SEO Tutorial: How to Optimize a Magento Site

Dec 29, 2011   //   by Pete Wise   //   Google, SEO, SEO Blog  //  16 Comments

Part of our jobs as marketers of the new age is to understand and learn the popular platforms of the internet. You will be hard pressed to find a professional Search Engine Optimizer that isn’t familiar with Drupal, WordPress, Joomla, and simple table HTML websites. We preach about how to edit the background of your Twitter homepage for better branding and to include keywords on your Facebook fan page by renaming your images.

The new platform that I have been seeing more frequently is Magento. My responsibility as a freelancer is to understand the system, and utilize it to maximize its value. Here, you will find, not only where and how to optimize your Magento Client’s website, but how you can actually automate portions of it to save some time.

What is Magento?

For those unaware, Magento is the fastest growing e-commerce platform on the internet. Don’t be alarmed if you have yet to encounter it, because it is just new in comparison to WordPress or other CMS systems. Magento is Cross-Platform, written in PHP, that calls a series of SQL tables to fill the site. It is completely open-source, and much like WordPress there are a ton of extensions to customize any themes you desire.

Magento has a back end content management system, very similar to WordPress, but it is so much more robust. To truly optimize a Magento site, I recommend a working knowledge of PHP; if you want to be a Magento Pro, some SQL knowledge is necessary.

Based on SEOMoz’s Study: 2011 Search Engine Factors; the on-site factors that are estimated to most affect your SERP’s are Page-Level and Domain-Level Keyword Usage; adding up to a substantial 25.66%. Let’s get into how you can make that 25% work for you.

Let’s Get Started: Introducing the Back-End

Here is a look at the Magento Dashboard:

This is completely customizable, so these are the data points the client wanted to see. What important for me was the built-in analytics. Adding Paypal order tracking to Google Analytics is extremely difficult since Paypal transactions redirect you to the Paypal website where the final steps occur. Magento not only has a great system to allow for that sort of tracking, but with the right plugins, credit card data can be stored on Authorize.net’s servers. This allows your website to track the Customer ID’s, which you can see the last 5 orders on the left side. This data, in combination with GA, gives the SEO more data, which in my opinion makes better optimizing possible.

The “Reports” drop down menu gives you access to all of the data we’re seeing snippets of on the Dashboard. If you’re familiar with most tracking software, this one tab is worth spending the first couple of hours in, comparing to Google Analytics.

For Optimizing, we have to go to the Catalog menu:

The first place you need to go is “Manage Categories”. Unlike some CMS systems, categories are more-or-less required in Magento. This is where we can rewrite title tags, url’s, and the increasingly-useless Meta Description and Meta Keywords. I personally subscribe to the theory of completeness, so I fill all of these fields. Here is what you will see:

Quick Breakdown:

URL Key – This is to change the URL string, if you enter just a keyword, it will add it to the end of the URL in category order. (Ex. http://www.site.com/category1/URLKey) If you wish to rewrite the entire URL, just write the exact URL you want the category to have.

Thumbnail Image – I always name images keyword-friendly, and this is where you can upload and change the path of the thumbnail.

Description – Copy on the Page.

Page Title – Title Tag.

Meta Keywords – Meta Keywords.

Meta Description – Meta Description.

**Magento Pro-Tips**
1) I do each category manually, since I optimize for each individual page’s best benefit, but if your website is smaller, or can use the same title tags throughout, please save yourself some time and use the “URL Rewrite Manager” tool, which can batch-rewrite categories to the same entry.

2) Save yourself some time and avoid the “Manage Products” category all together. The essential attributes that you will want to access are conveniently held in the “Category Products” tab in category management.

If you trust the SEOMoz data like I have come to; (I read every little case and footnote on that page, every year) the most important aspects of On-Site SEO can be accessed through that Catalog Menu, specifically the Manage Categories menu. For those SEO’s that want to dive into the nuts and bolts, Magento will blow you away.

Advanced Magento Optimization:

DISCLAIMER: SQL is needed in some form to really get the most out of these steps. At the very least, you’ll need to understand how to read it and how the tables are structured. Ideally, you are comfortable editing the actual tables in the database. For the rest of this tutorial, I will be providing real examples the client site.

Using Attributes:

Attributes are Magento’s way of describing a product, and how the system will handle it. For example, this is where the product page knows what information to display, and how to display it. You can organize attributes into sets, that will apply to a full category.

For SEO’s, this functionality is best used for inventory management. If you have gone through the Categories and optimized each product, then when that product is no longer in stock, you want to avoid sending customers to a useless page.

In the picture above, you see an attribute under General called “Status”. This is the attribute in this particular system that calls the Inventory table. Once you know exactly what table that attribute is calling, you can then set it to remove the product from the site when the inventory value = 0.

Keyword-Specific Rewrites:

Instead of diving into the .htaccess file of the website to do all of your 301′s and 302′s, you can create redirects right in the back end. These rewrites are for the search function specifically, and you avoid having to do the redirects on the page level.

For example, my client sells wallpaper and wallpaper borders. For their Sports category, the number of wallpaper styles far outnumbers wallpaper borders. For SEO purposes, there are two separate pages; however, we found out through Analytics that most users are finding those borders in the “Related Borders” section on the bottom of the sports wallpaper page.

So, instead of trying to sculpt the traffic the way we wanted it, it was decided to just model it after the users. Go to Catalog -> Search Terms, and you see a page like this:

Here, you can see that we set a redirect when someone searches for the term “sports wallpaper borders.” It redirects to the redesigned sports wallpaper page that includes the limited selection of wallpaper borders; this can be done for any search term.

Unique Batch Category Title Tag Rewrites:

For those that know SQL, instead of going to each individual category and product to change the title tags, there is a command you can run to help automate it. In my case, there were 700 wallpaper categories, and these were mirrored in an equal amount of “wall mural” and “wallpaper border” categories. Instead of rewriting 2100 title tags manually, I did the wallpaper category manually, and then used this function to apply it to the corresponding Mural and Border category:

Here, you see that the Wallpaper category was used as a template, and then scanned the attributes of the other categories. Since there were Floral Wallpapers, along with Floral Wall Murals and Floral Wallpaper Borders, there would be a common attribute between them.

When that common attribute was found, it would take the title tags from the Page Title field of Wallpaper and fill that field for murals and borders. (Category ID 1149 and 1151 respectively.) This can be done any number of times as long as there is a common established attribute between the products or categories you wish to edit.

That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is my tutorial to Magento SEO. Depending on your coding skill, Magento can be an relatively effortless optimization project, or it can be a tedious reminder of how SEO can be. Either way Magento is a CMS system that is here to stay, given the amount of sites converting to Magento and the popularity of the Extension Marketplace; http://www.magentocommerce.com/magento-connect/.

So go do what we SEO’s are best at; adaptation, and get yourself some Magento Clients!

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Pete Wise

Pete Wise is a White-Hat SEO Jedi and SEM Analyst. An ultra-statistical SEO, he spends his days with Magento On-Site optimization, Google Places Management, Social Media Engagement, Link-Building, and Content Writing. He worked at Customer Paradigm until July 2012, whom employ the most experienced Magento Developers on the web!

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  • Umair
    Twitter:
    says:

    SEO features of Magento are extra ordinary I haven’t seen any web development forum which is so seo friendly. The developers of magento have really cut the crap of SEO and let you to do the important things very instantly. All you need to know is to the layers of websites, stores and store views and figuring out the options of SEO magento has provided

    • Pete Wise says:

      Magento is SEO friendly out of the box, but the real reason to love it is because you can better yourself on it.

      Learn basic SQL commands, and Magento is a completely open book ready for customization.

  • Daria says:

    I am simply pleased I discovered this web page. Maybe you would like to place my banner on site? How can I contact you privately?

  • Gerald Weber
    Twitter:
    says:

    Pete,

    I have only had one client in the past with a Magento Ecommerce site.

    I have to say I really found it to be a very cool and userfriendly/SEO friendly CMS.

    I really also like the way it integrates as an Ecommerce site in Google analytics. It gives you all kinds of very cool data.

    • Pete Wise says:

      Gerald,

      I’m honored to see you commenting on my post!

      Magento really is extremely SEO friendly, and with the Magento market exploding like it is, I think having a basic understanding of the system is essential to keep your SEO mind sharp.

      Plus, what better excuse to learn some SQL?

  • Diana Grant says:

    I love your post Pete! I have heard about Magento but honestly I have no idea about this. Thanks to your post, you help me know things about this. I think I have to try attending a seminar on Magento. Looks beneficial.

    • Pete Wise says:

      Diana,

      Instead of attending a seminar on Magento, I’d recommend downloading and installing the community edition on a subdomain of your own website.

      I have been to Magento seminars, and you will be inundated with PHP hooks, Table schematics, and Database information.

      The best way to get you head around Magento SEO is to get it integrated into your site and play in the Admin Panel.

      -Pete

  • LavaLand
    Twitter:
    says:

    Nice, in-depth post Pete. I’ve been seeing more people using Magento too. This guideline could come in very hand for them.

    • Pete Wise says:

      LavaLand,

      Thanks for the love! I can’t make it any more foolproof for basic On-Site Magento optimization than this.

      However, what I like to play with is one of the advanced techniques, specifically the search redirects. Imagine being able to redirect lower-converting keywords to related, higher-margin products?

      Now thats thinking in Magento!

      -Pete

  • Gina says:

    Great post. Some parts are hard to understand for me, non-native english though… Do you know any good translate plugin for WordPress?

  • Clara says:

    I like your blog’s graphic design – is it custom made, or some public template? Where can I download it from?

  • Deryll says:

    Do you have, or used to have another blog, name? I’m sure I have read post on similiar topic long time ago, but this one is far more comprehensive!

  • Mike says:

    Nice place to visit. Is it possible to add your blog to Feedreader? Thanks!

  • Smith says:

    Nice looking website and valuable informations!

  • Mia says:

    Great article! SEO is very important to any web-store owners. Another solution to boost SEO for a Magento site is to employ an extension that will do it all for you. I tried the extension SEO+ (from magestore.com), it’s pretty good and priced reasonably compared to some others.