Before we tackle the issues with BigCommerce home pages I think that it is good to remember that SEO wise we need to keep an eye on Google each day because when Google does something we feel the wave coming. Some of us will ride it and others will drown.
"Page Layout" algorithm, privacy policies and how the web fights back
The "Page Layout" algorithm is meant to clean up the search results from the sites that have too many ads above the fold.This algorithm update might be a good thing. As a normal web user I hate to land on sites that simply harass my sight with tons of pop-ups and ads all over the page.
That means that the BigCommerce store owners who want to make a little cash on the side by posting lots of ads will experience a drop in rankings. Enough to make them go into the forums and say once again that BigCommerce is the party at faule. No one said that if you have a store from them you will rank #1 in SERPs, but that is another story.
Yes, Google knows what you did last summer and how much time you spend searching on the web for the flowers you gave to Elaine. While Mary, your wife, was tending the kids, that is. Such scenarios are not a theory. They are real.
Putting this in perspective with Search, plus your World there is no wonder that your store ranks always #1 in your SERPs. Some store owners may be fooled by this mirage and ask them selves why the ROI is zero and why they barely get a hit a day. That might happen because the search engine gives you what you want, and not really what you need. This may be good for a normal web user, but not you, the online marketer.
Fortunately the web fought back and created a Chrome extension that pulls out the Google+ results and even a bookmaklet named Don't be evil Tool. Search Engine Land points out that the tool is backed by Twitter and Facebook and it does a nice job by showing less Google products in the results pages.
These tools won't help you get perfect and objective results in the pages, but at least they will clean the clutter. You will still get personalized results even if you are not logged in. It may be the perfect time to install Aaron Wall's SEOBook Toolbar for Firefox. It will help you get the real ranking results.
The four sneaky home page URLs that spook any BigCommerce store owner
Did you know that your home page could be found at four different URLs? They are as follows:
Ooops, that can't be right. Yes, it is. And don't get me started about the trailing slash issue. And they might be seen very well as duplicate content in your Google Webmasters Tools reports. Guess many store owners see those reports as a death sentence for their rankings. It should not be the case as the solution is around the corner.
We solve the WWW issue easily by going to Settigns - Store settings- Website - Search Engine Optimization section and selecting what redirect we'd like. Let's say we want to use only store.com then we will use the www to no www redirect. And there it is: two sneaky home page URL won't give us headaches anymore.
We still have the issue of store.com and store.com/index.php. First thought is to go to Robots.txt and simply disallow /index.php. DON'T. It would help a 301 redirect from /index.php to the main page, but creating it in Tools- 301 Redirect won't work. Also, if you think on using meta robots tag to stop indexing your home page I'd suggest not to try this also. If the store would have had a link rel=canonical on the home page you wouldn't have this issue in the first place.
There might be a workaround that could help. Matt Cutts responded to questions about canonicalization and gave an interesting solution: "One thing that helps is to pick the url that you want and use that url consistently across your entire site. For example, don’t make half of your links go to http://example.com/ and the other half go to http://www.example.com/ . Instead, pick the url you prefer and always use that format for your internal links."
Basically, that means you need to link back to your domain name using a consistent path such as domain.com so Google can pick out the preferred URL. Getting backlinks with the right URL would help even more. So, this may be a good reason to get some nice backlinks until BigCommerce solves this issue.
SEO tips: original content and a simple monitoring tool
Again? I mean, we hear this every time:"You need to have good original content in order to differentiate. If not, don't ask for hits via organic search 'cause you won't get them!". True words. But how do you know you have original content? Simply write down a phrase select it and put it in the search box. Put it between quotes for better results. If no results show up, then your content is original. But, that is only a rough estimate.
Original content and hard work will always be helpful no matter how many algorithm changes you may encounter. I like the post on SEO Moz about the history of SEO's where they outline the importance of putting your own words and thought in the product description. In the post you will see the techniques used by the spammers and how they were caught each time. Great content rules. Still, many BigCommerce stores have only brief descriptions and no original input whatsoever. If hits are close to zero do try and work more on your store. Usually each page should have at least 500 words in the description with informative content.
Since a SEO company could request even $100 to $150 for one hour you may want to try and so some of the things on your own. I suggest starting by reading our BigCommerce SEO Bible series. If not, in the slides from below you can see the 14 steps you need to do.
From the tip box here comes a handy monitoring tool: custom alerts from Google Analytics. With it you can monitor drop in visits by having Google sending you an email if the visits drop under a certain number. For this to work you need to log into you Analytics account, then go to Home link - Intelligence Events - Custom Alerts - Manage Custom alerts - Create custom alert. There you can create your custom alert can you can set it up to send an email if your conditions are met.
Bonus: build a sharing strategy for social networks
Since many spend their time on social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Google+ it is clear that you want to reach to them, but in the same time you don't want to be seen as a spammer and, of course, you want to have the biggest exposure you could. It turns out that this is not a rocket science, but you will have to follow some etiquette rules. The more your content is shared across social sites the higher will be your rankings.
Rand Fishkin from SEOMoz did a nice video with the best pieces of advice you can find. Now go sharing. The right way.
Next week we'll see what changed and what adventures in the SEO world BigCommerce stores will find themselves in.