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GUEST COMMENT Size matters in SEO: optimising your large ecommerce site to increase website traffic 

Benoit Gourdon, President, EMEA at Botify

There are over 1.17 billion websites in the world, so a business’s website isn’t one in a million, it’s one in over a billion. That’s a lot of competition.

To combat this, some companies pay to rank first on search engines through sponsored search content, but this is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. To rank well without paid search, businesses need to have great SEO. And when your ecommerce business depends on online sales, getting SEO right is mission-critical.

Competition in ecommerce is only getting fiercer with more and more traditional high street retailers moving online. Last month, Primark launched a trial click and collect service with plans to digitally transform even more in the future. With an already loyal customer base, this could mean serious competition for new or existing ecommerce brands in an already overcrowded market.

While smaller ecommerce brands can update their SEO relatively easily compared to larger sites, they don’t have to manage the scale of pages large eCommerce sites need to think about strategically to keep up with growing competition.

What is a large ecommerce site and why do they struggle with SEO?

A large ecommerce site is defined as one with more than a million URLs. This means there are over a million individual searches a person can make when typing in a website’s URL into their browser, each taking the user to a unique place or page on a site.

How can an, often small, SEO team manage over a million different pages of content? The answer is, they can’t. And here lies the problem for large ecommerce sites. With so many pages it’s quite simply impossible to manually optimise each one, meaning large ecommerce sites must look for innovative ways to manage their SEO.

Optimising crawl budget and rendering pages

Crawl budget is the amount of attention your site receives from search bots and how many pages are crawled in a given timeframe. A search bot, or web crawler, downloads and indexes content from all over the Internet. The goal of such a bot is to learn what (almost) every webpage on the web is about, so that the information can be retrieved when it’s needed. Businesses must analyse their crawl budget regularly, as search engines go through millions of websites a day but search engines have limited resources to crawl all 1.17 billion web pages.

The bigger the website, the more limitations a business’ crawl budget has, as there is a higher chance your entire website isn’t being crawled. In fact, our research shows 77% of pages on large websites are invisible to search engines.

There are a few ways large ecommerce sites can optimise crawl budget. Deleting out-of-stock pages and requesting Google, or any other search engine, to discontinue crawling that page is one of the best ways to manually optimise your SEO. Next, manage site performance by updating any site errors or pages with old code. Overall, keeping on top of your sites’ health is key. However, optimising your crawl budget is no longer enough, especially for large ecommerce sites. You also need to render your pages. Most websites now have dynamic content across them, including videos, photos and interactive elements. These pages need to be rendered, a process by which a static version of a website page is sent to a crawler, which is much easier to read than the dynamic page users see. This creates additional resource constraints for the search engines and SEO teams rendering the pages, so you do need to be strategic in how you manage faceted navigation.

SEO as a funnel

Businesses should consider their SEO as a funnel – one that focuses first on crawl budget and rendering before considerations such as ranking. Not enough businesses consider SEO this way and focus heavily on ranking, when often their websites’ pages aren’t even turning up in search results in the first place.

What large ecommerce sites need to do to scale

Large websites cannot take a white glove approach to site optimisation – there are simply too many URLs to individually tailor each site.

One common solution is faceted navigation, when a website filters content for users by price or colour, for example. Its purpose is to help users find what they’re looking for more easily using multiple filters based on a listings’ attributes. However, while this is useful for the end-user, it can potentially create more problems for a site’s SEO as it can duplicate content and eat into crawl budget.

This is where automation comes in: the key to implementing SEO at scale. With automation, the speed at which a websites health is checked can be faster. And while there still needs to be human input, any changes can be made quickly or automated for future.

Ecommerce is booming. According to eMarketer, online retail sales will reach $6.17 trillion by 2023, with ecommerce websites taking up 22.3% of total retail sales. This has only been accelerated by the pandemic, increasing our reliance on online shopping.

With 93% of online experiences still beginning with search, ecommerce businesses must prioritise SEO. But it needs to be considered strategically, and with the size in mind – because size really does matter in SEO.

Benoit Gourdon, President, EMEA at Botify

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