When launching an e-commerce website it is incredibly easy to get carried away and do everything as quickly as possible. The usual process is to decide on some products, come up with a brand, launch a website, and hopefully make some easy money. Unfortunately it’s very rare that things actually work like that.
There are a number of pitfalls that are easy to fall into but today I’m going to talk about data architecture and URL structure.
To give you some background, in early 2010 we launched a UK pet supplies website, Pet365. Our mission was simple–to stand out from the crowd by doing things better. First rate products, excellent customer service, fast delivery and competitive prices. Within 2 months of deciding to launch we’d come up with a brand, launched, and sold our first product.
I must admit that complacency started to creep in quite quickly and I thought that it was going to be easy. How wrong I was. Immediate growth turned into stagnation and although we were doing reasonably well it seemed impossible to move above a certain number of visitors and sales each day. Multiple channels, Google product feeds and leafleting our local area could only take us so far, it was time to go back to basics.
Looking back, it was a simple mistake, but one that is made by a huge amount of people. Our data architecture and URL structure was set up to look as streamlined as possible from a users point of view. The products section had ‘dog’ ‘cat’, and ‘small animal’ as top level categories with ‘collars’, ‘leads’, ‘cages’, and ‘beds’ sitting below. On the face of it that doesn’t seem like an issue but think about what people search for.
If I’m looking for a dog collar I’ll search for ‘dog collar’. If I need a hamster cage I’ll search for (you guessed it) ‘hamster cage’. Our on-page SEO was fatally flawed and it was time to go back to basics by completing some in-depth keyword research to work out what people were searching for and what we should target. The process involved:
- Using Googles Keyword tool to complete our research;
- Analysing which keywords our main competitors were targeting;
- Restructuring the site (using good old pen and paper) based on this research;
- Implementing the changes.
The first three points are relatively simple and with a quick search you’ll be able to find all the information you could ever need (although feel free to get in touch if you need any help or advice). Implementing the changes, however, has a couple of important pitfalls that you need to remember:
- Do not create 404 errors as part as your re-structure. Make sure you 301 redirect old pages to their new location;
- Take the time to alter the content of your new pages to reflect the updated URL structure. This includes updating your title and description tags, along with the visible content, alt tags, etc.
If you’re unsure how to implement a 301 redirect, do some research before you start this process. They should be used whenever you remove a product from your site and are invaluable to maintaining search engine rankings should you need to change page locations.
My final piece of advice relates to the keywords that you target. Depending on how competitive your industry is (pet products have some big players) it’s probably best not to go straight for the big traffic keywords. We haven’t necessarily taken this advice as our homepage targets ‘Pet Supplies’, but our sub-categories look to rank for lower value terms, such as ‘waifs and strays dog collars’.
This takes some time to get right, and you’ll always be changing things, but some extra thought in the early days can go a very, very long way to ensuring that you’re not re-doing your site just a few months after launching.
Matt Beswick is a dog lover, web junkie, and entrepreneur based in London, UK. He enjoys selling dog collars (honestly!), writing about his online retail experiences, and sleeping.