Most Common SEO Mistakes and How to Fix Them

By Keelin McDonell

The number of e-commerce sites has exploded in recent years, giving consumers more choice than ever when it comes to shopping online. Most analysts estimate there are between 100,000 and 300,000 online stores in the U.S. alone, accounting for more than $300 billion in annual sales. And yet, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, e-commerce accounts for just over 7% of total U.S. retail sales. The potential sales are clearly there and growing — in other words, the e-commerce revolution is only just beginning.

But despite higher than ever spending on e-commerce sites, shoppers’ time on site has actually declined. Retailers have less time to capture consumers’ attention but more dollars on the line during each session.

Retailers are also struggling with ever-changing inventories; the amount of inventory online stores offer can create serious workflow headaches when it comes to creating rich, SEO-friendly content for each product. Despite the fact that professional search engine optimization and search engine marketing are now entering their third decade, keeping up with search engine preferences is harder than ever. Google is notoriously strict with its Page Quality ranking, the score Google gives to evaluate how well a page achieves its purpose, given the potential impact on consumer well-being. Staying up to date on Google’s ever-changing algorithm is an important task yet a business owner rarely has time to do it.

Compounding this issue is the fact that traditional content management practices also need to become more sophisticated. Per leading research firm, Gartner, “leaders charged with driving the digital channel can no longer rely on the content management practices and technologies that were established 20 years ago. Laying out pages and templates, authoring your own content, segmenting customers, manually writing rules to push content to broadly defined segments are inadequate practices for the digital age.”

While this can all seem overwhelming, we’ve distilled it down to the most common SEO mistakes related to product descriptions paired with advice on how to fix them.

  • Copy and pasting the manufacturer’s description – Pulling the description verbatim from the manufacturer basically ensures that your site will be penalized by search engines. These descriptions are distributed to many online stores and this often leads to numerous pages with the exact same content, ultimately filtered from Google or pushed back in search results. Additionally, these descriptions are problematic because they are rarely written in a way that sells.
  • Duplicating content – Duplicating isn’t a good shortcut. Repeating the same content on multiple pages hurts SEO because Google ranks on unique content. The search engine has been getting better and better at kicking websites down in rankings due to duplicate content and content scraping.Particularly for those retailers with thousands or millions of SKUs, creating unique content is a daunting task. Fortunately, there are innovative ways to update your content strategy without additional resources. Examples include putting a NO INDEX meta tag on product pages that you can’t write unique content for or utilizing advanced natural language generation (Advanced NLG) technologies to generate unique descriptions, in seconds, and at a scale only possible with software. Indistinguishable from what a human would write, Advanced NLG solutions create high quality, variable descriptions that change when the underlying data changes.
  • Relying on the product’s image – You will greatly reduce the chances that your page will show up in the top 10 of a search engine query, even in the case of low-frequency queries, if you don’t include a text description of the product. Search engine algorithms need actual text in order to interpret what is important on the page, so it’s important to include a description, no matter how brief.
  • Pushing your mobile site to the bottom of your priority list – Google just made a significant change to its ranking system to expand the role of mobile-friendly design. Just like your page design, your page content needs to be sensitive to smaller screens. This means you need two versions of your content, short and sweet for buyers with limited screen space or more verbose versions for those on laptops. The additional benefit of using Advanced NLG technologies is the ability to tailor descriptions in real-time to different lengths and depth, all with a simple adjustment to an API call.

Thinking of everything you need to do for your e-commerce product descriptions strategy can seem daunting (especially if you have a vast product inventory list) but don’t ignore it. Pushing it down the priority list can mean missed sales. Alternatively, create a checklist of each issue listed here and devote a day to going through your website to understand where you may need to fix your approach. As a business owner, you’ll be glad you prioritized your SEO strategy sooner than later.

Keelin McDonell is the vice president of Professional Services for Narrative Science (@narrativesci).