A Small Question on Shopping Carts = One Long Post!

Dear SEO Guru –

My site is about to grow and I have a question regarding our positioning. It’s a small site I edit in Front Page, but we are now looking to add on a shopping cart. I’ve been reading a lot of different articles and forums, and I’ve read that there can be problems with search engines and shopping carts, something about the URL gets too long and the search engines can’t read the site. Is this still the case? What should I know ahead of time before I add a shopping cart? Can I go it alone? Should I hire someone? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Kevin from {site withheld}

Dear Kevin –

This is an excellent question – and I’ll try to answer it as best I can without knowing your budget or exactly what type of cart you are looking at… as there are many. Some carts keep a visitor on your site – from start to finish – and some take a visitor off site – as soon as they add a product to their cart.

First, let me explain a little more regarding the URL and search engines not being able to read the site. Traditionally, Search Engines had a very hard time reading very long “dynamic” urls. What does that mean? It basically means something like this:

Shop.cfm?Page=20&Category=Shirt%2E%20Sport%2D
Mens&SubCategory=Jackets%20%26%20Tie%20Accessories

These are URLs and pages that are database generated based on queries submitted by a site visitor.

Today’s search engine spiders are better at reading database generated URL’s… but if your goal is to ‘optimize’ your site to best performance standards within the search engines, then shorter URL’s are still the way to go. Search engine spiders have a job to do – get on your site, spider the pages, and get out and on their way to another site. The easier you make that job for them, the more pages of your site they can spider during a visit, the better for you.

If you are looking at a shopping cart that is going to keep someone on your site right through checkout – then sometimes it is best to get a programmer involved, depending on how much time you can invest in to ‘tweaking’ the cart so that it will provide you with as much flexibility as possible. Just about all the carts advertise they are SEO friendly, but do your homework. Go to every site example you can find and check out how the title tag is pulling in. Is it the same on every page? Is it the same as some factor on the page – typically a header or the title of the item? Does the ‘cart’ portion of the site look significantly different than the rest of the site? Basically – watch for limitations. We have found that many ‘off the shelf’ cart systems have their limitations. With a little research – you should be able to find one that fits ‘most’ of what you are looking for, if not all, and then from there, you will need to determine if you have the technical background (or the time) to get all the features working just the way you want them to. Even though it adds to the budget, farming out what you don’t have expertise in to free you up to do what you do best – manufacturing your product – can be the best route to go.

Many small business people opt for ‘off site’ shopping cart options. This allows you to create optimized pages in HTML – which you already do on your site now – but when you ‘add to cart’ it takes the site visitor off to the vendors site where they have your cart hosted.

You probably have forecasted where you want your site or your online sales to be in 5 years. If this plan has the sales high – then you should probably invest in an onsite shopping cart – and programming fees now to make that vision happen. It’s not that off site carts are all intrinsically bad. They aren’t – and many have helped a small business operate online within a small budget. It’s just that they are offsite. That’s not ideal for two reasons. Some shoppers are still a little nervous about shopping online – and can you blame them? How often is the news relaying another story about credit cards getting stolen, scams that ‘redirect you’ to another site, etc. So – when a cart sends you off somewhere you didn’t think you were going to go – it can cause the shopper to abandon the cart. Another reason – and I think it’s THE reason not to get an off site cart, is you can’t track your sales right through to the thank you. Therefore, you can’t track conversions. If you are running – or plan on running – any type of ad campaigns to launch this new product line and shopping cart, it is absolutely crucial that you can track your conversions… and off site carts simply do not allow you to do that.

So – whew – I guess that was a lengthy explanation, so I’ll wrap this up for now. If you have any additional questions, let us know – or give us a call and we can give you more specific information based on your budget.

About Sara Mannix

Sara Mannix is the CEO of Mannix Marketing, Inc., a Digital Marketing Agency headquartered in Glens Falls, NY. She founded Mannix Marketing in 1996 with a goal to get clients "found" on the web through organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The company now serves over 1500 clients worldwide and employs a team of nearly 30 specialists, still operating under the tagline "We Get You Found On The Web." This multifaceted company is an industry leader, specializing in organic SEO, Conversion Rate Optimization, SEO-friendly Website Design, Online Advertising, Social Media and more. Mannix Marketing also has one of the largest portfolios of tourism and city guides in Upstate New York. These guides, which include Albany.com, Saratoga.com, LakeGeorge.com, GlensFallsRegion.com, CliftonPark.com and Adirondack.net, reach over 10 million visitors a year. Corresponding social media profiles for the region extend this reach to millions more on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube and more.