Year 2011 was the year of Panda Updates in the world of SEO and many sites that had duplicate content simply dropped in SERP rankings. Those updates were targeting specifically websites that had a lot of copied content in their pages.
Content farms lost rankings and some of them needed to delete parts of their websites in order to comply with the changes. Here I will outline only very basic tips to help you understand the work you have to do.
Create original content to bring more value to the web
I'll start from saying that Google does not make any difference if you are an e-commerce website or a presentation site. It demands original and value added content in your store. You need to follow BigCommerce's advice regarding your work on optimization for search engines by adding more and various content, especially when using meta keywords and description.
Following many complains that BigCommerce store owners have filed in the forum I wanted to find out a probable cause of their mishap.
You can read the entire discussion in the Google Webmasters forum thread I opened regarding brand footprint and explanations regarding Google's Updates.
The conclusion from those replies is very clear: it doesn't matter that you, as a store owner, need to specify the exact product specifications as mentioned by the manufacturer. You need to have some value added content, which means that you have to add text, images or video to you product pages.
If you have hundreds or thousands of products this can be a very challenging task, but you will need to do as much work as you can to get original content on those pages. Even when we speak about SEO, original content is king.
You could explain how and where a product applies, use YouTube videos, add some other images. In all this focus on the description area.
The main question you should ask your self is this: among the other tens or hundreds of stores that sell the same products like me what do I do different than them?
Basic on page optimization
After original content, on-page and off-page optimization activities are very important. On-page optimization means that you need to be careful at the keywords used in the content, using proper attributes and having the right elements and structure.
Usually when you publish a page you want to rank in the search engines for soem keywords.
Those keywords should show up in:
- URL of the page - ../buy-home-printer-hp-deskjet-victoria/
- title of the page - Buy home printer HP Deskjet Victoria from our store
- meta description of the product - here put only a phrase that contains the keywords: printer, home, deskjet, making a short description o f the product
- title of the product - this should be in a h1 tag
- alt atribute of the images - when adding images to products you can insert a descriptions. Those descriptions are the alt attribute of those images.
- content - of course you need to have them here too.
Do not simply create a long string of keywords and copy them in your meta description and keywords. Description needs to be clear and understandable. It will show up under the link to your products in the search engines.
In your content try to target keywords that are more general. If your page has a reading level for PhDs then you will have to make it easier to be read and understand. Google looks at the reading level too.
While setting up the keywords in meta keywords do not use misspelled versions. Google's suggestions work very well and often people, if they misspell a word, will choose the right form from the drop down menu below the search box.
Search suggest from Google has made the usage of misspelled keywords pretty much useless. You can find more details about this in the infographic about longtail keywords made by SEOBook.
An interesting study about search engine basics presented on SEOMoz revealed that Google might not work as some of the SEO gurus out there have thought. Particularly it was about the fact that they were saying that you should not use a particular keyword more than a number of times (3-4-5) in your content.
If you want to rank for several keywords, as it is in many cases, you will need to keep a balance between how many times does one keyword show up over the other. If you mention "blue" many more times than "printer" the crawlers might "think" that you have a page about colors and not blue printers.
Think first at what you would like to see in a description page of a product. Create that text for the customer, keeping in mind to make some less annoying changes from place to place in order to keep the search engines happy too.
Make use of h2 tags (because you used already a h1 in the product title) and keep in mind that the most important phrase is the one right after the h2 heading.
If you ask yourself if using tabs for the product pages will hurt your ranking then you do not need to worry. Google is able to see the content in those tabs and won't drop your links in the search engine results page.
One thing you could do there is to link to other products, but use an optimized anchor text. If you have another printer that needs mentioned, do not use phrases like: another great product can be found [link]here[/link].
Instead use an anchor text like in the following phrase: please do not forget to see [link]this great Printer HP LaserJet[/link]. This way you will tell the crawlers beforehand what they will find in that link and help that product page rank better for the terms: "great printer" and "Printer HP Laserjet".
Also, use as many links are necessary for the context. Linking to trusted sources is an indirect way to tell Google that you are trustworthy too.
Basic optimization and original content always wins
It is true, but you need to know that these are only part of the entire process called search engine optimization. If you depend on the customers that come from the search engines original content (that adds value) and basic SEO tips need to be applied to have the right start.
It is hard to do it right from the first time, but you need to keep on doing until it feel natural to use keywords wherever you need and insert rich content in your product pages. Learning is an ongoing process and with SEO learning never stops.