Structuring your site is a crucial element of SEO. If you want to generate more traffic to your website, you should create a structure for your site that makes sense to Google and your site’s visitors. In this post, I’ll explain why site structure is such an important aspect of SEO.

Structure shows importance to Google

If your site is well-structured, the most important content will receive the most internal links. By linking to this content, you’re telling Google what the most significant content is. You’ll probably want exactly this content to pop up in the search engines. If your internal linking structure is of high quality, you’ll have a much higher chance that the most informational content on your website will rank well in the search engines. We also refer to this as cornerstone content.

Read more: ‘How to incorporate cornerstone content on your site’ »

No competing with your own content

If you aren’t structuring your site well, you could well be competing with your own content to appear high in Google. If you don’t tell Google which one of your six blogposts about, for instance, spaghetti is the most important, Google won’t know which to rank highest. It’s hard enough competing with other websites for those prime spots in the search results, you should definitely make sure not to compete with your own content!

Structure is important for UX

A decent site structure will help your site to rank high in Google. Besides that, site structure is also important for the User eXperience (UX). The structure of your website should be reflected in the navigation of your website. If this structure is clear, your audience will easily find their way on your site. A good UX will increase your chances for people to convert: buy your products; subscribe to your newsletter or return for another visit.

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Don’t let your site get cluttered

If you’re serious about your website, you’ll probably add and change things frequently on your website. Without even noticing it, your site could get cluttered rather quickly. Perhaps you’re posting a lot in one category and very little in other ones. Perhaps you’re deleting pages, without redirecting them. And perhaps you are forgetting to link to (and update!) those most important blogpost, because you only think of your most recent blogposts. While perfectly understandable, your website could well get cluttered.

Stay focused on the structure of your site

Site structure is an important aspect of your SEO strategy. And structuring your site is something that is an ongoing process. Yoast SEO premium can really help you to set up and improve the structure of your site. The redirects functionality will allow you to easily redirect pages you delete (so you’ll pass on the linking juice to another page). And our new related links functionality will make sure you are interlinking articles with similar topics. We’re already working on new features in order to help you improve the structure of your site even more.

On top of that, if you want to learn more about site structure, we’ll have a nice surprise for you next week. We’ll be launching a brand new Site structure training! Following this course will enable you to really get started in improving your own site structure. Can’t wait? Just start by reading our ultimate guide!

Keep reading: ‘Site structure: the ultimate guide’ »

Reviews or testimonials are mostly said to work on the basis of social proof. Social proof is a psychological process in which people copy the behavior of others, in an attempt to reflect correct behavior.

A testimonial tells you that someone you can identify with has bought a product and loved it. That must mean the product is just the right thing for you as well. However, ratings and reviews are not just valuable for your customers alone: Google uses them in various ways too, as I’ll explain in this post. Moreover, I’ll show how you can help Google show ratings and reviews in the search results, with the right Schema.org markup.

Ratings

Ratings for your website or online shop can be twofold:

  • For your entire business
  • For a specific product

Business ratings

Ratings for your brand or shop will most probably be given on a website like Resellerratings.com or Google My Business. Google will see these ratings and will even add Google My Business ratings to their Knowledge Graph information. The time that Google added stars to search result pages for any website that added these ratings in schema.org is over. Google was simply flooded with ratings, and it made less sense to add them to all the results anymore. That doesn’t mean they are entirely gone, as the opinion of your visitor or customer is still equally valuable to Google. So where it makes sense, like for hotels, Google will still show that rating. Google also tends to show shop ratings in their Google Shopping results, by the way:rating of shop in SERP

Product ratings

Product ratings are a bit of a different breed, although they work pretty much the same. Have people rate a product on your website, and add an Aggregate rating on a nice spot on your product page. Next to Google picking up on that rating and showing it in, for instance, the Google Shopping result, it increases trust in a product.

product rating in SERP

As you can see, product ratings have a different color in Google Shopping results.

Besides, in their Shopping results, you can also find product reviews from major websites in the search result pages, like this one from CNET:

cnet review

CNET is a trusted source for Google, so they feel comfortable showing that rating and link these reviews on page one in the search result pages.

Obviously, it’s key to monitor these ratings and act if a product is just getting negative reviews. Either contact the reseller and ask them to fix the issues or stop selling that specific product.

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Reviews

Most of the times the ratings we discussed earlier are just half of a package deal. Ratings are great, and great ratings even greater. But if that rating is accompanied by a detailed review as well, people will be able to relate to the experience another customer had even more. Regardless if that’s for a product or an entire website. These reviews influence the decision-making process of your visitor. If they come to your website and see only negative reviews, written by real people that speak from experience, they will think twice. If these reviews are all raving about the product, people will just need a split second to click the buy button.

Reviews influence local ranking

Especially for local rankings, or local products, reviews are important. They tell Google the public perception of a brand or website. Google can process these reviews and take them into account for rankings if needed. Websites like Yelp and Foursquare help people from all over the world to find the right coffee shop or bakery. Sites like Booking.com tell people where to stay and allow people to share their experiences afterward. If you have sufficient reviews, Google shows these ratings and allows you to pick right from their search result pages already. If you search for a specific hotel in Google, you’ll find even more reviews in the search result pages:

ratings and reviews hotel in serp

It’s up to you which source you trust more. But we think you can’t go wrong with this hotel, right?

The image shows that you shouldn’t rule out Facebook in this as well. Maintain an active page and allow for reviews. Again, monitor these. All this positive ‘word of mouth’ combined will contribute to Google liking and ranking your online shop even better.

Ratings, reviews, and Schema.org

Google uses structured data to include extra information in the search results. The markup for structured data is taken from a vocabulary called Schema.org. A combined effort of Yahoo, Microsoft, Google and Yandex, this open data format’s goal is to offer structured data that search engines can consistently use to present rich results. This could be product information, ratings, and reviews, or information about your local business.

To implement structured data, you need to offer search engines the correct markup. There are a couple of ways of doing that: Microdata, RDFa, and JSON-LD. According to Google, the latter is the easiest way of adding metadata to sites these days. JSON-LD is a lightweight data-format that’s easy to read for both humans and machines. You can test your code in Google’s Structured Data Test Tool.

Reviews and ratings

By adding certain Schema.org elements to your code, it’s possible for Google to add reviews and ratings to your search results. You need to tell which parts are about the review and what that element represents. In Schema.org a rating is the aggregate value a product gets. A review is a rating, with an explanation in text.

In the example below, you see a typical Schema.org review in JSON-LD format. A couple of highlights:

  • type: The schema.org type (a review)
    • itemReviewed: What you are reviewing
    • type: The schema.org thing (a thing)
  • reviewRating: Is it a review or a rating?
    • type: It’s a rating
    • ratingValue: The number of stars (1-5)
  • name: The title of the review
  • author: Who wrote it?
    • type: It’s a person, of course
    • name: Name of the author
  • reviewBody: Where was the review published
    • publisher: The actual publisher
    • type: Most of the time it’s an organization
    • name: Name of the organization
<script type=“application/ld+json”>
{
 “@context”: “http://schema.org/“,
 “@type”: “Review”,
  “itemReviewed”: {
  “@type”: “Thing”,
  “image”: “https://cdn-images.yoast.com/uploads/2010/10/Yoast_SEO_WP_plugin_FB.png”,
  “name”: “Yoast SEO”
 },
 “reviewRating”: {
  “@type”: “Rating”,
  “ratingValue”: “5”
 },
 “name”: “The best SEO plugin ever!”,
  “author”: {
  “@type”: “Person”,
  “name”: “Calvin Jones”
 },
 “reviewBody”: “I love working with it.”,
  “publisher”: {
  “@type”: “Organization”,
  “name”: “WordPress.org”
 }
}
</script>

Products

The same can be done for product listings. If you use the right markup, Google can pick up the data and show it in the results. You can add specifications, price, availability, reviews and ratings, and more to your listings. The code to use is comparable to the one above. In a future post, we’ll be elaborating on that a bit more.

Local businesses

Reviews are a godsend for local businesses. That’s why it’s rather important to add them to your listings. Using Schema.org and, for instance, JSON-LD, you give Google the opportunity to add your ratings to the search results. Potential customers will get a good idea of the quality of your business, right in the search engine.

Keep an eye on our site, because we will be diving deeper into Schema.org for products, ratings and reviews, and what it all means for local businesses.

Read more: ‘Use JSON-LD to add schema.org to your website’ »

Online shops rarely sell just a few products. If your shop has a few hundred or a thousand articles, it might help if you offered your customers a filtering option. You must do whatever you can to help your customer get to the desired product as soon as possible. Ecommerce filters can help you solve this problem.

Why should you use eCommerce filters?

Ecommerce filters help you to break down long lists of products into manageable results. If you implement them correctly, your clients will thank you with a higher conversion rate. But, only if you think these through. To achieve that, you must first make sure to tag your products properly and develop an accurate system of filters.

Think about how people search your shop; do they drill down into the specs or are they more like seasonal shoppers looking for a new coat for autumn? The kind of filters you choose, depend on the kind of shop you run and the products you sell. Electronics have lots of specifications that can be placed in a filter. A shop that sells handmade scarfs can use filters for the material used or maybe what kind of style it is (urban, chic, outdoor, to name a few).

Flawless UX and usability are very important for SEO. If you make your site function without fault, and your visitors can easily find what they want in your shop, you’ll get lower bounce rates and higher conversion rates. These are all signs for Google that your site works like it should and could result in higher rankings.

These kinds of filters do come with a warning, though. If developed and implemented incorrectly they could harm your SEO. You do not want your CMS to automatically generate new URLs for every search query. Tread carefully. We’ll dive deeper into this in a later post.

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How to use eCommerce filters

A well-thought out filter system can save the consumer an enormous amount of time and frustration. Most of the time, however, we see filters that haven’t been properly developed. Think about all the shops where they implemented a site-wide filter. Don’t do this. That might be ok if you have just a few products in similar categories, but not if you’re aiming to be Amazon. Think about that for a moment: how would you ever find anything on Amazon if it wasn’t for that excellent filter system?

So, you have to have category-specific filters. Place these front and center on your category pages. People shouldn’t miss this, because if they can’t find them, these filters don’t exist. In addition to that, if you only use site-wide eCommerce filters, some filter options won’t fit the category a customer is browsing. Filtering for a white, 18 megapixel, point-and-shoot camera doesn’t make sense when you’re on the DSLR category page and want to select the best DSLR cameras under $500.

Examples of eCommerce filters

If you want to see how filtering ought to be done, you have to study Amazon. This eCommerce behemoth tries to help customers find what they want in as little time as possible. Let’s say you are looking for over-ear headphones, that have good reviews from buyers. To help you with that, Amazon has made a buying guide for headphones that you can reach directly from the headphones category page.

Amazon.com

On this page, you can select which type of headphone you are looking for, and Amazon instantly presents you with a list of suggestions. You can narrow it down further by filtering on price, features or wireless type. By doing this, Amazon has done a lot of hard work for the customer. In a couple of seconds, you have a manageable list of headphones to go through.

amazon buying guide headphones

In addition to the buying guide, you can reach the regular, more expansive filters by going directly to the over-ear headphones category. This shows you 9,915 results, but they can be easily narrowed down by a plethora of filters, like features, earcup style, color, featured brands, customer rating, et cetera. This gives you everything you need to find what you are looking for.

amazon headphones

Nike.com

Do you need new sportswear? Something to help you stay warm during your morning run, has a tight fit and is available in size M? You can find some tights using the thematic filter on Nike.com, see:

running tights nike

Nike.com lets you easily filter types of products based on actual questions customers have. Choose the product category, then the sports, what you want it to do (keep you warm, cool, visible, et cetera), then a fit, a color, and size. In the end, you’ll be presented with just a couple of products that match your specific filters.

Wayfair.com

Looking for a new couch can be one of the most frustrating experiences ever. It’s something you don’t buy every month, plus it will last quite awhile, so you have to be sure of your decision. It can take some time to find the perfect couch. Wayfair helps customers filter their enormous couch selection with an impressive filter system.

wayfair filtering options

Wayfair.com must the king of filtering since they use every filter type known to humanity, but still keep it manageable. In the couch section, you can filter on the popular options, but also handy ones like style, print, back style, application, frame finish, et cetera. It’s a massive array of filters that lets you narrow down the search results to specific products that match your specifications perfectly.

The flip side of offering all these filters is that you have to make sure they are usable. Don’t present a list that never ends. If you have loads of option in a filter section, please truncate these. Mayfair also uses a big + button to hide sections you don’t need. Another option is to make a list scrollable, although it’s probably better to truncate. Test whatever works for you.

wayfair pinboard

On a side note, Wayfair has another way of keeping customers sane. Check out this Pinterest-like board feature where customers can save their selected couches and compare them later on. This makes it so much easier for clients to patiently shop on the site, without having to think about what that one couch was they’d like so much.

BHPhotoVideo.com

Ever went shopping for a camera bag only to find out the one you bought doesn’t fit? Well, you’ve probably drowned in a sea of bags and picked the first one that could have fit based on the size specifications. I think we’ve all been there. If you want to help your customers, you should offer a compatibility filter.

bhphotovideo camera bags

On B&H you’ll find your camera bag in a jiffy. Select the dedicated camera bag category, find your brand, add some specs and away you go. You can even search the results if you want. How cool is that?

In conclusion

Filtering helps your customers find what they want and find it quickly. However, only if you’ve thought long and hard about how to present your filtering options. There are lots of ways to go about this, and you have to pick the ones that fit best your online shop.

Whatever you do, make sure the filters are visible and logical. Hidden filters stay hidden for visitors. Don’t miss this great opportunity to get them to their products fast. It’s a great service to your customers.

Do think about the technical implications, though. Incorrect use of the technology behind filters could make the CMS generate new URLs for every search and that’s something you absolutely do not want. The implications for your SEO could be great. We’ll elaborate on that in a later post.

Read more: ‘eCommerce usability: the ultimate guide’ »

Right after an online purchase by a customer, an important marketing opportunity arises. At that moment, someone chose to buy a product on your website. Seize that moment! In this article, we’ll go over a number of things you can do to turn these online customers into brand ambassadors.

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Promote us!

It’s so easy to leverage that new or returning customer right after his or her purchase. For instance, you could simply ask the customer, who obviously had an awesome experience shopping on your eCommerce site to promote your shop for you. Here’s how!

Social sharing

If you ask your customer to promote your shop online, make this as easy as possible. Social sharing can be done in two clicks: You’ve already created a great Thank You page, and all you have to do is create some social sharing buttons for your favorite social platforms. Ask your customer to ‘Spread the word’ or ‘Recommend us’. Clicking the tweet or share button will open a box with a predefined text about your shop, a link to your shop. Personalize it by adding the product name (“I just bought Product X on yourshop.com – it’s awesome!”). If the text is predefined, it’s literally two clicks that your future brand ambassador will be willing to make.

Ask for testimonials

Next to adding testimonials on your website, you should also ask your customer to leave a product review on larger review sites. Think along the lines of TripAdvisor (hotels and restaurants), GoodReads (books), Yelp (any local business). I have been camping in Denmark, and there were TripAdvisor signs everywhere telling me about the (obviously) good rating they had, and asking me to leave my own review. After a purchase, or in the confirmation email you send, I think it’s totally OK to ask a customer to leave his two cents. Not only will this help your brand in case of a positive review, it will also help you monitor things you can still improve upon.

Reviews on Google and Facebook

Next to specialized sites like the ones mentioned in the previous section, why not ask your customer to leave a review on your Facebook page or Google Business page as well? Google and Facebook are probably the starting points for any potential customer search. Regardless of whether a customer clicks to GoodReads anyway, your reviews are shown with your Google Business information like this:

google-review_1d6de66e-1

Value your customers

Even online, you must strive to be that nice neighborhood shop, where you know your customers by name. Perhaps not all of them in the case of thousands of customers, but at least f.i. the largest 10% of them. That means investing back in these customers. Sending them a birthday present, adding extra incentives or discounts, things like that. Show them you appreciate them as a customer.

Keep in touch

But that’s not all. Providing great after-sales services will lead your customers back to you. That could just be a flexible return policy. Or, if you own a guitar shop and you sell a cheap Spanish guitar, chances are that the buyer is a beginner. Surprise him with a short tutorial video for simple chords a week after purchase. Send an email six months after purchase with a discount for new guitar strings. It’s all so obvious, right? In this case, you just have to keep in mind that the obvious probably works.

When creating brand ambassadors

Make sure that your customers don’t forget you. Next to all the things mentioned earlier, it’s absolutely necessary that you need to do your best to deliver the best customer experience possible. Deliver on time, or communicate on time. Treat your customer as you’d like to be treated yourself. Make the customer feel welcome in your online shop’s family!

Read more: ‘Creating loyal customers’ »

If you’re starting with an (eCommerce) site you might have a lot of content that’s already available in PDF files: product brochures, datasheets, pricing information and so on. So some people might think: why not upload these PDF files and link to them? There are some disadvantages to showing PDF files on your site though. We’ll discuss some of them in this Ask Yoast, while answering a question from Stijn Vogels from Antwerp, Belgium. He asked:

“In my current mission I’m confronted with many links directing to PDF files instead of html pages. There are some clear disadvantages of PDF files, but I was also wondering if there are any risks. What risks do links to PDF files pose?”

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Risks of links to PDF files?

Read the transcript of the video here:

“There’s no real risk in terms of links to PDF files. But PDF files are generally just not as useful as web pages. They indeed have some disadvantages: you can’t have easy links on them, you can’t make them as interactive, you can’t track them and you don’t really know what the user is doing, when he is looking at a PDF file.

If you can turn that into a web page, you can see what users are doing, and you can guide them to other content on your site, or make them convert more easily (buy something, subscribe to your newsletter etc). That becomes a whole lot more useful, than just having a still bunch of PDF files on your site.

So my suggestion is, if you have the choice, to always use web pages instead of PDF files. Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we’ll take your SEO question! Do you have a pressing SEO question about your site? Let us help you out! You might get a personal answer on video!

Read more: ‘27 tips for a better shop’ »

Small business owners often struggle with their SEO. You have your business, your customers, and now your website demands attention as well. I frequently talk to business owners that just use their website as a reference for real life customers. To be honest, that is a bit narrow-minded. There is so much more you can do!

In this article, I’ll go over some improvements any small business owner can easily do by himself. It’s going to costs you time, not per se any money. Use this article as a checklist, and see how you are doing. Here we go!

Manage your expectations

Let’s start with the most important one: be realistic about what you can rank for and what not. Manage your expectations. If your competitors are giant companies with huge marketing budgets, you’ll probably not going to rank number one for your main keyword (f.i. car insurance). Aim for specific keywords instead, not the general, high-end keywords.

What’s your niche?

Take some time to find the keywords that describe your business best. If you are a local grocery store that also delivers to people’s homes, aim for ‘order groceries Springfield’ not ‘order groceries online’. See how you can differentiate yourself from the horde, and focus on that. This also includes focusing on longer tail keywords. That brings me to my next tip.

Use mid-tail keywords

Adding the city name

Do not keyword-stuff your website with your location’s name. If you really want to rank locally, try to include the city name in a way that makes sense. Add LocalBusiness schema, for instance via our local SEO plugin. And get some local links to your website. That will already help you a lot!

No need to go overboard in specifying your niche. ‘Sports gear for teams that is easy to wash in Vancouver’ will probably only give you one new visitor a day. Focus on mid-tail keywords like ‘team sports gear Vancouver’. You’ll see that for a small business, it usually pays off to add the city name to some optimized pages as well. More on keywords in our article on the long tail.

Utilize online platforms

If there is one thing I can tell you from my experience in this, it is that local small businesses communicate a lot via social media. Use that Twitter account actively, set up your Facebook page and maintain it. Add your business to Google Business and make sure your opening hours are filled out if you have any. Every Google search for your company or closely related searches might show these immediately, before any organic search results. The same goes for sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor. They have their marketers working 24/7. In the end, it doesn’t matter if people find your business through websites like Yelp or Google, right?

Utilize offline platforms

New website? Contact your local newspaper. New products? Contact your local newspaper. New business? You get the drift. Do not underestimate the reach these local news companies have. People read these publications. If you have anything newsworthy, please contact these publishers and see if they can help you to promote your business offline. If you participate in a local event, by all means, add a blog post to your website as well. Just be sure it is relevant.

Make sure your customers find your shop! Optimize your site with our Local SEO plugin and show you opening hours, locations, map and much more!

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Word of mouth

Create buzz around your shop, for instance by asking people to leave a review on Google Business or Yelp. Do sweepstakes or giveaways for your online visitors. 500 likes on Facebook? Give number 500 a coupon for your shop, online or offline. Have a sale for a specific brand? You could consider promoting it online only. Sponsoring a local event? Be sure to set up an event specific landing page and ask them to link that one. These are all little things that might trigger people to talk about your website, next to your shop.

Add evergreen content

If you want to rank, just adding blog posts or opening times won’t be enough. You should add pages with so-called evergreen content. These pages have content that won’t expire anytime soon. Evergreen content can be at the top of your keyword research pyramid, so a bit less long tail than the rest of your keyword focus. This content can be the solid base of your websites. Expand this base per product, service or business value so that you can focus on all the dynamic content you’ll write on a daily or weekly basis.

Small business blogging

The easiest way to keep your customers (and others) in the loop about your products and offerings, is by adding a blog to your website. That blog will fuel your social media and newsletter, so it’s a much more extensive tool than ‘just an addition’ to your site.

Please keep in mind that ‘no inspiration’ is a sad excuse for not adding that blog. Marieke just did an article with a load of tips that will give you that inspiration. Just start, and see where it goes. You’ll find your way in this for sure.

Get local links

To emphasize the local character of your shop, it will pay off to see what related business there are in your local area. By reaching out to these companies or websites you will a) expand your local network and b) create an opportunity to get valuable backlinks. Just because of these local backlinks, Google will understand your geographical reach/positioning.

Contact details everywhere

For most small business websites, the main goal is to get in touch with your potential customers. The simplest way to make this crystal clear is by adding your contact details to every page. It doesn’t matter if that is in the footer or sidebar by the way. Add your phone number or an email form so that people can reach you in the easiest way possible.

Realize your website is your online shop window

Putting in all that effort might seem like a hassle, as you are already putting so much time in local networking, redecorating your shop’s windows and more. You have to keep in mind that for someone that finds your shop online first, it matters what that shop looks like. Your website is the online replacement for window shopping. If your actual shop is decorated for the season, I would also suggest taking a closer look at how you can translate that to your website.

Make sure people feel welcome, and are enticed to buy your products or services online. Or at least feel the urge to come by your local business to see what you can do for them.

Read more: ‘What is Local SEO?’ »

Product images can make or break your online shop’s success. You can hire the best designer in the world to create a killer design, but when images are bad, sales will be bad. It’s the first thing a customer will look at.

Even studies show that people that shop online value product images. The most important features of a product page when shopping online are:

  1. Quality of the product images
  2. View products in all available colors
  3. Alternate views of the selected item
  4. Ability to zoom into the details of the product
  5. Product guides

(Source: E-tailing Group via Pixelz.com)

That’s four out of five features that involve product images! In this post, we’ll go over a number of things you need to consider when adding product images to your online shop.

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Product images set a mood

While I was (re)writing the article on the internal search for your online shop, I once again realized how big a role product images play in an online store. I was reviewing a site of a friend of mine and found that the images on his homepage just didn’t do justice to the products he sells. The images of his featured products simply didn’t ‘pop’. To demonstrate this, I replaced them with bright colored pictures and the website told a whole other story.

One of the things we tell our customers is to use photos of people using the product. Or the product in use. It doesn’t matter if you sell coffee machines or dresses. If you add people, your product will look friendlier and people will see themselves using your products.

Product image with the product in use - ikea bed frame

See the difference? That Ikea bed is much more appealing. Ikea does a awesome job in this, both in their magazines, on their website and in their stores. Product images like this are becoming more and more common, so be sure you’re not the last one to do this!

Using product images with the products in use works best, because people will be able to see themselves using that product. It’s as close as you can get to an in-store experience. People want to buy the product online, but an image will never replace picking a product up, looking at it from all angles or trying it on. We need to try to give our customers that same experience. For the same reason testimonials work so well, by the way.

Quality of your product images

It seems so obvious to use high quality images. But we have been telling you to reduce the file size for years, right. First of all, that doesn’t mean you have to use a crappy, blurred image of just a few kBs. The tools mentioned in our image SEO article don’t reduce the quality of an image, for instance. They remove meta / Exif data and things like that, but your image will still look awesome.

Secondly, internet connections are getting faster. We’re a lucky country, as in the Netherlands broadband internet is everywhere. There are just a few so-called white spots (locations with no internet at all), with a total size of a couple of baseball fields. That also means we’ll have less difficulties downloading your larger product image files. You’ll need larger images anyway, as that leads us to another necessary feature of online shops: ability to zoom product images.

Ability to zoom

Have you ever picked up a backpack or daypack to inspect the lining? Is it waterproof, does it protect your stuff well? You want to be able to take a closer look at details. That’s what zooming product images is for. My personal pet peeve when it comes to this, is when the zoomed image is exactly the same size (or even smaller) than the product image that was already shown. This still happens frequently! A lot of online shops simply import product images from manufacturers (or even download them from other shops that sell the same product) without testing the image first. This ruins user experience in my book.

If there is no proper product image available, create one. Even your iPhone’s camera can provide you with a decent, large image that can serve as a zoomable product image.

Shopify‘s guide on product images states:

Your product images can be any size up to 2048px by 2048px, or 4.2 megapixels. […] Higher resolution photos will look more polished and professional to your customers, and we typically suggest 1024px by 1024px as a guideline for square product images.

Woocommerce states that the minimum dimensions should be 800×800 pixels. That seems to make sense, as it will perfectly fit most tablets as well without any problem. Smaller will lead to distortion, and we have established you want quality images, right?

By the way, Pixelz has a nice guide for DIY images for your shop. Find that guide here.

Any color you want as long as it is black

Henry Ford wrote in his autobiography “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black”. Times have changed. We at Yoast recently replaced all plastic water cups (at our water coolers) with personal Doppers and ordered these in green and purple for obvious reasons:

Yoast doppers

We switched some tops and bottoms, by the way.

Bottom line: if you want to buy a blue sweater, you want to be able to see that sweater in that color. I like the way blue-tomato.com does this, by not just showing colored squares, but a thumbnail of the product in another color:

Product image variations: not just colored squares

Especially for products that consist of one main and a few other colors, this works really well.

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Alternate views or products

You want to be able to look at a product from all angles. Let’s look at that blue-tomato.com example again. It shows that sweater being used, from the back and front, plus some details. You can really check the sweater from multiple angles.

If you are looking for furniture online, you want to check that chair from multiple angles as well. You want alternate views for the kitchen appliances, even though you’ll hide the dish washer behind a cabinet panel. And let’s take a closer look at the fabric of those drapes, or the back cover of that book. Again, it’s all about replacing the in-store experience.

Zappos does all that and adds a video of (in this case) an employee telling you more about the product itself:

Product video can add just that bit of extra to product images

The way that shoe is bent and rotated makes that you really ‘feel’ what kind of shoe that All Star is, so to say. I like that!

To wrap things up

If you have an online business selling actual products, you need to make sure to optimize your product images. Your customer will most definitely appreciate that. Make sure to:

  1. use high quality images;
  2. add an option for zoom;
  3. make sure to show the product in all available colors;
  4. provide alternate views of the product.

These are the main things to take into account when optimizing your shop’s images. I trust this article will make you rethink your own product images, or make you realize you are actually doing a pretty nice job!

Read more: ‘Optimizing images for SEO’ »

Usability is an important part of holistic SEO. It influences bounce rate, time on page, and a lot more user-related things. These all have an effect on your website’s SEO. Optimizing usability is important for all sites, but even more for eCommerce sites.

Apart from user-testing, you can optimize online shops by looking at best practices. See how these work on your website and improve where needed. In this ultimate guide for eCommerce websites, we’ll take you through that testing process. We’ll talk about all the things you need to address to give your visitor the best experience possible.

In short, this usability guide for online shops will tell you all about:

That’ll cover most if not all of your visitor’s on-site shopping experience. Let’s dive right into it!

Webshop homepage usability 101

Have you ever looked closely at the homepage of your online shop? Chances are you just went with the WooCommerce theme that your designer presented and implemented the options it had. While most of these themes are nicely designed and indeed setup with the user in mind, that might not be the best practice for your target audience.

Focus on your target audience

Before setting up a design, you need to check what specifics your target audience has. Are these people looking for the best price, or do they want to read a dozen reviews before any purchase? Are there cultural differences you need to take into account? Things like that determine the setup or layout of your shop’s homepage. Do you need to focus on sale items? Are you addressing a particular niche? Make that clear from the start.

If one of the pillars of your mission is to provide the best price possible, the sales banner is probably the most prominent item on your homepage. But, if you are selling high-quality products that people are willing to pay a bit more for, sentiment and emotion will be your focus. You could use larger images and focus on core product aspects.

Homepage call-to-action

On your homepage, your job is to guide the visitor to your products. The homepage of your webshop isn’t per se set up with SEO in mind but focuses on the user instead. That also means you’ll have to create a killer call-to-action on that homepage. Here are some tips to keep in mind when setting up that call-to-action:

  • Make sure it stands out from the design. Use a different color or button shape.
  • Make sure it looks like a button. I wouldn’t recommend so-called ghost buttons.
  • Use active text, and that doesn’t mean ‘Submit’ but rather a variation of ‘buy our stuff’.
  • Use enough whitespace around it, or: reduce clutter.
  • Using a hero image is popular these days and for a good reason. It sets a mood.

After welcoming your visitor to your website, you can guide them to where you make your money: the product pages. Before we address these, let’s see how to optimize internal search, and category/landing pages!

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Internal search

Internal search is the most important navigational option for your online shop. You should optimize it to the max. You’ll have noticed that the larger brands and online shops all focus a lot on their internal search. The reason is simple: you will buy their stuff if you can find the product you are looking for.

Next to adding focus to that internal search option, you need to make sure that your search result pages look focused and show a great overview. Next to the products name and image, you want to show the price and even an Add to Cart button. For instance, if you have a shop selling Bluetooth speakers, a comparison option will come in handy.

Filter options

After the search query, online clothing shops will allow for filtering by size, gender, color, the lot. Filtering options like these, or sorting by price or availability, will help your visitor to find the desired product as soon as possible.

If you’d like to read even more about this and see some examples, I recommend reading my post Internal search for webshops: an essential asset.

Optimize your shop’s category pages

Your category pages might be even more important than your product pages. They will give the visitor an option to choose and compare, much like your internal search result pages. Your shop category page should be considered a regular page for SEO, but is so much more when it comes to usability.

Here are some of the things you need to keep in mind:

  • Make sure the page has a great intro. It’s the glue that holds your products together and the main reason the potential buyer ended up here. Even if they scroll right to the product listings, they’ll appreciate the extra information (Google does).
  • List all other categories as well, or at least make them accessible via a drop down, especially when you have a lot of categories like Amazon. It makes more sense to make them available than listing them all. But if your shop only has ten categories, list these (in a sidebar/footer/menu).
  • Product listings need a proper call-to-action, don’t hide that one. Add a button.
  • The product image in the listing will convince the visitor to click, buy or compare an item. Use great images that display the product well.
  • Optimize the product title, for instance by including the SKU as well. Next to SEO benefits, people searching for specific products like that one LEGO box will thank you for it.
  • Clearly state if a product is available. No greater disappointment than finally finding the desired product only to find out it’s sold out in the shopping cart. Add a notice to the category page listing already.

Other pages worth optimizing are your landing pages.

Landing page optimization

A landing page is a page where your visitors end up from other sources, such as search engines or social media. It’s a page on your webshop that you optimize to evoke a particular reaction from the visitor, such as buying a specific product.

Focus on one product or product bundle and optimize that page to guide your visitor to the purchase. In other words, welcome them. Make sure the visitor feels safe to pay, for instance by adding security seals and safety signs. Add social proof in the form of testimonials, so your visitor will understand why your product is so good, and they need it.

On your landing page, you’ll like to deliver the message of the page as well as you can. Using headings and images for this is something we strongly recommend. Particularly for buyers scanning your page, these help a lot. Make sure these deliver the right message to a visitor.

If you’d like to read more about landing pages, be sure to read our article Landing pages and why they matter. It originates from 2014 already, but is still very much valid and besides that, we recently updated it.

At last, your visitor will arrive on your product page.

Product page optimization

Generally speaking, make your product page as usable as possible. Product pages need to be optimized for SEO, by using schema.org data and for instance OpenGraph text. Read more about that in our article on product page SEO. But when your visitor gets to that page, you should try your best to convince the visitor to buy that particular product on your website.

Best practices

Let’s go over some best practices for that product page:

  • Create scarcity: only a limited number of products available. But be honest about the numbers.
  • Add ratings and reviews. Social proof helps in comparisons and creates trust.
  • In stock or not? Be clear about that, as it will help manage visitor’s expectations.
  • Add to cart AND add to wishlist. People might not want to purchase right away because of budget or other reasons.
  • Multiple product images. As the images replace picking up the product in a store and looking at it from all angles, please add more than one image.
  • Offer product bundles. Buy this and that, as these products belong together. You might offer a discount for that bundle as a sales promotion.
  • Free shipping, or free shipping on any orders over a certain amount. It’s a nice gesture and a sales argument.
  • Related products, people that bought this product also bought, etcetera. Show me more; I might need to spend more money.
  • Show people using the product (as a part of your product images). People will find it easier to related to that and see why they need your product.

Call-to-action

Besides all this, your product page, like your homepage, needs an excellent call-to-action. That will in most cases be the Add to Cart button. Limit all distractions, make the text actionable, use the right color. And if possible, add a review somewhere near that button. More on calls-to-action here, and more on button design here.

More details and real life examples in our product page UX article. If you like more insights on creating trust, please read this article we did on the matter: 7 ways to increase sales by creating trust. You also find a good starting point for more insights on testimonials and reviews. If you’d like some extra reading on discounts, check The psychology of discounts.

From your product page, people and products end up in your shopping cart, which is part of your checkout process.

Checkout page optimization

Shopping cart abandonment

There could be more than one reason that people leave your website without buying anything. They might even fill up their cart, only to abandon it. There is a reason for that. In our post Shopping cart abandonment, we go over a number of things that might lead to this, like:

  • “Wanted to do more research.”
  • “Found it cheaper elsewhere.”
  • “Wanted to wait for it to go on sale.”

For mobile carts, there are even more reasons, like loading speed and poor design. Investigating this will make your webshop better and can increase your number of sales.

You are about to close the deal: the customer wants to buy your product, so let’s gently guide him to our payment page. The first thing we need is to tell him where in the checkout process we are, so be sure to add a progress bar.

At the start of the checkout process, we serve the customer an overview of the products he wants to buy. This is, of course, the same as the cart overview. There are a couple of elements that are required here:

  • Product image, even a small one will confirm to the soon-to-be customer that the right image is in the cart.
  • Prices, not just the price of one article, but also the number of items and the total price.
  • Additional costs, like shipping costs. No extra surprise costs after the cart overview.
  • Payment options, just to let the customer know he will be able to pay.
  • Security signs, like the green address bar seal. Plus perhaps extra logos like Trustpilot right below the cart overview.

Guest purchase

Furthermore, I’d also make sure a guest purchase is possible. Having to register for a one-time sale is a deal-breaker to me.

Short forms

If you need to ask more than an email address, make sure to make the forms as short as possible. Think about useful things like a checkbox to confirm that the delivery and invoice address are the same.

Payment

Make payment easy by choosing the right payment provider and offering the right payment options. Which ones differs from shop to shop.

Finally, after that optimized shopping process, a happy customer will leave your online shop. Now make sure to keep that customer happy. There are some things you can do to help with that. Find more tips on that in our article on checkout page UX!

Conclusion: eCommerce usability is a trade of its own

Don’t trust your theme or eCommerce platform to fill in the blanks for you. Put some real effort in optimizing the usability of your eCommerce website. In the end, a better user experience will bring the SEO and conversion of your webshop to the next level as well.

It’s a vastly overrated notion that a homepage should include all sections of your website and serve all kind of visitors. It needs one clear call to action. That call to action needs to be the main thing you want your visitor to do on that page, like buy your products or subscribe to your newsletter.

Make sure that a call to action stands out from the rest of your design, by using a contrasting button color, an actionable link or button text and reducing most (if not all) clutter.

Clutter:
To make disorderly or hard to use by filling or covering with objects

The need to put everything on one homepage

Employment websites do it. “Employers subscribe here”, “Companies list here”, “Latest jobs”, “Build your resume”. Real estate agents do it. “Buy these new homes”, “Sell your home with us”, “Latest sales”, “Upcoming events”. That’s really just the tip of the iceberg.

For good SEO, you need a good user experience. Learn about UX & Conversion!

UX & Conversion from a holistic SEO perspective

It seems that most homepages are designed with one thing in mind: “How do I make everything on my website accessible from this one single page.” Well, you can’t. Not in a way that your visitor will understand your company, product or really anything at all.

One clear call to action

To guide your visitor into or through your website, you should give him directions. Pretty similar to how a road needs road signs actually. Yes, you can put up multiple signs, but you should make the most important ones the biggest. Make it as big as possible. Make it stand out. Here’s our own product page for the Gold website review:

Gold review product page

It’s pretty clear what we want you to do there, right? Not all websites add calls to action like that, though. Everybody has visited that one great looking website in 50 shades of grey that had an orange RSS button that drew all attention. That’s really bad design in my opinion. Of course, the thing that stands out should just be your call to action: that’s what you want visitors to click on.

A different approach to a call to action

There are many ways to use and implement this call to action. Obviously, one is using the big bold button, preferably in a color that is not used in the design of the website (the orange RSS button mentioned above). You might also use whitespace to emphasize a specific part of the homepage, making it stand out that way.

We recently had a client for a website review who has this (quite common) idea of starting his website with a choice: three options for three variations of a product. Of course, that would imply three calls to action…

No problem, if you combine the two ways mentioned above. So make a block that really stands out (use sufficient whitespace around it) and add three similar calls to action, with (very important) a descriptive title for that block, like “Make your choice”. That way, the entire block becomes your call to action. It’s a bit like we do on our current homepage:

Yoast.com call to action

Now let’s illustrate the simplicity of call to actions by looking at some example websites (none of them are clients):

Jobsite.co.uk

In the first version of this article, one of the examples I used was Jobsite.co.uk. It was terrible, in terms of calls to action.

Jobsite is a leading UK online recruitment site, dedicated to helping you find your next job.”

I actually got lost on the homepage already. Yes, I understand you want me to search for my next job on your page, or do you really want me to register first? One very distracting issue this homepage has, is that the Vision2learn banner has the largest call to action of the page…

jobsite.co.uk screenshot

How things have changed over the last years! The 2016 Jobsite website has a very nice call to action that focuses on just that: finding a job.

Clear call to action on the 2016 Jobsite.co.uk

All things considered, the homepage is very much improved. My next suggestion would be to test the button color (make it stand out more) and the button text (make it more inviting and descriptive, like ‘Find your dream job’).

Scuolaleonardo.com

The second website I mentioned back in 2012 was Scuola Leonardo da Vinci. Since we do website reviews for websites from all over the world, I decided to look up an Italian School in Italy. At first, in the Italian language. After looking at their website, I decided to stick to Google Translate… as I couldn’t find where to apply for a course. As it turned out, the question “Where do you want me to click???” was impossible to answer for this website. The total lack of a call to action, combined with the overall clutter, makes a visitor head back to Google in the blink of an eye.

scuolaleonardo.com screenshot

Just like Jobsite.co.uk, this website has developed over the years, but just not as much. The first view of the 2016 website is this:

Scuola Leonardo's call to action (lack of)

We have the modern large image in the first view, with a nice block of text that could have easily been the call to action. But it isn’t, as the entire image holds no link. A missed opportunity. A bit more down that page, we do find some call to action buttons:

More Scuola Leonardo

Why not start with these? They make perfect top tasks for that website and deserve some more TLC in my book. Change the button color to make them stand out more from the rest of the design altogether.

Walmart.com

After the initial publication of this post, I received quite some comments on my quick review of Walmart’s calls to action. You’d expect that company to monitor and improve their website all the time, right? This is what I wrote in 2012:

“Help me out here, Walmart. Why do you want me to click my empty cart? Don’t get me wrong, for shopping sites, emphasizing the cart is always a good thing. But I think what Walmart wants me to click is something else, like the free shipping offer or perhaps a product I could buy. Now that should be the orange button on that homepage! Also, the banner “Shop Top Brands” is just a list of products and prices. The call to action on that banner should also be clear (“Shop NOW” or something like that).”

It seems we all learned quite a lot about UX and conversion optimization, as the 2016 Wallmart.com website really has improved a lot. In fact, it might be the best improvement of the three examples in this article:

Walmart 2016 screenshot

The header is clickable, the cart has been toned down, the search option is nice and prominent and the banner is for their own products. Is it all good? Well, there is always room for improvement. In an ideal world, there would be an actionable button-like element in that header. Just so we won’t mistake the banner below the header for that.
Furthermore, the lady might be looking at that button, instead of the package. On the other hand, we feel the sheer joy she feels when receiving her Walmart package, right? These really are things a website should test.

Get to work!

A lot of things mentioned in this article go for your homepage and landing pages. For product pages, there are a lot more things to consider. Find these in my article Calling to the next action.

With the issues described above, you can easily check your own homepage. Is there a clear main call to action? Is there too much clutter?Go and make things clear for your visitor. You’ll have a better website after it!

Read more: ‘Focus on clarity first’ »

More than half of all internet traffic comes from mobile devices (fact). So if you are ignoring your mobile site, you might be missing out on half your audience. In this post, I’ll go over the way we check mobile sites in our website reviews. After this post, you’ll be able to check your mobile website yourself on key elements.

Use your phone to check your mobile site

Open your phone’s browser and go to your website. See how it looks. You didn’t see that advice coming, right..? I know of business owners that have never done this. They paid a shipload of money to create a mobile site but haven’t looked at it after their designer presented the design. Like Nike said: just do it. See what you are missing.

Things that you need to check on your mobile site:

  1. Top tasks. Make sure visitors can find your main pages in a heartbeat.
  2. Address and phone number. People use mobile websites of shops to set their navigation, for instance. If you want customers to find your store, list your address. If you want people to call you, this is the main call-to-action on your mobile site. Make it clickable.
  3. A working menu and a search option. It’s nice to add a hamburger menu as it saves space, but please make sure it folds out. Add a search option as a backup for your menu.
  4. Mobile design and UX. Make sure your mobile site is not just your entire website squeezed in that little screen. Toning it down colorwise also helps.
  5. Buttons and links. Make sure these are easy to spot and large enough to click.

Please find more information on this in our mobile UX article.

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Note that different phones will differ in how they present your website. For that very reason, we recommend checking the mobile version of  website in other ways as well to find flaws in your mobile site.

Google’s Mobile-friendly test

Test your mobile site: Mobile-Friendly-Test screenshotMobile-friendliness is a ranking factor. Google created a test tool, which makes it easy to see how Google sees your website. It comes with a nice scoring system, that tells you what to improve.

The Google Mobile-friendly test also shows a rendering of your mobile page. If that page looks like the one on the right, my guess is there is still work to do. Even if Google tells you your website is mobile-friendly. Remember that it’s an automated check. In our reviews, we check all the things in this article manually, just to make sure we’re not missing things. If you want to do these checks yourself, please do so as well. Sometimes common sense is much more valuable than what Google tells you :)

Let me elaborate on that:

This video is part of one of our online courses. Find out more about our Basic SEO training!

Web developer toolbar

You can also test your mobile site straight from your browser. In your Chrome browser, simply visit your own website and right-click somewhere on the browser screen. Click ‘Inspect’. After that, click the second icon in the inspector’s menu bar:

Test your mobile website: browser inspector mobile

This will open the website like in the screenshot above. It will allow you to see if your website is fit for multiple screens sizes. Firefox has a similar feature called responsive design mode.

When you select for instance any iPhone in that drop down, and it shows your entire website scaled down to fit the screen, you know your mobile site isn’t mobile-friendly. I tested this local Dutch website and found exactly that:

Test your mobile site: not mobile friendly example

Both tools give a clear advice to optimize that mobile website :)

Conclusion

If you want to check if your mobile site works at all, use the Inspect tool in your browser and Google’s mobile-friendly test. Check for a number of specifics if your website is fit for mobile devices, like top tasks and the size of your buttons. If you would like some more guidance in breaking up your design to fit multiple screens, please read this article on our development blog.

The checks mentioned above are also done in our website reviews. If you want pointers on how to optimize your entire website, including possible recommendations for your mobile site, buy your website review here.