Protecting Your SEO Ranking

Protect Your SEO
Mark Ballett is an ecommerce expert with more than 25 years’ experience helping retailers to grow and evolve. He was Supply Director of Cable & Wireless, and CEO of several telecoms companies at the beginning of the internet era, played a leading role in an £80M broadband start up, as well as leading Norweb Telecom's growth from £10M to £100m turnover.
Whoops, what happened to my SEO?
 
When you perform a major update to your website or migrate to another platform, one of the biggest risks is losing your search engine rankings. You may have a shiny new store but little, or no, traffic. This happens a lot and we have often had to help customers solve this problem.

Three things can affect your SEO rankings:
  • Search engine algorithm changes
  • Increased competition, and
  • Changes you make to your own site.
The first two are out of your hands, you just need to react to them, but the third is something of an own goal. You need to manage this when doing any major development of your store, but you need to be particularly careful when you migrate to another platform.

One thing that many online retailers overlook is that their single most valuable asset is the content on their website. This includes all the pages, with their associated copy and images and links. Yes, the external links pointing to your site are also valuable, but without the content, Google would have nothing to index.

So what is content? Well, there are two types - unstructured and structured.
 
Unstructured content
 
Most of the content published on your web pages (text and images) is "unstructured", which means that search engines must figure out what it is and what it's for. Google loves great content, so if you don't replicate what is already on your site when you apply an update, then you are asking for trouble. Unless you have a good reason to change something (like it isn't in Google at all), then don't.

Structured data
 
While it is easy to see the unstructured site content - it is what your visitors read - viewing the structured data on your web pages is harder. Structured data is information embedded on the page that is designed to be read by search engines and other systems and not by humans.

It makes it easier for search engines to understand the content of the page by presenting it in a structured way. Although not all structured content is believed to be used as a factor when determining the rank of a page, you are more likely to appear in relevant searches if you take care of it.

There are two types of structured content that you need to be concerned about - your page Meta Tags and Structured Data.

The most important meta tags are listed in Table 1.
 
Table 1: Important Meta Tags
Field Description Length (Chars)
Page Title The title of the page 65
Meta Description Brief description of the page content 165 - 320
Meta Keywords List of keywords (not used by Google) N/A
rel="canonical" The URL of the original version of this page that is usually added by the CRM system N/A
 
The best approach here is to replicate what is on the existing site. If content is missing, then this is a good opportunity to bring it up to date.

There is another type of structured data that is a bit harder to understand. Google is able to read information published on your site using data snippets.

Here is an example.



These snippets must conform to the standards laid down by Schema.org (see https://schema.org/docs/schemas.html) and, as you have already guessed, require technical knowledge to implement.
 
Website links

Links are also important in the rankings battle and, again, there are two types.

Internal links

These are links on your site to other pages on your site. Search engines use navigation and other links to explore your site and understand how it is glued together. The link text is as important as the links themselves. Also, avoid using dynamic links. Although Google says that it can detect most links embedded in JavaScript we try to avoid this unless you have previous experience.

External inbound links

A very important factor that contributes to the success of your site are links from eternal websites. Search engines use the quantity and quality of these links to establish the reputation of your business. The more high-quality external links you have, the more highly your pages are to be ranked.

You can find a list of external links in your Google Search Console. However, it is a good idea to augment this with links that you find in a third-party system, such as Moz.

This is just meant as an introduction to the arcane world of SEO. In a future blog we’ll explain just how to manage all this during a site migration to ensure you don’t slip down the rankings.