eCommerce marketers know that when search engine optimization (SEO) errors occur, search volume goes down. This means that fewer visitors will arrive to your online store and enter your sales funnel.
If an error goes unresolved for too long, this opens up the possibility of it then causing additional errors that lead Google to bury the site’s webpages under many other search results in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Most content about SEO mistakes references the same commonly made errors:
Common SEO Mistakes
- Keyword stuffing
- Over-optimized anchor text
- Low-quality content
- Link building too fast
- Too many low quality backlinks rather than high-quality
- Duplicate content
- Unoptimized page titles and meta descriptions
- Broken Links
- Slow site speed
- Site is not optimized for mobile devices
The list goes on, and these are HUGELY common problems that large enterprise sites deal with. Most of the time, you can monitor for these errors without an external SEO expert consulting.
Sometimes, though, a strange technical error can occur that results in one of these other errors, but you won’t know that it’s happening. Why? Because the original error can be hard to detect. For example, we often see problems created by website redesign mistakes that destroy SEO.
After years in auditing hundreds of online stores, we’ve seen that these common SEO errors tend to repeat themselves. Sometimes, though, we only find the uncommon “oddball” errors after running a technical SEO audit.
In our experience, it’s vital to follow a technical QA process to periodically audit eCommerce websites (which tend to have a large volume of pages compared to other sites).
Adding a QA process to your SEO strategy will help you to avoid both common and uncommon SEO errors that could have an impact on your search rankings, traffic, and thus your bottom line. A technical audit is especially important after doing a redesign or eCommerce platform migration.
Below we’ll show you 6 uncommon SEO errors we’ve encountered that not many people know or think about. They’re lesser-known, but they could potentially happen to any enterprise retail site.
If you have seen SEO performance lag on your own site recently and aren’t sure why, running a technical audit can help catch weird errors like these and prevent one error leading to more.
Note: We audit sites all the time and it’s how we catch any errors that could make a big negative impact. Get in touch to see how we can make sure your eCommerce website’s SEO is completely optimized for maximum growth.
SEO Error #1: A Corruptive App or Plugin Added to the Site Has Unintended Consequences
The Problem: One of our clients, a pool supply store, added an app (added as a plugin) to their site. This app was intended to make the site mobile optimized and responsive. To do this, the app added a meta robots tag to the mobile templates which unintentionally blocked Google from indexing them.
This was somewhat odd in that the eCommerce platform the client used was already mobile responsive. The client had added it for aesthetic reasons, and they used the plugin to style mobile pages to their liking.
Meanwhile, the plugin didn’t add that meta robots tag to the desktop pages, so those were indexed.
Google Search Console alerted us as to the issue, but not the cause. We were scratching our heads at the beginning. We didn’t know it was this app that was causing it. (Imagine not knowing the reason why all of your site’s pages aren’t getting indexed all of a sudden!)
Normal crawls (using default, desktop settings) looked fine across multiple tools, but Google Search Console didn’t consider the issue resolved, and neither did the Structured Markup Testing Tool (which we use to view Googlebot rendered code.)
Given the world of mobile-first SEO, all pages (mobile and desktop) were deindexed until the source of the issue was discovered in the mobile template and our client took our recommendation to remove the app.
To solve: From this issue, we found that changing the user agent of the standard crawl to a mobile crawler instead of the desktop one was how you could find this issue if it occurred again. We recommend crawling the site in both modes to identify discrepancies.
There are other ways apps can break SEO. These issues might include:
- Security concerns
- Page load issues
- Deindexing images
- Inflating crawlable URL count
- Automated dynamic parameters (such as automatic URL changes)
Takeaway: Plugins gone wrong can be BAD in many different ways. When adding new software to your website, do multiple crawls afterward, including a crawl where the user agent is a mobile bot in order to check for any issues on mobile pages. Since not all bugs are found via a crawl, an SEO QA process will also help you to discover them.
SEO Error #2: A Server is Delivering the Staging Environment Instead of the Live Site
On a major craft supplies ecommerce store, Googlebot was blocked from the site via the robots.txt file, according to Google Search Console.
A visual view of the robots.txt rendered a normal .txt, though the robots.txt testing tool in GSC displayed the text of the file as a rule instructing Google to block all crawlers but AdsBot crawlers:
As a large online retailer, this client used 8 load balancing servers for their website. One out of those 8 servers was delivering the stage environment version of the robots.txt file. This stage environment was blocking everything that was on the live production environment. Google just happened to access the site on the wrong server one day.
To solve: The Robots.txt was fixed, and we recommended rules to put in place to ensure it was crawlable and the error couldn’t happen again.
Takeaway: Google can access a site through any server they aren’t blocked on, so all servers need to be consistently the same. Keep track of any discrepancies that might exist between multiple servers that you are using, and any SEO errors Google reports to you. When your website uses multiple servers, Google may crawl one as a point of reference rather than observe all of them. If that one server has an error, it doesn’t matter if the rest are correct.
SEO Error #3: Your Site is Triggering Dynamic URL Changes
In January 2019, we noticed that most of the URLs in the main navigation menu of a client’s site in the home renovation / building materials niche was redirecting. The category page URLs (like from /category-66/ to /category-70/) kept changing with a new number every day.
We looked at Google Search Console and found there were many variations like this that all redirected to the newest version. We asked them if they knew what was happening and they told us that their site has been changing URLs every day.
The website did this for about 90 days before the client finally fixed it. Unfortunately, this was a bit too long for the error to go on. As a result, the site took a big hit in traffic because of it.
This story doesn’t end tragically, though. Their site recovered once we found the problem and gave a recommendation on how to fix it.
To solve: To fix the issue, their dev team stopped pages from being created every day and 301 redirected all variations to the correct page without the number in the URL /category.
Takeaway: Watch out for dynamic URL changes on your website. If a certain platform or setting is causing them to change, it can be very detrimental to your traffic.
SEO Error #4: You’re on a Bad eCommerce Platform
Picking the right eCommerce platform for your store is vital. Some platforms are better for SEO than others. On a client site in the grocery/foods niche, we’ve seen that the platform they use repeatedly causes all sorts of technical errors without the client’s knowledge.
The platform made seemingly random updates that consistently messed things up. For example:
- There have been several occasions where the platform accidentally made a site they were using to test updates indexable, even after we asked them to make it non-indexable. The problem with this is that it creates a duplicate content error and can lead customers to pages that don’t have working checkouts before launching them on the main website.
- The platform made the canonical tag on every page of the client’s blog point to a non-existent page, which caused a 404 error. We have no idea how this happened. We just happened to notice it the day after it happened, and thankfully, caught it quickly.
To solve: If errors like this pop up frequently, it may be best to consider migrating to a better eCommerce platform that doesn’t undermine your control over certain settings.
Takeaway: Make sure that your SEO team is monitoring for these sorts of things regularly. We use a technical audit as part of our QA process (which is how we catch these things).
SEO Error #5: Part of Your Site is on a Separate (Unsecured) Platform
This same client in the grocery / foods niche who had problems with their eCommerce platform also had big problems with their blog platform.
Some sites choose to host their store on an eCommerce platform like BigCommerce or Magento, and their blog on a CMS like WordPress.
This method sounds good, in theory, by having the best of both worlds: a specialized eCommerce platform to host the store and a specialized blog platform to host the blog. However, in this case, the store and blog platforms were hosted on the same server, and the WordPress blog was not secure.
Unfortunately, a major hack occurred. As a result of hosting the blog on the same server as the eCommerce platform, the server the store was hosted on got accessed by the hacker.
To solve: The recommendation to solve this would be to use only one platform, and only the blog that comes with that platform (if it has a blog feature—in this client’s case, the platform doesn’t, so that’s why they used WordPress). If you need a separate platform, keep the blog on a totally different server to keep your main one protected. This client had to move the blog to a subdomain—blog.client.com.
Takeaway: Need we say it? Make sure every part of your website is secure to ensure hackers stay out. This means if you are hosting different parts of your site on different platforms, all of those areas of the site need to be secured. If you use WordPress, make sure the installation is secure, up to date, and that you are using other security plugins.
Additionally, Google weighs whether a site is secure or not as a ranking factor. They don’t want to send people to an unsafe site (an unsafe URL beginning with HTTP vs a secure site’s URL beginning with HTTPS).
SEO Error #6: Not Fixing SEO Mistakes Quickly Enough
Remember our client in the home renovation / building materials niche that had URLs changing to a different number every day? This large online retailer had some additional problems.
The initial problem now was a common one: thin, low-quality content. Their internal search result URLs were getting indexed by Google (thin pages that only showed search results and no content, etc.) and we were trying to clean it up.
To solve the thin content error: we recommended adding a canonical tag to the internal search result URLs that pointed back to a main search result page.
This created a new problem due to another error that was present: The main search page canonicalized all of those internal search URLs to have a noindex tag.
To solve this additional problem, we asked them to remove the noindex tag right away, but it took a long time for that to happen on their end (remember: we recommend fixing SEO errors as soon as possible to avoid them being noticed by Google).
The longer all of these URLs canonicalized to a page with a noindex tag on it, the more their indexation numbers climbed. Google started ignoring canonical tags and indexing a ton of low-quality URLs (the original problem we had been trying to solve).
As a result of waiting so long to fix it, another new problem was created:
Once the noindex tag was removed from the main search page to fix the low quality URLs being indexed, there was an even larger number of them indexed.
To solve THIS, we had them change the internal search URLs from having a canonical tag to instead having a noindex tag. This was to simply stop their being indexed by Google and hopefully fix the situation more quickly.
Finally, those low quality URLs started to come out of the index fairly quickly.
The bottom line here is: When you find an SEO error, whether uncommon or not, take care of it quickly, or you’ll find new ones popping up!
These examples illustrate that SEO errors can come from a variety of sources.
Make sure to use a technical QA checklist that can catch these things as they happen in any number of ways as part of your search marketing strategy. (Here are some of our main technical SEO checks).
We know that technical SEO can be intimidating. As experts in eCommerce SEO, we’ve dealt with the unique SEO situations that come from different eCommerce platforms.
Clients who work with us not only get any errors present on their site removed by our expert eCommerce SEO consultants, we also optimize the site further to drive more organic sales from search engines.
Does it seem like your site’s SEO could be doing better? We run SEO for hundreds of eCommerce Sites and we’re ready to get to work on yours. Get started now.