This article is written for a web-savvy user who is interested in optimizing their Netsuite hosted E-Commerce site for better placement in search engines’ natural search engine results pages (SERPs). It assumes a good deal of knowledge about Internet basics, but anyone actively involved on the technical side of a Netsuite store should be familiar with the terms and concepts I use. If you have any questions, please feel free to let me know.
A Brief Introduction to Search Engine Optimization
I don’t want to reinvent the wheel too much here. There are many great guides to understanding SEO, here are a few of my favorites:
- 26 Steps to 15,000 visitors/day
- SEOmoz.org’s beginner’s guide
- SEObook.com (the only book I’ve bought on SEO)
The short version is that any web site plan needs to include more than just making search engines happy. A successful site will need to work on all 6 of the E-commerce pillars, as I cover in the linked article.
For now I want to focus on Netsuite and the tools it offers (and workarounds for those it doesn’t) to improve your SERP placement. Keep in mind that the success of everything I’m talking about below depends on how thoroughly you’ve researched the important keywords for your topic and structured your site to direct traffic to the appropriate areas. Much more about this later.
Things Netsuite Does Well
Unique Title and Meta Tags
The title tag is the single biggest bang for the buck SEO technique, and Netsuite allows you to create an unique one for each page. The first thing you should do in any SEO effort is to make sure you have keyword rich, relevant, readable titles. Try to keep them under 80 characters. The meta description field is not used for ranking, but it will often be used as the ‘snippet’ that the search engine displays, if the search term is in the description. Write this like ad copy, since the snippet often makes the difference between a click or not. The meta keywords tag should only be used for misspellings and other forms of words that you don’t want to clutter your content up with. Again they won’t help you rank for your normal keywords, but at least Yahoo has stated that they use the keywords to know if this page should rank for other words (e.g. misspellings).
Tabs, Categories and Text Links
Here is a place to really make that keyword research pay off. Organize your content into between 5 and 7 tabs if possible, and not more than 2 categories of depth within one tab (This is due to a problem with Netsuite generated navigation). If you sell wireless products, don’t name the tab with your inventory in it ‘products’. Name it ‘Wireless Products’. Each category should be the most important keyword that applies (either most searched term or best converting). Name your products using keyword rich names. Netsuite generates text links for all navigation, which search engines will just eat up if you name them right. Remember, the text of the link pointing to a page tells the search engine what the target page is about.
Category pages are absolutely crucial, not just for search engines but for end users as well. Spend a lot of time designing and testing these pages. Here is a Netsuite category page that I designed:
Antique Reproduction Cabinet Accessories
With this page I’m trying to serve two often conflicting needs – users and search engines. At the top, I’ve set up large, attractive thumbnails with brief descriptive titles to enable users to quickly get to where they want. If the user reads further, I link deep within each category to the last level. This is done primarily for the search engines, as the more pages on your site that link to a page (and the text used) are considered a kind of vote to let them know how important the page is.
The paragraph under ‘Renovators Cabinet Hardware’ is readable, but keyword rich. The lower section of the page is mostly for search engines – most people won’t wade through that much text. This is often a reason *not* to design a page this way, but it’s ok with me if users don’t read it (only because it duplicates the navigation at the top – never sacrifice usability for search engines). Notice the text of each link is a keyword, and keywords are used in the descriptions of each page. The text near a link to a page is also used to help clue the search engine to what the target page is about.
In essence, category pages serve a few functions:
- They help define the structure of the site and link to other important categories
- They usually serve as major landing pages, and should help users find what they want quickly.
- They are a place where you can get away with really packing in a lot of keywords without offending search engines, and due to their importance in your site, should do well in rankings.
Item Detail Pages
This is another area where Netsuite has given webmasters a lot of freedom and power. The item detail page is the ‘closer’ of the web sales process. This is most often the page where a sale is made or lost. My keys to a good item detail page:
- A good, readable, descriptive page title and heading at the top of the page
- A large, attractive product image. More images are better, especially if there are multiple product angles.
- Explanation of product options – if your item is a matrix, explain the pricing and meaning of each option. More pictures are great for exemplifying optional colors or configurations.
- A readable description. Don’t skimp here, put some time into writing well-thought out product introductions. If you copy and paste the same description from the vendor that every other site does, why would a search engine or user value your description more? They won’t.
- Related Products. This is a great feature in Netsuite. Invest time in matching up your products with other good cross or up sell items (and test!).
- Links to relevant content. Do you get the same questions about certain items? Is it common for the new user to not understand the difference between your wool and cashmere sweaters? This is a great place to mine for content creation ideas. Write an article about it and link to it from the item detail page, or include helpful text on the page, or both.
- All important information. Make sure you provide enough information about your product to allow someone to feel confident in their decision to buy. Give laptop dimensions that your case will fit, not just the external measurements. Include warranty information, included accessories or parts, or notes about variation in products (if applicable)
Things Netsuite Doesn’t Do Well
A good site map is an important tool for any web site to have, for its users and search engine spiders alike. Netsuite doesn’t provide one, so I suggest creating one by hand. It doesn’t need a link to every product page, just the navigation pages and categories. Google has an excellent site map to use as a reference.
It’s a bit hard to post a lot of articles in Netsuite. The knowledge base feature is pretty useful, but limited in the way it can be delivered on the site. Hopefully they will improve this soon. A more complex solution may be required, we sometimes use a mix of information items and hosted pages. You could also create a category for your articles, and make each an information item. One nice benefit of this is the text of the information item will be searched when a user searches from the global search box.
Product Listing Pages
Here is an area where Netsuite really needs to improve – right now you can only pick from a few preset layout options, and it only shows a few predefined fields. They have promised to improve this, but for now let’s make do.
- Have the image thumbnail include text in the image itself letting the user know the thumbnail is clickable.
- Use keywords in the store display name for your product where possible, and make sure to describe your products well enough in the title that a user can tell what makes them different from each other. If a user sees a listing page of 10 products all named ‘red shirt’, they will probably not click each one to learn the difference.
- The store description is the only field you can use to add some text to the item’s description. Make good use of the space, make it succinct and descriptive.
- Lastly, each category has a detailed description field that you can populate with HTML. I suggest placing a nice image of products in the category, and optionally some keyword rich text to help explain the category.
This is another area where Netsuite needs to improve. To fix the bug where the left side of the page (where the navigation usually is) disappears in the cart, you can use tag substitution with the content area template to fake a left side in that tab only. I also recommend adding some quick policy blurbs and answers to other common questions your users might have on this page. An example of this is here:
House of Antique Hardware Cart Page
Site Search & Winnowing
Unfortunately, there’s not a ton that can be done to improve their search until they allow more customization to it. One interesting use can be to link directly to search results – this can be a half-measure to winnowing (in this context, winnowing means to allow a customer to refine the list of products they are seeing by some criteria, like color or price). For example, say you organize the lumber you sell by species, but also want to show people a page of just lumber from Washington. If the word Washington is in the descriptions for all those products, you can search your site for the word and link to the resulting page. Here is an example:
Search for ‘Victorian’ on House of Antique Hardware
Netsuite has a great deal of potential for search engine ranking, good content, site structure, and strong conversion rates. It takes a few tricks and a real commitment, but it definitely can be done.
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