So you’ve got an awesome ecommerce store and you’re looking for ways to increase your organic traffic – you’re in a good place for that! Not all ecommerce platforms are created equally – for example, hosted & self-hosted platforms offer MUCH different experiences in terms of customization. So what do you need to know about SEO and Ecommerce?
Is Hosted Better Than Self-Hosted?
First let’s clarify the difference between these common options. Hosted platforms like BigCommerce & Shopify store all your files and data in the cloud for you. You don’t have to worry about storing your files on a server and how that server is performing.
Using self-hosted platforms like WooCommerce and Magento means you are responsible for hosting, and thus would need to secure a server to store your data and files.
From an SEO perspective there are pros and cons to each. Hosted platforms are a lot easier to set up, perform automatic backups and server maintenance on your behalf, and can be good for organizations that don’t have the internal IT structure in place to manage an in-house system. Self-hosted platforms allow for a lot more customization and SEO optimizations but you have to do server maintenance and backups on your own.
Let’s take a look at WooCommerce as an example. As a self-hosted commerce platform that relies on WordPress as it’s backbone you know that there will be strong SEO capabilities involved. WordPress is renowned in the marketing community for it’s SEO optimization toolkit (including add-ons like Yoast SEO) and you’ll have that power driving your stores’ organic rankings. Compared to hosted platforms you will have a lot more opportunity to customize everything from access to log files and canonical tag control, and be able to control image optimizations like browser caching to increase page speed. Speaking of page speed, this is one of the biggest areas of difference across platforms – let’s dive into that!
Page Speed, Is It Important?
Yes, yes it is. What does it have to do with ecommerce platforms though? Hosted platforms will tend to be more middle of the pack in terms of page speed, so with Google’s increased focus over the last few years on speed as a ranking factor, platforms like WooCommerce can be a great choice. Moz has assembled a lot of information about page speed as a ranking factor identified by Google publicly AND one of the leading causes of user drop-off (Google reports that roughly 53% of mobile users leave immediately if the site takes longer than 3 seconds to load). We mentioned above that self-hosted platforms will offer speed advantages through capabilities such as image optimization – but what’s the whole picture look like platform to platform?
What are my ecommerce platform options?
Let’s do a quick rundown on some of the most popular and widely used platforms.
This platform is fairly easy to use and offers good out-of-the-box SEO performance; however, customization opportunities are going to be limited. One of the most frustrating limitations will be in URL strings, for example, any product page is going to have /products/ in the URL so having SEO friendly URL structures can be a challenge. The main benefits of Shopify from an SEO perspective are the ease of use for basic SEO setup and site speed. Shopify is a strong platform that can deliver above average speed for almost any site.
Another hosted platform, BigCommerce stacks up interestingly well when compared to Shopify. We noted this above, but Shopify doesn’t allow for complete URL customization, BigCommerce does – so a product can be www.yoursite.com/product-name (better for SEO). Another point to consider, BigCommerce has some out-of-the-box themes that are not only mobile-friendly, but are AMP-ready. Shopify doesn’t provide clear documentation on this but the only AMP-ready themes appear to be 3rd party designs that require a separate purchase.
This platform was already discussed above, but what else can we say about WooCommerce SEO? Since we focused on the positives above (customization, YOAST plugins/strength of WordPress as your backbone), what are the cons that come with using WooCommerce? Mainly, ease of use. That customization comes at a price, you will need a larger development team and a better trained marketing staff that can make full use of WordPress (or work with a partner) and it’s advanced SEO capabilities.
The most complex from a development perspective, Magento can still offer a lot to any ecommerce business willing to make the investment. The positives of Magento? Easy bulk customization and templatization of SEO factors, it can be fairly easy to update the metadata, page titles, and more for hundreds (or thousands) of products through bulk import. The negatives? Speed. Magento can be a bulkier platform where site speed can lag behind other platforms if not properly optimized, while almost any platform can have speed issues if improperly maintained this is especially important with Magento.
How do I weigh the pros & cons and make a decision?
Fortunately these are all great platforms and there is no right or wrong answer. None are foolproof either – you can absolutely create an achingly slow WordPress/WooCommerce site that is outperformed by Shopify, or create a BigCommerce site that isn’t getting you the SEO results you are hoping for. So how do you know what to do? One of the biggest factors in your consideration of your ecommerce platforms SEO capabilities versus a different storefront circles back to total cost.
Goinflow.com poses an important conundrum, “The trade-off in controlling your own site speed: that you’re also responsible for handling more bandwidth. If your store was suddenly featured on “The Ellen Show,” would you be able to handle the influx of traffic? On a platform like Shopify or BigCommerce, you probably could…”. So, what’s the point of having a fast site that gets thousands of visits from that Ellen Show spot (congrats, by the way) if your site crashes? Not only do you need the development capabilities through a partner, or hire staff to create the site but you will be looking at increased maintenance and planning.
If you’re running a small Shopify store that’s growing and needs to take a leap in SEO to fuel that growth, creating a WordPress site with WooCommerce could be a great move. However, the cost associated with developing a technically sound WordPress site that will outperform your Shopify site significantly enough to justify the expense can be a big number. Ultimately, you need to review the total cost (current platform revenue trajectory vs expected revenue increase – development/hiring) to make the right decision.