused by this big chunk of text where’d we say oh, this is an informational page about shoes but I can tell that users are trying to buy shoes so I wouldn’t send them to this informational page.”
What John is referring to here is clarity of the page purpose. If it is your product page, it needs to be about the product; it needs to be a commercial page. You need your product description and customer comments are also fine. The 90-95% excessive text discussed here is when you try and delve into the history and development of the product, or other text content, in the hope that by stuffing it with keywords you will gain a higher rank for relevance. This ‘word scattershot’ approach works against you. As John explains, it confuses the search algorithms because it cannot decide if this is a product page (commercial) or an informational page.
It confuses Google and it lowers user experience as they may be directed to your page for the wrong reason.
There is certainly a place for this extra information text on your website, and it’s in your blog, as we discuss elsewhere.
So, this 2021 update is placing much greater importance on how user-friendly a website is. This includes – but is not limited to – clarity of information, navigation, overall ease of usability and (as we mention above) adaptability to all browsers and devices.
This also covers design faults on a page that leads to customer annoyance, and they helpfully give an example:
As you can see, the user here tries to click on ‘Go back’ but because of a pop-up at the top of the page, the buttons shift, and they accidentally hit ‘Place order’ instead.
Of course, customer experience covers more than just a few design glitches, but you get the idea.
Ultimately, they say, it’s about transacting with less friction. They want to rank the pages that customers love the most.
The full text of the announcement can be read here.
For a more detailed conversation about how Google will rate your site and respond to your site visitors, read SEO principles for the next 20 years.