Boosting sales in OpenCart – SEO tips and social media activity

What is SEO?

SEO is an acronym for “Search Engine Optimization”. It is a technique that helps search engines better understand websites. The purpose of the optimization is to communicate with Google, Bing and other searches in a way that they can recommend your website for other customers. This will result in increasing visitors and more sales.

In this two series of articles we will explore the best and effective practices for proper SEO. The tips below can be easily implemented by yourself even if you are not technical guru.

Do you really need SEO?

SEO can be very useful. It doesn’t matter if you already have a successful store or just a few sales. Correctly done, optimization can boost your site visits. The more visits your store gets, the more orders you will have. It’s as simple as that.

Can SEO damage my store?

SEO optimization can make things worse if not done well. There are some rules that you have to follow and I will talk about them later in this blog post. Keep in mind that if you are not doing the things below correctly or overdo them, you risk damaging your store’s reputation. All tips that you will find below are search engine friendly and will rank you higher in the search results.

Be patient

Be patient! Don’t expect results after one hour or one day after the changes you make. It takes time for the search engines’ crawlers to visit your store again and read the updated content. That could happen after a week or even a month. It’s different for every website.

Let’s go to the important stuff now.

1. Avoid duplicate content.

Google and the other search engines do not like duplicated pages and you have to get rid of them. It’s a must-do.

Here is a common example of duplicate content: In most cases, your store can be opened from two URLs – http://www.yourstore.com and http://yourstore.com. Search engines think that these are two different sites and treat them as identical. This is bad for you and your store – you have to make sure that your store can be accessed from only one of the addresses. Here is how to do it for OpenCart.

Open the file .htaccess in your root folder and find the following lines:

1 RewriteEngine On
2 RewriteBase /

After these lines add the following code:

1 RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www\.(.+) [NC]
2 RewriteRule ^(.*) http://%1/$1 [R=301,NE,L]

That code will redirect all www.yourstore.com queries to yourstore.com.

If you want to do it the other way around, replace the lines with the code below:

1 RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^(?!www\.)(.+) [NC]
2 RewriteRule ^(.*) http://www.%1/$1 [R=301,NE,L]

That code will redirect all yourstore.com queries to www.yourstore.com.

It doesn’t matter which way you will choose. Choose the one you like more.

2. Use unique Meta Description and Meta Keywords tags on your pages.

Search engines love unique content and rank it better. That’s why it’s a bad idea to use the same description and keyword tags for all of your pages. This basically tells the search engines that your pages aren’t that different one from another.  The good thing is that you can change these tags easily from the OpenCart administration settings.

First of all, choose unique description for your store. Go to System >> Settings >> Edit and navigate to the Store tab. There you will find the Meta Description field. Click Save when you are done.

You have to do this for your categories and products:

  • For categories: Go to Catalog >> Categories. When you click on the Edit link, you will find two fields – Meta Tag Description and Meta Tag Keywords. Fill them with the appropriate information. Click Save after that. Do this for all your categories.
  • For products: Go to Catalog >> Products >> Edit.  You will find the same fields. Again, fill them for all your products. It would be nice if your Product Tags and Meta Tag Keywords fields have the same content.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to write long descriptions or many tags. The optimal length for theMeta Description tag is 155 characters. Do not write more than 8-10 keyword phrases in the Meta Keywords tag.

3. Fast store = happy users + bigger profit.

No one likes slow websites. If your store loads slowly, the customers can be irritated by that and go to your competitors, which is a loss conversion. The search engines also measure your loading speed and that’s the second reason why you should take this step seriously.

You can test what is your store performance from this link -http://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/

If you are not happy with your store speed (below <60), there are various ways to speed up your site. You can start with smushing your images, caching your pages, combining your scripts and stylesheets, minify files and other techniques.

If you do not have programming skills or don’t want to hire a developer, we would recommend you to use a caching solution. We would recommend NitroPack, which does everything with a single click. NitroPack is the fastest way to increase your store speed and does not require any technical skills.

NitroPack will help you boost your page loading speed to the sky. The extension uses special algorithms that will lower the HTTP traffic up to 80% and will increase your overall website performance up to 30 times. Learn how NitroPack can help your business by watching the 90 seconds Nitro video:

4. Use better URLs for your store.

By default, OpenCart URLs are not SEO friendly. If you have a product called Amazing iSenseLabs Product, the URL for that product would look like that:

http://www.yourstore.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=40

It’s obvious that neither the customers, nor the search engines can understand what they would find in this page just by looking at the URL address. This is how a good URL should look like:

http://www.yourstore.com/amazing-isenselabs-product

Much better, right?

The way to have properly looking URLs is:

4.1. Go to System >> Settings >> Edit and navigate to the Server tab. There you will find the optionUse SEO URLs. Enable it and click on the Save button.

4.2. Add the following code to .htaccess below the lines that we added in the first step of the guide:

1 RewriteRule ^sitemap.xml$ index.php?route=feed/google_sitemap [L]
2 RewriteRule ^googlebase.xml$ index.php?route=feed/google_base [L]
3 RewriteRule ^download/(.*) /index.php?route=error/not_found [L]
4 RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
5 RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
6 RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !.*\.(ico|gif|jpg|jpeg|png|js|css)
7 RewriteRule ^([^?]*) index.php?_route_=$1 [L,QSA]

4.3. You are almost done. Now you have to add SEO keywords for all of your products. To do that,  Go to Catalog >> Products >> Click Edit on the desired product and navigate to the tab calledData. You will find the SEO Keyword field. Fill in the name of your product. For example: amazing-isenselabs-product.

CAUTION: Do not use spaces. Replace them with dashes (-) and make sure that the phrase is unique (not used for another product).

That’s it! Now the URL for the product Amazing iSenseLabs Product will be:

http://www.yourstore.com/amazing-isenselabs-product

Be careful with the names you choose. They have to be short, descriptive and easy to remember.

5. Be active in the Social Media Networks.

Start your own channels in the social networks. Create a fan page for your store in Facebook,Google Plus or Twitter. Don’t forget the other big players – YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest.

This will only be in your benefit. Why? Because the presence of your brand in the social networks is one of the main factors how well your store will be ranked in the search engines. Another advantage is that people would hear about you and the things you offer.

Another way to create social buzz is to put social comments to your store. By that your customers could easily give you feedback, which will also be displayed on their profiles in the social networks. The benefit here that is that your customers’ friends will also see your store and the products you offer. So do not hesitate to put Facebook Comments on your products page. The same goes forDisqus Comments and GooglePlus Comments.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for the second part of the guide where I will talk about faster indexing, pinging, sitemaps, robots.txt and other ways to rank your store higher in Google, Yahoo,Bing, Yandex, Baidu and the like.

 

March 18, 2014

SEO tips for OpenCart

In this article we will continue with more SEO tips for OpenCart. For those of you, who may have missed the first part of the guide, the article can be found here.

6. Faster indexing

Prerequisites 

You should have an account in Google Webmaster Tools to be able to do the things in this step.

One of the common ways for people to find your store is through search. Here it is how it works:Googlebot crawls your site and then adds the new content to the index. However, we do not know when the crawler will visit your store.

If you are adding or modifying products on a regular basis or altering your store’s structure, texts and design often, you have to make sure that the changes you make to your webstore are indexed as quickly as possible by Google. For those of you, there is an option in Google Webmaster Toolsthat offers a way to do just that. The feature is called “Fetch as Google” and can be found in the left sidebar under the Crawl menu.


Instructions

You have to put the URL of the desired page and submit it to Google to fetch it. After couple seconds, the page will reload and you will see a button called “Submit to index”. Click on it and confirm the operation. It usually takes not more than 5 minutes for Google to index your page and put it in the search results.

Note: You can not use the tool to fetch one page twice (or more) in short amount of time. We would recommend to wait at least 24 hours to make another fetching.

7. Ping your store

If you think that for some reason the search has not indexed all the pages on your store, then you can try this technique.

“Pinging” is a way to tell the search engines that you have new content and you want it to be indexed quickly. In the beginning, the pinging tools were used only by the bloggers that publish stuff every day, but nowadays they are used by almost every website on the Internet. Webmaster are using this technique because sometimes it could take weeks for the search engines crawl all the new pages you have.

How it works? In most cases you just have to fill your store URL address and press the “Ping” button. Some of the services have the ability to ping RSS feeds and sitemaps, but the process is essentially the same.

There are lots of pinging tools on the web. You can try some of them and see what is the effect. These are the most popular:

  1. Ping-o-Matic!
  2. Pingler.com
  3. FeedShark
  4. Ping.IN
  5. Pingates
  6. AutoPinger

CAUTION: The ping is valid for 24 hours after the signal is sent, so don’t try to ping after three or four hours – it will not do anything. Use the tools only when you have fresh content added. Do not overdo the process – more pings could cause your IP address to be blocked from the services (in some cases permanently).

8. Create a sitemap for your OpenCart store

Prerequisites

You should have an account in Google Webmaster Tools and/or Bing Webmaster Tools to be able to submit the sitemap to the search engines.

Sitemaps are used to submit all your pages to the search engines. They will help you ensure that your store is fully indexed by Google, Bing and the like. The good thing is that OpenCart has a built-in extension to create sitemaps.

Instructions

To create a sitemap for your store, you have to go to your Administration >> Extensions >> Product Feeds.

Install Google Sitemap and click on the Edit settings.


The only thing you have to do is to enable the module and copy the URL. After you save the settings you can go to Google Webmaster Tools and click on the link Sitemaps, which can be found under the Crawl menu in the left sidebar.

When the new page is loaded, you will see a big red button called Add/Test Sitemap. Click on it.


Paste your sitemap URL in the field and click on Submit Sitemap. Your sitemap will be added in your account at Google Webmaster Tools and the search engine will periodically resubmit your site to find the new pages in your store.

Sometimes it takes a while for Google to revisit your sitemap. If you want to force Google to do that, you can use the button Resubmit which can be found on the same page.

The way of adding a sitemap in Bing Webmaster Tools is essentially the same so I will skip it in this guide.

9. Robots.txt

Robots.txt is a simple text file located in the root folder of your store, which is also periodically visited by the search engines. In this file you can add URL addresses which you don’t want to be indexed. You can also add all your sitemaps in the file.

Here is an example of how your robots.txt can look like:

1 User-agent: *
2 Allow: /

This is a pretty simple robots.txt file as it does not have anything special in it. Basicly we are allowing the crawlers to go through every part of your store. However, the text file has more features. Below you will find another example:

1 Sitemap: http://www.site.com/index.php?=route/feed/google_sitemap
2
3 User-agent: *
4 Disallow: <strong>/admin/</strong>
5 Allow: /

As you can see, I added the link to the sitemap that we created in the step above. I am also disallowing the search engines to index the files in the admin folder.

CAUTION: Be careful with the addresses that you are disallowing. Add only URLs that are visited only by you (ex. admin). You can also add duplicated pages. When you are editing your robots.txt file check carefully for typos because if there is something wrong you can risk removing your entire store from the search engines results page (also known as SERP).

Note: Robots.txt is cached by the search engines and the latest cached version can be found in Google Webmaster Tools and/or Bing Webmaster Tools.

10. Link Building

What is link building?

Let’s start from the beginning. What are links? According to Moz (moz.com), links are the streets between the pages in the Web. The search engines are using these “streets” to discover how the pages are related to each other and in what ways.

Link building is a SEO technique used by many to create inbound links to their websites. It’s actually very simple – the more links pointing to your site, the more often the crawlers will come to you. This basically means that your site contains valuable information and the search engine will put your pages in higher position in the SERP.

There are several types of links that can be used to start your link building process:

  1. Reciprocal links
  2. Resource links
  3. Forum links
  4. Blog comments
  5. Social links

There are some things that you have to look out if you decide to try this technique.

Reciprocal links

As a standard, you have to make sure to avoid as much as possible the reciprocal links.

A reciprocal link is a mutual link between two websites, with the purpose for relevant traffic. For example, you and your friend have stores for notebooks. If you post a link to your friend’s webstore and he does the same, these links are reciprocal. Many webmasters used reciprocal links to achieve higher rankings in the SERP. This technique was popular back in the beginning of the 2000s but in 2005 Google stopped giving credit to those kind of links.

More about what reciprocal links are you can find on this article.

Resource links

According to Wikipedia, resource links are  “a category of links, which can be either one-way or two-way, usually referenced as Resources or Information in navbars, but sometimes, especially in the early, less compartmentalized years of the Web, simply called links”.

If these links come from relevant to your store website, they can help you a lot. For example, if you are selling mobile phones and a blog with smartphone reviews posts a link about you, that is a highly relevant link. Google and the other engines will push you up in the SERP because of the relevancy and the quality of the link will be much higher than any other regular link. However, if you have lots of websites linking to you and they are not relevant in any way, you can’t expect much love from the search engines.

Of course, you can have such links, but be careful about the proportion between the relevant and non-relevant links.

Forum signatures

As you well know, in most forums the users can use their own signatures. Some of them are adding links to other websites and this is link building. This is a good technique if you are posting in quality forums with relevant content and lots of visitors.

Forum post links

The post links are trickier yet more effective than the signature links. A good strategy would be to search for forum topics that you can relate to and be able to post link to your store. For example, if someone is looking for a book and you happen to sell this very book in your store, you can post a link to the product. The user will see the link and he will probably visit your store. The purchase is not guaranteed but now this user knows about your store and he could be a potential customer in the future. Even if that does not happen, the benefit of those links is that other users will also see the link and will probably visit your store.

CAUTION: Posts should not look like advertisements because the forum admins do not like such posts and usually they delete them and ban the user who posted the ad. As a smart workaround, you can consider registering with another account and post a link to your store as someone who buyed from it and is very happy with the given product.

Blog comments

The blog comments work almost the same way as the forum posts with the difference that most of the blogs are moderated by their owners so your post should be good, descriptive and related to the topic. It is very important to post comments in blogs that are popular and relevant to your store. If you are to take one thing from blog comments, it is that quality matters.

Social links

Social links are the links that you get from Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and the like. The search engines now are using special algorithms to determine the popularity of a site based on the social signals for the given website. We are still uncertain of the weight that social signals carry but there is no denying that they are now important to Google, Bing and the other big players.