Zen Cart SEO – 12 Steps to Success

Zen Cart SEO
Zen Cart SEO

Although we answer individual questions in the Zen Cart forum and we talk to Zen Cart shop owners everyday… We have never really put pen to pad for the proper steps to organically optimize your Zen Cart. I will make this list as detailed as possible without losing the attention of the average store owner…

Consider this a 12 Step Program to build your business.

Step 1

Keep your Zen Cart software patched and up to date. This is not only a requirement for PCI compliance, but getting hacked is not good for any business. Let’s face it, you change the oil in your car and lock the doors right?

Step 2

Design and usability are huge factors. Even if you have tons of traffic, it matters none if shoppers cannot quickly and easily find your products and checkout. Use SALES, NOT traffic as your measurement. When working on your design, development or existing, search for bottlenecks in your navigation. Remove EVERYTHING that is not helpful or necessary for shoppers. Hire a group of friends to shop and checkout on your site for a particular item each… Then, NO MATTER what you think, fix the issues they find. You see, your average shopper has never built, owned or even knows what a Zen Cart is.

Optimize your checkout. There are free modules to reduce the number of checkout steps available from the Zen Cart Module Repository. Use your common sense… Remove the sidebars from checkout, remove every account creating bit of text that exists and let shoppers checkout without an account (even if they are really creating one), language is everything for the shopper’s perception. Remove every single unnecessary thing from your customer information form. Do you really need: Salutation, Fax, Company, Date of Birth, Referral, and yes… even remove your newsletter check. Change the language for the newsletter option to say “Email preference” only. If you have need for newsletters (you should) then use a separate Zen Cart newsletter module. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, use IE and checkout on your site to check for Secure/Non-Secure warnings… as this will stop a shopper dead in their tracks!

Turn off everything you don’t need on your product pages off…. Date added? Do shoppers really need this? Move your attributes & add to cart area to the topside of the page… above the description so I can purchase quickly if I already know about the product. IF you intend to use social media buttons, your product page is the spot…. Why on earth would you want people to bookmark your login page for example?

Step 3

No matter what misconceptions you may have… Your site’s visitors read text first. Your shoppers need to be able to effectively scan the text on a page to determine if this is the page they need. TEXT, not images! While images obviously have their place in your store, people need text. You also need text to better rank your pages and create relevance for your topical content. So yes, use great demonstrative and high quality product images… But do not forsake the text.  Your shoppers need high quality, natural and descriptive text to buy products from you. Do not duplicate manufacturers descriptions or anyone else’s for that matter. If you haven’t the time to create your own content in order to sell your products you are in the wrong business.

Step 4

Trust… Shoppers need to be reassured that you are a real and legitimate business. Do not hide your phone number, do not use non domain based email addresses (GMail for example) and even if you are using PayPal… Get an SSL to protect your shoppers while checking out. You see, if your site is usable and logical to navigate, most people will not call…. But even most of these same people will remember whether or not they noticed your phone number. This is because shoppers use the prominent display of your phone number as a measurement of your business’ trustworthiness and level of quality and support.

Step 5

Simple and transparent shipping rules. Flat rate or free shipping is going to be the most effective marketing option for your store. So if you can manage free shipping or flat rate deals like $7.95 shipping and orders of $75.00 free, then advertise it prominently on your store. If you need to use regular rated by weight or price shipping make the information readily available. Create an easy page and post your rates in plain sight. Also, consider enabling the shipping rates to display on the shopping cart page. Check this out in your Zen Cart admin under Configuration >> Shipping/Packaging >> Shipping Estimator Display Settings for Shopping Cart >> Set to 2 (Display as Listing on Shopping Cart Page).

It’s rather unfortunate that online shoppers as a whole have the “eBay disease”, but they have been getting screwed on shipping for 10 plus years and you must now carry that burden as a shop owner.

Step 6

Create custom Meta Tags and titles for your pages. While none of the modern search engines use the Meta keyword tag to rank pages…. There is no harm in including 10 or less lowercase, comma separated keywords in your pages. The Meta description should be 250 characters (counting spaces) or less and be written in natural text. The search engines will not be using your Meta description to rank your page, rather this is your sales opportunity to get shoppers to click through from the search results pages. So logically speaking, if you were seeking a person to do Zen Cart SEO for you which result from the search page below would you select?



Edited to Protect the Innocent
Edited to Protect the Innocent

Lastly, and the single most important on page factor is your Title. Many will call this a Meta title, it’s not a Meta tag… But okay. This <title></title> should be pretty natural language, 65 characters or less (including spaces) and 100% relevant to the PAGE’S content. Note that not every page has the same content, so adding site wide tag lines and such only lowers the relevancy in  your title. These titles and descriptions should be unique for every page and NEVER the same for pages.

Step 7

You will need a proper robots.txt to stop Google an other search engines from crawling duplicate and other pages that are not valuable for search. Pages like your contact page for example or your privacy policy clearly hold no value to Google and their searchers. Proper formatting of this document is crucial… So read up and learn the rules, restrictions and syntax to do it properly. Note, however, and I don’t care what anyone else has told you…. Your robots.txt WILL NOT prevent indexing or remove indexed pages. To acheive this you will need a noindex tag in the page in question.

Step 8

Create a search engine sitemap. A search engine sitemap is an XML document that helps the search engines find your pages more easily. This document IS NOT for your human visitors and DOES NOT in anyway force the search engines to index these pages.

Google doesn’t guarantee that we’ll crawl or index all of your URLs. For example, we won’t crawl or index image URLs contained in your Sitemap. However, we use the data in your Sitemap to learn about your site’s structure, which will allow us to improve our crawler schedule and do a better job crawling your site in the future. In most cases, webmasters will benefit from Sitemap submission, and in no case will you be penalized for it.

I have some quick tips to get you started:

1. Unless you have more than 50K pages, you need only one sitemap… according to Google.

A Sitemap file can contain no more than 50,000 URLs and be no larger than 10MB when uncompressed. If your Sitemap is larger than this, break it into several smaller Sitemaps. These limits help ensure that your web server is not overloaded by serving large files to Google.

2. This sitemap is NOT for humans and requires no menu, styles or anything else to prevent the search engines from reading it fast! Have a look at ours http://pro-webs.net/sitemap.xml

3. Redirected pages cannot be included.

4. Using the same priority for all pages will cause the search engines to ignore the priority all together.

5. Duplicate urls for the same page cannot be included.

6. You cannot include pages blocked in your robots.txt or which contain a noindex tag.

7. Submitting your sitemap with the daily attribute will not make Google crawl faster… this is not an instruction, but rather a helpful technique to let the search engines know how often you create content.

8. Add your sitemap to all of the following webmaster’s tools: Google, Yahoo and Bing. Please note that continually resubmitting your sitemap in these platforms is not only a waste of time, but can land you in a mess. Instead use the proper auto discovery protocol in your robots.txt…

Sitemap: http://pro-webs.net/sitemap.xml

Step 9

Shopping Feeds will jump start your traffic with valid and relevant sales leads. Many of these feed sites are in fact free. Checkout our list of free feed sites and consider installing the necessary modules for at least Google Shopping. Make sure you also add your Google Base feed to Yahoo!

Step 10

Coupons. People love coupons and saving money. Your Zen Cart makes creating and tracking coupons very easy with no additional software or modifications! So create a coupon for CouponMountain for example, but call it something EASY and unique to Coupon Mountain, “MTN” for example. So now this coupon you submitted for free can easily be tracked for its effectiveness =).

Step 11

Business Listings will not only help to rank your site, but in fact validate your business in the eyes of the shopper. Start with Google Local, Bing Local Businesses and Yahoo Business as well. These are high quality listings for your business that really improve your visibility and shopper’s trust factor. They are free too.

Step 12

Building links for your website NEVER, EVER stops. Build links for your shop by submitting to web directories, commenting on blogs, adding them to your email signature, forum sigs and anywhere you can drop a link without spamming. Do not swap links or buy links. Buying links can end your business, when you are penalized for manipulated Google’s PageRank system and swapped (reciprocal) links are only devalued, but may in the future be penalized by Microsoft/Bing

There you have it… The tools to make your Zen Cart rock. I realize that there are other ways, but remember this is your business and the risk of not playing by the rules is high and can cost you everything.

13 responses to “Zen Cart SEO – 12 Steps to Success”

  1. Melanie, congratulations on the great list. There is certainly a lot there for online store owners to think about. There’s no magic wand but, like you’ve said, spend the time and you’ll reap the rewards. Well done!

  2. […] Zen Cart SEO – 12 Steps to Success – 9-10-2009 – Although we answer individual questions in the Zen Cart forum and we talk to Zen Cart shop owners everyday… We have never really put pen to pad for the proper steps to organically optimize your Zen Cart. I will make this list as detailed as possible without losing the attention of the average store owner… […]

  3. Can you please clarify item #8. “Create a search engine sitemap. A search engine sitemap is an XML document that helps the search engines find your pages more easily. This document IS NOT for your human visitors and DOES NOT in anyway force the search engines to index these pages.”

    However, in this article: http://pro-webs.net/blog/2009/10/31/seo-myth-method-or-discipline/ you state:
    “My sitemap.xml means Google must crawl and index these pages. Ha, ha. This is not a command to any search engine, but rather a document intended to help the search engines find our pages easier because our navigation and internal linking sucks! Fact is you don’t have to have a search engine sitemap at all.

    I’m confused as to whether or not you are recommending to create a sitemap or not..

  4. This post SEO – Myth, Method or Discipline is about things that you read which are untrue.
    Having a sitemap in xml format will help the search engines better crawl the pages which are important. It will help them locate pages which are isolated by less than perfect navigation and simply help you to get a more effective crawl from search bots.

  5. Got it.. I use this post as my bible, and I had to finally let my client read it so he would stop asking me to do things his previous web designer used to do to “improve” his rankings.. He is on page one of Google using search terms most potential customers will use to find his product.. The issue is my client is convinced that he should be NUMBER ONE on page one. His old web designer used to promise him he can do that for him.. So he wanted to know how I could do the same.. I showed him this article.. Showed him how each item was executed on his site, then I showed him how doing all of this has gotten him on page one using search terms most potential customers will use to find his product.

    Then I showed all the things he has STOPPED doing because “they take too much time to do”, and how they will affect his current rankings eventually.. Like adding relevant CURRENT content.. (He doesn’t maintain his blog which is directly linked to his Facebook page, and he hasn’t updated his products in MONTHS..) I think I FINALLY have him convinced that there really isn’t a MAGIC bullet.. This article helped!!! 🙂

  6. That’s great. It is so hard to get people to think even half as fast as things on the web change. I hate people referring to url rewrites as “SEO URLs”. It’s BS, they were never intended for keyword spamming… they were devised to help the older spiders crawl the parameters in URLs, which is no longer necessary =) Hasn’t been for like 5 years. Drives me nuts people call and say HELP I’ve lost all of my ranking to find out some so called “SEO” installed a rewrite module on an indexed site and crashed the rank with all the changed urls. With proper 301 redirects most, but not all can be recovered over time…. But losing any rank without a gain in some valuable metric is just, well ill advised.